Characteristics of Faithful, Useful Groups, Over the Long-Term
There are three common characteristics of Community or Discipleship Groups or friendships that are faithful and useful and healthy over the long-term:
• Deliberately Gospeled: There are moments when your conversation becomes "distinctly Christian", because some aspect of Jesus being crucified, raised, reigning, and returning comes to the surface. Then you relish God more deeply, trust Him more easily, see Him more clearly, hope in Him more longingly. Look for this; pray for it; aim for it.
• Attentive Friendship: You have fun together. There are belly laughs, good stories, delicious food, a hike in nature, a game - the pleasures of human life, multiplied by sharing. And as you have fun, you deliberately look for ways to "attend to the soul" of the others. You shift the attention off yourself to pay attention to the shifting details of the other's life. Conversation and meals become prayer lists and "love the other" lists, without much effort.
• Consistently Missional: Having your focus off yourself and on God and others, you think about outsiders, and so you consistently give place to "the mission", in the group time or friendship. It need not take the whole time or a lot of time. You just consistently see to it that the mission has a place.
This can take two forms. First, it just involves asking about the others' unsaved friends, discussing the landscape of those relationships, praying for them, and then following up later on those discussions and prayers. Or when the conversation turns to sharing the gospel, you don't let the conversation squirrel away to other topics too quickly; you hover over the topic. And you ask the others for their input on your own relationships with unbelievers.
Or - the second form - you actually include unbelieving friends into the gospeled friendships of that group or relationship. A healthy group will often shift from that first form to the second form, from talking and praying about unsaved friends, to welcoming them inside the group.
This shift takes patience and faith, as each of you seeks to develop friendships with outsiders. It can take time, and we must trust God with the changes to the group dynamic. Trusting God, perhaps you move your group’s gathering place to “third places”, where your unsaved friend works - a restaurant, perhaps. Then you invite them in, to share dinner with you and your friends. By giving place to the mission, your group is not diminished; only enhanced. That’s when it gets exciting - when He uses us to display Himself!