**This article originally appeared on radical.net and was authored by Cole Shift, Grayson Pease, and Riley Lackey
Throughout much of our Christian lives, we tried to pursue the Lord on our own. We followed Jesus apart from community that knew, loved, and challenged us to walk with Jesus each day. After belonging to healthy small groups in our church and campus ministry, we have experienced the gift of community. We believe that healthy small groups cultivate deep friendship by committing to Scripture, vulnerability, and consistency.
Healthy Small Groups are Committed to Scripture
It doesn’t matter how vulnerable or consistent your small group is if it isn’t centered around God’s Word. A community of people who are passionate about God’s Word will always be stronger than those who have a lot of structure but forget Scripture.
At its foundation, small groups exist to help Christians build authentic friendships around God’s Word. H.B. Charles Jr. said, “The word of God is necessary, powerful, and sufficient for spiritual development and Christian service.” Without God’s Word, we have no foundation.
Study the Word
Healthy small groups are not focused on self, but on God. In order to understand God, we must study his Word. In the Bible, God reveals his nature to his people. We study the Scripture to know God.
In our groups, we spend around thirty minutes discussing what the text says, what it means, and how it applies to us. The focus of this time is not on how it makes us feel, but on what God has divinely revealed. When we study the Word, we are reminded of who God is as he is revealed in Scripture.
Pray the Word
In the small group that Grayson and I led, our friend Elijah closed our group by praying for our group. During this time, he prayed the Word of God over our group, declaring the marvelous work the Lord had done. Each week, we were reminded of the power of God’s Word.
God uses the Bible not only to renew our minds but also to soften our hearts as well. When we pray the Word, we are reminded that Scripture speaks to all of our life.
Share the Word
Consider providing an opportunity each week for group members to practice sharing the gospel in your group. This allows them to articulate the gospel and reminds the rest of the group of the good news of the gospel.
We aim to provide regular opportunities for practicing sharing the Word within our group. This provides opportunities for other group members to offer constructive criticism to the person sharing the gospel. Feedback allows group members to encourage, exhort, and correct one another in their evangelism.
When we share the Word, we grow in confidence. Moreover, hearing the gospel reminds us of the gift of the gospel in our own lives.
Healthy Small Groups are Committed to Vulnerability
A steadfast pursuit of vulnerability is a key mark of a healthy small group. A small group that chases openness is one that will be transformational for all who are a part of it. Without honesty, the power of community and accountability is nullified.
Without vulnerability, deep community will not be formed. Apart from honesty, accountability loses its value because it lacks genuineness.
The group that isn’t vulnerable with each other will struggle to be vulnerable before God. This can easily lead us to lose sight of their need for redemption through Christ. Vulnerability is necessary for a healthy small group to form an intentional community.
Vulnerability Demonstrates a Need for Jesus
A healthy small group should be quick to confess their needs by acknowledging their need for Jesus. Exposing their need for Jesus and the blood he shed is of utmost importance for a small group.
Along with showing their need for Christ, the group should pursue him wholeheartedly. A healthy small group should be honest in its pursuit of Christ. Christ-likeness should be a key result of the group.
Vulnerable in Community
The community of the group must be saturated with vulnerability. Honesty in a small group setting is what makes the group intentional, meaningful, and worthwhile.
Honesty should be shown in the community of the group and the relationships formed because of that community. This will result in honest communication, deep relationships, and a healthy structure that only grows with time. With the presence of honesty, a healthy small group will flourish.
Vulnerable in Accountability
More practically, vulnerability must be visible in clear accountability. Accountability in a healthy small group is a culmination of honest confession of sin and openness about weakness.
Both of these require the honesty of the group members, which can be difficult. Being vulnerable in accountability demands a high level of trust. Deep relationships and a commitment to honesty create trust.
We form deep friendships so we can come together to help one another fight sin. With vulnerability, accountability becomes a fruitful practice of a healthy small group resulting in the members better pursuing the Lord.
Healthy Small Groups Commit to Consistency
Consistency is crucial to creating healthy small groups. Look for a small group that is consistent in their attendance, engagement, and vulnerability. When leaders model consistency in each of these three areas, they model and encourage group members to do the same.
In Acts 2, the Bible presents a picture of consistency and devotion among believers in the early church. The believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (v. 42). They met “day by day, attending the temple together” (v. 46). Their consistency allowed for deep relationships to form, cultivating a healthy fellowship among one another and with the Lord.
Consistency in Attendance
Look for small groups that prioritize regular attendance. Whatever the format of your small group, consistency allows an opportunity to build strong relationships and trust within the group.
Consistent attendance cultivates a safe place to confess sin. When we see people in our small group week after week, we can trust them to do what they say they will do. We know that they care about our growth and we can trust them with our confession of sin.
Consistency in Engagement
When your group meets, look for leaders who provide opportunities for group members to engage consistently and actively. Healthy small groups allow for members to grow in leading, confession, and prayer by giving them space to lead.
Healthy small groups help their members to lead discussions, ask thought-provoking questions, and give them time to think and pray. When they are pushed to actively participate in the group rather than passively attend, group members grow in knowledge and maturity.
Yet, some group members will need more time to feel comfortable before opening up. As a leader, your responsibility is not to force group members to be vocal but to make them feel welcome to participate when they are ready.
Consistency in Vulnerability
Healthy small groups are led by those who commit to a high level of vulnerability week after week. Leaders who confess the sins in their life and ask for prayer for the deepest desires of their heart form a deep community marked by honesty. When leaders confess hidden sin, groups see them and are reminded that Jesus cleanses them of all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).
Healthy Small Groups Form Disciples
So what do healthy small groups look like? Healthy small groups are committed to God’s Word, vulnerability, and consistency. As Christians, the Scripture is our foundation. Without it, we will sink like sand.
Yet, in order to have healthy small groups, we must pursue relationships through vulnerability and consistency. Relationships require sacrifice. Our small groups are not a replacement for church, but a way for the church to confess sin in community.
If you’re a pastor, consider how your small groups are forming your people. Something needs to change if small groups aren’t leading your congregation to be committed to God’s Word, vulnerability, and consistency.