SPIRITUAL GROWTH GROUPS
Designed for two or three adults of the same sex who connect together weekly to pray for one another and to keep each other accountable for how they live.
(Image credit: Johannes Andersson via Unsplash.)
WHAT IS A SPIRITUAL GROWTH GROUP?
My concept of Spiritual Growth Groups is taken from Neil Cole's book, Cultivating a Life for God (cover photo pictured on the left). Put simply, a Spiritual Growth Group is composed of 2-3 adults of the same sex. Individuals in the group commit to meet together once a week for approximately an hour at a time. The purpose of these meetings is to encourage each other to read the Bible, hold each other accountable for their actions, and to pray regularly. These types of groups have been given many different names, but I like to call this activity a Spiritual Growth Group, or SG2 for short.
Historically, some of the most influential religious movements in Christianity--like the early Methodists and the German Pietists-- used something akin to spiritual growth groups to help their members mature in their faith. Somewhere along the way the church neglected this important ministry tool. Fortunately, many Christians today want to improve their walk with God and are interested in learning how a small, accountability group can help them grow spiritually. Read on to discover more about my version of a Spiritual Growth Group and the benefits it provides.
Encourage Regular Bible Reading
Facilitate Personal Accountability
Develop a Heart for Prayer
Spiritual Disciplines Involved
Meditation on Scripture
Confession of Sins
What Participants Will Gain
A Safe Place for Accountability and Confession
Increased Biblical Knowledge
An Opportunity to Reflect on One's Life
A Greater Concern for Others
A Deepening of One's Faith
A Spiritual Growth Group (SG2) is not just another ministry option. Instead, it represents a confession by the believer that he or she has not been growing in their fellowship with God as much as they desire. Moreover, it is a realization that he or she will not be able to fully grow without encouragement and accountability from other believers. It is the commitment to partner on a weekly basis with one or two other Christians who agree to work together to build each other up.
An SG2 is only successful when participants accept that they will have to make room in their busy schedules for spiritual growth. Like a physical exercise program, an SG2 requires regular dedication to activities that are not always easy or convenient.
Paul the Apostle reminds us in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 that training oneself in godliness results in great personal benefit. By agreeing to be part of an SG2 the participant is committing to a new type of spiritual training that can help them become a deeper more confident follower of Christ.
HOW TO SG2?
Two or three men or two or three women get together once a week to discuss the past week's Bible readings, pray, and encourage each other in regard to their walk with God.
Personal Time Commitment
Approximately five minutes of Bible reading five days a week
A one-hour meeting per week to discuss Bible readings, accountability questions, and prayer
Each SG2 is composed of two or three individuals of the same sex. One person in the group should be the facilitator. The facilitator starts a group by inviting one or two people to be a part of her/his group. He or she also keeps the group on track. The other person or persons are referred to as participants. Everyone in the group is considered a member.
The facilitator organizes the meetings and leads the discussions. An essential responsibility of the facilitator is to make sure that the group stays on task during weekly meetings.
Meetings can take place in-person or via a video conferencing product such as Zoom or WebEx. Meetings work best in-person, but video conferencing is a good alternative. These types of groups lose their effectiveness, however, if they are conducted over the phone. I have found that being able to see each other is important for making connections and maintaining accountability.
The meeting starts with a brief discussion of the previous week's Bible reading. The facilitator asks how the discipline of reading Scripture went for the participants that week. He or she also shares about how they did in accomplishing their Bible reading for the week.
A discussion about what they learned from the readings should also be a part of this dialogue. It is important to note, however, that this part of the meeting is not designed to encourage debate over controversial issues in Christianity or to explain difficult theological concepts. This is not a Bible study. Its main purpose is to encourage each other to read the Bible regularly and to get members thinking about how the weekly readings connect with their own lives. Members should contemplate questions such as: What are the personal applications that can be gleaned from the reading? What is God trying to teach us in this passage?
The central part of the meeting is dedicated to character building. The facilitator should therefore lead the participants through the accountability questions. The facilitator can encourage open sharing by initiating the self-disclosure process. I provide more information about this process and offer helpful tips for facilitators in the SG2 tutorial.
Once launched an SG2 will meet weekly for three months, after which time the members will select one of four options:
Participants can become a facilitator and lead their own group.
The group members will join a different SG2.
The group will continue as it is for another three months.
The members will take a break from SG2.
My experience with Spiritual Growth Groups is that they have a natural lifespan. Members find them helpful and encouraging for about a year, after which time the group either concludes or the members grow a deeper level of trust with each other. In this latter case, spiritual growth and accountability become a more natural part of the relationship between the members and less structure in the meeting is necessary. In such situations the SG2 can continue for an indefinite period of time.
An SG2 is not a replacement for a church small group or community service team. An SG2 takes place in a short, focused meeting dedicated primarily to personal accountability. Small talk and the discussion of work issues or church events is natural, but it is critical that facilitators defer these topics to the end of the meeting.
This is going to be one of the most difficult tasks of the group--staying focused. However, this is essential to the mission and purpose of the SG2. If members use the weekly meetings merely to talk about hobby issues or news stories, then the spiritual formation goal of the group will be compromised and the members will eventually become disappointed with their spiritual progress and give up. While the detailed structure presented on this website may seem unnatural to some members, following the suggested guidelines provided here does pay off spiritually. And once your group has strengthened and matured, less structure will be needed.
An SG2 should incorporate regular Bible reading as part of the program. When its members are in the Word of God on a regular basis, they will be more open to hearing what God is wanting to teach them. Moreover, developing the discipline of Bible reading and study is a good exercise for all believers.
The SG2 members have freedom to choose whatever parts of Scripture they want to read. However there are a couple important rules to follow:
Members should all be reading the same parts of the Bible so that they can discuss the content with each other and to keep each other accountable.
Members should have an ambitious reading schedule each week. The lower we set the bar, the lazier we typically become. I suggest reading about one chapter per day. Neil Cole encourages his readers to do much more.
Members should read regularly throughout the week rather than reading all of the assigned material the day before an SG2 meeting. This will not only help to establish a discipline, it will also encourage members to be thinking about the Scripture each day.
There are a wide variety of reading plans available on the Internet to choose from. My system involves reading a chapter of Scripture each day for five days within a week.
I have purposely built in two open days each week. One of these open days is the day of your SG2 since you will be meeting with other members to discuss the Bible that day. The other open day can be used as a catch up day in case a reading gets missed on another day; or the open day can be used as a day to review the full week's readings, do a greater in depth study of that section of Scripture, or prepare for the upcoming SG2 meeting.
To assist you with a reading plan, I have created a reading schedule over the New Testament that leads members through the New Testament in exactly one year. It is the same reading plan that I use in the New Testament Readings devotion section provided on this website.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a structured reading over the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon) you can click on this link to see a reading schedule for those books.
These reading plans are merely options. Feel free to create your own schedule or find another resource online. I also recommend the Daily Bible by F. LaGard Smith. It presents a chronological and thematic approach to Bible reading and is a great way to make the Bible more accessible to new and older Christians alike.
For each meeting, the facilitator should lead the group through a set of accountability questions. When responded to honestly, these questions will help members grow in their daily walk with the Lord.
The Preliminary Questions are best to use with a new group or when members are just beginning to get to know each other. Once group members have developed greater rapport and developed a greater level of trust with each other, I recommend switching to Accountability Questions List 1 or Accountability Questions List 2. The specific questions a group uses should connect to the particular issues that the members of the group are trying to address in their lives.