by Jay Fennell
One of the biggest challenges in leading a LIFE Group is keeping the group externally focused. An externally focused group intentionally builds bridges into the lives of others, especially non-group members. Externally focused groups travel together toward Christlikeness but always looking outward for others to bring on the journey with them. It’s a challenge to lead a group to be externally focused because the natural tendency for any group is to be internally focused, especially groups a year old or older.
The key is to lead the LIFE Group to be internally healthy, but externally focused. Internally, the group prays and cares for each other, strives to build Christ-honoring relationships and studies and applies the Word together. But they also have their eyes focused outward toward others who aren’t connected in community, passionate about developing new relationships with new people, and inviting them to join the journey.
The leader sets the tone for a group that operates this way. Here are some practical ways a leader can keep a LIFE Group externally focused:
- Fight the natural inertia of inward focus. Regularly remind the group members to make room in their lives for new relationships. Remind them there are people who are disconnected but desperately looking to be connected. Keep it ever before the group that there are people that still need to be reached.
- Recognize the empty chair. Always have at least one empty chair or seat to represent the person who is not present. Draw the attention of the group to that chair, challenging them to prayerfully consider the person who needs to be in it.
- Make invitation an expectation. Inwardly focused groups don’t invite their friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Stress the importance of inviting people, expect them to do it and make it a cultural norm of the group. It’s typically true that the LIFE Group leader must model this behavior before it becomes adopted by group members.
- Consider what God is doing outside the walls. The LIFE Group leader must be sensitive to the work God is doing outside the walls of the classroom or living room, and he/she engages the group to partner with God in that work. Groups that serve together outside the walls have externally focused hearts and minds and God blesses the work of their hands.
It can be difficult in today’s world to communicate the truths of the Gospel. Often in media, competing points-of-view are represented in ways that make Christ-followers feel irrelevant. It is up to us, as believing Christians, to clearly communicate the freedom and abundant life found in Christ while using relevant ways that represent the Truth. In doing this, we have to be careful not to water down the life-changing message in order to be more accepted by the world. Tertullian battled this apparent tendency in the second century, as some Christians were using popular philosophy to interpret Jesus and His message instead of letting the message speak for itself.
by Jay Fennell
Every small group or Sunday school class drifts toward becoming inwardly focused. Here’s how it plays out: a new group forms and enjoys early days of developing new relationships and connections with people. Everyone is equally eager to develop these relationships. The group grows numerically as new faces are added. Excitement builds as the group grows and reaches new people who were formerly unconnected. This momentum lasts for a time but, after a while, it slows as the group leans more and more toward becoming closed in nature or less receptive to newcomers.
This trend toward becoming closed isn’t intentional, it’s accidental. It’s natural inertia. Relationships become solidified among group members as you do life together over time. Mountain and valley experiences of life are shared and bonds form as people walk side by side on life’s journey. And all of this is good. It’s what you must develop in a small group community. But the challenge is to not become so closed, so inwardly focused, that you forsake the importance of creating room for newcomers who desire to experience the same community you enjoy.
So how do you do that? How do you fight against the natural tilt toward an inwardly focused group? Consider these ideas:
- Expect Guests. It sounds silly but it’s true. Inwardly focused groups do not expect guests and, therefore, do not have a plan to receive them, acknowledge them, and help them feel accepted. When you don’t expect guests, you neglect guests.
- Wear Nametags. You may know everyone’s name in your group, but guests don’t know any names typically. Wearing nametags sends the message that you expect someone who doesn’t know your name to be present.
- Avoid Cliques. It’s so much easier to talk with people you know and already have a developed relationship with. But fight the urge to segregate yourself from others, especially guests, and take initiative to connect with newcomers. The worst possible scenario is for longtime members to chat with each other while not including guests.
- Sit in Circles. Group size obviously dictates set up but, whenever possible, arrange your chairs in a circle. Circles promote group growth, unity and combined synergy. This sends a positive message to guests who desire to belong and grow. Life change happens best in circles, not rows.