What is a healthy core group?
Miller points out a common four
year cycle that churches encounter as systems resist change. A new pastor
arrives and is welcomed by all. As the pastor prays and learns the congregation=s situation, the pastor attempts to
solve the problems in the present and begins to lead the congregation forward
toward a vision of a better future. The system begins to exert pressure upon
the pastor to provide comfort rather than change as a Acleric@ rather than a visionary leader. As the
pastor leads forward, the balancing, backward pressure to maintain the status
quo increases. The rising conflict level causes the ejection of the pastor,
usually in the fourth year, and the cycle begins again.
The first task of a new pastor in an existing church, according to Miller, is to work to create a healthy core group: AIn every congregation there is a core group which is made up of the leaders of the congregation who invest themselves in the life of the congregation. They may lead small groups and Bible studies, serve on committees and teams, or actively participate in the worship life of the congregation. . . . These people are seriously committed to the life of the church and find meaning and purpose in what they do.@ If the core group is healthy, the church can produce good fruit in abundance; if the core group members Alove one another, the future can be built on a solid foundation.@ Healthy relationships are the heart of a healthy core group. As Miller points out, the productivity of a church depends on its leaders; the church is built on the foundation, solid or shifting, of its leaders.
The discipleship system, by building healthy theological values in a relational context, helps create a healthy core group. Growing churches reach a Acompetency limit@ which is derived from Heylighen=s Generalized Peter Principle, which states that Ain evolution systems tend to develop up to the limit of their adaptive competence.@ Ultimately, any church can grow only to the limit of its competence; cell churches fundamentally grow because their discipleship system raises the competence of each leader=s ability to adapt to change in a healthy way.
Raising the standard required for leadership is one common factor of evangelistic discipleship systems. We will encounter many forms of Aspeed bumps@ which prevent people from entering leadership until maturity levels are sufficient. Miller mentions one church=s requirement that leaders in the core group be faithful in worship attendance, and defined that as making a commitment to attend worship fort out of the fifty-two weeks of the year. Other criteria this church set included daily prayer for the church, for other members of the core group, and for the pastor.
Cell churches will often raise the
requirements for leadership even higher.
New Hope Community Church in Portland, Oregon, required tithing as a minimum
expectation of cell group leadership based on Matthew 6:20-21, believing that a
person not ready for leadership until their spiritual priorities were in order.
Another church requires tithing and involvement in serving in the church as a
requirement for membership; only those who show commitment to Christ,
therefore, have a vote on important decisions. Raising expectations for
leadership balances lowering expectations for participation in these churches
by outsiders. The use of speed bumps protects
the health of the leadership core by excluding persons from the core until they
demonstrate spiritual maturity. Defining
these criteria will often provoke extreme resistance to change in traditional
Craig Miller, NextChurch.Now, 91-96.
Craig Miller, NextChurch.Now, 80-81.
Francis Heylighen, AThe Generalized >Peter Principle,=@ Principia Cybernetica Web, ed. F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn, and V. Turchin, http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/PETERPR.html (accessed June 12, 2007).
Craig Miller, NextChurch.Now, 88-89. For another example of this trend of raising expectations, see Thom Rainer, High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church (1999), with product description at http://www.lifewaystores.com/lwstore/product.asp?ISBN=0805412662.