By Allen White
There are good reasons and bad reasons to close your small group. One good reason to close your group is when a study becomes intensely personal. As your group is working through difficult issues in the lives of its members, it would be pretty awkward to add a new member. Once the issue is worked through, then it would be time to open your group again.
Your group could also be in a situation where a member of your group is facing a crisis. Rather than focus the group’s attention on welcoming new members, for a season, the group needs to focus on caring for the member in need.
Then, there are some wrong reasons to close your group. For instance, the group is happy with the members they have and they really don’t want any new people to spoil the party. The group’s motto is “We seven going to Heaven” or “Us four and no more.” The group may go on for a while, but the problem comes when a few members can’t meet any more. As the group begins to decline in members, it becomes increasingly difficult to add new members, because the group has been so close-knit and tight for so long.
Another wrong reason to close the group is fear that once a group reaches a certain number, the group will be asked to start a new group. Everybody’s happy together. Nobody wants to leave. The thought is just to close the group to new members and avoid the problem. Unfortunately, the group will begin to encounter some of the problems mentioned in the last paragraph. When I arrived at our church almost three years ago, I made a promise: I WILL NEVER ASK A GROUP TO DIVIDE. I have kept that promise. We’ve recruited new hosts to start new groups. I’ve given strategies of sub-grouping to increase the level of participation in a larger group. But, I have never asked a group to divide. So, open up the doors. Let the new ones come in! When it gets to be a problem, let’s talk about it.
Closed groups can easily become sort of a cul-de-sac. They are receiving, but not giving. Just as the Dead Sea in Israel has no outlet and continues to build up mineral deposits, groups can calcify and become not just stagnant, but also rigid. One solution to this is for the group to serve together. Whether you take meals to the Frazee Dream Center or paint walls at Generations Group Home or collect items for Little Steps, your group has an outlet for ministry.
One of the worst things that can happen to a group is that the group just becomes all about itself. The group loses its edge. Everyone becomes more understanding of each others’ behavior and less likely to confront bad behavior. It’s easy to slip into complacency. A continued inward focus is not healthy for any believer or any group.
There are some good reasons to close your group for a season. There are also some good reasons to open your group:
1. You have the opportunity to help people connect who might otherwise be lost in the crowd on Sunday. People with friends in the church are the most likely to stay. Those who don’t know anybody are much more likely to leave.
2. An Open Group has the opportunity to reach people for Christ. While your group doesn’t need to hand out tracts on the street corner, your group can model Christ for someone who is searching. Eventually they might cross the line of faith.
3. Open Groups make us more Christ-like. I’m not saying that Closed Groups are ungodly. There are good reasons to be closed. Open Groups, at times, can make us uncomfortable. It takes extra effort to welcome new people and to help them fit in with the group. Open Groups force us to be a little more selfless. It’s not about what we like and who we like, it’s about God using the group to minister to others.
Open or Closed really depends on where your group is at and what you’re called to accomplish. Think about these reasons and pray about what your group should do next.