7 Foundations for Forming a Group

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.

1. Prayer

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. Shared 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.

Finding Time to Live in Community

As soon as you start thinking through meeting regularly with other people or families to share life with one another, meeting with a DNA group, and living on mission, all while caring for your own family, you start to get overwhelmed.

How am I going to find the time to do all of this? I can’t get everything in now! you tell yourself.

There are ways to do it all, but it means changing how you think about your schedule as it relates to church.

How to live in community with a busy schedule

When we talk about living in community or doing life with your community group, here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Meeting regularly for meals
  • Meeting for Bible study and accountability
  • Meeting as missionaries
  • Serving in your neighborhood

The problem many people make is assuming you should be pulling all this off every week, or even that there’s a set schedule in which all of this should be taking place. We can get so caught up in making events the center of our spiritual life that we miss how Jesus wants to transform all of our lives.

The goal is to stop seeing your relationship to the church based on events, and instead to start seeing it as part of your everyday life. To stop compartmentalizing your spiritual life and looking at church as just another thing on your schedule.

In order to get there, it’s helpful to think through about your schedule in terms of a monthly rhythm.

A monthly rhythm

At a minimum, here’s what I would suggest for a typical community group:

  • Meeting weekly to worship on the weekends
  • Meeting weekly for men’s and women’s Bible study and accountability (these are usually referred to as DNA, discipleship, or growth groups)
  • Meeting every other week or monthly for sharing a meal (groups with children will most likely want to do this less often, while younger people may want to meet more often)
  • Meeting as missionaries every other week somewhere in your mission field, community, or neighborhood
  • Meeting monthly to serve in your mission field, community, or neighborhood

Every group will have its own rhythms and seasons, and that’s okay. Feel free to have your group reflect that.

The real question isn’t, “What things does my group need to be doing?” but, “How can we best live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandments (love God, love each other, love the world)?”

If your group’s rhythms aren’t fostering obedience to Jesus’ commands and aren’t making room for loving one another and your neighbors, then it’s time to rethink things.

Defining Success in Groups

The goal of being in community is never about numbers. If you’re a pastor or leader, it’s not about simply getting more people into groups. If you’re a member of a community group, the goal is not to check the boxes that you read your Bible, went to church, and attended your group for the week.

If we’re not careful though, those are exactly the things that end up defining success. But if those things aren’t the goal, what is?

The goal of living in community

In The Trellis and the Vine, authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne make the following assertion:

“Our goal is not to make church members or members of our institution, but genuine disciples of Jesus.”

This makes sense when thinking through God’s character nature. He is, above all, holy. This means many things, but one crucial thing which flows from this is that He is to be the supreme object of our affections. He is not content to be another thing in our lives; He desires and deserves to be the main thing.

So when it comes to training disciples of Jesus, that’s precisely who we should be training them to be like — Jesus. But all too often we’re training them to wave the flag of our church, our denomination, or our “brand” of Christianity.

This is a dangerous place to be.

It will not be your particular church or denomination or movement which reaches the ends of the earth with the gospel. It will no doubt be a part of it, but it will not constitute the whole of it. God never intended it to.

It is in His name and to His glory that we make disciples. It is in His name and to His glory that we form community groups, serve our neighbors, and teach the Bible to our children.When the gospel is ushered into each people group and among every tongue and tribe and nation on this planet only one name will be exalted—the name of one man whose movement precedes all of ours and will outlast them all of time—the man Jesus Christ.

Defining success

“Success” is not simply getting more and more people into a community group or checking off all the right boxes, but loving obedience to the Great Commission and Great Commandments.

Every Christian is called to play a part in carrying out the Great Commission in their own lives and the lives of their church. At the same time, they are called to be a loving witness in action and in words to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the world around them. It could be summarized this way:

Make disciples. Love God. Love each other. Love the world.

This provides a framework for evaluating the success of our community groups, as well as any particular person we are discipling or training. Defining success, then, would look something like what you see below.

Goal

Our goal for members of our community group is to develop right relationships with:

God
  • Knows, loves and follows Christ
  • Empowered, filled and led by the Spirit
  • Studies and obeys God’s Word
People
  • Loves the church: Serves and encourages their brothers and sisters
  • Makes disciples: Tells others about Jesus and models His ways
  • Cares for others: Finds ways to practically show compassion to those in need
The world
  • Understands the brevity of life in light of eternity
  • Not in love with the things or ways of the world
  • Works hard and is content living simply

If those things are the goal and what you see above is what success looks like, then how do we plan to get there? Many, many things go into answering that question, but put simply, here is a plan for achieving the goals above.

Plan

Our plan to help members of our community group develop right relationships with God, people, and the world is to develop their:

Head
  • Classes
  • Mentoring
  • Personal study
  • Group discussions
Heart
  • Build relationships
  • Prayer
  • Attend worship services
  • Devotions
  • Discipleship
  • Family meals
  • Group activities
Hands
  • Serve the local community
  • Make disciples
  • Be the church
  • Develop good work ethic

Both the goals and plans mentioned speak to all the things you hope to see in the lives of each of the people in your community group at some point.

Defining success, however you choose to do that, is crucial to keeping your group on track and being sure everyone understands where they’re headed.

Why the Great Commission is for Every Christian

You will often hear that The Great Commission is for every follower of Christ, but you don’t always see that logic worked out. The immediate context of Matthew 28 shows us that Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples before ascending into heaven:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV, emphasis added)

If Jesus is speaking directly to his eleven disciples, then how is the Great Commission for every believer?

In The Trellis and The Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne work it out in just a few sentences:

“Jesus’ instruction to ‘make disciples’ in Matthew 28:19 is not just a specific word to the apostles gathered around him at the time of his final resurrection appearance. The first disciples were instructed to ‘make disciples’ of others. And because these newly-made disciples were under the universal lordship of Christ, and were to obey everything that Jesus had taught, they fell under exactly the same obligation as the original twelve to get on with the job of announcing the lordship of Christ; as did their hearers, and so on ‘to the end of the age.’”

So yes, the immediate object of Jesus’ command is his original disciples. But since all followers of Jesus are told to obey everything he has commanded us, all believers are called to take the Great Commission personally. Which means you are called to take it personally.

So, are you?

Are you taking it personally?

Are you looking at your life and thinking through how you can evangelize and teach those around you? Are you rearranging your life to serve your brothers and sisters in the church? Are you coming together with those same people to serve your community in the name of Jesus?

Are you taking the Great Commission personally?

Because it’s not a call for a select few. It’s the primary call on your life and the life of every follower of Jesus.

How to Use Instagram to Serve Your Spouse

I can get so distracted by the incredible technology at my fingertips all the time. My gloriously small iPhone SE. My beloved iPad Air. And my much-less-cool-but-highly-effective Lenovo laptop.

They make it so easy to read articles, thumb through Instagram, browse Twitter, look at old pictures, and on and on it goes. Mostly, technology makes it easier to do what I want to do — the tools exist to serve me.

But just because they were made for that doesn’t mean that’s the only way we should use them.

A few years ago I started looking for simple ways to subvert the me-centeredness of our social media-crazed world. Over that time I made websites for my wife, sent her private Instagram messages (not that kind), turned those photos into a hard-copy book, set reminders to think about her, and more.

This article focuses on what I did with Instagram, but I’ll cover the other things in the near future.

How to use Instagram to serve your spouse

Ah, Instagram. Everyone’s favorite window into everyone else’s life. It’s personal, timely, and simple.

And it’s all about us. (And our perfect looking families, of course).

A few years ago my wife and I were having a discouraging conversation about my son’s behavior right before I left for work. I could tell that she was tired, burned out, and just needed a break. But I had to go to work.

Later that morning I found myself looking through my photos from the week before, and I came across a picture of my son with a backwards wearing a backwards hat. In the background was my nephew’s T-ball game.

For some reason, it put the situation with my son into perspective. I realized that even though the current moment was hard, it was really nothing in the grand scheme of his life. We still had to figure it out, but it would pass. And more importantly, my son’s behavior when he was barely two didn’t define who he was and would be as a person.

I had the idea to communicate that to my wife as if my son could say it in his own words. So I decided to open up Instagram and write what he would say in the comment for the photo. But just before sharing, I realized it felt too private for everyone who follows me to see, so I decided to send it as a private message instead.

Here’s how it turned out:

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My wife really liked it, and I could tell that it was timely. God used it to giver her the encouragement she needed at just the right moment.

So I decided to do more of them. I ended up sending her a bunch over a period of several months.

Then I decided to take it a step further. I thought they were special enough that I wanted to bring them into the real world.

So for our anniversary, I made them into a Shutterfly book. Shutterfly is a photo storage site that allows you to make all kinds of things out of your pictures, like coffee mugs, books, phone cases, etc. It’s not the most efficient software I’ve ever used, but their stuff comes out looking nice, particularly the books.

After I gave it to my wife, I watched her reread each of the little moments and saw tears well up in her eyes. I still look through the book every now and then and feel the same way.

So not only can you use Instagram to send your spouse some encouragement or something silly throughout the day, but you can turn those little moments into something that will last much longer.

Here’s how to do that.

How to send a direct message

I’ll assume you have some basic knowledge of how to use Instagram for what follows. I’ll also be giving instructions specific to iPhone, but I’m guessing the Android version is similar.

Start by selecting the inbox icon in the top right of your Instagram home screen.

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From there, select the “+” icon in the top right to send a new message.

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You’ll be given the option to send a photo/video or a message. Select Send a Photo/Video.

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Then, you’ll edit the photo and choose a filter, just like when posting normally.

Now you can write out some encouragement or sentimental note to your spouse by adding a comment to the right of the picture.

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The next thing to do is select the person you want to send it to. Select the person’s name and then hit Send in the top right corner.

Extra credit

Finally, I suggest doing two extra things if you’re ever interested in using these photos anywhere else.

First, go into your Photos app and find the edited picture you just created in Instagram. Email it to yourself, save it to Drop Box, add it to Google Photos, or something like that. That way you have it archived for later.

No go back into the direct message you just created. Select the text you sent and save it, email it to yourself, or whatever works. Just like with the photos, you’ll want to archive the notes for future use. And be sure to save it with the correct picture so you know which text goes with which photo.

All done!

How to turn your direct messages into a book

If you keep at it over several months or even a year (sending one a month is a good goal) then you’ll have enough of them built up to make into a book. These books make great anniversary, birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day gifts.

This involves some more steps, but hey, you’re making memories for your spouse, you can do this.

You remember all those wonderful pictures and notes you saved? Time to pull those back out.

Open up the folder or emails where those things are stored and upload the photos into Shutterfly or some other service that lets you create books out of your images.

Because there’s so much preference and design work involved, I won’t walk you through each step of this. But I’ll show you some pictures of the book I made so you can see how it turned out.

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Next time you open up Instagram, think about how you can use the tool to bless someone else, and see how God uses it.