Every four years during the summer Olympic Games, there is an event entitled simply, 'Balance Beam'. You are probably familiar with the event. The balance beam is a piece of wood that is 4 inches wide and 12 feet long. The beam is usually mounted on a support structure and stands 42 inches off the ground. The allure of watching this Olympic sport is the amazing and magical feats of balance the athletes display while performing their routine. The best athletes have trained themselves to the point where they look comfortable as they jump, twirl, and flip through the air on the narrow beam. The really outstanding performers do all this and "stick" their landing as the crowd roars its approval.
In a small group environment, there is a similar balancing act. The balancing act that every group should try to achieve is the exhortation from Christ to keep our eyes on the harvest fields (Matt. 9:36-38) and the goal to develop community in every group (see the New Commandment in John 13:34-35). "What's the big deal?" you may ask. This does not sound particularly tricky, but if you have led a group for any length of time, you know that balancing between outreach and in-reach requires the skills of an Olympian. In order to accomplish this feat, here are some pointers from a person who has fallen off the balance beam (of mission and comfort) more than a few times.
If your group is not a closed group (open to visitors), let us talk about some suggestions for developing mission. As your group is forming, make sure you cover the group covenant. The group covenant should include things like availability, commitment, confidentiality, multiplication, and outreach. Make sure group members know, upfront, that one of the purposes of the group is to reach out to their friends. Allow time in your group to pray for friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors who do not know Christ. I like the simple, 3-step strategy of the Lighthouse Prayer movement… pray for your neighbor, care for your neighbor, and then share with your neighbor. In your group, as the leader, set the example and talk about the F.R.A.N.'s (Friends, Relatives, Associates, Neighbors) for which you are burdened. Additionally, make sure there is at least one empty chair in your circle so your group can see that "we have room for new group members." Another suggestion is to fish for new members at church on Sunday morning. If you are like most churches, every week new people show up at your church. Make sure you teach and train your group members to have "eyes that see and ears that hear." That is, teach them to look around on Sunday morning for new people and to listen as new members are introduced in your church. The wise small group leader and member learn to fish in his or her own fishing pond. One final suggestion is to periodically talk about multiplication. Remind group members that the natural progression of life, no matter how painful, is to birth new life.
Once the group is established, the good leader will attempt to accomplish the "one another's" in the group, and community will be the result. Developing community, however, can quickly degenerate to being "comfortable". Comfort is a by-product of getting our eyes off the harvest fields. It happens easily enough. All you have to do is stop looking outward and sure enough, you will gravitate toward a state that I call "dumb, fat and happy" or "us four and no more." This does not require much skill. Much like the Olympic athlete, the really accomplished leader will develop to the point where reaching new people, incorporating them into the group, and developing leaders is made to look easy. The great leaders "stick the landing" and multiply the group while balancing, back and forth, between mission and comfort. Giving birth is not easy and it is painful, but it is worth it when we see new people being brought into the Kingdom and being developed for God's glory!