For many years within the small group realm there has been a lot of discussion on whether small groups should be open or closed. An open group allows and invites new people into the group. A closed group is one that is not open to new members unless, perhaps, some folks move on from the group.
There are varying opinions on the matter even among small group specialists. Some feel that when groups first start they should be closed for at least a time to allow the group to really connect and gel. Then the group may choose to be open and invite new people in. This allows for the necessary intimacy to develop so there is a solid foundation to build from especially for new folks coming in. Others believe that groups are best to stay closed and new groups begun as new people want to join a small group. The claim is that true intimacy, accountability and growth can only develop over time and any interference with that only impedes ongoing personal and spiritual growth.
I've always struggled with the closed group idea and here's why. A closed group quickly becomes self-focused and amongst our CRC communities, that can equal a comfortable place which is our default to avoid reaching the lost for Christ. Sure the group may go and serve and even take up a local missional cause, but they will never have to invite someone personally to their small group or even the church. Even when groups begin closed with the intent to become open within a few months or a year down the road, the tendency is not to make that jump and become an inviting group. Comfort wins out again.
Having been a pioneer in almost every ministry I've ever served from youth ministry and worship ministry to church planting, I know the value of developing a healthy DNA. If there is no drive to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and develop committed disciples from the inception of a ministry, it does not come easier later on. When a discipleship focus is in the very fabric of a ministry there is greater possibility for this momentum to carry into everything that ministry does.
When the DNA of a small group ministry is to build disciples then "closed" is not really an option is it? Some might say that if a group is dealing with some difficult things it should stay closed. Really? Perhaps for a couple of sessions to deal with the issue. But after that? Even recovery ministries keep an open door policy for anyone to join. I know there's the fear of loss of confidentiality if a new person(s) come in just when you're feeling comfortable. But a good leader makes sure all this is clarified from the beginning when new folks come. But isn't dealing with all the uncomfortableness and uncertainties part of sharing the gospel with others both in our saying and doing? Isn't real discipleship sometimes (mostly) messy? I think more often than not people push for closed groups for our own comfort and perhaps fear of being real and exposed and reaching out to those we don't know but who really need Jesus and a group like yours.
I was excited to come across a blog recently that supported my feelings regarding the "open" and "closed" discussion. Rick Howerton in his blog mentioned a new book by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable titled Small Groups, Big Impact.
"They interviewed 3,000 small group leaders in 21 countries to bring us some of the most amazing and game changing information the small group world has been exposed to.
In this incredible book you’ll find these words… 'We were curious to see if open groups that are actively seeking and including new people could, in fact, experience the same level of loving relationships as closed groups. We were startled by what the statistical analysis showed. Open groups actually experience significantly more community than closed groups!'
A few paragraphs later…'The results are so strong that we can actually tell you that if you want to experience deeper community in your small group, you should make it an open group that is actively reaching out to others! And, on the other hand, if you want a superficial level of relationships within the group and between its members, it would be best to make it a closed group.'
This is fantastic! After all, don’t we want more not yet followers of Christ to come on board? Don’t we want to take the masses with us to spend eternity with Christ? This revelation makes it possible for us to educate our small group leaders. We can now with integrity tell he/she, “Your group will be relationally closer if you are inviting new people into group life and at the same time you’ll be able to accomplish the number one goal of every biblical group to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28: 19 – 21.
Welcome to the new and game-changing reality."
Yep, my thoughts exactly. I bought the book to see how they came to their findings.
What are your thoughts? I sense we could get some real discussion going on this one.
'til next time