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Structured vs. Flexible Group Life

How Does Group Life Happen?

Should a church try and program its Group Life community or should it let it grow organically among people? Lets be honest. Biblical community is not spontaneously happening in Austin, Texas where I live.

This question is asked a lot in churches that want to promote community.  I have been in conversations recently that were helpful for me about this topic.  We talked about the two guardrails of Structured vs. Flexible community.

Structured Community

The positive aspects of structuring community for people is that you get to introduce them quickly to a variety of aspects of Biblical community.  They get a sample size taste of its many facets.   Structured community, like new church Small Groups, ‘create’ it for people who don’t naturally exist in it.

Small Groups, as a church apparatus, are a way to create a structured Biblical community. Especially at the beginning of a group. We often invite people to try it for 6-weeks and see what their experience is like. This means we use highly structured, every week gatherings for six weeks.  The leader of the group is given some basic training on the kind of culture and atmosphere they should create.  The content is structured for the group so all of the introduction questions, passages of Scripture, discussion time and prayer (to name a few) are almost all scripted for the new leader and new group members.  It is a highly structured experience.

These new Small Groups create an identity for what this community space will look like in the future.  Since most people have never experienced Biblical community they need to be introduced to it.  Over time the rigid structure of its beginnings begin to fall off and more flexibility is experienced in the group once a pattern of a new kind of community is settling in.

A huge benefit of structured community is that you can be intentional with the kinds of resources you want to introduce based on where people are needing or wanting to grow.  It provides a framework for developing people to follow Christ in areas of weaknesses or developing strengths.  It is highly intentional for growth.

The downside to structured community is that a new leader is too rigid with the structure of the group.  A leader might care more about completing the content of a particular study or resource more than caring for people.  Or the people in the group might feel like they are part of a program of social engineering rather than just connecting with people, who are connecting with Jesus.  These are legitimate concerns with structuring community.

Flexible Community

This is more caught than taught.  It happens on the fly.  Lets get together and see what happens.  Love will lead this group.  The Spirit will lead this group.

Flexibility in creating community allows for natural relationships to bond and grow as a lifestyle.  It doesn’t have to be a set day and time of the week.  It is in the ebb and flow of how we live the rhythms of life that connectedness happens.  It is by ‘personal invitation’ that you get into it.

Leaders of flexible community have in mind what loving Biblical community looks and feels like.  Often times it is the aesthetic quality of what Biblical community feels like that they want people to experience.  These kinds of groups are often led by ‘love’ leaders.  They often have a charismatic quality about them that people are attracted to.  They don’t need structure to prop them up or give them direction as a leader.  These community spaces are rich in love, feel like natural ‘on the way’ of life relationships and less like ‘I signed up for a church group’ thing.

The downside of flexible community is that it often times lacks intentionality for growth.  The leader has an aesthetic idea of where the community is going but it is not tangible.  People must be intuitive about the growth happening in and around them.  Often times this kind of community does not replicate or multiply leadership well because most of the experience is created by one charismatic leader.

How are you experiencing community in your church environment?  Is it structured or flexible?  What are other benefits or limitations of these?