A commenter raised a good question in my previous post on doing both edification and evangelism in your small group. It was one of those comments that bloggers really appreciate. He engaged with a point I was actually trying to make, and he presented his counter point with sincerity. As I typed out my answer in reply, I realized my answer was getting a bit long, so here it is in a post.
Can you do accountability with strangers around?
You can read the whole comment here, but to summarize his point, he asked how can we apply the gospel to each other (a.k.a., do accountability) if there is a constant influx of new people, which rocks the relational consistency of the small group.
This concern doesn’t come from a separatist attitude, but from the desire for small groups to actually challenge members toward holiness, rather than just intend to. I think that is fantastic. But I think it falsely assumes a couple things.
First, just because a group is open to new visitors, it does not necessarily follow that there will be “a constant influx of new people.” Churches that are growing at rates that are off the charts might, but most will not. Slow and steady growth of the small group should give ample time to acclimate new attenders with previous ones so that the relationships are enriched rather than made awkward. Even if there is some awkwardness at first.
2 ways to do accountability in an open small group
But, second, even if there was a constant influx of new people, you can still do accountability, in two ways:
One way is to pair off members of the small group for one-on-one accountability. There are some things people don’t want to share even in a small group they are comfortable with. Depending on schedules, this can be done in another meeting face to face, over the phone, via Skype, or whatever works. In this way, the small group at least provides structure for accountability for each person in the group, even if the accountability doesn’t take place in the small group meeting.
Another way – one that I particularly like – is for small group members to do accountability with new people present. A friend of mine once told me about a time when someone visited his small group out of the blue. It was a coed small group, and at the end the study the guys and gals split up for accountability and prayer. My friend simply told the new guy, “This is a time when we confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. You can share or pray, or you can just watch and listen. Whatever you’re comfortable with.” And then the guys went on to share as normal, even though a stranger was in the room.
This can powerfully demonstrate the gospel to people who are exploring Christianity. It shows visiting unbelievers that Christians don’t find their security in covering their sin, because Jesus has already covered them. It breaks down the holier than thou stereotyp. It also shows, rather than just tells, the freedom that we have through forgiveness in Christ. We can confess our sins because Jesus has been faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Embrace as many both/and’s as you can in your small group
Do I think that it is sinful for small groups to only aim at edification? No, of course not.
But I am trying to break down the either/or categories that people place on small groups. I think you can both edify and evangelize. I think you can both go deep relationally and invite new people. I think you can both disciple and make disciples.
Once you commit to these both/and’s, the ways to make them happen begin to materialize.