The core question we need to ask ourselves in preparation of joining a Northstar Group is pretty simple: can I make a difference in someone’s life?  I believe that answer is yes.  Daily, God chooses to work and show his presence through imperfect people who are committed to Him. But the follow-up question is, am I willing to be as committed to the point that communicates that that person matters to us and to Christ.

Wanting to make a difference in someone’s life  may require a certain degree of inconvenience or risk on our part, but the reward offsets the risk.  As Paul says to Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” –  I Timothy 4:16.

“Marty, you sound like the Northstar Groups program is not that good.” Actually, I believe the opposite.  We have some amazing groups and some amazing stories coming out of those groups. But, I also think we as a church need to rethink groups so that such group and stories are more of the norm.

The issue is getting connected. The solution is to join a small group. But, it’s hard to pick a group with all the rhetoric  we tend to use.  The church markets the groups as relevant and appealing. And as a result we create expectations.  For example, we are embarking “on a journey.” And, along the way we will  do “life together “ with other “imperfect people.” You will experience spiritual growth, change people’s lives and  make friends for life.  I am not making fun of anyone.  How can I?  I’ve said many of those same things on Sunday. Here is my point. No  matter how many cliches or how exciting you make groups sound, their effectiveness will ultimately be determined by the people in the group. Only the people in the group can make the group successful.

If the group is content knowing everyone’s name and skimming through a study guide that some people did not read, eat some snacks, throw in a few, “How’s your week been?” followed by some, “Did you hear?” and wrap it all up with a prayer followed by a, “See ya next week!” then we have missed the real substance and benefit of groups.

“Marty, that sounded somewhat critical. Aren’t you supposed to be positive all the time.  And besides, at least the group is meeting weekly.” I guess it did sound critical, but don’t miss my point – to reevaluate how we are connected and to explore some solutions with the hope that it will push us all to reexamine some of our ideas on community.

I believe we can make Northstar Groups even better than they are.

That starts with stop settling for a weekly get together when we are looking for community. Ask yourself whether our thinking is too small. Jesus had a small group,  but then He died which set the group on its ear. Then, He came back and told His small group that they needed to start thinking a whole lot bigger. That is the purpose of this article; thinking bigger when it comes to our group.

I would like to challenge you to do something in the next semester of groups; That is being present whenever possible. All of us should be willing to do this simple thing for our friends and for the kingdom.  We can have a ministry of being there, and we can listen and share.  Being present is not always an option and it’s certainly not always the easy thing to do. Many times it is the harder choice. The easy thing is calling or dropping a note in the mail. It takes time and energy and the juggling of your schedule to go be present with someone in need. But, if you want to make a difference in someone’s life, it can’t be done on Facebook, Twitter or email.

Then I ask that you think about the back door. Let me explain.  Larger churches have popularized the concept of “closing the back door.”  At Northstar, we weekly have new attendees at our services. But, we also  have people that stop coming, walking out the back door.  In some cases we know why people walk out the back door, but in most cases, we do not. I wonder what effect real community would have on these people.  Now some will leave because they are leaving the area, but how many leave because they don’t feel connected, or don’t know who to talk to and just don’t have any friends in the church. And we don’t know where they stand with God or if we have missed an opportunity to save and baptize them, and make them disciples as well.

The question is , “how do we keep our people here?” The biggest way to do this is by pushing people towards groups. Why? Because small groups equal community, community equals connectedness, connectedness equals consistency and consistency equals stability. Basically, people usually don’t leave a church once they have a connection.

Henri Nouwen put it well when he said, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender heart.”