In his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman discovered some clues to how people change. His big secret was community! If you want to change you need the right kind of relationships that reinforce the right kind of behavior. This is confirmed by life.
Through much of my middle and high school years I was a champion cusser. I think I received my freshmen letter in creative swearing. It was the '80s, after all, and the era of Eddie Murphy stand-up routines and Beverly Hills Cop movies. But the biggest influence was my friends. Most of my friends played on the varsity swearing team, too.
In the summer of 1988, I attended a Youth for Christ conference and was challenged to turn over my life to Christ. In the next few months, I fell into a new crowd—one that told me I really didn't need to swear in order to impress them. In fact, most of my new friends rarely swore. And before too long, my vocabulary improved.
Hearing truth is one part of change. But a community that challenges you and reinforces that change really matters. As Deutshman said in his book, it's hard to eat a salad if all your friends are gorging on wings!
Simple things you can do to develop the changing pattern in your group:
- Study the Bible for application. Answer the question, "So what do we do with this?"
- Invite each member to share areas they are trying to improve and offer accountability.
- Create a judgment-free zone where members can share what's going on without feeling judged by the group (or feeling like a special project).
- Keep the focus on Jesus Christ who gives us the strength to change.
The third key pattern of a vibrant group is the missional pattern. The other two patterns are very exclusive. They focus on the group and the individuals within the group. This pattern is inclusive and focused on others. You might call it service, outreach, mission, or evangelism. I use a farm metaphor. As you cultivate hearts for other people you are turning up the soil in your life (and hopefully in others).
Have you ever noticed that a healthy family reaches out? My wife and I have been blessed with three wonderful children. I love family time around the table. My wife and kids are my favorite people to watch movies with, eat dinner with, and vacation with. I love my family.
In a decade or so, all three of my kids will (hopefully) move out. They'll start careers, get married, or start families of their own. Then my dinner table will just need two chairs. But that is exactly how it should be. If you look at my family right now, you'll notice my beautiful wife and darling kids. But if all three of my children still live with Karyn and me in two decades, you'll think there's something wrong with our family. Family movie night that involves snuggling with my 39-year-old daughter while her 36-year-old sister grooms a doll's hair, and my 32-year-old son plays his Nintendo DS is disturbing! Right now it's cute; 25 years from now, it's gross!
A small group that is only focused on keeping the band together will actually ruin the very thing they are attempting to protect. If you want to have a healthy, vibrant group, you need to have a mission beyond caring for the people in your family room.
Simple things you can do to develop the cultivating pattern in your group:
- Study evangelism and spiritual gifts in the group with the purpose of practicing what you learn.