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Holistic Small Groups are not Perfect Groups

Appeared in smallgroups.com, June 2007

by Joel Comiskey

The perfect group doesn’t exist. Small groups are places where broken people are in the process of becoming whole.

A few weeks ago, I was teaching a small group seminar in York, PA. On Monday night I attended one of York Alliance’s small groups. I was bone-weary before attending that group, and I thought to myself, I don’t need another meeting.

But I loved it! The home atmosphere refreshed me. The early church met in homes, just like we’re doing tonight, I thought to myself. Sitting in Ken’s living room made me feel part of Ken’s life. I could see his family’s tastes on the walls and in the furniture. I was also touched that evening by those present. Ken’s son, for example, sat on the sofa across from me and testified about his alcohol abuse and how God transformed his life. Here he was in the small group honoring his father and mother and more importantly honoring the God who saved him. All those present were wrestling with some kind of life issue. One person had a job-related knee injury that needed prayer. Another was recently released from jail and was trying to get his life back together. All of us needed God’s healing touch in one form or another. .

That evening in York, PA, I witnessed a holistic, life transforming small group. As I’ve reflected on the key ingredients present in holistic small groups, I’ve noticed the following components to always be present:

  1. Regularity. If the group only meets once in awhile, it’s very difficult for wholeness to take place. Let’s just say the group decides to meet a couple times per month or even once per month. This means that if a group member misses one meeting, he or she might not even see the other members for the entire month. It’s very hard for life change to take place with such irregularity. Weekly meetings are the norm in holistic small groups (although natural breaks, for holidays, sickness, etc. are normal as well)
  2. Smallness. If the group is too large, shy Mary will never be able to share deep needs and struggles. Somewhere between three to fifteen adults is the best size for holistic small groups. At that size, everyone can share and participate. When a small group has fifteen adults or more, there is simply no desire among members to make it more crowded by inviting their non-Christian friends–or even inviting those who are attending the Sunday service but are not in a small group. And who would want to host such a large group? When a group gets too large, the unspoken thinking among members is to keep the group manageable by not inviting anyone else.
  3. Penetration. My recent experience in York, PA confirmed to me the power of small groups in the home. The early church was a home-based movement. The theme of penetration is to take the church to the people outside of the building. While the home is the best place, some groups meet on college campuses, restaurants or elsewhere in the marketplace.
  4. Essential components of holistic groups. The key components of evangelism, community, discipleship and multiplication should be present in all holistic small groups. That is, these components should be the objective or goal for the group. If the group only focuses on evangelism, community will suffer. If the group focuses solely on community, the members won’t have the chance to exercise their outreach muscles. If the group never multiplies, it’s robbing someone the growth opportunity of facilitation. And the group can’t multiply unless members are discipled and prepared to be future leaders.

A holistic small group is a group of 3-15 adults who meet weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community, and discipleship with the goal of multiplication. Defining a small group according to these quality components has nothing to do with legalism but everything to do with desiring that those in the small group have a qualitative, holistic experience. Holistic small groups, although imperfect, simply have a better chance of life transformation.

I live in the desert. It takes a lot of extra work to grow healthy, green grass. I’ve battled numerous funguses and weeds and tried all the watering time-tables available. I really have to work hard to create the right environment for green, healthy grass.

Small groups also need critical components to assure that life transformation takes place. Yet, even with the right components, holistic small group will always remain imperfect. Why? Because they exist for people like you and me--sinful human beings in constant need of Jesus, the great healer