Archives For Priorities

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Commitments in Community


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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Health in Community


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.


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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Design for Community

God gives pastors and teachers to his church to shepherd and equip church members so they will grow to maturity as the body of Christ.

But God does not mean for pastors and teachers to be the only ones who provide members with the shepherding and equipping they need to be mature. When Paul writes to the Ephesian church, he describes how the body of Christ grows and flourishes only “when each part is working properly … so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).

The problem is that many Christians expect their pastors to be the only ones who build them up as believers. But the Apostle Paul presents us with a very different perspective.

For instance, when he instructs the church at Corinth regarding what they should do when they gather, he assumes that each one, not just the pastors and teachers, comes with something to share with the others to build up the body. Paul writes, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, [and] a lesson … Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Cor 14:26)

Paul is speaking here of house churches, in which everyone took part in the building up of others. He assumes that everyone, not just a few leaders, ministered to everyone else.

This is why we find so many commands throughout the New Testament instructing followers of Christ to build up one another, including instruction to “love one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and “forgive one another.”

Unless a church is very small, pastors do not have the call or ability to provide the immediate spiritual nurturing and shepherding that each individual church member needs. This is why pastors must work with and through other church members to help meet the needs of all church members.

In Exodus 18 we learn that all the people of Israel were coming directly to Moses to help them solve their problems. As a result, the lines were long and both Moses and the people were wearing themselves out.

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw this problem, he pointed it out to Moses. Jethro said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exod 18:17-18).

Then Jethro advised Moses to design a structure that would allow him to share his responsibilities with trusted people. We see Moses’ response in Exodus 18:25-26:

Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.

And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.

In order to care properly for all the people of Israel, Moses needed to design a structure that would allow him to work with and through other qualified leaders.

In the New Testament, we learn of another time when God’s leaders needed to design a structure to better care for his people. In Acts 6 we find that the Apostles were facing a serious problem in the church. Greek believers were complaining to them that their widows were being neglected and that Jewish widows were being favored during the distribution of food.

As the Apostles were focusing on these issues related to serving tables, they were neglecting to spend time in prayer and ministry of the word. Acts 6:2-4 tells us what happens next:

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2-4)

If the Apostles continued to serve people in the same way, they would have neglected to care for them through their prayer and preaching.

Again we see the need for church leaders to work with and through others to meet the needs of all church members.

Smaller churches, especially house churches, do not need to focus a great deal on a shepherding structure. This is because in smaller churches most people already know each other well and are engaged in each others’ lives. The beauty of smaller churches is that their size allows for relationships to develop and flourish more naturally.

But as churches grow, there is a need to design a more intentional nurturing and shepherding structure or church members are not likely to receive the care they need. This involves designing a structure that, no matter how large a church becomes, allows all church members to receive the nurture, shepherding, and equipping for ministry they need.

This normally involves designing a small group structure within the church in which the ratio of care is one group leader for approximately every twelve people. Jesus’ discipleship method of focusing on twelve people is worth imitating.

These small groups become the frontline where people are engaged with each other and God’s word in a way that results in their spiritual growth and maturity. And each member of the small group is cared for by a well-trained and loving group leader.

These group leaders are in turn nurtured, equipped, and supported by meeting with mature, experienced “leaders of group leaders” who are able to mentor and care for them. And if the church is much larger, there may need to be more levels of leaders to do the same also.

The role of the pastor in a larger church is to oversee these shepherding groups by focusing on mentoring and caring for the shepherding group leaders who in turn focus on mentoring and caring for their group members (2 Tim 2:1- 2).

This doesn’t mean that group members are without access to the immediate care of pastors. Instead, church members always have access to the direct care of a pastor, especially in times of crisis, through their group leadership structure.

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