Reach Out to Grow Closer
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.
In the month of April, we will look more closely at how outreach and intimacy are essential in thriving small groups. Experienced pastors and leaders will write twenty-five blogs on aspects of this topic. If you’d like to receive these blogs in your email, click here. We’ll cover:
- (April 02-08). Biblical base for reaching out while growing in community. The early church house members loved one another, and this love caused the neighbors to want Jesus. Group outreach is also a key difference between holistic groups (cell groups) and many small groups.
- (April 09-15). Resistance to group outreach. The thinking is, “Let’s just have fellowship.” Yet, groups actually become stronger through outreach.
- (April 16-2). The power of prayer in group outreach. Prayer is the most important tool in reaching lost people and strengthening the group. Scripture teaches that those without Christ are spiritually blinded and only the power of God can open their eyes.
- (April 23-29). Group planning. The Elim Church is known for their weekly meeting of the core team to prepare for outreach. The core team also grows in koinonia in the process of planning.
- (April 30-May 06). Outreach activities. What are some of the group outreach activities that work. In the process of reaching out, the group also grows in intimacy and community.
Share here your experiences about growing in intimacy in your group while reaching out to others.
Joel Comiskey and Jim Egli’s 2017 book, Groups that Thrive: 7 Surprising Discoveries about Life-Giving Small Groups will be available in November.
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2017 JCG Event in Reseda, California
- We will have our annual JCG event in the Elim Reseda Church, on March 09-11, 2018 (notice the extended schedule). Mario Vega and Joel Comiskey will be ministering in Spanish and simultaneous English translation will be available. Additional guest speakers will minister on Friday night and Saturday night. Sign up now for $39.00.
2017 JCG Event in Falls Church, Virginia
- We will be holding our second JCG conference in Virgina/Washington D.C. area at the Elim Church Virginia area on September 02, 2017. You can register here.
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