You’ve probably heard us talk before about the importance of the “Open Chair” philosophy for Grow Together groups. If you’ve had the opportunity to use the SHIFT curriculum, you may also remember Pastor Brian and Pastor BJ talking about it.
If not, please allow me to explain… small groups are either “open” or “closed.” Open groups accept new members, while closed groups do not. The most common reason for groups being closed are that they’ve reached their maximum number of members for the group (which is not always a hard fast number, but is usually about a dozen). Sometimes groups are closed because of the nature of the group – for example, support type groups.
It’s our desire that no groups be closed – even if they reach a certain number of members. When a group reaches a certain size, an opportunity exists to launch one or two people (or a couple) to lead a new group. You’ve probably heard us talk about apprenticing potential leaders in your group specifically for this purpose.
Getting back to the “Open Chair” though… As you might imagine, the Open Chair model is where you literally have a empty (open) chair set up in your meetings representing the person who might/could be there. This serves as a powerful illustration to your group for sharing the opportunity with other people to get connected in the Grow Together ministry and the benefit of the community and growth that Grow Together groups provide. Ultimately, the purpose of groups is to build community, provide support for each other, to learn more about Jesus Christ and where we fit in God’s kingdom plan, and grow closer to Jesus Christ in our daily lives (in church-talk that’s called “discipleship”).
In his book A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic, author Rick Howerton discusses the fallacy that open groups hinder evangelism and intimacy (openness and sharing) among members of a group. However, research has shown that that just isn’t true. He cites research by Jim Egli (who has a PHd in Small Group Ministry), saying…
“Open groups actually experience significantly more community than closed groups! … If you want to experience deeper community in your small groups, you should make it an open group that is actively reaching out to others”
So, you can see how an Open Chair in your group can not only lead to a richer small group community experience for you and your current members, but can help extend that opportunity to others. Don’t be afraid of embracing the Open Chair – it’s a good thing! Beside, it seems like the Christian thing to do… don’t you think?
Group Life Deacon
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3 (NIV)