Is life really better together?

Today I visited a nearby church and saw this sign on the wall where all the small group brochures are found and a point-person usually stands. Seems a little odd to put "Life is better together" and then purposely not have groups for people to belong to and join all year long.

This church's small group program is just that. A program. It's in place to give people a sense of belonging not easily found in the large congregation's two big weekend services. Each quarter, groups are launched for 8-12 weeks and each group is doing something different, such as a book study or a topic of interest for the congregation. I asked how many groups are focused on relational evangelism and discipleship--you know, the great commission--and there haven't been any groups formed for that purpose in many, many years.

This used to be a thriving church that saw radical transformation in the lives of members and their unsaved friends. And their groups were self-sustaining and the lifeblood of the church.

What can be done for a church like this? Can it be turned around? Maybe. We'll see. A new pastor will take the helm in about a year as the existing pastor slowly moves out and into retirement. One thing is for sure: If the small groups continue to be a program to satisfy the needs of the members instead of give them an environment to become world-changers, they're not going to succeed.

I follow a Facebook page daily to see what small groups pastors and point-persons are talking about. I took a screen shot of this post not to shame the person, but to discuss the reason behind the lack of participation in his church's small group program. My thought are so "out there" for this group that I rarely post much in response to stuff like this because they simply cannot identify with my experiences and paradigm surrounding healthy small group life. 

  1. Groups that are formed around the interests or needs of the members and primarily focus on self-improvement will grow stale rather quickly, although they'll usually create a good draw from the congregation in to a group if they've not experienced group life in a church before.
  2. Groups that are formed to only meet for three months don't give the members enough time with one another to discover much about the others or themselves as they relate to others.
If your church has groups like this, they were probably launched to close the back door of the congregational services, and/or give participants a sense of community and intimacy they can't easily get from the congregational gatherings. There's no nice way to state it: doing this is a bastardization of biblical community, and your church is reaping what it sowed.

My advice?
  1. Form a prototype group with those from existing groups who have a heart for reaching the lost for Christ. Make the reason the group exists to reach friends for Christ and disciple them and make it abundantly clear that the group has been formed for these purposes.
  2. Spend most of your time together as a group praying for the lost, praying for yourselves, and talking about how wonderful the people are that you're hoping will come to Christ as a result of the group praying together. This is the "curriculum" for the group meetings.
  3. Adopt a discipleship pathway that helps new believers learn the basics of the faith, get set free from satanic bondage, and helps them see God's values and discard their earthly values for His values over the course of a year or more. Give it to those who reach a friend for Christ and help them use it and refine it along the way.
  4. When the first group is reaching people for Christ and discipling them, pray about who can be challenged to leave the group to start a group of their own. The team that is sent out will have reached friends for Christ and will be seen as leaders because they have followers.
Small groups have the potential to be powerful biblical communities that are transformative in nature and will grow on their own if they're started with the correct priorities.

The Group Life Conference - October 14-15, 2016
I am pleased to announce a fall conference for cell groups, geared to understanding how to better equip and release Millenials. This two-day event is being hosted by my nephew, Nathan Neighbour and my dad and I will also be speaking at the event. We hope you can make it. See you there! Conference web site and registration:

Spiritual Affluenza: The subtle work of darkness on our consumer-centered souls

The typical American Christian is suffering from "affluenza"

If you're not familiar with this term, you've probably not watched US news lately (not that it's all that great and worth watching, by the way!). There's a kid whose accused of murder and his attorney's case is built on the fact that his well-to-do parents gave him everything he wanted and expected nothing from him. He is claiming that this young man is suffering from a bad case of affluenza and he should not be held responsible for his irresponsible behavior.

When I look at the consumer-centric model of Western church life today, it smacks of spiritual affluenza. The church leadership and the big services do all the work of ministry for the members, and all they need to do is be a faithful volunteer and keep the engine running smoothly with some money from their paycheck.

The level of ownership of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sharing that Gospel message is definitely something every small groups pastor and lead pastor wants the members of their small groups to do... but they don't grab the baton and run with it. After a lot of hard work and probably a corporate push with a church-wide campaign, the leaders are left scratching their heads over why every effort to educate and mobilize small group members falls short.

I know I'm harping on various aspects of the big-box church in America, but it's where a majority of people are finding a affluenza-infested relationship with a church and God that doesn't require much. This is creating a house of cards that won't stand up to persecution, which is coming.

If you're reading this, don't let your small group members think that showing up is good enough. Ask each person who they are praying for to receive Christ and how often they're praying for that person and spending quality time with them. Be the "pebble in their shoe" to do what every believer should do naturally!

American Churches: Why aren't your members personally reaching friends for Christ?

A few weeks back I asked a pointed question about relational evangelism on the Facebook page for small group leaders, hosted by one of the most prominent small group pastors and authors in the nation. He's not in the cell group stream, but the small group stream. I know this man and have a lot of respect for him and the church where he pastors. They water baptize small group members every single Sunday after services and have a solid discipleship pathway for new believers to follow. So I was hoping that this Facebook page would be filled with other small groups pastors who were replicating the health I see in his church.

I was careful to craft my question by asking if any of the 2000+ small group point persons who represent that page were seeing relational evangelism going on in their small groups and considered this "normal or ordinary" behavior (versus something that happened now and then or was extra-ordinary).

I clarified my question by stating that I was not referring "bring a friend Sunday" programs or inviting friends to big church services (not that there's anything wrong with this and I hope your church is doing it). I just wanted to get down to brass tacks: Are there any U.S. churches where relational evangelism is the way the local church is growing, verses crowd evangelism efforts?

After two days of zero responses, I replied to my own question, asking if the silence on the subject was as deafening to everyone else as it was to me. One small groups pastor replied saying they would love for this to be the norm, but it's not happening despite their best efforts on a leadership level.

It's not as if no one uses this Facebook page
Posts are made daily asking about campaigns that work best, training for hosts, best ways to get the visitors and congregations to sign up for a group, etc. And many others are answering them. But ask a question about relational evangelism and it's as if someone cut off the power to every small group pastor's laptop in the nation!

America, we have a problem!
First, we saw lots of smaller churches close their doors or become satellite locations for megachurches with a shiny lead pastor and his incredible way with words when on a mic in the pulpit. Then we saw most every megachurch look, feel, sound, smell, and taste the same no matter which denomination they belong to or where they're located as they copied what others were doing that was so attractive and retentive.

The hallmark of these big multi-site churches is being very good at pleasing the consumer Christian (if I may use this oxymoron). They've got amazing programs for children and youth and lots of self-help and self-improvement programs, which aren't bad in and of themselves. They just seem to keep people from seeing their primary purpose on earth front and center: to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ to everyone around them and anyone who will listen!

If you're reading this, for the love of God, help your small group members learn how to be a friend and reach a friend for Christ and disciple that person! This must become our driving passion in small group and cell group ministry in this country!