The common approach to directing small group systems is to prescribe a small group methodology and help people conform to that methodology. In reaction to this approach, other churches have taken a free-for-all approach that basically allows people to lead almost any kind of group they want.
I think that a much wiser approach is to facilitate the creation of natural environments where people can answer the questions that they are already asking.
This is not about giving people the answers. Nor is it about letting them do whatever they want in order to get them in groups. It’s about guiding people into honest self-discovery.
The power behind self-discovery is that it frees us to create environments based on powerful questions instead of prescribed, top-down patterns developed by leadership. If we work within the big questions about life and personal significance people are already asking, we will encounter less resistance.
Some of these questions include:
Who am I?
Where do I belong?
What can I contribute? (How can I impact this world?)
What’s the next step on my journey with God?
By inviting people in our groups to answer these four questions, their answers will shape the forms of life together that will move them from normal into a group that organically enters community and mission. Instead of stating that group membership will look a certain way, we can teach people these questions and walk with them as they ask and answer these questions for themselves, one another and of God.
As we do this, our groups will have an opportunity to think holistically about the ways they connect. There’s also a bonus: Members take ownership in the life of the group more quickly because they are being challenged to answer their own questions rather than questions given to them by the leadership of the church.
As we help groups work through these questions and discover what it takes to move from the normal group stories to missional stories, we will see how the questions can be modified or rephrased. Then, as the group enters into life with one another on deeper levels, we will discover and embrace the differences in people around them. This becomes even more apparent as we enter into conversations with people in our neighborhoods. Just don’t anticipate how or when a group will manifest community and mission. Here’s a surprising personal story about this very issue.
My wife and I were part of a group that met for 10 weeks around the issue of serving “the poor.” This was an experimental group that included people from different socio-economic experiences. Some were from a middle-class background; some were raised in generational poverty; one person spent a significant time in jail; and another was a successful businessman who had lost everything in the recession.