Here is the final article by Thom Rainer from his series on small groups.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve covered the five myths facing small groups as well as the five benefits of small groups. Unfortunately, there are still challenges and obstacles that hinder transformation in and through small groups.
The first obstacle to transformational small communities is that the transference of information is valued much more than life transformation. Biblical illiteracy is a problem in North America and even the church. But the work of a small group or Sunday School class does not end when the members can all find Thessalonica on the map in the back of their Bibles. The purpose of community must be to engender the desire and see the effects of transformation. Somewhere between biblical literacy and biblical minutia we find spiritual maturity. Knowledge puffs up and cannot be the goal alone. Transformation includes biblical learning, but it does not end with it.
Another obstacle to transformational small communities is that teaching is valued more than learning. We have already pointed out the danger of only recruiting the uber-qualified as leaders for classes and groups. The goal must be that people are joyfully learning, not that one person is happy teaching. Leaders should focus as much on application of the truth as the delivery of it. For small groups to be transformational, they should include monologue and dialogue. Leaders of groups should always have these questions in mind:
- How well are members applying God’s truth?
- Where is each participant with the Lord?
Remember the agenda is Christ being formed in the lives of those involved in your small group.
The third obstacle to small communities is when they become a reflection of past practices. Churches with a strong history and tradition can be closed to deeper discussions and questions. They have done groups a certain way for years. The way is safe. The connection is important. Group life is a tool of God for His purposes, not an institutional expectation. Groups provide the opportunity to live life on life.
The fourth small communities’ obstacle is a segmentation of the mission of God. The mission of small communities is not to teach the Bible only. Every expression of church owns all the mission of God. Your smaller community owns the mission of God. You have been called and empowered. The danger of segmentation is great. The smaller communities say that is not their role. Our purpose is to get through the study, they think. Instead, every small group could adopt a nation in the world or a people group. We are going to go. We are going to connect. We own the mission of God.
The fifth small communities’ obstacle is a lack of intimacy. We use the term community freely, yet there are multiple layers of community. Community in a broad sense is achieved around common interests. The most concrete example of community is your local neighborhood. You may not have any significant conversations with your neighbors, even though you have lived on the same street for years. Normally if there is a series of break-ins on your block or another neighborhood crisis, you start talking to your neighbors. You now share a common interest: the security of your personal property. Although new friendships can begin because of the mutual interest and corresponding conversations, you only experience community on a shallow level.
The next level of community is critical for a smaller group to become transformational. The word is communitas. Communitas is a threshold or space where deeper sharing and conversations take place. The dynamic of a deeper level or threshold of sharing is not automatic. The smaller group becomes a safe zone where deeper questions and struggles can be discussed. The environment is relaxed and open. People can pray for one another in the moment. People can pray (and do in a transformational small group) beyond living rooms and meeting times. More conversations evolve outside the meeting. Actions and accountability take place.
What obstacles are small group facing? Are you developing true community?