God uses community to mature and grow His people. Without the encouragement of others, sin hardens our hearts (Hebrews 3:13). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Sin wants to have a man by himself.” Sin hates Christian community because true Christian community seeks the sanctification of its members. I believe in the power and necessity of Christian community.
The research behind Transformational Groups showed that God is using small groups to help people live in true Christian community. Those in small groups display indicators of discipleship much more than those not in a group. Those in a group give more generously, serve more sacrificially, share the gospel more regularly, and confess their sins more frequently than those not in a group. So I believe in small groups, a lot.
Since writing Transformational Groups with Ed Stetzer, I have enjoyed speaking to and meeting with groups of Discipleship pastors and pastors of Small Groups, leaders who work hard to ensure biblical community is built among people in their churches. We have talked about two common messages often shared with churches about groups. Both of these messages cannot be true. Ministry leaders who preach both messages are contradicting themselves.
Message One: “To really grow and be cared for in our church, get into a small group.”
Message Two: “Leading a group is super easy. Anyone can do it”
Wise ministry leaders know that church must be more than “it is all about the weekend.” They know that people must be moved from associating with one another in a large gathering to participating with one another. So they remind people that discipleship and care won’t happen in just attending a church service. And they place some weight on the group experience, essentially saying: “A group will care for you, disciple you, and help you grow.”
But saying a group will care for you and disciple you places a lot of responsibility on a group—and on a group leader. Leading a group that offers care and discipleship is surely much more than popping in a DVD and “pressing play,” much more than “turning on a pot of coffee,” and much more than something “anyone can do.”
Both messages can’t be true.
If you preach message one—if you make promises about the value of your groups—then you cannot, with integrity, preach message two. Instead, you must develop leaders to disciple and care for people.
If you preach message two, don’t preach message one. You could, with integrity, decide your groups are just about getting folks connected. And you can preach message two with a clean conscience. But if you herald both messages, you will be over-promising what the group experience could be for people with such a low leadership bar.