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Creating Community: Five Keys to Building a Small Group Culture

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Andy Stanley

In Creating Community, Andy Stanley and Bill Willits take you on their amazing journey of developing the small group culture at North Point Community Church. They reveal their five key discoveries about what it takes to create a compelling small group … see full wiki

Author: Andy Stanley
Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Publisher: Multnomah Books
1 review about Creating Community: Five Keys to Building...

A Highly Useful Book for Small Group Pastors

  • Mar 10, 2005
When I first began reading Creating Community by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, I was not impressed. Subtitled "5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture," the book makes its points by means of simply structured sentences, personal anecdotes, and common-sense business principles. As an "armchair intellectual" who prefers "idea" books to "application" books, I glided through the pages of Creating Community in about an hour. About half way through, I realized that Stanley and Willits were teaching simple principles that I needed to learn and apply in my own ministry. Although I never set out to become a small groups pastor, I have become one for my church. Unfortunately, to be perfectly honest, I do not consider myself a very good small groups pastor. Why? Because I prefer to sit among abstract ideas - the native environment of armchair intellectuals - rather than to walk beside practical realities. I am good at writing curriculum and at personally leading a small group, but I have a hard time managing people and processes. Stanley and Willits offered several helpful insights about how to do the latter. Let's start with the five keys mentioned in the subtitle. They are (1) people need community, (2) leaders need clarity, (3) churches need strategy, (4) connection needs simplicity, and (5) processes need reality.

People need community - especially Americans, whom George Gallup has described as "among the loneliest people in the world." This is somewhat ironic, given that Americans are around other people all the time. But having company is not the same thing has achieving community. "We live and work in a sea of humanity," the authors write, "but we end up missing out on the benefits of regular, meaningful relationships." God created us to have those kinds of relationships, beginning with our spouses but extending to others as well. "Isolationitis" - the absence of meaningful relationships - leads to "lost perspective," "fear of intimacy," "selfishness," and "poor health." To the extent that we are isolated from others, we are also less like God - a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. "Just as He exists in meaningful relationship, so are we to exist in this quality of relationship as well," for we are created in God's image (Gen. 1.26-27). And Christ saved us so that we would live in the meaningful relationship called the church. Without authentic community, the world cannot know that God sent Jesus to save it (John 17.21). In the words of Francis Schaeffer, "Christian community is the final apologetic."

How do we - "we" meaning pastors and lay leaders - move from theology to practice, from vision to reality? Stanley and Willits' second key is this: Leaders need clarity. North Point Church in Atlanta, where the authors minister, answered that question by means of three others. The first question is "What do you want people to become?" This question provides "clarity of mission." The mission of North Point is "to relationally connect with people in such a way that it encourages them to follow Christ." The second question - "What do you want people to do?" - clarified North Point's "understanding of spiritual maturity." Focusing on the Great Commandment to love God and to love neighbor as self (Matt. 22.37-40), North Point answered this question by focusing on "intimacy with God"; "influence with insiders," i.e., Christians, members of the church; and "influence with outsiders," i.e., the unconverted. The third question is "Where do you want people to go?" This question clarified North Point's strategy, which is to get people "into a small group." Stanley and Willits explain the rationale for this strategy: "We have found that the best place for sustained life change to occur is within intentional relationships. And like many church leaders, we fell that the best place for encouraging intentional relationships is a small group. While we believe that other approaches can work, we think the small-group model works best."

That leads us to the third key: Churches need strategy. The founding members of North Point, which included the Stanley and Willits families, decided that they wanted their church to be characterized by one word: relational. This word not only captured their church's overall mission but also its daily operating strategy. "We want to do ministry in the context of relationship in communities, not on committees," the authors write. Why? Because groups: (1) "support our evangelism strategy," (2) "enable more people to serve," (3) "help develop authentic community," (4) "offer maximum flexibility," (5) "allow us to be better stewards," and (6) "remove the primary limits to growth." Not just any kind of group provides these benefits, however; only certain kinds do. Stanley and Willits call them "closed groups," which are groups that form and meet "throughout an eighteen- to twenty-four-month covenant period" without adding new members, "unless the entire group signs off on it." North Point has found that closing their groups contributes to the development of the "ABC's of group life": accountability, belonging, and care. Because the groups are closed only for a season, however, they do not become permanent cliques that are hostile to newcomers.

How do you get people into such groups? The fourth key answers this question: Connection needs simplicity. The chapter titles of this section of the book are particularly helpful: "create steps," "make them easy," and "try before you buy." The authors describe the steps under using the "'Foyer to Kitchen' strategy" of North Point. "Foyers" - such as the Sunday morning worship service - are designed to "change people's minds about church." "Living rooms" are "medium-sized environments designed to change people's minds about connecting." And" kitchens," i.e., small groups, are designed to "change people's minds about their priorities." Stanley and Willits write that "90 percent [!]" of the people who join small groups at North Point do so after attending GroupLink, "a two-hour event where people connect with others in their geographic area and stage of life to start a community group." And North Point is firmly committed to a short, initial small group experience of no more than eight weeks' length. If the group gels after this initial experience, it can commit to meet regularly over a longer period of time.

How do small group pastors and lay leaders manage the overall process of a small group ministry. Stanley and Willits' fifth key states, Processes need reality. For the authors, this means setting "realistic expectations" for small group leaders, coaches, and directors. It also means "train[ing] more for less." North Point leaders are routinely trained in six essential practices: (1) "Think life-change," (2) "cultivate relationships," (3) "promote participation," (4) "replace yourself," (5) "provide care," and "multiply influence." In the penultimate chapter, Stanley and Willits urge churches to keep their strategy "simple," "visible," "valued," "resourced," and "modeled" (by leadership).

As I noted at the outset, I wasn't impressed when I began reading Creating Community. "Armchair intellectuals" such as me prefer big, complex ideas to simple, usable ones. But as I continued to read the book, I realized that a lot of serious thinking underlay what Stanley and Willits had written. Moreover, I realized that if I paid attention, I might improve my own ministry by using their "keys" to diagnose and fix what is wrong with the small groups ministry I myself lead. So, in the end, thank you, Andy and Bill, for writing such a highly useful book for me and other small groups pastors.

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