The Holy Spirit has been putting great emphasis on the use of small groups for discipleship, outreach and other purposes. This is not surprising, especially when you consider that there are so many commands in the New Testament relating to things we do “one to another”. How can we love one another as Jesus loved his disciples (John 13:34,35) unless there is an environment in which close relationships can develop?
The Example of Jesus
Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples, because he loved them. They were with him both in public and in private. As well as in field work together, Jesus trained and prepared them in a small group context. Jesus is, or should be, our model. The kind of relationships he advocated for his followers cannot be built simply on the basis of casual contact. The early church certainly followed this example, and so multiplied mature and committed disciples, who became effective both in evangelisation as well as the other tasks they got from the Lord.
Our Need Today
Likewise, we need a context in which trust can learn and grow, a context in which we can love one another, exhort one another, speak to one another, honor one another, receive one another, watch over and care for one another – just as the Bible instructs us. This can’t happen if we limit our contact with one another to public celebration meetings and a brief chat afterwards – even if we do occasionally go out to lunch with others from the church and talk about things. No, the full implementation of God’s plan requires a small group setting, in addition to any other kinds of meetings that may be set up. Small groups, which may be known by such names as “home cells”, “house groups” or “life groups” are therefore a vital part of God’s strategy. Just as the early church often met in homes, so too can we. It is interesting that the vast majority of growing churches today have some kind of home cell network in place, through which new people are added, strengthened and developed for the purposes of our God.
Multiplication is a Goal
Healthy home cell groups have as part of their vision the aim to multiply. This requires two things. The first is the addition of new people to the group. The second is the training and equipping of existing members to lead a home cell group themselves. The purpose of this article is to focus on keys which will cause your group to grow. The leader, as well as participating members need to put these things into action for best results. When these are missing, the group may stagnate or even die.
So What are the Keys to Small Group Growth?
Prayer is the key factor for growth, because it is prayer that gets God Himself involved in the life of the group. It is God who works in people’s hearts to make them want to come along and participate in the life of the group. When the leader is a man or woman of prayer, someone who devotes themselves to really meeting God and getting to the throne so they can be filled with God themselves and intercede effectively for the needs of others – then things will happen. Prayer creates the atmosphere in which God can work.
Prayer is more important than other factors such as personality type, gifting or personal charisma. Its not the opening or closing prayers in a group meeting that count as much as the whole prayer life of the members of the group, especially the group leader. Unless the group leader privately prayers an hour or so on the day of the actual meeting, it is unlikely that the meeting will hit the mark God intended for it. Some things that God intends just won’t happen unless effective prevailing prayer is being offered for the group.
Many people come straight from work to small groups. They are often tired and in need of refreshment, both spiritually and naturally. The leader, more than anyone else, needs to be full of the Spirit of God in order to have what is needed to bless the group. So the leader must be prepared and disciplined. The leader may need to get up earlier than others in order to have time to get what is needed from God.
Some may say they are too busy to pray. If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Change your priorities. You cannot achieve more of eternal value by having less of God in your life, no matter how busy you may be in doing one kind of work or another.
2. Personal Contact with Individuals in the Group outside of the meeting time
It is really very important that a group leader has personal contact with individuals in the group outside of the meeting time. People need to know that they are valued as individuals. People have a need for personal affirmation and encouragement. By spending time with individuals in the group, or at least getting in touch by phone, a leader shows that he places value on the person contacted.
Hopefully a leader realises that people really are valuable. They are much more than numbers for the group. Every person is intrinsically valuable. In addition, each person has a great potential for God. A group leader is entrusted by God to care for people. We should care more for people than any kind of investment portfolio, because people are of more value than money. And since most of us give up so much of our time in order to earn money, how much more should we use a portion of our free time to show interest in, and put a high value on, people. They will appreciate it when it is done with this understanding.
If the only reason we contact people is because we want them as numbers for our group, people will sense this. Determine to show a genuine interest in people. Rather than asking, “Are you coming on Wednesday night?” Listen to the person, let them know you are praying for them, and express how delighted you will be if they do come at such and such a time. It is better to draw with love than to attempt to manipulate with fear or even mild forms of condemnation. At the same time, continue praying for them. In so doing, you give God a chance to put it on their hearts to come to the group. And when God does it, it works so much better than we attempt to entice and cajole people.
3. Be Prepared
Its important in any group that the leader knows beforehand where he or she is wanting to take people! This requires some preparation, and waiting on God. Often, home cells under the authority of a senior pastor must follow certain study materials. Always think about the application of the material to the lives of the people. Prepare with a view to helping people in your group go to the next level – whatever that may be.
People in the group can see if you are unprepared. When people see that the leader is unprepared, they interpret it, perhaps even subconsciously, to mean that “we are not a priority”. This is not an expression of God’s love. Even if the agenda is to wait upon the Holy Spirit, a leader should have seriously prepared his or her heart and have some idea of where the Holy Spirit is wanting to take the group. Failure to seriously attempt this has more to do with laziness than a desire to be totally open to the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, who was totally in harmony with the Spirit of God, often knew what was to happen beforehand precisely because he really did have communication with the Father. We should aspire to the same.
When people see that a leader is prepared, they feel complimented. They realise that the leader has expended effort in order to add value to their lives through the preparation. God will honor that.
The most important preparation is to be as full of the Holy Spirit as possible before the meeting begins. This is the condition of God’s perfect working. The Holy Spirit will not leave us confused and bewildered as to what He wants for a meeting, but will lead us with purpose.
4. Have Clear Goals for the Group, and Articulate them
Every home group should have the goal to grow. Groups should be inclusive rather than exclusive. They should welcome visitors – those who have made the effort to come to the group. If the group is not reminded of the goal to grow, it can settle down to become a mere support group which is only concerned with the needs of existing members. Such groups have a limited lifespan.
Another goal of the group needs to be the development of individual members. We should always be desiring to take people to the next level. The apostle Paul strived to present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). Paul’s intercession was a key factor in this. No matter how this goal of maturity is expressed, the idea is that people change. People must become more like Christ. People must become more disciplined, more focussed on the Lord and His purposes. People must give place to the Holy Spirit so that the Spirit’s fruit becomes increasingly evident in their lives. The power of personal discipline is unleashed when people have a clear vision and purpose – when they really believe there is an achievable goal worth disciplining themselves for.
Almost every person can be developed to the point where they are capable of leading a small group in their own right. This is a good goal to have, however, if it is presented it must be done so with wisdom. Articulating such a goal may cause some on the one hand to want to back off, if their life’s values are not in line with those of Christ. On the other hand, others, whose spirit is not right, may be ambitious for position more than personal transformation. When they are not quickly promoted as they hope, they may become frustrated and begin to create problems in the group or in the church. Everyone, however, should be encouraged to be ambitious for the edification of others (1 Corinthians 14:12).
Every leader should want to their group to be the kind of group that they would want to be part of even if they were not the leader. And every leader should ask, “How many more people like me do I want to be in this group?” If we would not like more people like ourselves, why not? Its time to change.
Without goals, a group will drift, and people will not be as motivated for Kingdom purposes. It is important that the goals be articulated regularly so that the group can focus on achieving something together. This will produce better results.
5. Treat Visitors Right
The visitor is the most important person for the home cell group to grow. Why do visitors come? They come because they are interested in what the home cell group offers! They have taken the trouble to get into the car and come out and meet a group of others, many of whom are possibly unknown to them. Its my conviction that the group meeting should always be very sensitive to the visitors and their needs. They should be honored, loved and respected no matter who they are. Grace should be extended to them. They should feel that both God Himself and the people in the group want to bless them.
Its important to show grace to people in the group before confronting them with painful truth – such as the sin in their lives. Actually, the presence of God in the group will go a long way to making a person conscious of their sin – even if no one says anything about it. People need to firstly sense our compassion, before they hear convicting words.
It is important to follow up visitors. As stated before, this should be done because people are valuable, and need to be loved and valued. In following people up, it is good to be “pro-active” but not to be a “pest”.
Good leaders invite people, pests badger and hassle prospects.
Good leaders use positive reinforcement – express delight for the person’s visit. “Pests” major on negatives.
Good leader are gently forceful. “Pests” are overbearing and arrogant.
Good leaders infest people with enthusiasm. “Pests” seek to manipulate people by causing them to fear their disapproval.
Good leaders use vision to benefit the people. “Pests” are motivated to use the group to elevate themselves.
When we learn to really treat our visitors with respect and honor, when we learn to intercede deeply for them, without neglecting those already entrusted to our care, our groups will explode with growth and new life. As a single cell can multiply in a body, so our cell groups will multiply and produce people who will go on to do great things for God.
May God bless you as you put these principles into practice in your home cell group ministry.