by Reid Smith
Outreach has a way of turning groups inside-out. Not a bad thing. Struggling groups and small group ministries have found help not by focusing on their own internal issues, but by looking beyond their problems and giving attention to the needs of those beyond their immediate relational circles.
Small groups are essential to empowering God’s people in mission. They are not meant to add new comfort zones for people, but rather create environments where believers can be emboldened to go beyond their comfort zones and to do things they never imagined themselves doing. Every group can find a way to be missional in a manner that is natural for its own unique group dynamic. To not do so is a big miss.
A small group becomes missional as it develops a heart and mindset that is aware and deliberate about sharing the Good News through word and deed with those who have yet to know Christ as their Savior and Lord. As the small group leader, if you don’t take the lead in cultivating this “outward-orientation” to your group life then it is very unlikely somebody else in the group will. So let people know at the beginning of your group that finding ways for everyone to share their faith will be an important part of your life together that will ensure everyone’s experience in the group is healthy and life-changing.
The Lord will show your group how it can make a difference in every sphere of influence (Acts 1:8). You might begin by thinking through what constitutes Jerusalem (local-citywide), Judea (citywide-regional), Samaria (statewide-countrywide), and the ends of the earth (countrywide-worldwide) for your group. What does each sphere look like and what opportunities exist within each? Ask the group to come up with examples for each area of influence.
Take time to answer questions and give each one a part to play in organizing for outreach together. You might even want to go to the effort of linking outreach/evangelism with the vision and values of your small group. Explain how the community of your group can be instrumental in helping each one fulfill their calling to be an evangelist and bring biblical truths to life (Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pet 2:9-10; 2 Tim 4:5).
An easy way you can encourage group members to engage in personal evangelism is to turn your attention to people who are not a part of your group during your prayer time, especially those who are already in their relational circles. Prayer builds care. Don’t just give permission for them to invite friends…tell them you want them to invite their friends!
Learn about the neighborhood where you meet, the needs in your community, and ways your church is already reaching out that your group can join in and support. You might even want to reserve a meeting to talk about your discoveries so that your group can be strategic in its prayer and outreach.
There are a variety of ways your group can reach out together:
- Invitational – invite your friends to your group and your church.
- Event-based – Link your small group outreach to your church events and serve together during your weekend services or special outreach events.
- Community-focused – Check out servantevangelism.com for some practical ideas then identify needs in your community that touch your group’s heart and serve together, e.g. community clean-up day, providing school supplies for underprivileged kids, food delivery, helping the homeless, etc.
- Sponsorship – support a child (compassion.com) or adopt a people group (joshuaproject.net or adopt-a-people.org), starting with a little research and concerted prayer.
- Mission Trips – Contact a member of your church’s pastoral leadership team and share that your group would like to go on a mission trip together. Learn about what your church is already doing and get a couple of recommendations on organizations that can help with planning it.
Missional small groups are not only about reaching those outside of our groups. It is also about reaching those inside of our groups so they can be built up and reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:13). Small groups that allow God to turn them inside-out will experience the transformational joy of impacting lives for eternity and they mature spiritually in ways they never would have if members had never ventured beyond their own comfort zones.
Reid Smith has been equipping leaders in churches of all sizes and stages of growth for effective disciple-making since 1996. He currently serves as a Pastor of Groups at Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach County, FL and has been a contributing author for various publications, including LifeWay’s Ministry Grid. Learn more about how to start and multiply healthy groups throughout your church at www.reidsmith.org.