Home > Uncategorized > Should we allow closed small groups?

Should we allow closed small groups?

This is a question I tend to wrestle relentlessly with. So you know where Im coming from, at the Summit we currently allow groups to close off to “more people” for a season in order to grow together & in order to protect the span of care value we have (not more than 15 people per group). That said, Im being challenged greatly in that view by a book im reading right now called the 7 deadly sins of small group ministry. Below are a couple of excerpts I found to be a compelling analysis of why we dont invite what the author calls “seekers” or non-believers.

But here is the irony for small groups. It is this longing for community that actually keeps them from inviting seekers. They assume the presence of seekers will destroy their group’s hard-won intimacy. However, when we interview believers who have opened their groups to seekers, we find a common thread of experience – the authenticity factor increases, creating deeper intimacy and relationships.

God knows nothing of a people who stretch their arms upward to him yet don’t in turn stretch them out to those he loves so much. So much that his Son stretched out his arms to make it possible for them to be touched.

Conversation between author & one of his group members: After I introduced our apprentice leaders and cast a vision for group reproduction, Paula, a Ph.D. in communication, confronted me with what she affectionately called “the birthing thing.” (aside here: at the summit we replace birthing with planting). Paula: “I’m against the birthing thing, I dont like the open chair, and I think breaking up the group is terrible.” (sound familiar small group leader?) Calmly (but carefully) I asked, “how did you get into this group?” Looking perturbed she replied “you asked me remember?” “And how long had you and your husband been waiting for a group in this area?” “About a year.” Then I took a risk. “I wonder what might have happened if there hadn’t been an open chair for you in this group. Or I wonder if your wait would have been shorter if every group had an apprentice and a few open chairs. Perhaps there would have been more groups and more places months ago. for people like you.

So the big question I have to our small group leaders at the Summit: If you have room in your group for people, are you practicing radical inclusiveness? What if we went on a group invite barrage over the month of January? That is, every group member invited the person who they sit next to during service to attend their small group with them that week! JUST THINK WHAT WOULD HAPPEN!Seriously, think about it. I will be! Merry Christmas!

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  1. Pat
    December 24, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Spence, great question and one that we’ll probably be debating until Jesus returns. I did a four part series on four types of groups last year, starting at http://whydidntyouwarnme.com/2007/12/10/four-types-of-groups-part-1/.

    IMHO, we need both open and closed groups since they serve very different functions. In brief, open groups are excellent for evangelism and for enfolding new people. Closed groups are where deep growth can occur, IF they are well led. There is a time and a season for each. It doesn’t need to be an “either-or” approach as long as people understand WHY they have the type of group they have. Merry Christmas.

    • spenceshelton
      December 25, 2008 at 12:08 am

      Pat, thanks for the feedback & merry christmas to you as well! Have you read through the book I was referring to? I think Donahue and Robinson would argue that deep spiritual growth can, and even is more likely to, occur in an open context than a closed one. I encourage you to read through that chapter (I believe its chapter 5 of the book) to get the full argument. Personally I agree with you that both are needed (though Im starting to believe a much smaller % than I originally thought should be closed) and Im very glad you pointed out that people need to know WHY they are in the type of group they are in! Looking forward to reading “why didnt you warn me.”

  2. July 7, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Hi Spence. I know this post is somewhat dated, but I was surfing your blog and came across it. I’ve only been involved in small group ministry for 9 years. 6 of those years have been as a small groups pastor. In all of that time, I have never seen an open group decrease closeness, intimacy, or community. No offense to Pat, but saying that open groups are for enfolding new people and evangelism while closed groups are where deep growth can occur just has not been my experience. I hear it as the common complaint, but I have never seen it in reality. I have always seen that adding new people to a group increases community. It gives people the chance to retell their stories, hear new stories, and grow closer together. It also lets them see that the Christian life isn’t all about me. I’ve never experienced deeper growth (other than in my personal spiritual disciplines—where it all starts) like I have in open small groups. The two areas where I’ve seen the most pushback in small group ministry is open groups and planting groups. Both of these areas challenge us to think beyond ourselves. Ironically, I have found that when we look to include those who aren’t connected, and intentionally seek to create new environments where more people can be impacted for Christ it has a direct effect on my own growth in Christ. True community in the NT reaches outward.

    Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts on the subject.

  1. December 24, 2008 at 6:46 am

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