Do you ever feel like group attendance each week is an informal opinion poll on your leadership? You know what I mean: “This week 55% of Richard’s group members felt his group was worth attending. This is the third consecutive poll below 75%, and experts are concerned at this worrying trend.” It’s easy to find ourselves stressing about attendance and other aspects of group life, such as whether people had a good time.
This is a mistake for many reasons, not least of which is that while attendance, member satisfaction and group functionality are all good things, they are secondary to the more important question of people’s individual Christian growth. It’s great if people are coming and loving the group, but what really matters is whether they are actually growing. This, after all, is Peter’s command in 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.
But what is Christian growth, and how can we tell if someone is growing? How can we get beyond superficialities and think deeply about people’s maturity?
The nature of Christian growth is a big topic and is probably worth a book in itself but the simple definition is conformity to Christ. Romans 8:29 says: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”.
This verse literally shows us our destiny—being like Christ. So Christian growth is about moving towards this future and purpose and becoming more and more like Jesus.
So how can we tell if people are heading in that direction? That’s a complex question, but I think there are three things we can look out for, both during the group time and in one-to-one catch-ups.
The first thing we can observe is our group member’s response to God’s word. During group time, do they get their answers from the Bible or their own heads? Are they more interested in what the Bible says, or the ideas floating around in television shows? And during prayer time, are they keen to pray about God’s agenda as revealed in his Word or their own problems? When you meet with them one-to-one outside the group you can take this a step further and ask about their personal Bible reading and prayer. Are they keen to read and pray more? Are they interested in your encouragement and advice in this area?
The second thing you can look out for is their repentance. How enthusiastic are they for application questions, especially ones that talk about putting off sin and actually changing? Repentance can be a sensitive area, so this is also a good thing to talk about one-to-one. Some good questions I’ve found helpful are “How have you seen yourself grow and change over the last two months?” or “What sins have you been repenting of?” The Christian who is growing will usually have some stories to tell in this area and will appreciate your prayers.
The third thing that gives an indication of people’s growth is their love. This includes love for both Christians and non-Christians. So, during group time, do they show an awareness of others in the group and encourage their involvement? Do they actually make an effort to be there each week for the sake of others (this is where attendance fits in!)? Do they warmly pray for others in the group? And are they keen to pray for and evangelize non-Christians around them? These attitudes and behaviours can give us some good clues as to how they’re going with growing in Christian love.
There’s obviously more to Christian growth than this, but these three areas are a good start to figuring out if people in your group are actually growing. They’re also great things to ask for them when you pray for your members by name during the week. Of course, with all this talk of Christian growth, it’s necessary for us to frequently turn the spotlight back on ourselves. How are we going in our response to God’s word, our repentance and our love? These are more fruitful questions to reflect on than the hypothetical group leader opinion polls we imagine!