The following is a recent email I received from Josh Hunt (a "small group guru"). You can read more of his thoughts at joshhunt.com
Townsend, Cloud and Donahue taught five marks of great groups:
As important as these are, I don't think they are the complete picture. Below are five more marks of great groups:
This list assumes these groups are what could be called Basic Christian Communities. That is, they are microcosms of the church. They are basic Sunday School classes or home groups. There is nothing wrong with a group targeted toward some particular purpose like evangelism. But, all of us need to be in a Basic Christian Community--a micro-church. In these Basic Christian Communities I like to see five things, in addition to the five things discussed last week.
Some where along the line I like to hear someone say, "Let's open our Bibles and look at. . ." This may be a book study. It may be video-based. It may have a lot of discussion and opinion sharing, but somewhere I like for every group to read the Bible and discuss the Bible.
Literature can be a great help to us, but literature should never replace the Bible. (And, no, this will not a shock or offense to your local Lifeway rep; they will agree.) Literature points us to the Bible, it supplements the Bible, but it does not replace the Bible.
We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12.1 - 2). It is the truth that sets us free. (John 8.32)
I was nurtured spiritually in my early formative years by the Navigators. http://www.navigators.org My first son is named Dawson, in part after the Navigators founder, Dawson Trotman. I am forever in the debt of the Navigators who taught me to walk with God. They taught me two important principles.
Navigator principle #1: the importance of the Word. Every believer should start their day with the Bible on their lap. We need to spend time on a regular basis in prayer and in the Word. The quiet time is the basic discipline of the Christian life. I have no concept of what it means to live the Christian life if it does not include regular personal time in the Word. Going to church is good. Attending a group is good. But, the win is creating people who spend time alone with God.
I guess I differ a bit from my hero Andy Stanley on this. At Northpoint, they define the win as getting people into groups. This is a step up from many churches, who have either not defined the win at all, or defined the win as how many people showed up to hear the preacher preach. But, getting people into groups is not the end game. Getting them alone with God is.
Truthfully, there is more to it than the outward activity of the quiet time. Ultimately this is about creating people who love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. It is just that that is hard to measure. You could measure whether your people were spending time alone with God. It is hard to measure whether or not they love God and love people. Measuring whether they spend time alone with God is the next best thing. My dad taught me that you can't measure the most important things. You can measure how many people came forward. You can't measure how much they meant it.
Getting people in the Word is central to making disciples.
Navigator Principle #2: Most people need accountability. Most people need someone to ask, "How are you doing these days in terms of your time alone with God? What have you read recently? What has it meant to you? What are you memorizing?" Most people will never get it without this. We desperately needs groups that ask the hard questions.
You can do this without running off newcomers. You can do accountability in an open group. You can't set the bar too high, and you might have to adjust the plan if you have new comers show up. You might also encourage people toward other accountability groups where you can set the bar higher. But, you can do some accountability in Sunday School.
This is a Basic Christian Community. It is a microcosm of the church. This means, the group should be doing the things the church does. It should be accomplishing the five basic purposes of the church. It should be evangelism, discipleship, worship, ministry and fellowship.
Too many groups are holy huddles--places where we try to get higher and higher up the mountain of spiritual maturity and closer and closer to God and farther and farther from people who are far from God. One problem: when you get to the mountain you will find a God who is relentless obsessed about people who are far from Him. If you really are climbing up the mountain toward God your heart is going to become a little more like the heart of God who is crazy about people who are far from Him.
You may not be gifted to do classic, in-your-face evangelism, but you are going to care. You are going to think about people who are far from God. You are going to be drawn to them. You are going to pray about them.
I teach full-time on helping groups double every two years or less and have an aching convictions that the problem is not that we cannot figure out how to double a class every two years or less. The problem is, we don't want to. We don't like them. And they can tell. And, all the while we think we are moving up the mountain of spiritual maturity. We are not. We are not getting more godly. We are just getting more churchy.
I have a sermon that I do on this. I preached it one time in North Carolina. I assume this lady didn't understand what I was trying to say. Her reactions was, "Your darn right I don't like being around sinners. They smoke, they drink, they swear; I don't like being around them." Her tone suggested, "Look at me! Look how far I am up the mountain of spiritual maturity! I don't like being around sinners!" God, help us.
One of the best ways to do outreach is the Levi way. Have a party once a month and invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. It is not only a great way to do outreach. It is a lot of fun. I have written about this so often I will keep this brief. If you are new to this concept, see http://www.joshhunt.com/friday
To to this effectively, you need to do evangelism as a team. Have an inreach leader, outreach leader, fellowship leaders and so forth in every class. What a wonderful plan: let the teachers teach, the leaders lead and the party planners plan the parties.
To do this, you need to have a vision day once a quarter. I have written about these things in other contexts. See www.joshhunt.com/articles.htm for a backlog of previous articles.
The Navigators taught me about discipleship. Jack Taylor taught me about worship. He was the Interim Pastor at my brother's church for about a semester. He did a sermon series on praise. It forever changed my life. It was the single most influential series of sermons I have ever experienced.
There is something about worship that changes us. There is something about worship that transforms us. There is just something about worship.
This is one thing that can be done better in a big group than a small group. But, you can still do worship in a small group. You may have someone in your group that plays the guitar or piano that could help. Have you ever asked? I'd love to play my guitar, and no one asks. I wonder why. Hmmm.
Another approach is through videos. It will help if you can get a projector and some big sound. People don't sing well unless you can get the volume loud enough that they can't hear themselves. Projectors are getting cheaper all the time.
There are other ways to worship besides singing. Just watching this video will help your people worship: http://www.bluefishtv.com
/ProductDetails.aspx?cid=1005 &id=1433&f=s1m&cc=&csc=&ldr=&s =amena%20brown
Here is an idea: have a prayer time that is limited to thanksgiving and worship. Don't ask for anything. Just say thank-you to God.