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Rethinking Small Groups

There was a time in my life where I was thinking and talking about the importance of small groups everyday. I would use borrowed phrases like, "The greatest spiritual transformation in a person's life often comes through the community of a small group." But over time there was a growing disappointment in my spirit that small groups were delivering people what they were promising. There was talking and eating and fun, but there wasn't the deep level of intimacy and spiritual growth that had been dangled in front of people like the proverbial carrot. In some cases, such as ,y own group, small group, instead of helping people, actually provided the fertile round for some terrible seeds to grow.

I'm not completely against small groups now. I still believe that we need other people in our lives. We need a group of people with whom we can 'know and be known, serve and be served, love and be loved, celebrate and be celebrated." But I think church leaders should think carefully before the push for programmed, church-driven small groups; this is especially true with those people who have been Christians a long time.

Tony Morgan blogged a quote from the Willow Creek case study "Reveal." Often misquoted and applied Reveal is the result of Willow's work (and six other churches) at trying to look at itself and measure whether people in the church were actually growing spiritually. Here is the quote that grabbed my attention:
Regarding small groups, "Meeting the need for connection and genuine spiritual relationships is crucial to spiritual growth. Yet organized efforts to create these environments appear to be effective only in the earlier stages of spiritual growth."
My take:

People who have recently met Christ are typically excited to learn more and to meet other Christians. They speak more openly about who they were without Jesus and their souls crave anything that speaks of Christ. They know they don't know and they have no problem joining up with fellow new believers to pursue something so fresh and moving in their lives.

Conversely, people who have been followers of Jesus for a long time don't feel the same need to make Christian friends. They may already have enough Christian friends, or, they are content to see 'church people' on Sunday and to be with other people during the week. Long time Christians know how to play the game and conceal their spiritual warts, and they may small groups as a threat to their security. After years and years of sermons and Bible studies their attitude may be that they know all they need to know and they see small group as just another spiritual activity that takes from their precious time without returning much of a yield.

So what is the answer? I believe that we lead people to a place where they see the need for spiritual community and we then release them to make it happen. As church leaders we have to turn over the reins of our peoples' lives to the one who made them. Pastors will give an account for what they did with there people, but God is the one responsible for their fates. 'Spiritual friendship' should be preached on. The Bible should be taught and people should see for themselves how those who have loved God from antiquity have locked arms with like minded souls. But no one in Acts 2:42 got there because they signed up for it. Acts 2 came because the people loved Jesus more than they loved themselves and they were moved by the direction of the Holy Spirit.
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