By Michael C. Mack
Consumer Christians may be the most likely to claim they’re too busy to join a group. It’s not a new excuse, and I’ve decided on some strategies for confronting it.
“I’d like to be in a small group, but I just don’t have the time right now.”
I have heard that phrase/excuse 7,463 times since getting involved in small group ministry. But who’s counting? It used to frustrate me whenever I heard it. Sometimes I’d argue with the antiparticipant, using my best biblical and sociological case for group involvement. But that never worked. As a small groups minister, I used all kinds of promotions and campaigns with only limited or short-term successes. I’ve tried making it easier for people to be in a group; I’ve used interest-based groups, for instance, with some success, but it hasn’t been the answer for everyone. So what gives?
If you’re reading this column, you probably understand the value of being in biblical community. You know it’s transformational. You understand that if you are a part of the body of Christ (in other words, a Christian), then by nature you must be in community. But do you share this value with others? I’ve learned a lot from Jesus and the disciples about inviting busy consumers into community. Here are nine ideas.
When Jesus called his disciples, he went to the seashore, the tax-collection booth, to their turf. He took the time to step into their busy worlds. He modeled the importance of community by making time to build relationships with them. Only then did he ask some of them to be in his group. Jesus was an intensely relational leader. He didn’t pass around a sign-up sheet or put an ad in the temple newsletter. Are you intentionally building relationships with people? Are you going to where they are or expecting them to come to you?
Before calling the 12 into his group, Jesus stopped to pray: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12, 13). Are you asking God who should be in your group? Whom is God calling into community? His call will help you know whom to call and it will help them better understand their priorities.
Call Them to a Cause
Jesus did not invite people to meetings. He called them into a community with a cause: He said, “Come, follow me . . . and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). The people Jesus called were busy men. They had hard, stressful jobs. Some had families. Some were involved in their communities, political action, and social insurrection. But Jesus called them to something significant—something so vital they would even leave their jobs and interests behind.
Let’s face facts. For many people, especially busy people, a small group is just “one more thing” to put on an already crowded calendar. But when people are called into transformational community with a cause—a purpose bigger than themselves—I believe they will respond much differently. Are you inviting people to meetings or to a mission?
A study of Jesus and the disciples may redefine community for us. Community is more than just caring for each other within our groups. Biblical community always has a purpose beyond its own. There’s no such thing as “consumer-Christian community.” Early in the group’s life together, Jesus sent out the disciples—two by two, so they were still in community—to minister to others. His overall purpose was to disciple and develop them and then to deploy them for ministry.
I believe small groups are a lot like a good football team that huddles to put their arms around one another, call the next play, encourage each other, and even to confess sins (“My fault, I dropped the ball”). But then they break the huddle to carry out the team’s mission. The primary purpose of the huddle is to prepare the team for the battle on the field, but no game has ever been won in the huddle. The purpose of real community is always outward-focused.
Go to War
It seems to me the people who best understand community are our military men and women who serve in war zones. These brave souls care for each other. They depend on one another and will lay down their lives for their friends. But members of a military unit never focus solely on one another. They are trained to focus on their mission, and they carry it out together—in community. How about your group? What’s your community cause?
Take No for an Answer
Along the way, Jesus invited many people to follow him. Some refused. Others argued. Some began to follow, but then realized the costs were too high or his teaching was too difficult, and they walked away. Jesus never hid the fact that there were costs involved with being a part of his group. He let people walk away. This fact has helped me understand that not everyone will respond positively. Some may look at the things they’d need to give up from their worlds and not be willing to pay that cost. They’re not ready, and unfortunately, they may never be ready.
Don’t Forget Jesus
This may at first seem like a silly statement, but when Jesus called these men into his group, he called them into much more than just a group of mere men; he called them into a community in which God would always be present. That may seem obvious, since Jesus was their leader, but his presence did not end when Jesus was no longer physically with them:
“For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, New Living Translation, 1996); “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
That’s why the apostle John could say with confidence, “We are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, NLT, 1996). Who doesn’t have time for that?
Focus on Transformation
Jesus called these men into this divine community to disciple them—to walk with them and shepherd them so they could become more like him. That did not happen overnight, but that was his purpose: for them to be transformed. Invite people into a life of transformation—to the abundant life. And it will happen—with Jesus’ presence and power and according to his purposes. Nothing in life can compete with that.
When we as leaders realize just what we are actually inviting—no, calling—people into, and when we approach this calling as Jesus did, priorities become clear and excuses fade away. Be concerned more about your response to God than others’ responses to you. That takes surrender. And that’s the right priority.
Michael Mack is the author of 14 small group books and discussion guides, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? (Standard Publishing). He also leads church training events and consults with churches through his ministry, Small Group Leadership (www.smallgroupleadership.com).