Finally, choose the right Bible study to guide your group time so that the Word is carefully presented, examined, and discussed. Get to know the needs of your group members and the way they learn best, and then find a resource that supports and encourages that.
Earlier this year, Michael Mack interviewed Lyman Coleman for SmallGroups.com. Coleman stated that groups today are too inward focused. Many group leaders, though, think that focusing inward is the way to focus on discipleship. What do you think? Does a missional focus take us away from discipleship or further our discipleship efforts?
I (Ed) think the key here is balance. For spiritual growth and discipleship to take place, the people in the group need the sacred, authentic relationships that we’ve discussed, and that requires consistency. At the same time, every small group has a mission because every Christian is called to mission. While that mission may vary based on when and where the group meets, there are three specific ways that every group can be on mission:
First, engage new people. Every person has a network of unchurched or disconnected people they interact with every day, and a small group is a great, safe place to invite them.
Second, serve together. Find a local ministry, cause, or need that you can rally around. Serving together is essential to developing the shared-life experiences that are so important to people in groups. But even more so, it’s an act of obedience to Jesus Christ to join his mission.
And third, start new groups. As your group grows and matures, multiply it in your community by starting a new group. If the leader is being intentional about the group’s mission, he or she should be developing new leaders who can step up and lead a group of their own. People sitting on the fence of small-group life find new groups to be less intimidating than existing groups and are more likely to get involved. By choosing to hold loosely to your own group and, in turn, launch new groups, a small group can focus on both discipleship and mission at the same time.
Your research shows that people who are interested in attending small groups are looking for "meaningful, shared-life relationships." How should this inform small-group leaders?
Small-group leaders have to move beyond just being teachers and facilitators to encouraging genuine friendships within their group. This isn’t rocket science. We know how to make friends, and have relationships, and this is what group leaders need to work toward. We need to move out of rows into circles. In other words, we need to learn to know, love, and become friends with each other.
It also means the small-group leader should be looking to utilize the strengths and gifts of other people in the group. For instance, a leader may invite someone from within the group to take the lead in encouraging each other to pray. By inviting other people into the “leadership roles,” you can eliminate the perception of a gap, and people in the group will feel more invested, become more open, and genuine friendships will occur more naturally.