Starting a community group of any kind never follows a playbook. It’s always different, and usually doesn’t go how you thought it would. But there are some things you want to keep in mind as you go through the process of forming one. Below are 7 of those foundations for forming a community group.
(Note: These are adapted from Jeff Vanderstelt’s Soma training found here.)
The first thing a group should be built on is prayer. That includes a couple specific things.
First, pray for God to send workers into your community (Matt. 9:38; Luke 10:2). It can be overwhelming to step back and think about all the lostness around you. Even if you live in a small town, the thought of it just being you or your family in the beginning is enough to take your breath away. This is why we’ve been told to pray for workers. Pray for God to send believers into your path that He wants you to lock arms with and start to build a community around. His Spirit will lead you as you go, so don’t worry if you have no idea who that will be. In fact, if things happen as He intends, there will be people that join your group that you never would have pursued aside from His leading.
Second, pray for God to send unbelievers into your group’s path. Many of us have not spent our time in church praying for opportunities to share our faith because we’re scared to death to do it. That’s okay. The first Christians, even the Apostles, gathered continually to pray for boldness in sharing Jesus to those around them. Your group should do the same. God will put people in your path for you to share your faith with, but unless we’ve prayed often about those times then there’s a tendency for us to miss them because we’re not paying attention.
2. Share leadership
The New Testament gives us a model of what’s referred to as a “plurality of leadership.” This means no one person is charged with every facet of leadership in a local church, and the same should be true of any group. That may not be the case in the beginning since there may not always be enough mature believers to be in leadership roles, but plurality should always be the goal. That means no one person should be charged with teaching, evangelism, coordinating serving opportunities, and so on. As many people that are ready to lead, at least in some capacity, should be leading. This increases ownership of everyone in the group, and adheres to the New Testament model.
A good way to start is for leaders to identify their gifts and then look for the greatest areas of weakness. Odds are someone in the group will have complementary gifts that can strengthen the group and contribute to building up the group toward maturity in love (Eph. 4:16).
3. Get the Gospel
The temptation in any group is want to jump forward into belonging or mission, but to do so without forming a Gospel foundation will lead to a group with misguided efforts. If you don’t get the Gospel, you don’t get why you’re even forming a community. The Gospel tells us how and why to be in community. It shows us our need for Jesus and helps us understand what he’s done for us personally and corporately.
Before a group goes anywhere, it’s needs to get the Gospel. Without a Gospel foundation, a community group is no different from a club or volunteer organization. The Gospel changes everything, and it’s not worth being on mission in community without understanding that first.
4. Tell your story
The Gospel is a story about what God has done through Jesus and is doing through His Spirit. It’s a grand narrative that extends way back into history and way forward into the future. But it’s also a story that we’re invited into.
Each of us has a Gospel story to tell. If you’ve been saved by Jesus then you have a story arc that mirrors the one found in the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. We’ve all been created to be unique people with particular backgrounds (creation). Along the way though, life happens and we start to realize that everything isn’t as it should be; that might even happen through major issues or crises in our lives (fall). But then we met Jesus and he saved us from all that mess (redemption). Now we’re doing our best to figure out our place in this greater story and see how we can push back the darkness in our sphere of influence (restoration).
It’s important to take time at the formative stages of a group to hear each person’s story, with all its messiness and gloriousness. But have each person tell their story along that biblical arc of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, so that the group is focused on who the Hero of the story really is — Jesus.
5. Define the mission
This is a chicken or the egg situation, but as early as you can see if you can identify where God is sending your group on mission. He is sending you somewhere, but it might not (and probably won’t be) where you think. No group should be without a mission field though.
Think through things like who is God already placing in our paths? Where is there a need and a great opportunity to share the love of Christ in a way that opens up doors for sharing Christ? Are you called to young families who don’t know Jesus? The elementary school down the street? The women’s shelter? An orphanage?
6. Rearrange your lives
Once you’ve identified your mission field, your group needs to think through how you’ll rearrange your lives in order to serve the people you’re on mission to. That means thinking through your everyday life to identify opportunities for different people in the group to serve families or people. And don’t think in terms of a particular day or event; think broader than that. You’re wanting to think through how you can weave your lives around this mission field in order to share the love of Christ that knows no bounds with them.
It might mean you give up some nights during the week, are more open with your home, or start spending time and money in different places. Be creative. This is the work of a missionary in the context of your everyday life. And its exactly the kind of work God is calling you to.
7. Plan for multiplication
From the beginning, you should explain that your group won’t be together forever, at least not in the form it is now. That’s because Jesus saves us, then sends us. Each and every Christ follower is called out of darkness and into the light, then sent right back into the darkness so they can do the same for others. When God saved you, He had other people in mind. He loves you and wanted to save you, of course, but His plans are much bigger than simply getting you into heaven.
In order to live out those plans in your community group, it means that at some point your group needs to multiply. That simply means you need to send out a person or couple from your group to lead another community group. And that’s hard. For the next leaders, it involves dying to themselves and stepping out of their comfort zone. And for those in the group it means they experience grief and loss when their brothers and sisters go off on their own.
That language of death is appropriate. Jesus tells us in John 12:24 that, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” If we want to see the fruit of the Gospel multiplying across our town, city, and world, we have to let the seeds die. We have to die to our own interests, plans, and desires. But out of that death God brings forth a beautiful and glorious community.