Today is the last day of a series of blogs from my interview with Jim Egli, co-author of Small Groups Big Impact
. After interviewing over 3,000 small group leaders from 200 churches in 21 countries the research he and Dwight Marable have delivered is some of the most astounding game-changing understandings the small group world has had at her disposal. Today’s post may be the most important of all.
Rick: It doesn’t make sense to many that an open group experiences higher levels of intimacy than a closed group yet your research has proven this to be true. Would you describe for us what you found out?
Jim: One thing that we probed in the research was whether open groups that are reaching out to others can experience the same levels of intimacy and care as closed groups. We weren’t sure what we would find out, but we wanted to explore this issue because it’s been a matter of debate for over 30 years.
The results surprised us. We found out that open groups actually experience closer relationships between the members than closed groups do. Again, this perhaps should not have been shocking, because it’s what we see in the New Testament. The home groups that we see mentioned in places like the book of Acts and Paul’s letters were experiencing both deep community and powerful outreach to others. When we let the Holy Spirit have his way, he produces both outreach and loving relationships.
Rick: How has this changed the way you are doing small group ministry at your church?
Jim: We now have clear evidence from both our research and the Bible that open groups experience deeper community than closed groups. We include this in our training and we discourage groups from being closed and inward focused.
Rick: What would you say to the small group pastor who says, “There’s no way an open group can create higher levels of intimacy than a closed group. Every time a new person shows up the group has to start over building trust?”
Jim: To be perfectly honest, I think this reveals that that pastor has very little small group experience in a dynamic, magnetic group. Both members and visitors to a group can sense if there is a safe atmosphere in a group. I have very often seen people share deeply even when visitors are present. The pastor’s statement also reveals a faulty small group paradigm. They think a small group is a once a week meeting, rather than ongoing relationships that can spill outside the meeting. Even if someone in my group feels uncomfortable sharing in the meeting, they won’t hesitate to meet with me or another group member for coffee tomorrow. Growing groups have relationships that go beyond their meetings.
Rick: What would you say to those small group pastors who are doing closed groups because, up until now, they’ve been led to believe that closed groups created the highest levels of intimacy?
Jim: It takes a while to change the culture in a small group system. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, whether it’s coaching or moving to open groups or implementing high impact leadership meetings. You change things not through an announcement or one newsletter or one leadership team meeting. It takes clear vision, repeated communication, revised training, persistence and patience to change church culture. If the issue is moving from closed groups to open groups, you start by changing your training and infusing the new values in your new leaders and new groups. It’s hard to change the focus of current groups, even if you succeed in changing the perspective and goals of the group leaders. I’ve learned this by experience. But you can change your overall vision and direction. It just takes clear vision, persistence and time. For a change like this to truly take root probably takes two years.
Rick: For those small group pastors wise enough to embrace what your research has shown but are living with a small group system of closed groups… What would you suggest as their next steps?
Jim: Clearly articulate your vision and over communicate it without forcing people to change immediately. Give key people the Small Groups, Big Impact book. Even though the book is based on extensive research, it’s written on a small group leader level and it’s a quick read. Also, after your revamp your training to reflect your new vision and priorities, invite your current leaders to come back to get retooled and reenvisioned. Give them alternative venues for this.
You don’t need to change your model. Too much small group talk has been about models. It’s not so much about how you do meetings or how you do your calendar. The key principles work in any model. It is more about focus. What do you want your groups to accomplish? What do you want your leaders goals to be? If you want thriving groups that bring an expanding number of people into relationship with Christ and your church, envision and train your people to love God and others. Teach them to pray, reach, care and empower!
Then on the church level cultivate an atmosphere of prayer, equipping and coaching. These are not complicated principles. They are biblical values that are simple but take persistence, wisdom and God’s help to put into practice.
Jim Egli is the Leadership Pastor of the Vineyard Church, a multisite congregation based in Urbana, Illinois. After serving as the church’s small group pastor for 11 years, last year Jim transitioned to his new role. Instead of focusing on the multiplication of leaders and small groups, he now focuses on multiplying the number of churches, church planters, campus pastors, and missionaries. He has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from Regent University. He is the author of over a dozen books on small groups, evangelism and discipleship, most recently co-authoring Small Groups, Big Impact
You Will Also Want to Read...
Game Changing Research on Small Groups, My Interview With Jim Egli I
A Completely New Small Group Leader Paradigm, My Interview With Jim Egli II
What are the Facts About Small Groups and Coaching, My Interview With Jim Egli III