Mark Howell: Another Look at the Closed Group Strategy

Ever found yourself suddenly looking at something you’ve seen many times…and realizing there was actually something else there?  Like a Magic Eye 3D image…you suddenly can see the dinosaurs in the background!  That’s what happened to me and it caused be to reevaluate North Point’s closed group strategy.

If you’ve been along for much of the journey here, you know I have long been an outspoken fan of the open group philosophy.   I’ve written about it many times.  I’ve also pointed out that one of three key distinctives of North Point’s strategy is the closed group philosophy…and I expressed my concern with it:

“Closed groups cut off the friends and connections of the newest people to the crowd.  If I’m a new attendee and I join a closed group it will be 12 to 18 months before I can encourage my friend to join my group.”

So what changed?  What caused me to reevaluate?

First, a new understanding of what North Point has identified as the five faith catalysts (practical teaching, providential relationships, private disciplines, personal ministry, and pivotal circumstances).  Andy Stanley provides a thorough overview of the concept in Deep and Wide.  Stanley notes that, “While it’s beyond our ability to manufacture any type of relationship, much less one characterized as providential, what we can do is create environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships (p. 133).”

Second, the realization that North Point doesn’t view small groups as a growth engine.  I need to point out that I remain an outspoken fan of the exponential upside of a church-wide campaign and am convinced that nothing is a more powerful growth engine. That’s why Stanley’s statement is so important: “We decided not to leverage adult groups as a growth engine, but rather to do everything in our power to create authentic community (p. 134).”

Third, the commitment to creating a church that unchurched people love to attend cannot be overemphasized.  How can North Point remain committed to the closed group philosophy?  How can they choose to not leverage adult groups as a growth engine?  Let’s just say their ability to create irresistible environments (read weekend services that unchurched people love to attend) diminishes the need for adult groups as growth engine.

What does this mean for you?  I think the key is that a closed group strategy can work when used in combination with an engaging weekend service that unchurched people love to attend.  Can’t say that about your weekend service?  You may want to rethink that closed group strategy.  

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Mark Howell
Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded, offering consulting and coaching services to help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He spent four years on the consulting staff at Lifetogether and often contributes to ministry periodicals such as the Pastor's Ministry Toolbox and

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