By Michael C. Mack
Every good small group leader knows a great first meeting starts with some introductions, usually using a fun icebreaker. One of my favorites is called “two truths and a lie.” See if you can identify which of these are factual and which is fictional: (1) I graduated with a degree in finance from the University of Cincinnati where I was a cheerleader. (2) I graduated from Cincinnati Christian University with an MA in church growth, and edited the school newspaper, The Purple & Gold. (3) I founded a ministry called SmallGroups.com and wrote a column called “Growing in Groups” for The Lookout magazine.
More recently, I was asked by Christian Standard Editor Mark Taylor to write a monthly column for small group leaders. (This is a fact.) It’s an honor and privilege to share my experience, knowledge, and passion for small group community with you, but I can’t do this alone!
I believe the best learning and growth come from mutual sharing (see Colossians 3:16), so I need you to participate! In this column, I will respond to your questions and solicit responses from other small group experts as well. I’ll share insights that you and other readers share with me. I’ll tell you about what I’m reading and hearing in the small group world. In other words, this column is a group effort! Please send your questions, ideas, and thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will use the “seven vital signs of a healthy small group” as an outline for this column. A couple of years ago, the church I serve, Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, assessed our groups to find out whether they were healthy, and then we followed up with training and coaching to help our groups become healthier in these seven areas. Later, I wrote about this in Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish (published this year by TOUCH Publications: www.touchusa.org).
Here are the vital signs.
1. A healthy group is Christ-centered.
Christ is the real leader, and the group is primarily focused on him, experiencing his presence, purposes, and power.
2. A healthy group has a healthy, growing leader.
The best groups have leaders who are intentionally spending time with God daily. They are not perfect leaders—in fact, many are like the early disciples who were unschooled, ordinary people—but they have been with Jesus!
3. A healthy group shares leadership with a core team.
In a healthy group, no one leads alone. Solo leadership propagates burnout and stagnancy. Shared leadership promotes growth and multiplication. Did you know Jesus shared leadership with a core team of Peter, John, and James?
4. A healthy group is proactive with goals and plans.
This point made the biggest impact on the overall health of our groups. The groups that lived in reactive mode were generally unhealthy, while the ones who had goals and plans—especially written ones—were healthy.
5. A healthy group lives in healthy, authentic community.
That may seem really obvious, right? But I’ve found that many groups in the Western world don’t understand or experience the kind of community described in the Bible. Community is a way of living that produces spiritual maturity. It’s the environment in which we grow spiritually.
6. A healthy group ministers to others.
Vibrant groups are outward-focused. They gather to grow in their faith together, but they are not holy huddles. They intentionally reach out to their spheres of influence.
7. A healthy group is a discipling environment.
All the other vital signs lead to this one, because discipleship is the main purpose of a healthy group. Discipleship isn’t as complicated as we often make it, but we must be intentional about how we help one another grow in our groups.
I’ll discuss these vital signs in future columns, and, of course, you can read the book about them and how to practically apply them in your group. As you read, feel free to e-mail me to ask specific questions, which I’ll answer here. You can assess your group using a free online Small Group Health Assessment I put together at www.touchusa.org/free-small-group-health-assessment. This simple tool can help you discover where you can focus to improve the health of your group.
I’m looking forward to sharing with you and learning from you as we strive together to grow God’s kingdom, one group at a time.
Michael Mack did graduate from Cincinnati Christian University with his MA, but it was in practical ministries with a concentration on Christian education and journalism. He also edited the school newspaper, The Cross Examiner. You can find other facts about him at www.michaelcmack.com.