These points initially came from Larry Osborne’s excellent book, Sticky Church, and were then adapted by Pastor Matt Kehler of Calvary Monterey.
At Calvary Monterey, we say we love community. The second pillar of our mission statement is to "Nurture Believers." We’ve decided to provide this through community and training. Community is what I will focus on here. There are many ways to develop community in a church. We’ve chosen the route of small groups.
It is possible, of course, to gather and gather and gather, yet never grow. But we want to grow. Sanctification is our desire. We want to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We know we need others for this to occur. We need their perspective. We need people to love. We need their support.
What are the marks of a healthy small group? Are there any evidences we can look to?
A healthy group focuses on growing, understanding, and applying the gospel to everyday life.
Everything within us wants to drift towards legalism or license. A gospel centered group brings it back to the cross. As we do, we become instruments of radical grace and passionate obedience. We long to serve Jesus, but we also long to restore one another. This isn’t a balance between obedience and grace, legalism and liberty. No, we want to be set on fire by the truth of the gospel of grace.
A strong group reminds one another of the cross. In the groups I’ve been in this has been powerful. Going back to the gospel has clarified so many things for us. I’ve seen many of my friends come under the weight of condemnation. The grace of God has unburdened them. I’ve seen myself fall into apathy. The gospel has impassioned me afresh.
Within our group, we encourage and exhort one another. A fresh perspective is often needed or helpful. When someone else encourages me in my walk, helping me apply the truth of the gospel into my own life, I grow.
Willingly speak God’s grace into one another's lives. Be willing to talk directly to a discouraged member. Exhort one another. Remind the other members of the gospel. Talk much of Jesus. Teach one another about grace. Talk through how the cross intersects with your daily situation. Discuss your everyday life. We cannot do this alone. We need that interaction.
A healthy group accepts one another in love as Christ has accepted us.
Jesus has embraced us with open arms. His forgiveness is available to all. “Whoever believes in me,” Jesus said. Whoever. He has taken us into His family, adopted us. He’s given us a new identity in Him. All things are new in Christ.
A strong group extends this to one another. “Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” Paul wrote (Ephesians 4:32). The acceptance Jesus gave us we extend to others.
Everyone is different. There are tastes, interests, and passions vary. But these aren’t the determining factors of our love and acceptance of one another. If our love and acceptance only extends to people who like the things we like, do the things we do, and vote for who we vote for, is it really love?
No, we are to have a special love for the body of Christ. We love the world, but we have a special love for the church. Are you in Christ? Then I’m to love and accept you.
A healthy group supports and cares for one another.
When a group of believers become close, they begin to practically help and care for one another. This is life. This is daily. This is real.
A strong group will foster this sense of mutual support and care. There will be times one member needs the aid of everyone else in the group. There will be times one member needs the help of only one other member. Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement or a listening ear. Other times it’s a new car. In a healthy group there is an increasing ability to support and care for one another.
Text one another words of grace. Write encouraging words to each other. Grab coffee and discuss life together. Privately pray for one another. Read edifying books together. Buy groceries for each other. Reach out to those who seem discouraged or stuck in sin. Love and support one another.
A healthy groups treats one another with respect in both speech and action.
When a group of believers gather, respect breeds trust. Since trust is the backbone of relationship, this respect is crucial. Negative words or actions are a cancer to the relationship.
A strong group has massive respect for each member. To show up unprepared, or to rarely show up at all, is disrespectful to others in the group. A healthy group considers the others in the group, showing up ready to defer to and love the others.
In a healthy group, negative words aren’t spoken — publicly or privately — about other members of the group. Love demands that we believe the best. This flows in a healthy group.
Respect one another. Believe the best about the others in the group. Extend the courtesy of showing up and being prepared. Respect the leaders, they have sacrificed themselves for the sake of the group. Show honor to those different from you in the group. Listen to what others are saying; don’t just prepare to say your thing. Tell the others in the group what you admire about them, what you see in them.
Some people experience disrespect and dishonor daily. Your group has a chance to reverse course and provide life to them.
A healthy group keeps the commitment including prayer, attendance, and confidence.
This is crucial to the success of the group. If prayer is absent, our hearts will never unlock towards one another. If attendance is sporadic, the necessary baseline for relationship isn’t there. If confidence is not kept, trust is broken and the group fractures.
A strong group is committed to one another in these ways. A deep friendship might develop. It might not. But for Christian relationship to blossom there must be a commitment to the group. This includes praying for the group members, attending as much as possible, and keeping confidence.
Be a trustworthy person for the members of your group. Don’t slander or spread gossip about them. Keep their lives to yourself. Pray for them. If you are married, pray with your spouse for the other members.
Attend as much as possible. Make every effort to be there. To succeed in life, to be used by God, you must commit. Model that for your group.
These marks serve as a goal, but also as a diagnostic. Groups are made of living beings, and living beings change with time. A group may hit these marks consistently, but then fall into disrepair. So these marks helps us see what to get back to, they help diagnose the issue. Groups are never perfect — because we are never perfect — so we have a constant opportunity to grow.