Starting this year, I’ve had a renewed interest in improving my overall health. My smartphone has built-in diagnostic apps that help me monitor my body’s health. I can track cholesterol, sodium, fat, calories, and other indicators of whether or not I’m eating healthy. The app can also track my exercise routines and calories burned, plus my heart rate. I’m a click away from knowing whether or not I’m healthier than I was a month ago.
Today I’m a Bible study leader at my church and I guide a group of empty nest adults to study the Bible. Now more than ever I’m concerned about the healthiness of both my body and my Bible study group. How do I know if my group is healthy? Having led education and discipleship ministries for 18 years in the local church, I’ve seen healthy and not-so-healthy groups. Here are six markers that can be seen in healthy groups:
- GROWING – It is true that healthy things grow. One mark of a healthy group is whether or not it is growing numerically. Babies have important growth markers that pediatricians monitor. Infants are projected to gain a certain number of ounces in a set amount of time; it would abnormal for them not to grow. Acts 2:47 indicates that the New Testament church grew daily as the Holy Spirit convicted people of sin and they accepted Christ’s offer of forgiveness. Jesus said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). And as far back as Genesis, we can see that people, plants, and animals are expected to reproduce and multiply. It’s normal for things to grow. Healthy groups reach new people and grow numerically.
- SENDING – Healthy groups regularly release people to serve. I have appreciated group leaders over the years who have had a “catch and release” mindset about people! Groups do not belong to the group leader, but to the Lord. Sometimes group leaders feel like they “win” when they have a large group (maybe even the largest one offered by the church). Healthy groups encourage members to explore leadership roles in other areas of the church and to leave the group when they discover a place of service. As a friend once said, a Bible teaching ministry is to be a clearing house, not a store house. Acts 13:1-3 records the sending of Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey; note that the church didn’t collapse without them, but other capable leaders took their place and sent them out. Healthy groups release people, not horde them.
- ENGAGING – Healthy groups have a teacher/leader who understands that people learn in different ways. Healthy groups engage people in active learning. A healthy group studies together and engages in an exploration of the Scripture together, and doesn’t just listen to a group leader talk about the Bible. Jesus, the Master Teacher, was known for using a variety of approaches to communicating truth to His audiences. He lectured, asked questions, used visual aids, made assignments, and told stories (just to name a few ways!). Healthy groups also engage in a study of Scripture using ongoing Bible studies that have a clear path of study that makes sense over time (commonly called a “scope and sequence” – it is the totality of what is studied, and in what order); healthy groups don’t take a random approach to engaging in a study of God’s Word, but depend on trustworthy resources with a clear plan for discipling people with wisdom. Healthy groups are places where people are fully engaged in a study of Scripture.
- DEPENDING – The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 2:1). Healthy groups know there are things they must do in order to grow and remain healthy, but have learned not to be prideful about their accomplishments. The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to minister and serve in the Lord’s strength and grace, not his own. Healthy groups depend on prayer and the Holy Spirit as they trust God to lead them. They experience the Acts 2:47 truth that God is the One adding to their number.
- INCLUDING – Healthy groups remember that many unreached people are all around them. As David Francis, Director of Sunday School at LifeWay has said, “You don’t have to cross an ocean to find an unreached people group.” A healthy group is outwardly focused, and yet has the ability to keep an eye on its group members. Healthy groups are always open to more people being included. Healthy groups plan for it, pray towards it, and celebrate when new people are brought into the life of the group. There is openness to newcomers, and never have a sense that the work of reaching new people is done.
- SERVING – Healthy groups get involved in ministries both inside and outside the church. Healthy groups have a mentality that the mission is “out there” and that the mission doesn’t take place 9AM to noon on Sundays! There is great joy when group members take on new roles and responsibilities, spread their wings, and use their God-given gifts and experiences to serve others.
As you consider these six markers of a healthy group, I hope you see your group as a healthy one. If not, focus on one or two of these markers and begin to make changes. Talk honestly with your group members about the ways you want it to change in order to be an even healthier group in the future.