The shift toward 3D programming seems to be the current rage in movies and even TV technology.  Whether in video games, movies, or TV, the goal of developers is to make the experience more realistic—more like the real thing.  We view and experience the world in three dimensions, so why would anyone want to watch something in just two dimensions if they had the ability to see it three dimensionally?!  When you watch something in 2D, no matter how good the picture quality and color is, it just can’t accomplish the same thing without that third dimension.

In reading a recent article by a well-known small group specialist on some of the shifts in small group approaches, I was reminded of our need for multi-dimensional community groups. God did not design his church to be one dimensional; therefore, as a microcosm of the church, the community group must not be one dimensional either.  The move from a one dimensional to multi-dimensional view will only happen when we shift our thinking about the purpose and nature of group life.  There are at least three shifts in thinking we need to not only understand, but embrace, if the community group is to truly become an environment for making disciples.  Where do you and your group members need to expand your understanding of group life to see a fuller picture of what God wants to do in and through you?

Shift in thinking:

1. From having meetings to building community.

A community group will fail to have value if it’s just about having meetings.  One of the clearest indications of this faulty thinking is when asked about your group, is the first thing that comes to mind the day, time and place you meet?  That’s when your group meets, but says nothing of what the group is about.  The meeting is not important if it’s not all about making disciples in the context of spiritual family.  Too often we also tend to view groups as a delivery system for ‘products’ like care, growth, evangelism, bible study, outreach. That view is not only un-biblical, but also short-sighted. While those are all elements of group life, they are ultimately just components of the process God has designed for making disciples who live like Jesus.

God’s design is for life in community—we’re hardwired that way.  Intentional community, where we ‘spur one another on toward love and good deeds’ (Heb 10:24), is not an option—it’s a mandate!  The New Testament model we see is believers living a lifestyle of being in community connected to Jesus and each other. This transcends a meeting day and time.

Is your group having meetings or building community?

Tips on building community:

Be Intentional, Not Prescriptive.  Building community does not happen by accident—it requires much intentionality.  Being intentional means having a purpose to what you do and encouraging things what hope to see happen.  But avoid being prescriptive–defining a purpose for someone else and telling them what they must do to get there.  Authentic community is inherently organic and only happens when it becomes an authentic expression of where the people in your group really are.  It will take time to get there, but it’s so worth it!

Who are you, as the leader, intentionally investing in outside of your group meetings?

Smaller is Usually Better.  No matter what size your group is, there are always things you can do to make it smaller.  Regularly use sub-grouping when appropriate for discussion or prayer time.  If this is a new thing it will possibly be awkward at first, but push through and you will see relationships thrive in new and surprising ways! Once the sub-group is established, what if they touched base by phone or got together for coffee during the week?  That most likely won’t happen on it’s own—so as the leader you may need to suggest it, then let it go from there.

Where will you use smaller sub-groupings in your next group meeting?

Leverage Spontaneity.  Not everything you do outside your group time has to be an event planned out months in advance requiring reservations and a printed program!  If that’s the only interaction people have outside the group it only further perpetuates an expectation of pseudo-relationships that don’t mirror real-life relationships.  Allow those in the group to organize something spontaneously and invite those that are able to attend.  As the leader you may need to model and prompt some of this, but try to remove yourself from it as much as possible.

Who will you prompt to initiate a spontaneous opportunity for relationship building outside of the group meeting?

Mix it Up.  Avoid letting your group meetings fall into too much a rut.  While there is a certain comfort level when group participants can have some level of expectation about the group meeting, if it looks exactly the same every time, this leads to boredom and stagnation.  Create the expectation that your group meetings will look a little bit different every time.  This will be a little uncomfortable at first, but push through and you’ll see positive result.  Read more about mixing it up here.

How will you change the structure of your group meeting for next week?

Change Lines into Circles.  Lifestyles today make integrated and interdependent relationships hard to create and maintain. The absence of this interdependence makes us hunger for community. Most of us manage “linear relationships.” Randy Frazee has some very practical tips on building community outside of group time in things you’re already doing.  Read more here:  Changing Lines into Circles by Randy Frazee.

Pick up 250 Big Ideas for Small Groups, by Steve Gladen and Lance Witt

Read: Mixing It Up and The Group Within the Group

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