Open Group or Closed Group?

There are a few decisions for your group that will have trade-offs depending on the decision you make. You will need to decide what direction will be best for the long-term health of your particular small group.

An important initial decision to make is whether to be an open group or a closed group. Open groups are simply open to new people joining through the life of the group, and closed groups may be open for the first week or two of the group but will then close to new people until the end of the life of the group.

Case for Open Groups

Groups that choose to stay open to new members have a missional mentality that welcomes people who need biblical community. Having your group stay open also helps multiply the effectiveness of the church reaching people quickly with the gospel. Church buildings only have so much room for groups to form community, but there is no limit when we take our community outside those walls.

We sometimes picture small groups as a way to get current church attenders into biblical community, but think about how much more effective an invitation to your church would be if it came through an invitation to be a part of your small group first.

  • They will have already been exposed to the pastor’s teachings if you are doing a sermon-based study.
  • There is a built-in follow-up through the group meetings.
  • There is no rush to get them there on a Sunday.
  • The invite starts and continues with a relationship.

If groups are to become the new front door of the church, they have to start with our neighborhoods. Our world has changed so that most people don’t know their neighbors anymore. When I was growing up, our neighbors were a natural extension of our family. We knew all of our immediate neighbors, and I spent almost as much time in their houses as I did in mine. The thought of inviting a neighbor to your church wasn’t that scary at all.

Now, you are lucky to get a cursory wave before the garage door goes down and your neighbors disappear into the house. Who has time for connecting with neighbors anymore? When we first moved to Nashville, most of the houses in our neighborhood had garage entrances on the back of the house. The only way to catch your neighbor was by chasing their car down the driveway and performing a drop-and-roll maneuver under their garage door before it could shut! I couldn’t understand why my neighbor wouldn’t talk to me again after I did this the first time . . .

Here are a few ideas to connect with your neighbors who are not already plugged into the church or a small group:

  • Throw a block party. Opportunities begin as relationships, and block parties set the stage for future friendships.
  • Host a movie on your lawn for the families in the neighborhood. Put out a few flyers around the neighborhood and fire up the latest Pixar hit.
  • Take part in neighborhood-sponsored events like Easter egg hunts or quarterly “spruce up the neighborhood” days.
  • Organize welcome baskets for new people in the neighborhood. You can also include an invitation flyer to your group in the basket.

Case for Closed Groups

Some groups will choose to stay closed for the life of the group, or until the group members decide to open for new people. We can see this type of group modeled for us with Jesus’ small group. Once He had chosen His twelve, the group was not open to new members until Judas was replaced after the betrayal in the garden.

There are several benefits to staying closed as a group:

  • Accountability can be stronger when the group is full of people who know each other well and are comfortable being vulnerable with one another. Inviting someone new into that group can disrupt the needed intimacy.
  • It takes at least three months of consistently meeting together before most of the relational walls come down. We call those “refrigerator rights” in our group. When a group member feels comfortable enough to walk into our house and open the refrigerator without asking permission first, that’s when you know you have bonded as a family. Inviting a new person or couple into the group will reset the time to get to the refrigerator rights.
  • A few groups, like recovery groups, will by necessity need to remain closed for the life of the group. A more discipleship-intensive group of three or four people meeting outside group time will need to be closed as well.

The choice of being an open or closed group should be determined before the first meeting and included in the group covenant. The group members need to know if they are encouraged to invite guests, or if the group will close for community and accountability reasons.

This article is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.

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About the author

Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience serving the local church. Chris served on the Executive Teams at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN., and Seacoast Church in Charleston, S.C., prior to becoming the Discipleship and Small Groups Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is the author of Small Groups for the Rest of Us and the just released, Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.

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