I received a good question from one of our small-group leaders today. I think this is a critical question that many leaders and groups are asking: "What are the top three things a healthy small group should be doing? Shouldn't it be more than just social, or just project driven?"
I had to think for a while before I responded, and I've written out my conclusions here. Below are the top seven hallmarks of a healthy small group. Note that the first four deal with how a group should be focused and organized; the last three deal specifically with what they should do.
- Christ-Centered. Jesus is the real group leader. Small groups meet in his presence and power, and they meet for his purposes (Matthew 18:20).
- Healthy, Growing Leaders. The small-group leader is growing in his or her faith by being involved in daily disciplines such as Bible study and prayer (1 Corinthians 11:1).
- Core Team. The group is led by a core team of between two and four members who share leadership. No one leads alone (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
- Goals and Plans. The group has a written an "Action Plan" that includes a mission, goals, expectations, ground rules, and so on (Proverbs 16:3).
- Connecting with One Another in authentic biblical community. The group meets regularly and consistently, does life together outside of meetings, and regularly prays for and ministers to one another. Group members participate by taking on different roles and demonstrating shared ownership (Acts 2:42-47).
- Knowing God. Group members are intentionally looking for discipleship. The group engages regularly in Bible study and application (Colossians 2:6-8).
- Serving Others. Christ's mission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the small group's mission. The group regularly prays for their lost friends and is sharing their faith with others. The group is intentionally open to new people. The group is serving others together and/or individually, or has a plan to do so if the group is new (Colossians 4:5-6).
Based on all of that, the result (or "fruit") of a healthy small group is a collection of Christians who are:
- Reaching Out
Some of those probably sound obvious. A small group by definition contains people connecting with one another (5); growing in their relationships with God through a variety of means, including study and application of the Word (6); and serving others, which includes being open to new people (7). A healthy small group should certainly strike a balance between those three things over time.
But don't overlook hallmark number one. It is the most important one. A healthy, life-changing group focuses primarily on Jesus. Groups should focus on him and his real presence with them when they meet. It's his power that transforms lives, brings healing to hurting people, and moves a group to make an impact on others.
And a group must be all about his purposes and plans for them. The most unhealthy groups are most concerned about their own individual ideas, plans, and expectations for the group. A healthy group is made up of people in community who have surrendered their own agendas to Jesus'.
If it seems that your small group as it stands is not experiencing this kind of health and growth, you need to ask one question: What is Jesus calling your group to be and do? The answer is no big secret or mystical riddle. Jesus told us why we exist in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
We just need to obey, and help each other obey.
—Mike Mack is Small-Group Pastor at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and author of I'm a Leader … Now What? (Standard Publishing, 2007). This article was excerpted with permission from Mike's blog, Small Group Leadership.