I want to lead a healthy, growing small group. What is the single most important thing I need to know?
In 20-plus years of leading groups and talking to and with many others leading groups, I’ve learned this: There are many skills and techniques leaders can use to make their groups better. But the best way to determine if your small group is healthy involves self-diagnosing one particular vital sign.
A healthy group is Christ-centered. Christ is the real leader, and the group is primarily focused on him, experiencing his presence, carrying out his purposes, and living by his power. This is where group health starts, because all the other vital signs grow from how well you, as a leader, keep Christ at the center of your life and your group. When you put yourself or anyone or anything else at the center of the group, you’ll lack the power to accomplish much of anything.
Christ is transcendent in a healthy group. Unfortunately, though this principle is foundational for building a healthy group, it may also be one of the most overlooked.
“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). This is the first and greatest commandment for any person or group. When all is said and done, only one thing is needed: to sit in Jesus’ presence (Luke 10:42). If you do not intentionally keep Christ at the center of your group life, many other things will take his place, even good things like the curriculum you study, people’s needs, or the serving activities of the group. Don’t allow anything to become an idol for you. Seek God’s kingdom first, and he’ll take care of all the rest (Matthew 6:33).
Some groups are not as healthy as they should be because they have forgotten their primary focus (the “love you had at first,” as Jesus put it, describing the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:4). If that describes your group, follow Jesus’ encouragement for you: “Repent and do the things you did at first” (v. 5).
I’ve also witnessed groups that became not only unhealthy, but dysfunctional. In these groups, one person’s weekly issues or one dominant person’s opinions became the center of the group’s attention. When you face these kinds of challenges, one of the most important things you can do is to take the focus off of group members by worshipping Christ or serving others in his name.
Here are a few other specific ways you can make your group more Christ-
Recognize His Presence
I begin every meeting with a worshipful prayer, recognizing Christ’s presence with us and his leadership of the group. I sometimes include Matthew 18:20 in my prayer, remembering that Jesus said whenever two or more come together in his name, he is actually there in our midst. I ask him to show his power as he leads us.
Then I watch for what he does during our meeting. The difficult thing for me is to remember that Christ is there in our midst throughout the meeting. He does not leave us during the Bible study. His Spirit is there to help us understand and apply his Word. He certainly does not forsake us during our prayer time. He hears each request, so we don’t have to repeat them at the end!
Depend on His Power
I find that many groups need to learn to take members’ hurts and problems to Jesus, not just to one another. I often hear concerned group members give all kinds of advice for someone’s personal issues during the sharing of prayer concerns. As the leader, ask members to simply listen, and then take the concerns to Jesus—not to a recommended book, a miracle diet or exercise program, a referred doctor, or even a platitudinous Bible verse.
Seek His Purposes
“What are Christ’s purposes for our group?” Begin with that question and then study the Great Commission and other passages. Ask, “Why did Jesus say he came into the world?” (to seek and save the lost), and then remind the group that just as the Father sent him into the world, so he sends us into the world (John 17:18). Ask the group to imagine some big ways you as a group could make an impact on your community. Ask them to imagine something so big that if God isn’t in it, it would fail. Then read Ephesians 3:20, and make some God-sized plans!
Move Beyond Study
As you open God’s Word as a small group, don’t just study Jesus as the historical figure of antiquity. Move beyond discussion about the stories of what Jesus did, to talk about—better yet, experience—what he is doing. He is indeed present in your group meetings—right now. Recognizing this will make all the difference in your group.
Michael Mack is a groups minister at Northeast Christian Church inLouisville,Kentucky. His latest book, Small Group Vital Signs, is available online at www.touchusa.org.