Recently I have been pondering the progression of developing spiritual maturity through the lens of small groups. This diagram illustrates and overview of the process.
The first step is that a person enters into the small group. The small group is represented by the orange circle.
To enable people to easily join small groups, two areas must be developed simultaneously: culture and systems.
Developing the culture means vision casting the importance of small groups, encouraging people to join, telling stories of life change that is happening through small groups — basically, raising up the importance of small groups as an importance avenue of developing spiritual growth.
At the same time, the systems of making it easy for people to join groups must be developed as well. This means providing ways for people to easily find out and join small groups.
In our church, we have a brochure listing all the open groups, a web page, and a quarter system of when groups start and end for promotional purposes. This mostly is focused around major promotion weeks around the time that small groups start so that people are encouraged to join groups. It’s not a perfect system… we are still working on it.
However, having said that, this past year has really been focused on developing this front-end of getting people into small groups, and now we have over 100% of Sunday attendance numbers in small groups.
But then comes the big question. Are people developing spiritual maturity when they are in the groups?
This will be our focus this year. We hear good stories here and there, but it still doesn’t answer the question: are we systematically developing solid, mature disciples of Christ?
As I described in a previous post, two primary elements that contribute to spiritual growth are relationships and truth. (There is also time, but that just happens and we can’t do anything about that.) So what does that look like in small groups?
This means that while a person is in a small group, there are two elements that must be looked at.
- Relationships. Does the person have a mentor/leader/discipler? These come out of spiritual friendships, often within the small group. Is the leader investing in the members of the small group? Are the dynamics of the group such that people are connecting with each other well?
- Content. What topics, skills, experiences, and teachings is the person having in the context of the small group? What are foundational truths a person needs to know? What are application skills that enable a person to live for Christ? What are experiences that a person can share as a community that will make God more real to them?
Granted, we can’t program many of these things, because they are initiated by the Holy Spirit. But for the things that we can do, are there methods, training, curriculum, and inspiration that the church can provide for leaders, people, and groups to enable spiritual growth?
Now, the hope is that while maturing, the focus of the person in the small group turns outward. The person begins to serve and invest in others.
In fact, I really believe that one of the ways a person can grow significantly in their spiritual walk is to start teaching or discipling other people. It really forces you to dig into the Word yourself and solidify your own beliefs!
Ideally, all the members of the small group should be developing, loving the members of the group, and at the same time focusing outwards.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that as a group everyone has to go out and evangelize door to door. It means that during the week, each person’s focus is on others and thinking how they can love other people more. This can mean:
- Loving a difficult coworker.
- Sharing your faith with a neighbor.
- Taking meals over to someone who’s going through a rough time.
- Serving in the church and community.
- Going on a missions trip.
- Stepping out in faith and starting another small group.
But what often happens is that people become comfortable and forget the outward focus.
When this happens, the group eventually stagnates, either in numbers or in spiritual growth. Or, they just grow and hit a ceiling. (Oh, I guess that’s the same as stagnating.) People begin to wonder, “Is this all there is to a group? Is this all there is to walking with Christ?” Or, they lose their fire and become distracted with things of the world. At the very least, they miss out on the experience of living beyond themselves and the catalyst of growth that comes from being challenged in taking risks for God.
I’m sure there will be lots of though-provoking discussions this coming year!