Evangelism and Multiplication
By Joel Comiskey
By Joel Comiskey, pastoral coaching available here (free first session available for those interested in receiving coaching)
There’s been a debate raging in the small group world for 50 years. Some people contend that small groups should be open and outward focused. Others argue for closed groups so that members can build intimacy. What is the best option? Which produces more group health?
Jim Egli and I have recently polled 1800 small group leaders for our upcoming book Groups that Thrive: Seven Surprises About Life-Giving Small Groups (November 2017). We asked questions about community building and group outreach. The last question in our “Care segment” was: “Do members of my group feel free to share very personal problems and struggles with one another?”
If closed groups do in fact foster more intimacy, there would be a negative correlation between the outward focus of a group and this particular question. But the opposite is the case. In fact, people in open groups feel significantly closer to one another than people in closed groups. People in groups strong in outreach feel more freedom to share personal problems and struggles! Almost twice as many group leaders in outreaching groups reported a strong level of intimacy (79%) as opposed to closed groups that didn’t reach out (41%).
This discovery is a surprise. It goes against our natural thinking that says, “close the doors, so we can get more community.” “Our members won’t open up if we’re inviting new people and reaching out.” The conclusions of this study are clear: small group outreach strengthens groups and helps them grow in community. Evangelism and outreach is one aspect of personal and group growth.
The Bible paints a similar picture of intimacy and outreach. The home groups in the primitive church were both relationally oriented and effective in outreach. Acts 2:42-47 tells us that the early believers radically shared their lives with one another, even to the point of selling their belongings to help those in need (verse 45). At the same time, amazing evangelism was taking place through the lives and groups of these early believers (verse 47). When God’s Spirit is at work both of these things happen!
As Jesus transformed people, they behaved different and friends and neighbors were drawn to this new transformed community. Their changed lifestyles spilled over into the community around them, but at the same time, their deepness and intimate fellowship increased. People could see the changes up close as community life was lived out in the open.