Three Observations that Made Me a Fan* of North Point’s Closed Group Strategy

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Ever found yourself suddenly looking at something you’ve seen many times…and realizing there was actually something else there?  Like a Magic Eye 3D image…you suddenly can see the dinosaurs in the background!  That’s what happened to me and it caused be to reevaluate North Point’s closed group strategy.

If you’ve been along for much of the journey here, you know I have long been an outspoken fan of the open group philosophy.   I’ve written about it many times.  I’ve also pointed out that one of three key distinctives of North Point’s strategy is the closed group philosophy…and I expressed my concern with it:

“Closed groups cut off the friends and connections of the newest people to the crowd.  If I’m a new attendee and I join a closed group it will be 12 to 18 months before I can encourage my friend to join my group.”

So what changed?  What caused me to reevaluate?

First, a new understanding of what North Point has identified as the five faith catalysts (practical teaching, providential relationships, private disciplines, personal ministry, and pivotal circumstances).  Andy Stanley provides a thorough overview of the concept in Deep and Wide.  Stanley notes that, “While it’s beyond our ability to manufacture any type of relationship, much less one characterized as providential, what we can do is create environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships (p. 133).”

Second, the realization that North Point doesn’t view small groups as a growth engine.  I need to point out that I remain an outspoken fan of the exponential upside of a church-wide campaign and am convinced that nothing is a more powerful growth engine. That’s why Stanley’s statement is so important: “We decided not to leverage adult groups as a growth engine, but rather to do everything in our power to create authentic community (p. 134).”

Third, the commitment to creating a church that unchurched people love to attend cannot be overemphasized.  How can North Point remain committed to the closed group philosophy?  How can they choose to not leverage adult groups as a growth engine?  Let’s just say their ability to create irresistible environments (read weekend services that unchurched people love to attend) diminishes the need for adult groups as growth engine.

What does this mean for you?  I think the key is that a closed group strategy can work when used in combination with an engaging weekend service that unchurched people love to attend.  Can’t say that about your weekend service?  You may want to rethink that closed group strategy.

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

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  1. Rod Dempsey on December 5, 2012 at 6:27 am


    Open versus closed is a discussion, but it is not the starting point. In this sense it follows the logical fallacy… “if you begin with a false premise… you end up with a false conclusion.” Closed groups follow an attractional strategy and an attractional strategy is based upon an idea that evangelism happens best when friends “invest and invite” their friends/ neighbors to come with them to “church”. The starting point for open versus closed is the Great Commission which is clearly “go and be” not “come and see”. When we don’t start with the Great Commission (which is clearly GO- consider also John 20:21 “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you” and Mark 1:17 “follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men). To properly address this question of open versus closed you must begin with a clear understanding of the Vision that God has for His disciples (not to be babies), His leaders (not to dis-emppower his saints) and His church (not to tell the society to come to us). Ultimately closed groups are a catch up strategy that does not expect the Saints or the Pastors or the Church to function as a sending agency. I am not a “fan” of closed groups because ultimately it perpetuates an unhealthy co-dependency on the Pastors to do evangelism and the saints to continue in a state of suspended adolescence. With all due respect… I respectfully, and firmly disagree.

    Rod Dempsey

  2. markchowell on December 5, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Thanks for jumping in here, Rod! I always appreciate your take. Because you’ve been a regular participant here, you know, I am a fan of the open group strategy, so I don’t think you’re disagreeing with me (respectfully or otherwise).

    I have to say, too, that you’ve drawn some interesting conclusions. Honestly, some of what you’ve said will take a little digesting.

    Thanks again for your contribution!


  3. Randy Boschee on December 13, 2012 at 6:56 am

    First Mark, Love the last few blogs posts!! Loved reading Deep & Wide too. Rod, I don’t think the argument is “open” vs. “closed” groups. I think the bigger question raised in “Deep and Wide”and what I am wrestling with is balancing purpose of groups in the church is as a “Growth Engine” vs. a place for Community/Discipling. I too am a big supporter of open groups, without embracing the growth engine mentality. I believe groups as they were designed by Christ were about “Go…and make disciples.” Before we use what’s become a common cliche “both and” I believe the position from which you view groups matters here. I will always lean a little towards the community/discipling side of things. Call me 51% Community & 49% Growth.

    One concern, (Mark withstanding) Is too often I hear what almost seems as boasting when church leaders the talk about the number of people connected in groups at their church. Numbers are thrown out like that is the goal for their groups ministry to keep getting a bigger number. The bottom line we I wrestle with is, “are groups making disciples? We all as Point leaders constantly have to manage the tension between “quantity and quality. “Deep and Wide for me has been a tremendous help as I think through and process this area.

    Hey Mark, ever thought about hosting a Round Table for Point Leaders. If you did, I’m there!!!


  4. markchowell on December 13, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Thanks for jumping in here, Randy! I hear you. Two thoughts: First, I believe that the optimum environment for life-change is a group…not the auditorium (see Second, I believe that unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being there (see Those two ideas inform my strategy for grouplife. Is it about making disciples? Absolutely. Will the customer (the unconnected person) bite on the “become a disciple” invitation? Not en masse. The way to connect more in groups than you have in the weekend service is… (there’s such a good idea for a post in this, I’m stopping here).

    As for a round table…sounds like fun!