Home Small Group Leaders Small Group Leaders Blogs The Ongoing Open vs Closed Group Debate

The Ongoing Open vs Closed Group Debate

Where do you stand on the open vs closed group debate?  I’ve written about this in the past (Open or Closed Groups, Do Good Groups Really Practice the Open Chair, and my spoof Top 10 Reasons I’m a Fan of Open Groups).  I also like the direction Rick Howerton took the conversation in Open Small Groups Are More Intimate Than Closed Groups.

It’s an important conversation.  In fact, it’s probably more important than many realize.

Believe me, both camps make a good case.  We all have our arguments down.  But at its very heart, I believe the open vs closed group debate is really about whose needs get prioritized.

Open vs closed group philosophy surfaced again in the discussion around Belonging or Believing…Which Comes First? Although the surface issue in that article is about the wisdom (or morality) of requiring church membership before allowing people to join a small group…deep down it’s really a question of whose needs get prioritized.  After all, it is a zero sum game.  If I let you in, it takes something away from me.  Right?

In the classic closed group argument, proponents claim that closed groups allow members to focus on growing in intimacy without the distractions that a new member brings.  I like to ask what I think are two important questions:

  • How does this line up with Philippians 2:3-4?  ”Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”  The biblical line of thinking has almost nothing to do with the airline prescription to “put on your own oxygen mask first.”
  • What will the passage of time (12 to 18 months) do to your group members’ external relationships? Will their relationships with outsiders ever be as vibrant and strong as they are right now?  This for me is the clincher.  It’s the reason I say that the x-factor is near the edge! All you have to do is interview church members who are truly connected.  When you ask who their 10 closest connections are they’ll almost always tell you that 8, 9, or even all 10 are insiders.

The Titanic, Lifeboat 14, and Kathy Bates

There’s a great scene in The Titanic.  The ship has gone down.  The lifeboats have all been launched and are safely away.  Kathy Bates, playing the part of real life survivor Molly Brown, is one of the passengers on board Lifeboat 14, captained by the real life 5th Officer Harold Lowe.

In the distance the passengers on the lifeboat can hear the screams and pleadings of those in the 28 degree water.  Molly Brown, unable to sit idly by and do nothing, says, “We have to go back!”  Another of the passengers tells her if she doesn’t shut up, he’ll make her shut up.

Only one of the 20 lifeboats went back to pick up the people in the water.  Lifeboat 14.  The only reason we know the name of 5th Officer Harold Lowe is that he gave the order to go back.  Every other lifeboat, all 19 of them, rowed safely away…looking out for their own interests.

It is 2011.  We are living in a post Christian era.  It is absolutely time to wake up and smell the coffee.  If you want to hear “well done,” you will not be controlling who can be in a small group.

What do you think? Make sense? Want to argue? Got a question? Jump into the conversation.

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Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded SmallGroupResources.net, 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 ChurchCentral.com.