Some churches see growth groups as subsets of the whole church. Others view church as the sum of all the growth groups. Whichever direction we’re coming from, it’s helpful to consider the relationship between the groups and the wider church. There are some things that the growth group can do more effectively than the larger congregation and vice versa.
Perhaps the greatest strength of a growth group is the emphasis on relationships and the opportunity to be more personal and specific in ministry to one another. In larger churches people can easily get lost in the crowd. People may not see the need to contribute or the opportunities that exist for them to use their gifts. If things always seem to get done by someone somehow, then we may not feel there is much for us to do.
There are two significant ways that growth groups can work to serve the church. The first is by seeking to encourage and equip each member of the group to use their God-given gifts to serve God by building the church into maturity. The second is by the group collectively seeking out ways to serve the whole church according to its mission and needs.
Before we look at these opportunities, it’s important to stress that Christian service should flow from the gospel. Christ came first to serve us. He brought us into relationship with God through his death, and gave us his Spirit to enable us to serve him out of love. If we overlook, or assume, the gospel then people will end up serving out of guilt, obligation, or some other wrong motive. Such motivation and thinking will destroy the Christian and the church. It’s not about what we have to do for God, it’s about all what God has done for us and others. Let’s seek to keep Biblical perspective.
Encouraging people to grow their gifts in service
Growth groups provide a more intimate environment for people to learn to serve one another. Ministry grows and develops as people look to the needs of others and consider how they can use what God has given them to meet these needs. Leaders should seek to make the most of the opportunities to spur on the members of the group in ministry to each other. Why not set the goal of every member of your group being actively involved in Christian service—this term, or this year? Your group could be just the place to start. Here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Bible study: Different members of the group may benefit from the opportunity to prepare and lead studies in the group. This can provide a good training opportunity as the leader assists in preparation or provides feedback afterwards.
- Hospitality: People can learn to exercise hospitality by hosting the group from time to time. They can also be encouraged to have people to meals, invite others out, and create opportunities to share in each other’s lives.
- Supper or meals: A member of the group can take responsibility for organising this. Everyone can contribute food and drinks as they are able. It helps for this not to fall to the leader to make all the arrangements.
- Prayer: Each member of the group can be encouraged to share matters for prayer, and to pray for the others. Ask people to keep praying for matters throughout the week. Someone could take on the role of prayer coordinator.
- One to one: People can be encouraged to meet individually with others in the group for a particular purpose. A new Christian might appreciate doing some basic Bible studies with an older Christian. Someone going through a tough time might enjoy regular support and prayer. A person checking out Christianity might be willing to read through a Gospel with someone.
It’s worthwhile for leaders to take the time to get to know the members of their groups so that they can encourage them into areas of service, and to persevere in their service. Consider these questions: Are people currently serving in an area of church life? Do they have gifts in children’s or youth ministry? What evangelistic opportunities do they have at work? How do they go about reading and applying the Bible for themselves? Do they show initiative in service? What examples have you seen of them sacrificially putting themselves out for others?
If you can’t answer many of these sorts of questions about the members of your group, then arrange to connect with people on a more personal basis. Perhaps, you could spend the next term having a different group member, or couple, over each week before the group meets so as to get to know them and further the ministry conversation.
If your church has a formal process for encouraging people into Christian service, then leaders can help facilitate their members being involved in this. Our church offers ‘serve chats’ which explore issues of gifts, ministry experience, training, and needs and opportunities. Leaders can encourage their group members to engage in these chats or offer to conduct one themselves.
It’s also helpful for leaders to be aware of the needs and opportunities in the church. Pastors should keep leaders informed of the needs for musicians, Sunday School teachers, people to visit nursing homes, people to pray in church, church welcomers, people to host evangelistic courses, and the like. This will create a dialogue within the life of the group and church. The church makes known its needs and the group identifies who is gifted, interested, suitable and available. Likewise, leaders should stay turned to ministry training opportunities and encourage the right people to participate.
Growth groups have another advantage for encouraging Christian service. Each week people open the Bible, learn of God and his grace, and are moved to change and put their trust in God. Sometimes this has very specific ministry application and the leaders and their groups are able to follow this closely with members of the group. For example, if the application area has to do with giving generously to the gospel, then the group can help people work through what it means to give generously and how specifically to make it happen at church.
The group serving the church
Some churches arrange ministry responsibilities in rosters or teams based around growth groups. Our evening church engages the groups in setting up and packing up church on a rotational basis. It’s too big a job for one or two people, and it gets the growth groups serving together. Similar things have been arranged with hosting newcomers courses, with groups providing refreshments, welcome teams, and other areas. There are all kinds of possibilities.
The danger of the ‘group rostered on’ approach is that it may not account for the particular circumstances or gifts of the group members. It could lead to service out of duty rather than coming from a particular passion to serve. Sometimes there can be resentment simply from being rostered on. If things are arranged this way, then it’s important for good communication with the members of the group.
Another angle on groups serving the church is where the initiative comes from the group itself. We encourage growth groups to discuss together whether there are practical ways that the group can be serving the church. Perhaps the group could enquire of the pastors or church leadership team about the needs and opportunities that they could meet collectively. It might be a one-off project, or an ongoing commitment.
There is a power in collective thinking and action. It helps people to be dependent upon one another, to value each other’s gifts and difference, and to cooperate to achieve something greater than people could do on their own. People get to see one another in ministry and this tends to spur each other on further in our service.
There are many examples of how groups can serve a church. A group could organise a church camp or a social event. They could coordinate an outreach event, or visit a local nursing home. Perhaps, they could offer a baby-sitting service to parents in church who rarely get time off. They could provide specific support for a missionary serving overseas. They could commit to additional prayer for a particular need of the church.
The service doesn’t need to be limited to the church either. We are wanting to see our family, friends, neighbours, workmates and others come to know Jesus personally. The group could decide to coordinate an event to help people understand Jesus better. They might see a need in the local school or community, such as catering for a breakfast club, or buddying with disadvantaged kids, or gardening support for the elderly. They might join together to help provide support and finances for a local chaplain.
We want to encourage our growth groups to be nurseries for Christian service. People can learn to look around and see the needs of others to know Jesus and see the needs of Christians to be loved and grow into maturity together. The growth group provides a wonderful context to match the gifts that God has given to the opportunities for their use. Let’s not take for granted or waste what God has so generously given.
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11-12)