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Starting groups that build people

The concept of community--living in a healthy relationship with one another--is a foundational biblical principle. Although we live in a day that places individual rights and choice above all other values, the church must maintain the value of community and seek to provide groups that build people together, not just as individuals. In Scripture, we find five truths about God's design for people and community.

God's Design for Community

1. Man was created for community, beginning with Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:18). God's plan was that people would live and work together and have an accountable and committed relationship with Him and with their peers.

2. Man resists community because of sin (Genesis 3:7-10). Man's sinful, carnal nature resists being in relationships where openness, accountability, and commitment exist. For example, the tower of Babel (Genesis 11,12) epitomizes this conflict. Man's attempt to develop community apart from a relationship with God is impossible.

3. God restored man to community and demonstrated His desire to restore community when He called Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). God wants the world to be reconciled to Him through a holy community--the Church. His plan for building the individual is through the community of believers (1 Peter 2:9).

4. Man is recreated in community. Jesus chose 12 disciples that they might "be with Him" (Mark 3:13,14). He knew that spiritual, emotional, and ministry development takes place in the context of community--accountable, committed relationship with other believers. He wanted to develop them to their highest God-given purposes. Therefore, He took them from their sinful, carnal state and recreated them in this small group to be men who demonstrated the values, character, and lifestyle of true believers--in relationship with Him and each other.

5. Believers are reconciled into community (Acts 2:42-47; Romans 16:3-5). After the Day of Pentecost, the Early Church grew because it had become a true expression of Christ's nature and character. Believers, who are His body, were an accurate reflection of Christ's life in relationship to each other and His mission of reconciliation. They grew, worshiped, ministered together, and were committed and accountable to each other. As such they were being and becoming the Church. The results? The Lord added daily those who were being saved--reconciling others into the community of believers.

The effectiveness of a church's evangelism is not seen in programs or ministries but in the character and commitments of its people as they grow and work together in community as the body of Christ.

What a church lacks in healthy community often is compensated for through plans and programs that project the image of a healthy community.

Therefore, we must conclude that man was created for community. God's plan is to take imperfect people and perfect them in an imperfect group of believers.

Nature and Character of Community

What is the nature and character of this reconciling community that God uses to restore and recreate man? What kind of a group truly builds people?

A group that has a core that is committed and united with Christ and His body. This may be a single individual or a core group of a few believers committed to Christ and other believers.

Building people involves more than just starting a new Sunday school class or small group.

Many groups may serve a social, emotional, or humanitarian purpose but not an eternal purpose. Groups may help people but not be building them for eternity.

Any attempt to develop community apart from commitment to Christ and His body will fail. Relationships will be shallow and self-serving, and results will be minimal and inconsistent. If the foundation isn't right, the group, at best, becomes a means of rehabilitation rather than reconciliation.

Leaders become frustrated when they don't see people growing. They struggle to get commitment and spiritual maturation from those in the group, but they fail unless the foundation is in a reconciliatory relationship with Christ and His body.

Just starting groups is not the answer. Leaders must be committed personally to the person of Christ and His purpose of restoring and recreating people in the context of a reconciling group of believers. Groups are God's means to restore and recreate man to His original purposes for life--reconciling the world to himself and building people.

A group that builds meaningful relationships. These are the glue that holds people together through the ups and downs of life. A group that does not help people develop meaningful relationships will not significantly build people. Bonding relationships build people.

Shared experience is one of the best ways to help people bond and build meaningful relationships. This can be done in the church by planning and participating in activities as well as going through difficult and good times together. Bonding helps to build camaraderie.

Many barriers prevent building meaningful relationships--time constraints, low trust, individuality, and immaturity. People are busy, so leaders must take advantage of the times when the group is together to build a sense of teamwork and togetherness. Share life and experiences together. Provide opportunities for the group to help others in their times of need and rejoice in times of joy.

Broken relationships and disillusioning experiences lead people to be distrustful or cautiously trusting in other relationships.

It is difficult to get beyond betrayal and deceit, but a healthy group will help others get beyond the brokenness of the past by demonstrating trust, openness, honesty, and integrity among members. Especially leaders must model trust and deal properly with people and situations when trust is damaged or destroyed. Trust is foundational to building meaningful relationships.

Individuality and immaturity also hinder building meaningful relationships. God calls us out of individuality into community with other believers. His kingdom values are counter to society's values. Therefore, help the group understand God's design to build people as individuals in the context of interdependence with other believers and realize what it means to live it out practically. Without this, immaturity will be demonstrated as people fail to grow in their walk with God or in their commitment to others.

A group that builds in accountability and commitment. Most people are reticent, if not resistant, to accountability or commitment, but it should not keep the group from seeking to build these characteristics into its value structure and expectation. Start with the assumption that people who get involved desire relationship with others and want to grow. Initially, establish accountability and commitment to Christ and each other as foundational. This is not an imposing or controlling accountability but a mutual accountability as partners in the spiritual journey.

Tell people precisely what you are asking them to commit to and give full information. People have reasonable questions about commitment. If you can't tell them where the group is going, what the benefits of participating are, how much it costs, you don't have the right to call them to commitment. Commitment does not come by teaching or preaching about it but by preparing people to make it.

The We Build People model developed by the Assemblies of God helps churches and groups answer these questions. The model demonstrates that God calls all people to four commitments: membership (relationship with Christ and a local body of believers), maturity (lifelong spiritual growth and development), ministry (discovering and developing one's God-given gifts and calling), and mission (to invest oneself in the global mission of Christ and the local church).

Groups that build people call them to these four commitments and prepare them to make the commitments.

A group that teaches the Word. A group will not build people unless they get into and interact with the Word of God. Discussing popular subjects and opinions alone does not provide the foundation and principles that will guide and protect one through life. Get people into the Word and help them discover what God says about all the issues and concerns. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17, NIV).

Jesus warned against building a house without a solid-rock foundation. God's Word alone is the foundation. People cannot stand the stress and strain of life without the principles of the Word. They need to bring their Bibles, open them, and together study what the Word says and how it applies today. Leaders of healthy groups take time to study the Word themselves and then guide the groups to discover the gems of truth and make personal application in their own lives.

A group that takes outreach seriously. Reaching the lost and reconciling people to God through Christ are the very passion and purpose of God.

If a group is not intentional about reaching the lost, it degenerates into a self-serving and self-destroying group.

A group grows closer by reaching out together and seeing others come to Christ through their witness. The group provides a safe place for members to learn how to communicate their faith effectively, using their God-given gifts. The small group is the most effective place to reach and disciple people into the Kingdom. Research reveals that 9 out of 10 people who come to Christ in the context of a small group will go on to be baptized as disciples. This compares to 1 of 5 through personal soul winning and 1 of 10 through mass evangelism efforts.

A group that develops an environment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. This is as important as what a group does. Leadership models this before group members catch it. People fail, but an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and forgiveness helps to reconcile and recreate. Seldom do people grow without healthy influences, and healthy groups build healthy people.

How healthy is your group?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Is the leadership core committed to and modeling true Christian community?
  2. Are members developing meaningful relationships? Are commitment and accountability demonstrated among members?
  3. Is God's Word the primary focus of study and application individually and collectively?
  4. Is intentional outreach occurring?
  5. Does the group's atmosphere radiate with love, acceptance, and forgiveness?

If so, then you likely have a healthy group and are building healthy disciples.


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