Recently I posted about a group I was once a part of that eventually died. Why? It became inward-focused and we lost our mission as a result. Since that time, I have been able to reflect a lot on ways to tell if your group is staying on mission. One of the easiest methods is to take a look at exactly who is being invited to your group gatherings.
If your group only seems to be inviting “insiders” (that is, those people who are already a part of your church or who already understand and support your vision), you may be too inward-focused. Now, I understand that you may not be the type of person who is good at inviting people to your group who are antagonistic to faith, but most people aren’t like that. In fact, most people are at least somewhat interested in having spiritual conversations. They just aren’t sure where to begin. A small group setting (at my church, we call them ECHO Groups) is a perfect place for people to explore faith. In order to remain outward focused, consider doing whatever is necessary to bring three types of people: Explorers, Starters, and Returners. Let’s take a closer look:
At ECHO, our Groups attract people through authentic community, spiritual conversation, and action-based discipleship. Here are the three types of people and how your group can engage them:
These are people who are looking for something more. They are becoming open to the idea of church and spirituality, but they still have questions.
Explorers are looking for deep, authentic, community. They often are skeptical that they will be accepted for who they are without being “converted.” They are interested in exploring Jesus and faith, but they want to do so on their own terms. This makes the meal-time crucial. When an ECHO Group gathers around a meal, explorers will be looking to see if the group will want to get to know them without expectations that they change right away. Expect resistance to some spiritual conversations and always look for opportunities to show that you care more about the person than their doctrinal precision.
Starters have just recently placed their trust in Jesus and are looking for the next step. They have tons of questions about the ways of Jesus and are typically very open to change.
Starters are rethinking their purpose and existence and have a ton of questions. They want to know how to read the Bible, what it takes to be a disciple, and how to pray effectively. This makes the Bible study, discussion, and prayer times crucial for Starters. Expect big questions and don’t be surprised when a Starter asks you something that you don’t know.
Returners have decided to give God and the Church a chance again. They have had a church background but, whether because they were disillusioned or simply faded away, they haven’t been back in a long time.
While not always the case, many Returners left the Church because they felt that their church surroundings lacked results. They want to see action that moves beyond what they consider to be “playing” church. For this reason, Returners are attracted to the causes and mission fields that ECHO Groups pursue. It excites Returners to see Christ followers who want to put their faith into action. This makes prayer and local missions significant for Returners. They will be moved when your prayers are not just for each other, but for people who are not in the room. They will be looking to see if the “in here” group time translates “out there” through local missions projects, presence in the community, and unchurched people being drawn into the ECHO Group. Expect Returners to be disillusioned and at times antagonistic to their past church experiences. Whether right or wrong, this is how they feel, so do not discount or invalidate their feelings. You will be surprised at how passionate many Returners are about their faith despite their past experiences.
Take a moment and consider your group. Here are three questions you can ask:
If you have had the same five people for the past year, you may be stable, but why are new people not arriving?
If your group only invites people who are like-minded, you will likely get along, but will you be reaching people who really need what your group has to offer?
If your group prays solely for each other’s needs, you will build a strong sense of community, but will you be aligning your prayers with God’s mission to restore the lost and hurting?
As you reflect on these questions, be encouraged! God has big dreams for your group. Trust Him with the results, not yourself.
What other ways can you gauge your group’s effectiveness in engaging outsiders?
I am a husband, speaker, church planter, and coach. I help people and pastors with big dreams learn how to awaken God’s dream for their lives so they can have a lasting and meaningful impact on the world.