Should Our Small Groups Be Open or Closed?

Should Our Small Groups Be Open or Closed?

The arguments for both sides of this common debate.
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The Biblical Argument

In one famous story of Jesus, the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 sheep who are all nestled together and he goes looking for the 1 lost sheep. From this biblical viewpoint, we should be far less concerned for those who are connected than we are for the person without a home.

The Spiritual Growth Argument

How we feel about the spiritually unconnected is a barometer for our spiritual maturity. Therefore, a group that is always welcoming to those who need a “home” have a greater chance of growing deep spiritually. That group is living out the Great Commission, inviting in fresh perspectives, and keeping an open heart to others.

The Practical Argument

Many years ago my wife, Karyn, and I were in a small group that was a great experience, and it helped convince me to always live in Christian community. We loved gathering together, we enjoyed sharing insights from God’s Word, and we even went on a retreat together. But as awesome as that group was, we didn’t stay together forever. Most groups enjoy a season together and then eventually split up. So why not just get on the front of that trend and constantly invite new people in? After all, most groups see members leave. If you always have an open chair you rarely have many empty chairs.

In summary, small groups should be open because:

  • God welcomes.
  • Jesus taught it.
  • It shows true spiritual depth.
  • No group lasts forever.

If all that is true, then why would any group consider folding the open chair?

Why Every Group Should Be Closed

The Theological Argument

God may welcome lost people into his family, but he doesn’t welcome us into the Godhead. As great as Moses was he didn’t become a new member of the Trinity. David wrote some beautiful songs, but God didn’t upgrade him to divine status. The three-in-one blessed Trinity is closed. If God says there are certain groups that can be closed, we can carry that idea into our small-group ministries.

The Biblical Argument

Jesus taught his followers to be on the lookout for the lost lamb. He showed incredible compassion and generosity to the spiritually unconnected. But once he chose his 12, he was done. Jesus did not preach an open chair, and he didn’t let uninvited people invade his little community.

The Spiritual Growth Argument

It takes a while for a group to get to a place of trust and transparency. How can a group lift up accountability and confession if they barely know each other? But the quickest way to shut that progress down is to add a new person to the group. To create an environment where people share what they really think about a biblical truth and they feel comfortable talking about what is really happening in their lives takes time and consistency. So it seems obvious that an open group will struggle to hit a level of relational depth.

The Practical Argument

People don’t like being told what to do. Just like most Americans, the typical small group is very independent. The surest way to experience rebellion is to impose your plan on another person. Even if they like the idea, the first response will often be resistance. I have met many small-group members of “underground” groups. In nearly every church, you will find a diaspora of groups who are hiding from the establishment. They are tired of being told what to study or when and where to meet. But most of all, they don’t want to be told to invite new people. So they just go underground. I’ve led the small groups charge in churches ranging in size from large to Jumbotron and I’ve yet to successfully impose my will on another group.

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