One of the five small group values that Willow promoted in the early 90s was that “groups must expand and multiply so that eventually every believer can be connected to others.” Short version? Healthy groups grow and birth. Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all…if something is healthy there will be growth and it will give birth to more of it’s kind. Only one problem. For a variety of reasons it rarely works in the real world of small group land. Not that it isn’t a biblical sound idea. Just not very easy to implement.
In an article over at Christianity Today Larry Osborne suggests that “dividing small groups (what many have referred to as “birthing”) is dumb.” He even makes a credible case for why it’s dumb. And I have to say that I agree with a lot of what he writes…as far as it goes. I do think an alternative (or two) is in order.
Here’s what I’ve found to be the case.
- First, mandated “birthing” does not work. It does everything that Osborne suggests.
- Second, unless groups are very intentional they default very quickly to a very inward pattern of fellowship and discipleship to the exclusion of the other biblical purposes of ministry and mission. The idea that a group will necessarily be a healthy environment that encourages real life change as groups are together longer is a false assumption. For more on this issue, see my article on Essential Ingredients of Life Change.
- Third, if a church takes its mandate seriously to both care for the 99 and be on the lookout for the one, some viable strategy to help the unconnected sheep without a shepherd will be needed.
- Last, it turns out there are more effective ways to launch new groups than forced birthing.
What’s more effective than birthing? No question the most effective method of finding new leaders and connecting unconnected people has been the HOST Strategy. Another very effective method has been the Small Group Connection. They aren’t problem-free. But the problems that come with them are better than the problems that come with the idea of birthing.
You can read Larry Osborne’s article right here.