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Commitments in Community

Introduction

So far we’ve established a case for why church members should be regularly involved in private gatherings in smaller groups.

In this session, we’ll explore three kinds of commitments church group members make to develop healthy groups.

I. Group Attendance

The first commitment involves answering four basic questions regarding the nature of the group that will be in attendance: Who, How, When, and Where?

Who will be attending?

The first question is “Who will be attending the group?”

Some groups choose to organize around a certain type of people such as male/female, older/younger, married/single, couples with/without children, a geographical location, etc.

The type of group depends on the unique needs of the church and the direction of the church leaders.

How many will be attending?

The next question is “How many will be attending the group?”

Generally, the ideal is less than twelve people. A healthy small group size is between eight to twelve people. A little larger or smaller can work as well. But when groups have regular attendance of more than sixteen people, group intimacy is compromised. This can also be a signal that it’s time to start a new group.

Sometimes, even in groups of twelve, it’s helpful to organize sharing and prayer in two or three smaller groups so more people can participate, especially those who are timid.

When will we be attending?

The next question is, “When will group members be attending?”

Again, this depends on the unique needs of the church and direction of the church leaders. But healthy groups normally need to meet at least two times a month, and more if possible. It seems that the early church gatherings were at least weekly.

It can also be helpful for groups to decide the number of meetings they expect group members to attend. Healthy group members often make a commitment to meet at least two or more times a month for a minimum of 3-6 months. It’s usually best not to make a commitment for more than 1 year.

This doesn’t mean that groups should stop meeting together after they complete their group commitments. Instead, they should see their present commitment as ending with the option of making a new one for another time period.

This approach helps a group keep their commitment level high and allows group members to “drop with dignity” by finishing their group commitment before moving to another group.

Where will we be attending?

We come now to the question, “Where will we be attending?” This answer also depends on the unique context, needs, and leaders of the groups. In some cultural contexts it’s difficult and awkward to meet in members’ private homes. In other contexts it’s very natural and comfortable to do so. Creativity and perseverance is often needed to determine the best venue for group meetings.

II. Group Agenda

The second commitment involves answering the question, “What will we do when we meet together as a group?”

Since small groups are a subset of the larger church community, they should reflect the same five elements of a healthy church: Worship and Prayer, Learning and Discipleship, Fellowship and Shepherding, Evangelism and Mission, Mercy and Justice.

It’s not realistic to emphasize all five of these elements in all group meetings. But over time, healthy groups will emphasize all of them. So a good way to help determine a healthy group agenda is for leaders to periodically review these essential elements found in Acts 2:

1. Worship and Prayer

“They were praising God” (47) and “devoted to the prayers” (43) Group meetings should include time for worshiping God through praise and prayer.

Group members should be sharing their needs and receiving prayer from others. Prayers should also be offered for the advancement of God’s mission through the church.

Sometimes it’s effective for several people to pray. Other times, it’s best for only one or two. It may also be helpful to pray in smaller groups.

2. Learning and Discipleship

“They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching” (42) Group meetings should also include time for the study and application of God’s word.

In the Great Commission, Jesus commands us to make disciples by teaching people how to obey his commandments (Matt 28:18-20). Small groups provide an excellent place for learning how to apply God’s word to all of life.

Healthy groups often encourage members to listen carefully to the
preaching of God’s word in public worship and come to the group meeting ready to share their personal insights and applications with others.

Also, some groups will take the Sunday sermon message deeper by doing more in-depth bible study and application of the topic. Other groups will study through a book of the bible or use a resource approved by the church leaders.

3. Fellowship and Shepherding

“And … they were breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (46) Group meetings should periodically include time for members to share their lives with each other during meals.

Regularly sharing meals in their homes seems to be a normal practice in the early church. There are few activities as effective as eating together to help develop relationships.

4. Evangelism and Mission

“The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (47) “After fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Group meetings should also be outreach oriented, focusing on helping group members grow in their commitment to evangelism and missions.

This includes encouraging members to pray for the lost and consider inviting their lost friends and family to attend public worship and/or their group. Healthy groups also pray regularly for both their church’s wider ministry and for world missions.

5. Mercy and Justice

“They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (45). Group meetings should include times to help group members know the needs of the poor in their community, both within and outside of the church, and how they can pray for them, give to them and serve them.

III. Group Agreement

The third and final commitment involves answering the question, “What is our group agreement?” The group agreement is a practical way group members solidify their commitment to the five essential elements of a healthy group described above.

Every group has expectations of its members and leaders. The problem is that these expectations are often not shared which can result in misunderstanding and conflict.

Some groups find it helpful to share these commitments with each other in writing by having a formal list. Others find it more helpful to share these commitments informally. Here are examples of things that could be included in a group agreement, sometimes called a group covenant.

Group Agreements

• Attendance: To give priority to the group meetings
• Participation: To share a responsibility in the group
• Prayer: To pray for one another and church ministries
• Availability: To be available to serve one another in need
• Confidentiality: To keep anything that is said confidential
• Accountability: To give permission to hold each other accountable
• Evangelism: To reach out to bring others to the church and group
• Mercy/Justice: To pray for and serve the poor with others in the group
• Assessment: To give honest, constructive feedback to help the group improve
• Multiplication: To be willing to consider starting and reproducing new groups

Group Meeting Structure

So, how long should a group meeting be? And how should we use the limited time we have together as a group?

There is no right or wrong way to structure a group meeting. Issues like time and structure depend on the unique needs of the group.

But a general example can be helpful. A healthy 90-minute group meeting might be structured like this:

• Welcome and Worship (15-20)
• Bible Study (20-25)
• Fellowship and Sharing (20-25)
• Prayer for members and outreach (20-25)

Real life group meetings are rarely this structured. Instead, healthy groups will sometimes spend entire meetings focusing on only one or two of these elements. But over time, healthy groups will emphasize all of them.


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As of March 10, the coronavirus infections in Italy increased by 24% from March 9, official figures showed, and the death toll jumped from 366 to 463. Italy is the worst-hit country after China. Cases of the virus have now been confirmed in all 20 Italian regions.

Church planters, pastors, and missionaries serving the Italian people through new churches in Italy are being faced with increasing challenges. Church planting team leader, Justin Valiquette, with Impatto – Acts 29 Italy, reported to Steve Childers today:

“We are all essentially on lockdown. Schools closed nationwide until April 3. Local businesses are really suffering. There is a lot of uncertainty and mild panic for some. Public gatherings or even being out in public socially is being restricted. We cannot meet legally, so we are starting to do Zoom (video) call on Sundays and for weekly community gatherings.” – Justin Valiquette, church planter, Impatto – Acts 29 Italy

Valiquette is helping lead and train a network of church planters and leaders in Italy. The map below shows the locations of church leaders throughout the country taking Pathway Learning church planting courses in Italian.

“Please pray!”

Please share this need and pray for the people of Italy and these church planters, pastors, missionaries and churches seeking to serve and love them well during this crisis.

“Please pray that we would understand how to navigate this delicate situation and find ways to love our neighbors well. Pray we would stay united as we seek to shine as light in this darkness.”

– Justin Valiquette

We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities






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Health in Community

Introduction

Just as the health of a human body is determined by the health of its cells, so the health of a church body is determined by the health of its groups.

This is why the focus of church group leaders shouldn’t be on the numerical growth of their group, but on its health. When leaders focus on developing a healthy group, the result is normally a growing group. This is because, like in all of God’s creation, health normally brings growth.

So, what does a healthy group look like?

Healthy groups are marked by several elements we find in the book of Acts which describe the first-century gathering of Christians. These elements include:

  • Worship: They were praising God (2:47)
  • Learning: They were devoted to the Apostles’ teaching (2:42)
  • Fellowship: They were devoted to the fellowship (2:42)
  • Prayer: They were devoted to the prayers (2:42)
  • Evangelism: Those who were being saved were added (2:47)
  • Mercy: They distributed proceeds to any who had need (2:45)
  • Missions: They laid their hands on them and sent them off (13:3)

Of course, all of these elements were not present with equal emphasis at every gathering of these first century Christians. But it’s clear that, over time, these gatherings consistently included every element.

Healthy Care Groups

The most essential small group in a church is called a care group. Care groups are sometimes called primary care groups because they provide the primary spiritual health care for group members.

Later we’ll examine a different kind of group, called a task group, which is more narrowly focused on the task of only one or two of these elements, such as learning, prayer or evangelism.

However, care groups strive to provide a more balanced emphasis on all the elements necessary for developing healthy members including worship, prayer, learning, fellowship, evangelism, mercy, and missions.

Again this doesn’t mean that care groups emphasize all these elements equally. Some healthy care groups may emphasize certain elements over others. But they always strive to include all the elements necessary for developing spiritually mature group members.

Unhealthy Care Groups

There’s a big difference between a care group’s healthy emphasis on certain elements and a care group’s unhealthy imbalance resulting in the neglect of elements needed for the spiritual growth of group members.

There are two common mistakes care groups make that result in unhealthy groups and members: 1) neglecting outreach and 2) neglecting nurture.

Outreach has an outward focus and normally include evangelism, mercy, and missions. Nurture has a more inward focus and includes worship, learning, fellowship, and prayer.

Neglecting Outreach Elements

A common mistake care groups make is to focus on nurture to the neglect of outreach.

These groups meet together regularly for times of prayer, Bible study, and mutual support and care. But they have little or no focus on reaching their lost neighbors, serving the poor in their community, and supporting the cause of world missions.

They may learn a lot about the Bible, but they often fail to apply that knowledge to their lives in a way that makes a difference in any lives but their own.

Their inordinate inward focus places them at high risk of becoming spiritually stagnant.

Neglecting Nurture Elements

Another common mistake care groups make is to focus on outreach to the neglect of nurture.

These groups are devoted to recruiting, equipping, and mobilizing their members to do all kinds of ministries both inside and outside the church body. Their primary focus is on reaching the lost, caring for the poor in their community, and advancing the cause of world missions.

But they have little or no emphasis on nourishing and caring for their group members so they will mature in Christ. This inordinate focus places them at risk of spiritual burnout.

Task Groups

Unlike primary care groups, task groups intentionally focus on only one or two elements.

Examples include groups dedicated entirely to prayer or in-depth study of the bible and theology or addiction recovery or evangelism or homeless ministry or missions.

The value of these groups is seen when a member of a primary care group needs or wants a greater focus on one or two elements when the primary care group is unable to do so. Examples include a group member who wants a greater focus on prayer, evangelism, ministry to the poor, or world missions.

These task groups can be healthy and helpful as long as they don’t become substitutes for primary care groups. To help avoid this danger, ministry task group leaders should encourage all their members to also be in a primary care group.

Conclusion

A healthy group is marked by all the biblical elements of both nurture and outreach including worship, prayer, learning, fellowship, evangelism, mercy, and missions.

There may be a healthy emphasis on either nurture or outreach elements but not an unhealthy imbalance that results in the neglect of any element.

In contrast, unhealthy groups focus on nurture elements to the neglect of outreach elements, or focus on outreach elements to the neglect of nurture.

The end goal of care groups and task groups is to work together in harmony to help every member grow to deeper levels of maturity in Christ.


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Groups Course!

Registration closes March 15

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develop churches that transform lives and communities.
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