Open Groups, Closed Groups & Specialized Groups

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How would you describe the groups in your system?  Open?  Closed?  Specialized?  Or a little bit of all three?

The Ongoing Open vs Closed Group Debate generated some very thoughtful comments and great interaction.  One of the aspects that surfaced more than once is that there are times when circumstances makes it preferable to be closed to new members.  For example, when a group, normally open to new members, takes time to wrestle through an internal issue (such as a struggling marriage or a challenging illness).

In other instances the group’s membership is made up of a select group of participants.  For example, two comments on The Ongoing Open vs Closed Group Debate pointed out that Jesus’ small group was closed.  Equally, you could make the case that an elder board is a closed small group.

There are definitely certain specialized types of groups that are more productive when they’re not open to drop-in participants.  Therapy groups would be an example of this kind of specialized form of grouplife.

These three instances aside (a normally open group temporarily not accepting new members due to internal issues, groups being discipled or hand-chosen for leadership development, or gathered for group therapy), are probably present in all of our small group ministries.  And none of them really fit the circumstances I attempted to describe in The Ongoing Open vs Closed Group Debate.

It is my conviction that too many groups drift into comfortable, developing an impermeable membrane around the usual suspects, and never really take into consideration “the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).”

Too many groups close themselves off to the needs of unconnected people without being enabled by systems or small group pastors.

I’ve always loved the Bill Hybels’ message exploring the actions of the four lepers found in 2 Kings 6-7.  Finding themselves locked out of their own city while its under siege, they wander over to the enemy camp.  Discovering it abandoned and everything they need to survive in abundance, they are morally compelled to share what they’ve found with the starving people still within the walls (God’s Heart for Unconnected People–Part 2 is my overview of the message).

Are there times where it makes sense to restrict membership to a certain few? Absolutely.  Is it far more common for groups to be closed to new members simply to look out for their own interests?  Without question.

Friends, God really does have a heart for the needs of unconnected people.  In fact, Matthew’s record of Jesus’ compassion for the crowd, “Harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)” ought to always be front of mind.

Speaking of Jesus…think He was in a closed group?  Here’s my take: Was Jesus Really in a Closed Group?

What do you think? Make sense? Want to argue? Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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