Category Archives: Church Groups

Thoughts on various types of church groups.

Interlopers at high noon…

As a review, the original intent of the group under discussion was to facilitate growth among the members and thereby the body. As the members were selected to be mature Christians with appropriate experience, the subject matter is in depth, intense and studied over an extended time (a year+). As progress is made the group develops a cohesive pattern of discussion and exploration. This enhances the process. Thus the goal of the group, growth within each member, results in the form of the group, which is by definition restricted to particular people and presentation format. As the work progresses, the situation becomes more and more ‘exclusive’ in the sense that the members develop the accumulating knowledge and skills which are required to continue. Further it becomes clear that the effects of the work are being felt in other areas of each member’s life, increasing the effectiveness of this work. This is a cause for rejoicing.
Now the ‘Christian’ fun begins…

Into the situation comes an unannounced stranger with almost no background in the subject matter, drawn by word of the exciting work that the group is doing which has spread in one of the associated congregations. Further, this person does meet the original criteria for participation (eg. availability, consistency, background, general familiarity to the members since things are already underway). Yet they are intrigued by the work, think that it would be profitable for them, and feel that they will just join in.

In some ways they are not to be faulted since most church’s regard group exclusivity as a social sin, irrespective of the reasons. Inclusivity is regarded as a prime fruit, if you will, which of course is more Post Modern than Christian (but that is another discussion).

What would be the result if they did simply join?

Since the structure supporting the original intent was designed to facilitate cohesive growth resulting from an ongoing accumulation of knowledge and experience, and since this process requires cumulative work, the insertion of a new member would likely have a number of affects, all counterproductive. It would: bring the necessity to re-cover previous material on a consistent basis; require teaching basic material that is assumed at the start in all members; disrupt some or all comfort in discussion that has been built in the group to date; generally interrupt the flow of group thought. The group would simply not be the same group and would be forced to re-coalesce. Further, if the person did not attend regularly the disruption would repeat.

The overall result would be to reduce the actual and potential level at which the group can operate and the any growth.
Next, if this new philosophy of necessary inclusion were forced to continue, and more people joined spontaneously, the group goals would become unreachable and the group would be effectively changed over time to basic training. The longer the existence of the group, the farther this change would progress.

So, to the question. Is there a Christian principle that requires groups to be inclusive and that thereby makes special interest groups somehow sinful? I would say no. Further, I would say that this all too common miss-interpretation of hospitality and welcoming is error.


The Co-opting of Purpose

The Co-opting of purpose occurs when the primary intent of an activity is hijacked by another agenda, usually one that was not intended and is tangential. Usually this hijacking occurs, inappropriately, based up inappropriate or specious moral or ‘greater good’ argument.

Let us take an example.

Academic and other group theory has proven over time that group structure and intent lead to correct process, which has the optimal chance of yielding desired results. Put in the form of a process: Intent -> Goals -> Structure -> Process -> Best probability of facilitating the desired results.

We wish to convene a group to facilitate growth and conviction for mature believers. We will approach this by studying foundational Reformed Christian doctrine using a good text in Systematic Theology and supporting material. This will likely take at least a year (open ended).

Based upon the intent and goals, the optimal structure is determined to be:
– 8-9 members with a leader/facilitator
– a solid materials
– members of similar theological persuasion and level
– members available for virtually all group meetings
– members who are personally compatible.

In process, to maintain discussion at a constantly developing level of knowledge, ease and intimacy, membership must be closed – no new members after the first couple of sessions.

This structuring reflects the make-up of effective intermediate and advanced seminar groups irrespective of field, and is largely common sense.

Based upon these considerations, a group convenes with 9 members plus leader.

For an initial period this works well. Group dynamics develop as hoped, and beyond. Group and individual effort is encouraged. Material is covered well and the group is blessed with growth and deep conviction in all members. In other words – good stuff!

You are waiting for the other shoe to drop, right? You would be correct…


Welcome or unwelcome…

A simple question. It is always about evangelism? Is every meeting and every event we, as believers within the Body, always about evangelism before and at the sacrifice of all else? And is every meeting and situation without exception bound to exude the universally inclusive and welcoming to all?

Okay, what is he talking about you are asking?

Many believers seem to believe that universal inclusiveness is part of the gospel. It is patently ridiculous, not to mention self defeating, but they do. And in the spirit of societal entitlement in which we presently live, the more left leaning in secular society agree.

In this spirit, when believers gather for various reasons, there are some who will say that every situation or activity must without exception surrender it’s purpose to evangelism and inclusive hospitality whenever the possibility might occur.

Do you feel this way? Is there an basic Christian entitlement that gives everyone an inalienable right to be included in every activity and group they wish? Must every activity surrender its purpose to any passerby in the name of inclusive evangelism?


Christian Association – Exclusive or Inclusive?

A few thoughts on Christian association, be it in the church or para-church.

When is restriction of that association to subgroups of believers just personal preference, when is it required for group effectiveness, and when is it a clique? It is a tricky question that arises frequently within church and para-church groups.

We wish to be honouring and biblical in our actions and associations, yet we want to be comfortable as well. Where is the appropriate line?

Let us consider it from the point of view of ‘small groups’.

We live today in a society that often considers (at least publicly) any stance that is not completely inclusive to be objectionable, if not discriminatory. Discomfort in one’s associations or even a lack of group effectiveness as the cost of appearing inclusive is often espoused as a good and laudable price. We are to be everyone’s friend. This is especially true in many Christian assemblies.

From my experience, people we tend to exchange new ideas and concepts in a framework that is not overly hostile, since being constantly challenged before an idea completely takes shape subverts the conceptualization process. Discussion can be good and productive, but shooting down the germ of concepts before they even completely form is not.

This is even more true when dealing with concept affecting the personal growth involving the inner struggles of Christian sanctification.

When it comes to formulating concepts on faith related topics, most people seem to need a very secure and supportive environment for maximum effectiveness. These issues are often ‘close to the heart’ and ‘tender’ while in the formative stage (if not still that way later). An overly inclusive group structure often produces a group demographic that promotes challenge and inhibits the requisite emotional safety.

If group dynamics are to benefit the individual growing Christian (and by extension, the assembly), rather than satisfying external political appearance, then control of demographics matters. Over emphasis on an open group make-up and the appearance of inclusive behaviour is badly miss-placed.

Groups, once constituted with a particular philosophy of inclusion, are very difficult to change in process. Any narrowing of the basis for membership or closing of membership after the fact is even more likely to be interpreted by those outside of even inside the group as discriminatory or ‘unwelcoming’, without regard for the group’s mission. This is particularly true when the group has been formed without any documentation. Members may not see the potential effect of open demographics until it is too late and the group dynamic has been compromised.

Bottom line -> Church and para-church groups wanting to best facilitate the growth of members in faith and conviction would be well to consider membership demographics carefully up front. The group formation philosophy and intent should be clearly documented before the fact.