Thriving organizations recognize the value of building and nurturing strong long-term relationships within and outside of the organization. Recently the concept of "developing circles" has been introduced to help us better visualize the mechanism of group dynamics where organizational members choose to come together for mutual benefit. Such benefits may include: growth, fraternity, problem solving, planning, care giving, study, prayer, shared mutual interest such as hobbies, etc. In general the idea is that individuals in the circle benefit in some way from their interaction with other members of the group or the group as a whole, and that the sum value of the group will exceed the value of the individual parts and become a force for growth, service, ministry and change within their community.
While I support the concept of developing strong relationships, I think there is an argument to be made for some measure of caution as we develop such a closed ended model as there exist the potential for members to develop an isolationist mindset.
For example, a few years ago my family having recently relocated, had been visiting a new church in our community to see if it would be a good fit. After about 6 months of attending Sunday services, we decided that the next step would be to become members of a small group (circle). Our first couple of weekly visits went somewhat well, but we could tell there was something amiss. We just couldn't put our finger on it. On about the third meeting, the group leader, who happened to be the associate pastor of the church dropped the bomb when he opened the meeting with an announcement of rules of the group. Rule 1: you cannot invite anyone else to attend or join the group. Rule 2: You need to place the needs of the group above those of yourself or your family. Rule 3: There is no breaking rules 1 or 2. The older members of the group were nodding in assent. All my red warning flags were going off. It is important to note that this small group represented a church from a mainline evangelical denomination yet this group looked and smelled a lot like some sort of cult. Needless to say, that we not only did we never attend that group, but we never attended that church again.
About a year later, I was invited to lunch with the senior pastor of that church...not the same one from the group. Nearing the end of the lunch he asked me why we had left the church saying he thought he had done everything he could to make us comfortable. Trying to be polite, I told him that it just wasn't a good fit hoping that he would leave it at that. He wouldn't. He pressed for details. When I shared with him that the primary reason for our leaving was that his congregation was unwelcoming, unfriendly, and showed little desire to interact with new folks...he was speechless. After a minute or so, when he composed himself he shared that he had never seen such behavior. I then told him of the experience in the small group...again he was speechless.
What had happened? This organization had formed all these circles (small groups) which together constituted a larger circle (the church) and essentially over time had locked out the rest of the community. Every circle had over time turned inward and focused on their own needs and priorities, rather than allowing the strength of the relationships within the group to become a vibrant force for growth, ministry and outreach.
So, am I advocating the overthrow of "Circles?" Not at all. I do believe however that there is value in oversight from without and from periodic redistribution, otherwise we risk walking in circles.
I write stuff. I talk about the stuff I write. God has blessed my life in more ways that I can list. I am not nearly as smart as I think I am. God is very patient with me. God has demonstrated how much He loves me. He gave me His only son Jesus. He gave me my wife. He gave me 5 wonderful children and so far 8 beautiful grandchildren. I am blessed above all men.