download (2)Have you heard of the following: CG, GG, HFG, HG, YWAF? They stand for, cell group, growth group, home fellowship group, home group, and young working adults fellowship, respectively. They are but a sampling of the many ways Christians assemble for community. Some of these groupings are more general in purpose. Others meet with more specific agendas.

I facilitate a mentoring group called a NextUp Group. We meet about once every six weeks for around five hours each time. Our last meeting was last Sunday. It was my highlight of a very demanding week.

I felt it was a good meeting. But then I am an ENTJ. For those unfamiliar with the arcane terminology of the Myers-Briggs personality system, it means that I am an intuitive among other things. I sense values and big picture connections. But I may overlook actual hard data.

Apart from my intuitive feelings about how the group was doing, how do I know the group is doing ok? For that matter how can we know if any group is doing ok? One can hardly apply ISO benchmarks to Christian fellowships!

So have come up with my own indicators for group health — the RFM test. Yes, another set of initials to remember.

Good groups should be:

*Relational *Formational *Missional

1. Good groups should be relational.

Richard Foster says that superficiality is the curse of our age. This is particularly true in the area of relationships. Yet relationships are at the very heart of the Christian faith. Pressed to summarise the demands of biblical faith, Jesus said:

“Hear or Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”…”You must love your neighbour as yourself.” Mark 12: 29-31 REB

Does my group foster real community? Or do we hide behind cliches, politically correct language, and smiling masks, while the deep things of our hearts remain unuttered, and we leave the group meeting feeling lonelier than ever? Does the group allow me to grow closer to the living God or am I mingling with functional atheists who themselves do not know God intimately? People who confuse knowing doctrines about God with knowing God? Or folks who box God into their own traditional boxes? How does your group score on the R test?

2. Good groups should be formational.

We live in an age that values productivity (what we do) and knowledge (what we know). Important as these things may be, God is first and foremost concerned with who we are. In God’s sequence, “being” comes before “doing”. Paul summarises the salvation experience thus:

“For those whom God knew before ever they were, he also ordained to share the likeness of his Son, so that he might be the eldest among a large family of brothers; and those whom he foreordained, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8: 29-30 REB

Does my involvement in this group help me grow in Christ likeness? Or is the group more concerned for instructional goals (making sure I get the point of the lesson) or achievement goals (number of souls saved, number of people delivered etc) to the exclusion of formational goals? Those of us who are parents know that there is a certain mystery to growth. Sometimes our children seem to be stagnant, hardly maturing. Than suddenly they go into spurts of growth. Growing in Christ likeness is something like that. It is hard to enumerate, dependent more on modeling and transforming relationships than on programmes. But it is central to God’s purposes. How does your group score on the F test?

3. Good groups should be missional.

As group members grow closer to God and to one another, as members grow in Christ likeness, how can they not have their hearts broken with the things that break the heart of God? If we claim we want to be more Christlike, it means we want to be more like Him who came to us as the Suffering Servant. In fact Jesus specifically enlists us to continue His mission:

“Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20: 21-22 REB

A group that is primarily inward looking is dead. A good group sees the lostness and brokenness of the world and helps her members enter the world preaching and living the gospel. Does your group actively encourage and equip you to serve the Lord in the key spheres of your life – eg. church, family, workplace? Does your group actively pray for the needy situations that flash across the media daily? Or are group prayers basically for the needs of those within the group only? Is there an attempt to help people discover their spiritual gifts? Vocational callings? Is your group a ministering community? How does your group score on the M test?

Church history shows that periods of renewal in the church has always been accompanied with the rediscovery of Christian community. It should surprise no one that healthy groups will feature prominently in God’s desire to renew and revive His church for the immense needs/opportunities of the third millennium.

It is incumbent on us then that we should have some clue as to what a good group should look like. After all, so many man hours are expended each week in all sorts of Christian groups around the world.

When the dust settles ask yourself: Does my group help me grow closer to God and to the brethren? Does my group help me grow in Christ likeness? Does my group encourage and equip me for ministry?

In other words, does my group pass the RFM test?