Our Small Group Ministry Team met to discuss "Small Group Health." We had several objectives. The first was simply to define what a healthy group is, what it looks like, and how it operates. The second was to figure out how to assess health in small groups and how to help groups to be healthy based on those definitions.
The following were some of our notes from the meeting.
The healthiest groups we can identify are those in the early church (Acts 2). The early church was …
- Growing in numbers
- Growing spiritually – in faith
- Imperfect – human
- Community-centered rather than self-centered
What made the Early Church healthy?
- God's presence
- Spirit-filled, Spirit-led
- Spent time with one-another
- Just took the next step
- Christ like
- Sense of Awe – excitement – zest
- Encouragement – Supportive
- Confession – They were REAL!
- Trust, submission
- Compassion – LOVE
- There was an outflow of that love to the world – mission
They did not have "Bibles" or study guides. They had relationships. Spiritual growth, sharing the gospel, serving the outside world, prayer, praise and worship, and leadership development all occurred in those relationships—in Authentic Biblical Community.
What are some things we can look for in a healthy Life Group?
We identified a number of factors based on what we discovered in the early church, and then we categorized them based on our five Biblical values.
Real—There are real relationships, real friendships, developing in the group. There is an understanding that we all have different levels of friendships—even in a Life Group. These relationships are redeeming relationships. The "One Anothers" of the New Testament are apparent in the group. Not overly programmed or legalistic… REAL!
Meeting times are consistent. The group meets according to the pulse of the group. The leader helps to determine that pulse.
The group helps Christians grow. The leader helps the individuals move forward in their spiritual growth. The rate of growth is determined by each individual's spiritual pulse.
As individuals grow as Christians, the fruit begins to outflow. This outflow leads to an excitement and awe that others see. There is a natural—unforced, yet intentional—outflow of both serving the community and sharing Jesus through the group.
One specific fruit that will ripen will be the fruit of leading others. We recognize that people may grow to lead others in a Life Group, but they may also grow to lead in other areas of the church or other areas of their lives.
In most cases the determining factor of the health of a group is the spiritual health of the leader. Is the leader exhibiting the "one anothers"? Is there a healthy trust of the leader? Is the leader excited?
As mentioned above, we had much discussion about the importance of the pulse of each group. As the leader of the group, it is important to determine the group's pulse—realizing that this pulse fluctuates throughout the life of the Life Group. After all, we are dealing with each group as a collection of individual people.
We decided that the best—and simplest—way to assess the health of groups was to use our five values. For some values, a tool is not really necessary. For others we thought it would be helpful. We have either developed assessment tools or we use tools developed by other organizations.
We simply ask questions such as, "On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) how well are we doing at keeping Jesus the center of our group? If we are really honest, who is the real leader of our group?
We use a Community Evaluation based on the One Anothers of the New Testament. The assessment can be found at http://smallgroups.com/.../feature2.html. Groups use this evaluation to self-assess their health for this value.
We ask every group to be involved in a minimum of one serving project per trimester. (Many of our groups are involved in ongoing serving opportunities to the community.) We also evaluate how many visitors have come to the group in a given trimester and ask groups how often they pray for people in their spheres of influence who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus.
Our groups regularly (once to twice per year) utilize the Christian Life Profile, which assesses spiritual maturity in 30 core competencies. Healthy groups have identified where they need to grow and have a plan for growth based on those findings.
This is the easiest to assess, and is really the benchmark of health in all the other values as well. We determine group health in this area by asking three questions: (1) How many Value Champions are involved in the group? (2) Is there a leader-in-training in the group? (3) Have you passed on your leadership baton to someone in your group this year? (If not, when will this happen?)
If the group is healthy in the other four values, the natural outflow will be that spiritual leaders will be developed and deployed. Therefore, the Outward Assessment is the culminating assessment. Ultimately, a healthy group is strong in all five values, although, as a group, they may focus on one or two above the others.
We align our small groups ministry around these five values to grow healthy groups. All of our training—both up-front and ongoing—involve these values. This allows us to focus leadership training in areas where our assessments show that we need the most growth.
We have not yet reached the health of the New Testament church, but it seems like a good target at which to aim.