The Seven W’s of Healthy Small Group Life (Andy Saperstein)

Serving as a Small Group Pastor, Coach, Leader or member begins with a clear understanding of the mission and vision we have for Vineyard Columbus as a church, and for Vineyard Columbus small groups.  What follows are some statements and definitions that help clarify what it is we’re aiming for in Vineyard Columbus Small Groups:

Mission of Vineyard Columbus

  • The mission of Vineyard Columbus – We are a community of disciples who experience God, love one another and partner with Christ to heal the world.

What is a Vineyard Columbus Small Group?

  • A Vineyard Columbus Small Group is a group of people who, under the leadership of one or more recognized leaders, regularly and intentionally gathers to assist its members in fulfilling the Vineyard Columbus Mission Statement through building and promoting transformational, missional, Christ-centered community.

What are the key characteristics of a group that meets this definition?  

  • Here are seven helpful W’s that will promote healthy Small Group Life
  • Welcome: A welcoming group is warm, invitational, and hospitable to both regular members and visitors.  It actively seeks to bring new people into the group, extends a warm and relaxed welcome when visitors come, and prioritizes creating a relaxed, safe, comfortable environment for everyone who attends group meetings and events. A welcoming group also actively and intentionally follows up with visitors, while not overwhelming or “smothering” them with too much attention.  It actively invites visitors to group social events, and stirs vision among its members both for warm hospitality and for reaching out to people not yet connected to authentic Christian community.
  • Worship:   Worship is a priority because the living God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is at the center of all we do as a church.  A healthy small group therefore regularly and intentionally worships God – they together turn their hearts, minds, voices, and bodies to express praise and adoration to Him in manifold ways.  This need not take the form of traditional guitar-led worship, but is often best expressed in other ways – speaking one-sentence prayers of praise to God when you gather, or doing a responsive reading that gives praise to Him, or reading a Psalm of praise aloud together, raising hands or bowing down before God, or singing a cappella, or along with a worship leader or recorded music – the main thing is to turn our whole selves to God together and to adore Him.  It is not the form of worship, but the fact of worship that matters to God, and is critical to the health of a small group.
  • “We-lationship”:   “We-lationship” has to do with building authentic community and concrete expressions of love into our life together.  Groups that do a good job of “we-lationship” have members who regularly share transparently about their lives and who actively listen to others as they do the same.  They share tears and laughter, they support each other and bear one another’s burdens, they hold each other accountable, they help each other in practical ways, and they relax, play and share meals together.  “We” time means that we spend time together outside official meetings, that we encourage one another to do so, and that we actively seek to grow in how deeply we know and love others in our group, and how willing we are to let others know and love us.  “We-lationship” also means that we prioritize clear and regular group announcements, emails, and other communications that unify the group and help it run smoothly.
  • Word:   Healthy small groups are committed to the final authority of the Bible in every aspect of our lives, for there simply can be no truly Christ-centered discipleship without it.  A healthy small group therefore regularly opens the Word of God and seeks to understand and apply it in the lives of its members.  Small group “Word” time, however, is not meant to be a miniature sermon, where the leader is “preaching” to his or her “congregation,” but rather a time of directed, participatory discussion, where the leader facilitates, but does not control or dominate the group’s process of discovering what the Scriptures say, and how to practically live those discoveries out.  Healthy group “Word” time should therefore involve the voices of many group members, not just the voice of the leader, with the Bible itself having the final say.
  • Waiting and Wind:   To encounter God and experience genuine transformation requires more than merely good fellowship and stimulating Bible discussions – it also involves direct, real-time contact with the Living God through the Holy Spirit.  To help facilitate this, healthy groups regularly take time to wait quietly as a group before the Lord, to be in His presence, and to listen for the ways He speaks to and guides His people.  They also regularly leave room for group members to practice the gifts of the Spirit – they share words of Scripture, songs, prophetic words and images, etc., they practice hands-on prayer for healing, for deliverance, for encouragement.  They regularly make it a point to both pursue and experience the wind of the Holy Spirit together.
  • Witness and Service: Healthy groups look upward to God, they let him change members inwardly, they build genuine community among the members, and they also look outwardly to love, serve, and bear witness to the world.  They seek to help members share their faith and serve together both corporately and individually, and ensure that they or someone else in their group is leading out in making that happen on a regular basis.  They pray together for people outside the church, and regularly “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” when they gather. Healthy groups may choose to serve together at one of Vineyard’s food pantries, commit to volunteering in Children’s Ministry, sponsor a refugee family together, reach out to friends or family of group members outside the church, or look for other ways God is calling them as individuals and as a group both to serve and to bear witness to their faith.
  • “We-production”:   Healthy groups are always looking to identify and develop new leaders in their midst, and to help those leaders launch and lead a group of their own someday.  They articulate this vision from the outset when their group starts, and repeat this vision regularly as the group progresses.  They make sure that they identify and recruit co-leaders, meet with them for planning and prayer, and give them opportunity to expand their skills and experience as leaders.  Leaders of healthy groups also “subcontract” as much of the responsibility of small group life as they can, while still establishing and serving as guardians of the overall atmosphere and direction of the group.  They give away administrative duties, worship leading duties, teaching duties, snack duties, announcement duties, service project leadership, etc., and ensure that they themselves do not dominate group life.  Leaders of healthy groups regularly give away the ministry, and are deeply committed to the Vineyard value of “everyone gets to play.”