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Greenhouse LIFEgroups

Calvary's philosophy for launching LIFEgroups can be best described through the metaphor of the greenhouse. However, to understand the greenhouse, you must first take a moment to consider the garage and the meadow.

Imagine a typical garage. Likely it is a highly organized place. Most garages have shelves, cabinets, and other storage areas. A garage is a place where a lot of different things can happen because it is well organized. In addition to housing cars, most garages also serve as work spaces. Often they are a place for auto repairs or woodworking. A properly functioning garage provides plenty of space to efficiently accomplish several tasks.

Most garages look the same. They typically have a square or rectangular shape, concrete floors, unfinished walls, and a large door. Because they are designed to be functional, not artistic, little variety exists from garage to garage.

Garages are a place to accomplish tasks, not to grow things. If something is growing in your garage, you likely have a problem.

Now imagine a meadow. Nothing in a meadow is organized. This lack of control allows anything and everything to grow in a meadow. Meadows are completely random and completely disorganized. A meadow is not a place where tasks are accomplished. A meadow is a place you go when you have nothing to do.

Meadows are inviting places because of the incredible variety of growing plants. Even weeds contribute to the appeal of a meadow. The lack of organization and efficiency in the meadow help contribute to the wide variety of growth. The primary thing that happens in a meadow is growth. No systems exist, there are no processes; just wild, uncontrolled growth.

Small group programs at many churches resemble garages. Some small group programs resemble meadows.

"Garage Churches" organize their small groups from the top-down. Most decisions are made by staff. A great deal of what happens in groups and ministries happens via dictation. Systems and policies are put in place to ensure high efficiency. Usually, every group follows the same specific plan. The church developes a pattern, and every group is expected to squeeze into the pattern. Little or not room exists for creativity. Typically, organizational productivity takes precedent over personal growth. Victories are usually measured by accomplishment of the church goals and increased attendance or giving, rather than by personal life change.

"Meadow Churches" allow everyone to do what is right in their own eyes. Most decisions are made by individuals with little or no consideration as to how they might impact others. No one makes an effort to give direction or oversee any groups or ministries. No "big picture" plans or goals exist. Different groups regularly engage in "turf wars" because no one has a shared vision for the direction of the church. Every group makes their own plan. Each group is given the freedom to evaluate itself, make plans, and study material which is effective for the current needs of the group. Personal growth is given precedent over organizational productivity. The larger goals of the group take backseat to the growth and development of each person and group. Numbers and statistics are not nearly as important as personal and group stories.

Both the garage church and the meadow church have aspects that are desirable. However, both models also have clear weaknesses. We are trying to develop a ministry model at Calvary that builds on the strengths of both models and minimizes the weaknesses of each model. We call this hybrid the "greenhouse" model. Our primary objective is to "provide the minimum structure necessary to allow for maximum growth."

We want people to grow, groups to grow, Calvary to grow, and the Kingdom of God to grow. We believe this will happen as we release as much responsibility and freedom to people and groups as possible. Therefore, we will try to provide the organization and structure necessary to allow for this growth without being overbearing and smothering people's and group's uniqueness. The most significant element of this "minimum structure" is our desire that every group engage in a balance of formative, caring, and missional activities.

Our goal is for groups to form through "organic multiplication" rather than "organizational recruiting". Basically, we want people to join groups because they want to, not just because we ask them to. LIFEgroups are usually composed of 8-12 individuals or 5-8 couples who gather formally and informally on a regular basis. However, LIFEgroups can be any size as long as their structure can support a balance of formative, caring, and missional activities.

Using the organic analogy, the ideal process for LIFEgroup formation might look like this:

  • Germination. A group of people decide they would like to partner together for spiritual growth. They determine together to launch a new LIFEgroup.
  • Formation. Having determined how they plan to be formative, caring, and missional together; they invite a few people to join them. At a given time, they launch their group.
  • Invitation. Once the group is moving, they are careful to not lose sight of the ongoing need to expand their relationships to include others in the group. Living missionally will mean people are regularly being invited to and added to the group.
  • Multiplication. Eventually a group will grow in two ways. They will grow numerically and reach a point where they can no longer foster the same type of relationships. They will also grow spiritually, and some group members will discover and develop the necessary gifts to launch and lead a new LIFEgroup. Rather than fear a divisive "split", the group should embrace and celebrate this growth as an opportunity to begin the process again by germinating a new group.

This is just a short overview of the process. Many of the details will be fleshed out later. Of course, some people will always desire to be placed into a group, either because they have no existing relational connections, or because their personality lends itself to such a process. For those people, we provide a guide to all our existing LIFEgroups, so they can find the group that is the best fit for them.


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