3 signs your small group is a 'christian clique'
This post isn't for pastors. It's for church members. If you are an active member of a local body of believers it's likely that you're involved in some sort of small group. Whether you call it a life group, community group, cell group, missional community, or Sunday school class, it's our hope that you are doing life with other followers of Jesus in close community. We're big fans of these types of groups! However, we are not fans of what we call "Christian cliques." A Christian clique is a small group (or even an entire church for that matter) that may have great community, but no vision for making disciples. If we say the church is called to look upward, inward, and outward, a Christian clique is best at looking inward but abysmal at looking outward. The most dangerous thing about these cliques is that most of them think they're outward focused, but they never catch the hint that nobody new ever comes. They talk about evangelism and reaching the lost, but no one ever seems to actually do it. This is a problem of obedience, plain and simple. Jesus called the church to make disciples and to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. We think that your small group is the best place for this to happen. But not if it's a clique.
Here are three ways to know if your group is a Christian clique.
1. There are never any new people
A group that doesn't have any new people for a season is not necessarily a Christian clique. It's natural for a group to go through periods of rapid numerical growth and slower, even stagnated numbers. That's ok! In fact, we expect it. But it's not ok if the reason for a season of stagnation is lack of outreach. Many church members sit and watch their groups decline, wondering what is happening. It never occurs to them that they have a role to play and that the decline may be a result of their failure to play that role. The disciple-maker is used to inviting people in and getting rejected. But he's not used to trading outreach for apathy. Consider whether the members of your group (starting with yourself) consistently reach out to people in their circles of influence. If the honest answer is no, then this needs to be at the top of the agenda next week!
2. There are never any unbelievers
There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that the members of the group aren't inviting their lost friends. It's easier to invite Christians to these groups because we know they're more likely to say "yes." But If you want to make disciples, it'll require you building relationships with the unbelievers around you, and inviting them into your Christian community. Yes, they are more likely to say "no." But there are many unbelievers that aren't in church groups because fearful Christians have said "no" for them. Make sure the people you're inviting to your group aren't all Christians.
The second reason your group might not have unbelievers is that your group has built too many unnecessary hurdles for them to jump over. Plenty of small groups and churches are great at attracting and inviting fellow Christians to their gatherings. And, of course, our brothers and sisters need a home. But, we've so designed our spaces to be welcoming to the Christian, we've shut out the unchurched. Perhaps the worst people about this are small group people. We don't usually mean to, but we create a culture within our groups that's hard for the outsider to learn and cross into. And even worse, we expect the unbeliever to adopt our culture before they can really belong to the group. It's no wonder they don't come back. Jesus didn't require us to change ourselves before coming to him. He invited us in and promised that he would change us. People will often need to belong before they believe. Don't expect them to believe or behave like a Christian in order to belong. If you allow them to belong as they are, they'll likely believe and then Christ will take care of the behavior. Your group needs to seriously consider whether non-Christians can really come as they are. If not, don't expect many returners.
3. Your group has lost a heart for the lost
When was the last time your group talked about reaching out to unbelievers? Does the heart of the group break at the thought of there being people out there who don't know Jesus and don't get to experience community in his family? How often do you pray for lost people you know? Perhaps your group started with a passion to reach a neighborhood or your campus. Maybe that was never a part of the group's original identity. Either way, if the group doesn't have a heart for the lost, don't expect to make disciples in that community.