In a previous post, I shared a few thoughts on Eddie Gibbs’ Churchmorph: How Megatrends Are Reshaping Christian Communities. Since finishing the book, I have continued to chew on two things, a profound insight and (at least to me) a glaring oversight. These two things are unrelated enough that I think they merit their own posts. So, in this post I will lift up the insight, and in the next I will mention what I think was overlooked.
The profound insight relates to small group dynamics and is found in the following passage:
Why does the typical suburban small group not establish a spiritual relational closeness to Christ when the home-atmosphere setting is conducive to fostering a corresponding social relational closeness? Those small groups that best facilitate both kinds of relational closeness to Christ are most likely to consist of individuals whose lives intersect during the week outside of church-related activities, and in which a high level of trust has developed, allowing members to let down their guards and remove their masks. Unfortunately, with many suburban small groups the same degree of disconnect from their wider social context is evident in their group as it is in the worship service and centralized program gatherings, and they do little to foster relational closeness. Although the group members are meeting in decentralized locations, they continue to perpetuate an inwardly focused mentality. (93-94)
The insight that I find profound is the focus on interaction outside of church-related activities as important to the success of small groups in enabling people to become more like Christ. To put this in United Methodist language, Gibbs seems to be arguing that small groups will be most effective in “making disciples of Jesus Christ” when they are intentionally structured so that members lives will intersect as frequently as possible.
This has some support in early Methodism. The first class meetings were divided up based on location. So, if you were in a class meeting in London in the early 1740s, the other people in the class would have been those Methodists who lived the closest to you. In other words, early Methodists were in classes with their neighbors.
I am not certain that Gibbs’ argument is correct. However, I think it is a very interesting hypothesis, and it seems that trying to bring people together who will be most likely to interact outside of the hour that they are together worshipping and the hour they are meeting in their small group would seem to have enormous potential for making it as likely as possible that the group would become a place where people “watch over one another in love” (to use Methodist language again).
What do you think? Does this seem like a helpful insight? What are the qualities that you have found to make a small group most likely to succeed in helping people to become more like Christ?
(In the next post I will talk about my biggest disappointment with Churchmorph and why it is a cause for concern for those in the Wesleyan tradition.)