Top 10 Reasons I’m a Fan of Open Groups

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In terms of small groups philosophy of ministry, the open or closed group question is very big.  Both sides have some good arguments.  Like every other argument there is no problem-free solution.  Although I believe there are times when it is both appropriate and beneficial to “close” a group, for the most part I am solidly in the open group camp.  Here are my top 10 reasons:

10.  Eliminates the need to “card people at the door!”

9.  One less idiosyncrasy to explain to interested newbies.

8.  Adding a new person to a group often causes new details to be added to old stories.

7.  Gives an opportunity for includers to include, reach out, and help new members to feel part of the group.

6.  Creates opportunities for new friendships.

5.  It counters the “me-first” attitude of the culture when I’m willing to share what I have.

4.  A growing group opens new doors for putting the needs of others above your own.

3.  Without new blood, relationships can become stagnant.

2.  If grouplife really is essential to me, I will be most persuasive when I invite you to my group.

1.  The closest friends of the newest people in your congregation will never be easier to invite than in the first 3 to 6 months.

Admittedly, if you’re any kind of debater you can come up with counter arguments for many of my top 1o.  Let me be clear though.  I believe that reason number one trumps any potential good that can come from a closed group system.  Relationships that members of closed groups had with outsiders will almost certainly have faded once they’ve completed 12 to 18 months.  In the sense that there’s an upside and a downside to everything…that is a huge downside and solidly puts me in the open group camp.

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  1. Kevin Phillips on November 2, 2009 at 8:59 am

    We are having this debate right now in our church. We have been advocates of open groups. We attended a Group Life conf. recently in which Andy Stanley made the case for closed groups. He had some good points. I am reconsidering my position. Do your open groups also have covenants together? How does that work? What about the cohesiveness of the group? I’d like to hear more. Thanks for the post. Blessings!

  2. Mark Howell on November 2, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Thanks for jumping in Kevin! Love the interaction!

    Andy’s comments were the inspiration for my top 10 list. I believe that when you list the problems that comes with open group systems and then closed group systems, you’ll see that it is much easier to mitigate the problems of the open system. Group agreements (covenants) are an example of a way that a group can be open to new people, even actively looking for the right new people, and still realize the kind of close personal relationships that foster accountability and encouragement.


  3. DeAntwan Fitts on November 2, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I lean more on the side of open groups, however, for the purpose of transparency, I think you need to leave it to the group leaders discretion. Example, if he or she has a group that has just begin to open up and he feels that leaving the group open can jeopordize that, he or she should have the liberty to close the group.

    With that being said, I believe that it should closed with the intentions of opening it again once the group understands and are committed to the mission of the group (assuming the group is missional).

    Just my two cents 🙂


  4. Mark Howell on November 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Great insight DeAntwan! Agree with you 100%! That’s exactly what I mean when I say you can mitigate most open group concerns with a little tweak. Thanks for jumping into the conversation!


  5. Eric Dunaway on November 2, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    I would say we’re somewhere in between, and we call our groups “consistent.” We basically have designed our structure so that group growth and expansion is expressed as a natural component of group life. However, it is at the discretion of the group itself. Groups decide if and when they’re open. Again, the concept is to protect consistency, while at the same time promoting growth in the group. Part of our reporting process allows groups to identify themselves as open or closed. Our online “GroupFinder” connection tool then points people to “open” groups, but they must join via the group facilitator, and at the invitation of the group. We also have a team of “Connection Coordinators” who assist in the process of helping people connect with open groups. So… all that to say… we’re open and closed – consistent.

  6. Mark Howell on November 2, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks for jumping in Eric! The key to me is that you’ve developed a concept that fits your philosophy that group “growth and expansion” are natural…and that makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense to allow groups to close themselves from time to time (and to take themselves off the finder when they do). I like the way you’re thinking.


  7. Robert on November 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    We have closed groups in our church. However, they are closed only to someone other than the members of that group adding anyone new to it. If we have someone new that needs to be in a group, I simply contact a group leader and give them the information and then they ask their group if it is OK to bring someone new into it. This has worked great for us because it still encourages the group members to be inclusive of others while at the same time giving the group some “control” over who is added say 12 months in the cycle. Our groups do a tremendous job of including their friends that start coming in the middle of the “cycle” or a complete stranger that starts attending church in the middle of the “cycle”. So, I am an advocate of closed groups but with the caveat of allowing a group to include others during the cycle. I know it will be said that the groups are not really closed. That is true – except they are closed to anyone else adding new people to the group. So, maybe consistent is a pretty good way to describe our groups.

  8. Mark Howell on November 3, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for commenting Robert! And I’d agree with you that your groups aren’t really closed…they’re just not wiiiiide open. I like your method. Honors the group’s ability to invite and gives them a little control to make sure the fit is good. Nothing wrong there.


  9. Ben Reed on November 3, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Great post, Mark! I agree with a lot of what’s been said already in the comments section. One thing I’ll add, though. Being open, and adding people to groups, is difficult, both on the group and on the person being added. The person being added can easily feel like an outsider, and the group can easily feel invaded upon. That’s why I feel that your #2 reason above is so important. When a group agrees upon adding somebody, and a group member extends a personal invitation, there is a great chance of success. When the groups pastor is the one “inviting” new people to enter existing group, I’ve found it doesn’t often go well.

  10. Mark Howell on November 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Great point Ben! Every group ought to have the discussion about how or whether to be open/closed back when they work through their group agreement/covenant. I love your take. That’s so true that it doesn’t go as well when the invitation isn’t personal.