by Jim Mueller
Often I'm asked to recommend spiritual growth next steps. New Christians and motivated newcomers want to know what's next. They've attended weekend services for a while and sense there's more. They sense they're spiritually stuck.
Sometimes, I'll make the "next step challenge", unsolicited, to friends who are quite happy where they are. I'll push, challenge and encourage that person to grow. To make a commitment or two which will place them in an environment conducive to spiritual growth.
Several years ago, as a new believer, I acted on a challenge. More accurately, I surrendered to my wife's constant insistence that we join a couples small group. I was already volunteering in a ministry, serving Sunday mornings as an usher. We had been baptized. We actively participated in educational opportunities around the church. How could we possibly benefit from small group? Do we really need one more thing in our schedules?
I didn't admit it at the time, but my biggest hesitation was about being relational. Small groups are all about building significant relationships and getting vulnerable, open and honest with other people. I would have to share my most private thoughts. That wasn't me.
Well, I took the leap. We were matched-up with four other couples. They lived in the same area as us and were about the same age. They even had the same number of kids. Perfect demography! The leader-couple were a bit older with more "Christian experience".
After a two year commitment to that group of couples, we developed very close relationships. We experienced life together. I learned how to really dig in to the bible. We had fun together. A lot of stuff happened in those two years: unemployment, death, sickness, conflict, celebration—and growth.
That was ten years ago. If you were to ask me today to identify the one most significant growth step I've taken in my Christian life, I'd have to say it was that small group.
I can visualize my spiritual course charted on an Excel graph. Spiritually, I peaked and plateaued just before joining that group. I had stalled out. Weeks after joining the group, my spiritual trajectory went vertical! After two years, we experienced unprecedented growth in our spiritual lives and marriage relationship. It was worth it.
If you're looking for the most bang-for-your-buck, maximum results next step, you've found it. Small group is the one step that can change your life. Here's why:
A small group is actually a little church within a church. That infrastructure allows relationships to happen. You need to develop one or two significant relationships. You need to be surrounded by people who care about you and who will stick by you through tough times and be there through life's celebrations. You need a sounding board and accountability too. This is your big takeaway from small group: relationships.
The group agenda and curriculum are usually negotiated by the group members. Whatever you study, you will benefit, and not just academically. I noticed a "rub off" affect in my group. Something happens when younger, immature Christians spend time with more mature Christians. That sets an example, it affects your character and you discover a new, "higher standard". You grow.
Because you're rubbing shoulders with other people, you are now exposed to new opportunities around the church. Small group linked us to membership, new serving opportunities and got us involved in the mid-week service, New Community, which greatly enhanced our worship and bible understanding. Small group seems to be the critical link to everything else in the church.
Ready for the next step? If you haven't done small group, you need too. Small group will ignite your spiritual life. If you haven't experienced small group, you haven't experienced real growth. Accept the challenge.
Copyright © 2001 Jim Mueller and Growthtrac. All rights reserved.
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