May 29th, 2012 at 6:00 am
At Lake Pointe Church, we are extremely intentional in our small-group strategy. All adult members are enrolled and expected to participate in a Life Group. Life Groups primarily meet on campus during prime time on the weekend. We do have some that meet anytime/anywhere. They are open groups ranging from 20 to 70 in attendance. Currently, 70 percent of our adult members are active in a Life Group.
The four purposes of Life Groups are: (1) living for others (care/serving together), (2) interactive Bible study, (3) fellowship and (4) encouragement. Each Life Group is viewed as a dynamic “church within the church.” Teachers go through extensive training and practice before they are set free to shepherd a Life group. All Life Groups are “open” – anyone can come into the group at any time – and use the same curriculum. Prospective members choose a group based on age, affinity or both.
Out of each Life Group, we have also established our closed group practice. We call them “growth groups.” Growth groups are comprised of members who elect to get to know one another more deeply. Once these groups are formed, they become “closed” and are no longer open to receive new members.
Couples growth groups are made of a maximum of one growth group coordinator couple and four additional couples. Singles growth groups consist of a maximum of one growth group coordinator and five individuals. Every active Life Group member is encouraged to participate in a growth group, but no one is automatically placed in a group. We desire that each group be successful, so we want them to be established with individuals who are willing to invest the time and effort in these smaller closed groups.
These closed groups are vital in the ongoing process of developing disciples. Each of the four elements of growth groups enhances the four purposes of the Life Group and helps members move to a new level of commitment and involvement. In essence, we have combined the on-campus Bible study with the off-campus home group.
Elements of Growth Groups
- Fellowship. We believe that community happens best in small groups. Five couples meeting in a home or eating out together builds community more effectively than 20 couples gathering for a party. Therefore, we encourage Life Groups to have fewer large gatherings (four per year) and more growth group fellowships. We suggest that growth groups meet twice a month: once to eat out together and once in a home. Groups can meet more often if they desire and if childcare is not an issue. The fellowship aspect is the easiest way to sell growth group involvement, since people like to have fun together.
- Care. Life Groups are the primary care ministries of the church. All teachers and coordinators are responsible to minister to their members. In the small group setting, care increases dramatically. Growth group coordinators are the first people to know when a need arises in the lives of group members, and they are able to act quickly because they are responsible for a small number of people. They are also able to act more decisively because they know their members.
- Discipleship. Discipleship is more caught than taught. In a growth group, members observe the lives of other members. They know how “real” members are. They study the Bible together. Growth group coordinators are not teachers; they are discussion facilitators. Recommended materials are user-friendly and inexpensive, and groups decide on their topics of discussion. Individuals share more openly because of the smaller closed group atmosphere.
- Encouragement. Although a growth group is a small group, the sharing that takes place in a co-ed group is often still surface-level. Women may hesitate to share their real struggles in front of men and vice versa. Therefore, we encourage growth groups to incorporate separate encouragement times for men and women. This can happen in a home after a group discussion. It can also happen at separate meetings when men or women meet for breakfast or lunch. Encouragement time does not have to be another meeting; it can happen through email or phone calls. Each growth group decides what works best for them. The point is that members are available for one another. Members are aware of one another’s struggles and temptations; they commit to pray, listen and support as needed. They also ask difficult questions of one another. This level of interaction is only possible in a closed group.
Benefits of Growth Groups as a Closed Group Strategy
- Relationships. Best friends are formed at church. These are life-long friends who walk with you through any trial. These are friends you also enjoy hanging out with socially.
- Transformation. If the goal of the church is to make disciples, then a catalytic system must be in place. Disciples are more than believers meeting for Bible study. Disciples are believers living out their faith in the world. Growth groups motivate members to stand up for what’s right instead of falling away.
- Leadership Development. Growth group coordinators may develop into full-time teachers. Many times they discover a passion for teaching after they facilitate discussion in their group. Through transformation and maturity, teachers are born as they are challenged to take their commitment to the next level.
- Enhanced Ministry. In the smaller, well-connected group, the needs of members are met. In a growing congregation the pastor and staff cannot fully care for the needs of every member. But when members are equipped and set free to minister, people feel loved and important.
- Group Multiplication. Birthing new Life Groups is a proven approach to growing a church. Life Groups can reproduce rapidly. The least painful birthing takes place when two growth groups are sent out to form a new Life Group. In this way best friends and encouragement partners are not separated, but they move intact to a new Life Group. This method is tremendously effective in providing new life in a Bible study ministry, and experience has shown that new groups grow much faster than existing groups. At Lake Pointe, every Life Group has the goal of helping birth another. Growth groups make this less painful.
- Streamlined Organization. Less programming is required because ministry is taking place through growth groups. Discipleship, men’s and women’s ministries and mission involvement take place in a smaller, more meaningful setting.
Unfortunately, in the past, some churches have discouraged closed groups because they feared cliques or stagnant groups. However, we have discovered that closed groups are not something to fear; rather, they are something to actively plan for and use to build the church body. If you combine Life Groups with growth groups, you can benefit from closed groups. These closed groups are where disciples are developed, where spiritual transformation takes place and where leadership is nurtured. Closed groups are essential in the process of fully developing followers of Christ. Make them intentional in carrying out the purpose of your church.
Written by Carter Shotwell, Executive Pastor of Ministries at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas.
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