“Community” has become an important word when it comes to groups. For some, it is an assumption. Every group is called a “community group.” For others, it is an aspiration. Every group has a goal of achieving “community.” So what is “community”? How would we know if we had it? Do different groups experience different levels of community? I think so. At least three.
1. Conversational Community. Most groups start out as some form of Bible study group. The most common purpose for coming together is to explore the Scripture. The path toward community is conversation. That can only really happen if the group is small. Otherwise, the Bible study likely takes the form of a presentation. The conversation is always better if most of the members have spent some time in preparation. A great way to help members prepare is to provide everyone a personal study guide or member book. Every guest or new member should be provided one as well. Prepared members led by a prepared group leader make a lively discussion more likely. But that by itself is not conversational community. You’ll know your group is becoming a conversational community when it is more and more evident that the group really desires two things: (1) to help each other understand what God is saying to them, and (2) to help each other obey whatever that is!
2. Caring Community. Great groups do more than gather once a week to have a conversation. They move to the next level and establish systems to make sure every member is cared for. The most common expression of this system is the care group leader. Each care group leader is assigned 5-7 men or women. He or she has one main job: contact every assigned member every week. You mean every time they miss the group? No, every week! In fact, the group leader may not mention attendance at all. The purpose of the contact is just to check in. How are you doing? Family okay? Any prayer requests?
3. Commissioned Community. Only a few groups achieve this level of group life. The group serves beyond itself and touches the larger community where it is located. It becomes intentional about inviting people to attend the group. It may adopt a mission project or covenant to pray for an unreached people group. A first step might be the enlistment of a missions leader.
At what level of community is your group? It’s okay if you want to stay there. But might the group move to the next level if it knew what that level was? Maybe you could start by reading them this article. Or sending it to them and telling them you’ll have a conversation about it the next time the group gathers. That might be the next step toward conversational community—and beyond.
David Francis is Director of Sunday School at LifeWay. He is the author of eleven small books available for free at lifeway.com/davidfrancis or at the iTunes store. His interactive Bible study, Spiritual Gifts, is in its ninth printing and is not free! (But it is available to order at lifeway.com.) He and his wife Vickie teach four- and five-year olds in Sunday School and are members of a small group of empty nesters. Their three sons and their families live in three different time zones—Boston, Los Angeles, and Bryan-College Station.