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The political landscape is more polarized than it’s ever been (and it’s never been great). You don’t have to look too far before you find memes or yard signs that either strongly agree or strongly disagree with your own political position. But, how can you love your neighbor/enemy in this day and age? How do you reach people who are far from God and post an oppositional meme? What if they show up in your small group?
The challenge is to reach people with the truth of God’s word by putting politics aside. If your politics get in the way of your witness, then your politics are more important than they should be. Your concerned about political causes should be the same as Jesus’ concern. In my read of the Gospels, Jesus didn’t have much concerned for political causes. He stayed on mission regardless of the political situation.
You have a right to vote your conscience. You have a right to hold a political opinion. But, when does politics cloud the church’s mission? Here are some ideas about how groups can draw in people with opposing views and make disciples amid a hostile political environment.
Choose Relevant Study Topics.
Your study choices should connect with people’s felt needs. What are people experiencing right now? Many are facing stress and anxiety at unprecedented levels. Between the coming recession, rapid societal and cultural change, and the stress of life, many people are at their brink. Bible studies like Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at the Table by Louie Giglio, Rhythms of Renewal by Rebecca Lyons, and so many others to help people overcome their stress and anxiety. People are dealing with many relevant issues these days like improving their marriages, becoming better parents, find their purpose in life, and discerning what’s ahead.
By inviting friends and neighbors to a Bible study based on a relevant topic, every person in your church can reach people who are far from God and point them to the Truth. They don’t have to agree on everything. Besides, what small group actually agrees on everything anyway? By connecting with people and supporting them in overcoming practical issues in their lives, groups can break through some of the barriers that politics creates.
Stick to Jesus and What the Bible has to Say.
Over the centuries, the Church has faced a lot. Whether the church thrived with a favorable government or thrived with a hostile government, the Church has continued to thrive. But, all along the way the truth of God’s Word has held true. Jesus remains on the throne. God is a big boy. He can take care of Himself.
Once you’ve chosen a relevant study for your groups or have allowed them to choose the study based on the needs of their friends, then groups should stick to what the Bible says and avoid controversial issues. The goal is to win souls for eternity not to win the next election.
By creating an environment to accept people where they are, the group can show the newcomers the love of Christ. Jesus is very attractive. Political agendas are not. By breaking down barriers to invite others in, the Holy Spirit will do His work in their hearts just like He does in yours. This doesn’t mean that people will change overnight. This also doesn’t mean that you have to be in agreement with their political views or lifestyle choices. As the saying goes, “You catch them. God will clean them.”
Show God’s Love in Practical Ways.
What are the needs you see around you? How can your group help your neighbors? After all, Jesus boiled down all 613 commandments in Scripture to just two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). How can you love your neighbor as yourself?
First, get to know your neighbors. I’ve made it a personal challenge over the years to find something in common with everyone I meet. Now with some folks that’s more challenging than others. Sometimes though I’m surprised that I have a lot in common with someone I thought I would have nothing in common with.
Start with your neighbors’ names. If they’re just moving in, walk over and unload something from the moving truck, introduce yourself, and either continue helping or move on if you need to. Now, if you’ve lived in your neighborhood for a while and there’s a neighbor you haven’t met, then walk next door with some cookies, knock on the door, and say, “I’m a little embarrassed that we’ve lived here for so long, yet you and I have never met.” They’re probably embarrassed too.
Pray for Your Neighbors.
If you’ve met your neighbors, then pray for them by name. Pray for their lives to be blessed. Pray for openness to hear about Jesus. Pray for any needs that you are aware of. If you haven’t met your neighbors, then pray for an opportunity to meet them. The power of prayer is much greater than the power of Facebook.
Help Your Neighbors.
Do your neighbors have a practical need? Make yourself available. If it’s a big job, then invite your whole small group. Whether your neighbor needs some work done around their house or needs a night of fun, include them. People are lonely. As my wife once said, “People have more ways to connect than they’ve had, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” Facebook and other social media provide pseudo-relationships, but lack the real personal connections that people need. By opening up and including others, you and your group are taking the first step in helping people find Jesus.
Think About This
Pastor Jonathan Hansen from Hills Church in El Dorado Hills, California recently told me, “Most Christians are only one yard sign away from destroying their witness.” How can you introduced people to Jesus when your politics keep getting in the way? Winning somebody to your political point of view is not nearly as important as winning someone to Christ. The change of a nation starts with the change of the hearts of individuals. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). This should still be our mission. When it comes to politics, as Larry Osborne said recently on the Exponential Groups Podcast: “Your church (or your group) should be Switzerland.”
Multisite churches have multiplied ministries and reached the lost very effectively over the past decade in the US. What started as a desperate need for expansion at Seacoast Church’s Mt. Pleasant, SC campus and the subsequent denial by their city council to let them expand led to the launch of a new model that duplicated services across counties, states and eventually countries in the case of churches like Saddleback. The fix to a zoning problem became a launch pad for evangelism. Now, for the next wave.
A while back on a coaching visit to Seacoast Church, Josh Surratt mentioned to me that a family from their church had moved to the state of Maine and had 40 people meeting in their living room every Sunday watching the Seacoast service online. I said to Josh, “Maybe it’s time to redefine what a campus is.”
Prior to this, a multisite campus had always been a designated building, either rented or owned, some distance from the main/broadcast/original campus that provided a pastoral staff, worship, children’s ministry and other things associated with a church. Now there’s an opportunity for a new model that requires less overhead and could be put in any situation in a town of any size anywhere in the world.
While many churches will reach into the suburbs or into other metropolitan areas, few churches are reaching into small places. I don’t think it’s on the radar to plant a multisite campus in Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, the hometown of Bo and Bear from the band Needtobreathe. If you’re not familiar with Possum Kingdom, it’s right next to Honea Path. There are a lot of towns that no one’s ever heard of before and some of them have very strange names but every town has a group of people who could make up a microsite church.
Now some would object and say, “Doesn’t every small town have some sort of a small church already?” and the answer is yes. The problem is that we live in a national culture. We watch the same television programs and listen to the same music whether we live in New York City or in Podunk Holler, Arkansas. Small churches in small towns cannot compete with what the culture has to offer. It’s just hard to get people’s attention. There are churches, however, that have proven to develop effective ministries in our culture that have a broad reach. By bringing a microsite campus into a small town, you can bring in the quality and effectiveness of a large church ministry and package it for a living room. You could reach not just thousands of people in a metropolitan area but dozens to hundreds of people in a small town. If you do the math, there are more people in small towns than there are in large cities.
The idea of Microsite Churches is seminal at this point. A few churches are beginning to pilot this model or are considering a pilot. Let’s think about the keys to a worship service: you need music of some sort which can be prerecorded on video with subtitles and offered in a living room either through a download or DVD. You need teaching. Teaching on video is very common. I worship at a very large multi-site church and the teaching is by video. I’m at a multisite campus I have only ever met the senior pastor one time, but the video teaching makes you feel like you’re really there. The fact is when churches have the pastors on a screen, people will watch the screen even if the pastor is teaching live in the room.
There are a lot of things to think through: giving, childcare, counseling, marriage ceremonies, etc. But, let’s start with these few paragraphs and discuss what might be next. What do you like? What do you not like? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
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 Brookwood 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.