Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Size Fits All

I was recently listening to a leadership podcast by Andy Stanley who was encouraging Church leaders to consider the management style of technology organisations such as Apple. He said that these organisations recognized that the next effective new idea will come from the next generation. The current ideas that appeal to the current management will never, he says, lead to the next new gold idea. He encouraged Church leaders to allow the younger generation some room to move (and even fail) because out of that freedom may come the next big, and effective, idea.

In looking at one big idea that wasn't really around much, say 15 years ago, that many now consider the "norm" is that of "customisation". Everywhere I look, there is a plethora of options to suit each our individual needs and preferences.

For example, we don't have to buy an entire album anymore, we just download the songs we like from different albums and make one up a compilation that suits. We then create our own playlists to suit the time, mood and style of the moment - we listen to that which is personally suitable to us.

Even in appliances, the options to suit are plenty: would I like a fridge with freezer on top, or fridge on top, in white, chrome or black? Should the door open on the left, or the right? Inbuilt ice maker or fill-your-own?

Why do we need so many options? Because we are all so different. Just looking at age, background, gender, career, and personality types, no two people are the same. There are:
* some who like to talk things out, some who like to think things through first
* Some like structure and predictability, some like spontaneity
* Some are literal, some are conceptual
* Some respond to facts, some respond to feelings
* Some are organisers, some still don't know how to organise a latte in a coffee shop
* Some are controlling, some just don't mind either way
* Some are middle age, some are teens
* Some are artistic, some are academic and some are sporty (or a combo of all)
* Some are fast learners, others want a slower pace
* Some like hymns, some like Hillsong
* Some have kids and a job, some are full-time students, some are retired
* Some work best in the morning, some work best at night
* Some are extroverts, some are introverts

With such an extensive array of people, can we really say that one size fits all?

Many years ago, churches wisely recognised the need for smaller groups to meet together, to connect, to grow and learn together so that Christians didn't get "lost in the crowd", particularly in bigger churches. The aim of these groups was the fellowship and growth of Church attendees, and even outreach. The effectiveness of these small groups, called life groups, cell groups, connect groups or discipleship groups is indisputable. Many benefit from these structured groups.

However, it seems the the format and structure of our current small groups is still very similar to when they were first introduced - some 15 years ago. The basic elements continue to be that a group of 4-8 people meet in a home during a week night, maybe have a song of worship, read some scripture, answer some questions, share some personal experiences and pray together.

I find it interesting that, despite the level of customisation that is normal all around us, the life group model remains substantially fixed in the same format and style that was introduced over a decade ago.

Don't get me wrong, the purpose of a small group is fundamental and critically necessary in churches yesterday and today. However, the structure and format still seems to be, regrettably, "one size fits all". This is a structure that works well for those currently attending, but seems to be not negotiable for those that can't fit within the current format of the traditional life group model.

For example, is there another option than a night time life group for people who have early starts, or young kids, or both? Is there an option for those that would benefit from more substantial study vs lite'n'chatty? Are there options for shift workers? Are there options for people with similar spiritual gifts to meet and develop those gifts? Are there options for focussed discussion vs those that like to verbally meander off track for hours?

This one-size-fits-all limitation can be compounded if decisions makers are resistant to letting new concepts for life groups come from the "next generation", ie those that have a different perspective to the current format.

Are there avenues for new groups to start to fill the current gaps - groups that are new in either style or format or criteria?

The reason for my blog entry is this: we are called to make disciples of Christ. This isnt just about making converts, it is about maturing Christians through their entire life journey. I sincerely believe that we must do whatever it takes to keep as many Christians growing stronger in their Christian walk as possible. I dont believe this can be achieved in small groups that are one-size-fits-all. We probably are going to miss sectors of people that don't fit into that box, and simply find it too difficult to benefit from the current small group model.

What does the next generation of small groups look like? Are we willing to welcome change to ensure all in our churches experience the benefits of small groups?

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