By Ken Braddy
Starting this year, I’ve taken a renewed interest in improving my overall health. My smartphone has built-in diagnostic apps that help me monitor my body’s health.
I can track cholesterol, sodium, fat, calories, and other indicators of whether I’m eating healthy. The app can also track my exercise routines and calories burned, plus my heart rate. I’m a click away from knowing whether I’m healthier than I was a month ago.
Today, I’m a Bible study leader at my church, and I guide a group of empty nest adults to study the Bible using Bible Studies for Life. Now more than ever, I’m concerned about the health of both my body and my Bible study group.
How do I know whether my group is healthy? I haven’t found an app for that. But having led education and discipleship ministries for 18 years in the local church, I’ve seen healthy and not-so-healthy groups. Here are six markers that can be found in healthy groups.
1. GROWING. It’s true that healthy things grow. One mark of a healthy group is numerical growth. Babies have important growth markers that pediatricians monitor. Infants are projected to gain a certain number of ounces in a set amount of time; it would be abnormal for them not to grow.
Acts 2:47 indicates the New Testament church grew daily as the Holy Spirit convicted people of sin and they accepted Christ’s offer of forgiveness. Jesus said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).
And as far back as Genesis, we can see that people, plants, and animals are expected to reproduce and multiply. It’s normal for things to grow. Healthy groups reach new people and grow numerically.
2. SENDING. Healthy groups regularly release people to serve. I have appreciated group leaders over the years who had a “catch and release” mindset about people! Groups do not belong to the group leader, but to the Lord.
Sometimes group leaders feel like they “win” when they have a large group (maybe even the largest one offered by the church). Healthy groups encourage members to explore leadership roles in other areas of the church and to leave the group when they discover a place of service.
As a friend once said, a Bible teaching ministry is to be a clearinghouse, not a storehouse. Acts 13:1-3 records the sending of Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey; note that the church didn’t collapse without them, but other capable leaders took their place and sent them out. Healthy groups release people, not hoard them.
3. ENGAGING. Healthy groups have a teacher or leader who understands that people learn in different ways. Healthy groups engage people in active learning. A healthy group studies together, explores Scripture together, and doesn’t just listen to a group leader talk about the Bible.
Jesus, the Master Teacher, was known for using a variety of approaches to communicating truth to His audiences. He lectured, asked questions, used visual aids, made assignments, and told stories (just to name a few ways!).
Healthy groups also engage in the study of Scripture using ongoing Bible studies that have a clear path of study that makes sense over time. Healthy groups don’t take a random approach to studying God’s Word, but depend on trustworthy resources with a clear plan for discipling people with wisdom. Healthy groups are places where people are fully engaged in a study of Scripture.
4. DEPENDING. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). Healthy groups know there are things they must do in order to grow and remain healthy, but have learned not to be prideful about their accomplishments.
The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to minister and serve in the Lord’s strength and grace, not his own. Healthy groups depend on prayer and the Holy Spirit as they trust God to lead them. They experience the Acts 2:47 truth that God is the One adding to their number.
5. INCLUDING. Healthy groups remember that many unreached people are all around them. A healthy group is outwardly focused, yet has the ability to keep an eye on its group members.
Healthy groups are always open to including more people. Healthy groups plan for it, pray toward it, and celebrate when new people are brought into the life of the group. Healthy groups have an openness to newcomers, and they never have a sense the work of reaching new people is done.
6. SERVING. Healthy groups are involved in ministries both inside and outside the church. Healthy groups have a mentality that the mission is “out there” and doesn’t take place 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays!
There is great joy when group members take on new roles and responsibilities, spread their wings, and use their God-given gifts and experiences to serve others.
As you consider these six marks of a healthy group, I hope you see your group as a healthy one. If not, focus on one or two of these marks and begin to make changes. Talk honestly with your group members about the ways you want it to change in order to be an even healthier group in the future.
KEN BRADDY is manager of Lifeway’s adult ongoing Bible studies, leads a Bible study group each week, loves Tex-Mex, and wishes he had his ’78 Camaro back.