Keeping in mind Christ's command to go into the streets and compel people to come hear the gospel, it seems audacious to exclude anyone from a small group. In most situations, I believe newcomers and visitors should be welcomed with open arms.
An open door policy will help group members exercise Christian hospitality. Newcomers offer present members an opportunity to expand their circle of influence. Outsiders bring new concerns to pray for and new needs to be met. At the same time, the newcomer may be the one who will help someone with a solution to an old problem. When someone in our group mentioned a problem with plumbing, a retired plumber who was new to the group offered his services.
Groups that increase in size tend to lose an intimate atmosphere, but that doesn't necessarily need to happen. Our group has grown to about sixty-five members and we continue to function as a close-knit family. We sometimes need to encourage brevity in prayer requests, but people always rally around someone with a special need.
Having stated my support of open membership, I realize there are times when closed membership is preferable. Extreme Grace is a group in our church that deals with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. The very nature of the group suggests caution. What would prevent someone from visiting the group where people bare their souls, and then leave to spread the news?
"We are a closed group," the facilitator told me. "It takes time to grow an intimate group where members feel comfortable with each other. At first some of our group members had zero trust in others and didn't participate much in discussion."
When a new Extreme Grace group is started, there is no cut-off date. "It ends when we finish the material we are covering and ...