by Steve Cordle
Recently a new member to our church responded to our open, outreach-oriented group philosophy by asking “Didn’t Jesus have a closed group?” Our new friend had been part of a thriving church in another state that had used the closed small group approach. The thinking there is that authentic community will be hard to acheive if new people are always joining the group.
It’s a great question! My answer is that, yes, Jesus had a closed group of 12. However, we would say that Jesus’ closed group equated to the coaching group, not the open cell.
Like most cell churches, we use both open cell and coaching group (or G-12, or 5×5 meeting in other churches). The coaching group is made up of a leader who has birthed groups and is now working with those leaders. It is a training and discipling environment, rather like the one Jesus had with his 12. The open cell is the basic expression of the church, and as such it must be open. It is where the purposes of the church are lived out. To close it is to close off the church and shut down the evangelistic culture of the church.
Additionally, I recently heard Jim Egli share that his research shows that open groups actually experience a higher level of community than do closed groups. It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s what he found (watch for the info to appear in a book this Fall)
So we need not fear that by using open groups we are deviating from Jesus’ model. If we are coaching leaders in a group format we are using his model! And we need not fear that we are “watering down” the sense of community people can experience, we are actually increasing it while accomplishing the purposes of God for His people.