Gateway Growth Groups – An introduction
Why are Growth Groups needed in a local church? It’s simple - to ‘Grow in faith’ (as a Christian), OR ‘Grow into faith’ (as a not-yet-Christian).
Where and When:
Where and when does the group meet? Ideally, as it’s a small group, from as few as 3 up to 12 (then Growth Groups can divide and multiply), which meets in someone’s home or if suitable at the church building – usually one evening during the week (Mon-Thurs) or possibly daytime. But it can be anytime, anyplace. Gateway Church have had small groups that even met in a pub and a nightclub!
What goes on in a group? The focus is usually to look at some part of the Bible (Best Instructions Before Leaving Earth!) or to consider a topical theme with reference to the Bible. What is the Bible? At Gateway we believe it is God’s Word, with many different human authors, but with a supreme divine author – the living God. Therefore, everything in the Bible is intended to be there by God. In other words, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16). This can be aided by a booklet or a DVD or just a straightforward presentation by the leader. Currently, Gateway Growth Groups are together using Just10, which is a series on the 10 commandments, with a DVD presentation and booklets. The idea is to allow some kind of Bible teaching to take place that addresses, challenges, educates, impacts, informs, motivates, and speaks into the lives of the participants. The focus is both vertical and horizontal, i.e. the teaching is connected with the person’s relationship with God and their relationship with people (family, friends, work, enemies, plus guidance on relevant 21st century issues and help with personal problems).
Who are the ‘key players’? A Growth Group needs a co-ordinator/s to ensure the group meets and knows where and when. Organising a Growth Group can be hard work sometimes! The most efficient way, as far as possible, is via texting. Set up a Growth Group list and communicate with a text that’s sent to each participant. A Growth Group needs a host/s who opens up their home and provides hospitality (a cuppa and biscuits or something more adventurous). Finally, a Growth group needs a leader/s for each meeting or a rotation each week. This person ensures the group is led – a leader/s is vital to the success of the group. S/he may facilitate the group in discussion with use of a resource material from a booklet or DVD or to actually lead the teaching – seeking to clearly explain the Bible with an accurate and helpful application. This also includes ensuring there is a balance of discussion from the participants, eg nobody dominates (the loud one) and nobody is left out (the quiet one). They need to be sensitive to any who can’t read or write, and have a simple strategy in place to deal with this or at least seek advice. Furthermore the leader needs to ensure a balance is struck between encouraging people’s questions, even strange beliefs/views being aired, and true Christian teaching being the benchmark. Last of all, the leader needs to finish at the agreed time!
As well as refreshments, and general conversations about life and lives, prayer should be encouraged, especially a corporate prayer time. There are different creative formats and ways to help people become familiar to praying either quietly or audibly. The main thing is not to turn people off that they don’t return again! Remember that a person’s spiritual growth can take many weeks, months, even years. It doesn’t usually happen over just a matter of weeks, but rather “with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4.2).
It might be possible, if there is a shortage, that the co-ordinator, host and leader is one and the same person! However, sharing the responsibility is wise and strengthens people in those particular ministries and lightens the responsibility.
However, no group can exist without participants. The whole church needs to encourage one another to be part of a small group, and not leave it just to the Pastor or Growth Group leader to ‘chase’ people into a group. In Growth Groups, it’s a great opportunity for ‘dialogue’. The Sunday meeting where the whole church gathers is more conducive to ‘monologue’ i.e. preaching (although Gateway on a Sunday does provide a short time for Q & A immediately after the preaching). Small groups, usually in the homely surroundings of sofas & settees is more suited to sharing and discussing. People can open up more to share personal and private news which can receive prayer and support. If it’s confidential to the group – keep it confidential to the group!
The Sunday preaching and Growth Groups are BOTH very important to a healthy growing church. Both are needed – see Acts 2.46 where we are given a snapshot of the early Christians, “Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts [formal preaching]. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts [informal midweek Growth Group]”.
“The real secret of fruitful and effective mission in the world is the quality of our community” (Tim Keller).