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A Rant on Small Groups and Success

13 July 2007

A family member recently asked me to give some thought as to how to start and sustain a small group.

“Small groups” are an enigma, wrapped as they are in a cloak of artificiality, especially at the outset. I’m not sure of any of the “hows.” All I know – contingently, of course – is that my family member’s instinct to run from the teacher/class paradigm is spot on.

I’m not even sure what constitutes a “successful” small group. We (I) tend to think, first and foremost, about such nonsense as (a) how many show up “faithfully,” (b) how long the group persists and (c) how well the group becomes known by word of mouth of the participants. But all that is vanity, chasing after the wind; or, to be perhaps more charitable, all of that is but a surrogate for the real question, (d): are we growing to be more like Christ, or not?

Perchance I’m overanalyzing this. And to be sure, I have the good (!) fortune of participating in two small groups who pass the (a, b, c) tests above. One of the groups has grown qualitatively into a meta-community that actually likes to be together outside our normal meetings, and as word of our possible move to CO has spread, there have been expressions of dismay that indicate some degree of contribution to the group’s development. But it is still that: a group, a meta-community, not yet a bona fide community. That’s what I mean by “artificiality.” It remains contrived. We bleed together only rarely, and usually in the artificial context of a Sunday night meeting over Scripture, not in the midst of actual life happening.

Don’t get me wrong: I love those men, I love their families, and I love our gatherings. I have learned a tremendous amount from them, and they have refined my thinking and my ways of thinking.

So as you might have gathered, the questions surrounding “how to do a small group” elicit a lot of angst here. I just don’t know. I don’t like settling for positive answers to (a, b, c), and it’s not enough to identify an individual or two in the group who can answer (d) in the affirmative. I would rather be able to answer (d) in the affirmative at the community level WITHOUT some charismatic individual (“teacher,” “small group leader”) having a reason to take credit for it.

It appears to be an article of faith for just about everyone that “every enterprise needs a strong, visionary leader to succeed.” That notion is not even questioned. But I do question it. The words of Jesus leave me little choice.


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