Opened or Closed?

Small groups can meet one another's needs and reach out to others.

What is the biggest issue on which people disagree regarding small groups? As I have led small group workshops, I think I've found the answer to that question: Should groups be open or closed? If the emphasis leans too far toward meeting believers' needs in a closed group, an unchurched person would not feel comfortable. And after all, says the open-group adherents, the mission of the church is to make disciples. But focusing on the unchurched does not give believers a forum to grow deep relationships, says the closed-group advocate. And the church is community, right? So, how can we balance the needs of believers and unbelievers?

The issue comes down to the purpose of the group from the beginning. I believe strongly in groups that stay open to new people, especially non-Christians. But there is also room for intentionally closed groups in the church. These could be support, recovery, or discipleship groups, or they could just be groups that intentionally remain closed, at least for the time being.

One reason to close a group might be to do a study on evangelism, such as the 12-week Living Proofvideo series. When the study is over, the intention is for the group to open back up and practice what the series is all about—and be ready to birth new groups soon!

It is essential to decide on the purpose of a group before ever inviting people. Then communicate clearly—and often—what that purpose is. People naturally fall into nurture rather than evangelism patterns. So, if the group is intentionally open, that must be clear to everyone and modeled by the leader(s).

We must meet one another's needs and reach out to people who need Christ. Like other things in the Christian life, we need to strive for balance. Mature ...

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