The Barrel Illustration

What you can do with this tool

  • Learn about the relationship between God’s provision, the mission of the church, and the structures we adopt to carry out this mission.
  • Measure your own home group’s progress in carrying out its mission and address weak areas.
  • Teach these concepts to people in your home group.

Key assumptions

The Barrel

The parts of a barrel illustrate the essential components of a home group’s ethos.

  • The STAVES signify the key SPIRITUAL MANDATES that God gives to his church—what the New Testament commands the church to be and do.
  • The BANDS signify CHURCH STRUCTURES. Structures are practical strategies we implement that facilitate key spiritual mandates: large gatherings, house church meetings, classes, etc.
  • The WATER signifies the PEOPLE that God wants to add to your home group.  God wants his church to grow quantitatively, and he is always willing and able to pour new people into our home groups.
  • The BOTTOM signifies the key PROMISES God makes to build his church, including his unconditional acceptance and gracious calling, the spiritual gifts he gives us, his sovereign working, his guidance and empowering, etc. What God wants the church to be and do (STAVES/ MANDATES) must be properly grounded in who God is and what he promises to do (BOTTOM/ PROMISES).

How is your home group doing? How can your group improve? See the evaluation and planning tools.

All Christians Should be Involved in a Home Group

Christianity and Christian spirituality involve fellowship – sharing, interaction, and mutual interdependence (1 Cor. 12). For that to occur we need a setting that allows us to give and receive God’s love. Home Group is an ideal place for this to occur.

There are many “one another” passages in the New Testament that assume Christians meet together frequently and are significantly involved in each others’ lives. This dynamic doesn’t easily occur in a large crowd. The first Christians met in homes and gathered in groups small enough to allow this kind of involvement.

Jesus commands Christians to love one another (Jn. 13:34,35). The disciples were committed to this imperative from Jesus and therefore committed their ministries to living this out.  Their epistles unpack this command through several "one another" imperatives.

  • (Gal. 5:13) For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • (1 Thess. 5:11) Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
  • (Col. 3:16) Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another . . .
  • (Jas. 5:16) Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
  • (Eph. 4:32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
  • (Eph. 4:2) . . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love . . .
  • (Rom. 15:7) Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
  • (Gal. 6:2) Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
  • (Rom. 12:10) Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor . . .  “Devoted” implies tenderly loving; showing affection.
  • (Rom. 12:16) Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.

What do all these passages have to do with how involved we should be in fellowship? We should be involved enough that we are receiving and giving this kind of love from and to other Christians on a regular basis.

  • How can you encourage someone unless you're involved enough to know where and when they need this?
  • How can they encourage you unless you are open enough for them to do the same?
  • How can you admonish someone unless you're involved enough to know what they need to be admonished about?
  • How can they admonish you unless you're open enough for them to do the same?
  • How can you show forbearance and forgiveness unless you're involved enough that they offend or irritate you?

This kind of interaction requires an intensive level of involvement with a relatively small number of people. How could we possibly accomplish this if our only context for knowing people was a large group meeting on a Sunday morning?  To put these principles into practice, all Christians should be regularly involved in something like a home group. 

Home Groups Should Multiply

Home churches in Xenos are designed to operate like small, self-replicating churches, doing their own evangelism, counseling, pastoring their own members, and raising up their own leaders. The normative mission of our home groups is to replicate themselves. This is a logical extension of Jesus’ command to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). 

Home Group Ethos

“Ethos” here refers to the subjective yet powerful consensus of values and convictions in your home group. Values are more caught than taught. This is why if your home group has a healthy ethos, it will tend to attract spiritually hungry people – and these people will tend to adopt these values and convictions for themselves. Conversely, home groups with an unhealthy ethos will have problems both in winning new members and maturing existing members. 

Urban Home Church Planting at Xenos

Xenos sees itself as an underground indigenous house church planting movement.

  • Underground means that our growth is primarily through neighborhood groups, not through large worship services or seekers meetings. It also implies the leaders of home churches are all lay people (i.e. they are not professionals, but "tentmakers"). Even when staffers lead home groups, they receive no compensation for that part of their ministry. A church planting movement is a grassroots movement, not a staff-driven movement.
  • Indigenous, means the leadership for the home churches has to come from within the home churches themselves via a process of personal discipleship. Xenos leaders would ask even experienced leaders from other churches to spend time in a home church becoming one of the trusted leaders in that group before sending them out with their own group.
  • House Church-planting movement, means the development of such groups, if carried out properly, should lead to multiplication, or exponential growth, unlike plans where a central office arranges groups from lists of applicants and leaders. In a church planting movement, the impetus for planting churches comes from within each group. Church planting also implies that the groups are relatively self-sufficient for ministry, as opposed to groups that are heavily dependent on program-heavy worship services or the central leadership of the church.

In addition to the self-replicating house churches, Xenos fields a large central leadership and programs directed by paid staff. We also have a main campus, or facility for headquarters. The reasons for the staff and programs are:

  1. The early church seems to have had unified elderships in each city, but multiple house churches. For instance, the church in Jerusalem had thousands attending, but they all related to the single eldership of the apostles, while also meeting "from house to house." (Compare Acts 2:41; 42; 46) In Ephesus, the group must have numbered in the hundreds or (more likely) the thousands, judging from the size of the pile of books and charms they burned (Acts 19:19), yet they had a single eldership. (Acts 20:17) These examples suggest the existence of both self-replicating house churches and a central leadership group. We also see the early church's ability to form special ministry teams or programs, like collections for the poor in Judea or mission teams to go out to other cities. (Acts. 11:28-30, 13:1-3, 2 Cor. 8,9) Specialized teams or programs are appropriate for specialized ministries.
  2. We think house churches can draw strength from each other by banding together for these special cooperative, joint ministry projects and programs. These could include:
    • Large meetings where home churches can come together to share in the special gifting some strong teachers, preachers and evangelists offer deeper Bible teaching and a corporate sense of vision for the larger body.
    • Missions-sending efforts which usually cost too much for any home church to fund on it's own.
    • Ministry to the poor—home churches are usually weak or completely ineffective at developing meaningful community development ministries. Such ministries are expensive and require years of investment by dozens or hundreds of volunteers to produce meaningful change in a poor community.
    • Ministries to children and students—home churches tend to gravitate to a given age group and find it difficult to diversify into different age groups. Special thrusts to reach students are usually more effective when program-based. Even groups that started as student groups tend to "grow up" and lose their connection to student ministry unless they ban together to send workers into this field.
    • Counseling and support ministries that require more expertise than most home churches can deliver.
    • Sharing expertise in home church ministry—many home churches are very low on experience, so it makes sense to have some of the most experienced home church leaders available for consultation and advice. These usually have to be paid staff because the time demands of such availability would be too great for tent makers.
    • Sharing Theological Expertise—Theologians and scholars follow a special calling that is impractical for most home church leaders. It makes sense to arrange for clusters of home churches to share access to theologically trained equippers who can take people's learning to the next level. By banding together, home churches can afford to have their own staff theologians and classes.

Clearly, combining a cell-based and program-based approach seems promising, but contains dangers as well. Organizational theorists have noticed the program-based portion of the church tends to attract personnel and resources away from the church-planting movement. The eldership has to be vigilant for unnecessary programmatic growth while holding all programs to the same standard—that they are facilitating the church-planting movement, not restricting it. At Xenos, we agree the cell-based portion of the church must predominate over the program-based portion at any point where these come into conflict.

Elements of Successful Urban Home Church Planting at Xenos

A church planting movement will not just happen. Only if we clearly mark our goal and strive toward it with careful planning, can we expect God to deliver results. Some of the important elements of success in our opinion are:

1. Commitment to an ecclesiology compatible with New Testament practice - Unless we believe strongly in the concept of body life as described in key New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Eph. 4, 1 Peter 3, Col. 2:19 and the book of Acts, we will never achieve such a movement. American churches, in particular, will likely follow successive spiritual fads that sweep the church in America every other year, resulting in an divergence of effort into unfruitful endeavors. In particular, we believe the church must reject, in part or in whole, revivalism. Under revivalism, the key to spirituality is revival—an event where the Spirit of God catches the church up in a spiritual experience of rejuvenation and catharsis that converts the lost, heals the sick and delivers sinners. We believe revivals happen, even though this is not a New Testament emphasis. New Testament Christians are never instructed how to bring about a revival. Further, the ideology that places revival as the key to success in the church is destructive to the notion of a church planting movement. People look to such supernatural events for a shortcut. This expectation drains energy from regular daily evangelism, living for God and discipleship, which seem mundane and unremarkable by comparison. Church multiplication takes daily effort, often exerted in very non-showy, quiet ways, such as building up fellow believers and engaging in friendship evangelism as a way of life. Consistency is essential. If a spiritual revival comes, we should accept it with joy. But waiting for the Spirit to "fall" runs counter to the lifestyle needed for successful church planting, under our model.

2. A commitment to the concept and practice of personal discipleship - A house church is not based on amazing music groups or drama acts. At the center of each fruitful home church is a group of sincere, spiritually-minded, loving people. Our leaders and workers are those who draw people into a home church. Likewise, to plant another home church, nothing will do but the duplication of a similar group of leaders and workers for the new group. Home church planting doesn't depend on any secret structural or programmatic approaches. It depends on discipleship. This process of moving individuals from unbelief, self-centeredness, sin-dependency and ignorance to a place of spiritual maturity can take years of patient investment, training, friendship and sacrifice. Recent studies of American Christianity have demonstrated the church in America talks about personal discipleship, but does not practice it very often (See George Barna, Growing Effective Disciples). In healthy home churches most of the members should either be trying to disciple others or be under discipleship by others. We need clear goals for discipleship. We should also avoid any conception of discipleship that implies control or authoritarian theories.

3. A team approach - At Xenos, we prefer having home churches led by teams rather than individuals. Likewise, the average home church has a "second line" of workers. These are relatively well-trained and motivated members who back up the leaders and are themselves in preparation for leading their own home church. When planting a new home church then, we have to look at the group as a team made up of three to six leaders and another four to eight second-line workers. Under a team theory, the team is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, we need to look at how a group works together, and the balance of different gifting, personalities, maturity levels and ministry development. If we know of specific weaknesses in key leaders, these might be offset by strengths in others on their team. Part of the process of planting a home church is to work with members of the new team to help them understand their contribution to the team. Young Christians who doubt themselves when it comes to leading a group by themselves, may feel a good level of confidence about their contribution to a team. This approach also suggests we should try to define the outline of the new team as soon as possible after the previous church plant.

4. A commitment to organic church growth - We believe God grows his church as he wills, and we are to be "coworkers with God" (1 Cor. 3:9) seeking to cooperate with what he is doing. If we believe the Spirit needs to lead the church, one implication is that God brings about relationships and ministries that tend to order the church a certain way. (1 Cor. 12:18 "He has placed the members in the body just as he wills.") Based on this notion, leaders of an existing home church will look for ways to plant a new home church naturally, not artificially. By natural, we mean they will seek to keep young Christians together with those to whom they minister and with whom they have invested relationally. An artificial plant would be one in which leaders are established by seniority over people they did not win or disciple, and with whom they do not have established relationships. (This is a problem with centrally organized small group systems that create entire groups through a bureau or geographically. Referring people to existing groups would be a different proposition). If our younger Christian workers see themselves building a team that will eventually go out with them to lead a home church, we can anticipate a high level of motivation. If we shuffle people around, we can expect people to feel "jerked around" and disgruntled. Planting a new church will not be viewed as a victorious event beginning a new adventure, but as the occasion of loss and heartache. To avoid this, groups need to plan well in advance, watching what God is doing and reacting accordingly.

5. A strong prayer ministry - At Xenos, we have seen that successful church planting is associated with dedication to prayer. Our best church planting teams have regular times of prayer together for the mission of the church. A good prayer meeting should be based on a prayer list prepared in advance by one of the members. Praying for non-Christian friends by name as well as key goals in the home church will turn back the attacks of the evil one and unleash the power of God into the church.

6. A mission-oriented self-concept - We are familiar with cases in other churches as well as in Xenos where a home church reached the point where they were full and needed to plant a new group, only to have the members and even the leaders refuse. The refusal to plant a new church was usually based mainly on the fact that members didn't want to upset a situation they saw as very happy and wholesome. In our view, such groups are far from wholesome. They are desperately sick! The members have come to see the home church as something that exists for their well-being and happiness, not for accomplishing the will of God. A well-led home church sees itself as a team setting out to accomplish a mission, even at the expense of acute personal suffering. If the planting ethic or an outward, missional focus is taught and modeled from the beginning of a home church, people come to the time of church planting with excitement and joy that their mission has been successful. This joy may possibly be combined with tears about the friendships that will undergo change in the future, but never to the point where members would even consider not going forward. Members in a successful church-planting movement see themselves as participants in a vast, spiritual war. Both concern for the lost and excitement over the fact that we are going to win drive them forward to a position of self-sacrificial love.

7. A willingness to fail - Church planting should be done carefully and every group planted should have good prospects for success, based on the best estimates of the leadership of that group and the central leadership of the church. However, approaches that seek to eliminate the possibility of failure become so conservative and cautious they cannot generate the excitement and motivation needed to drive a movement. God wants those to serve him who are willing either to fail or succeed and be faithful in either case. (1 Cor. 4:2) Only leaders and workers who are egocentric will refuse to risk the perils of failure in ministry. At the same time, the church's leadership needs to develop a program for failed groups that will recover as many people as possible and nurture them back to readiness to try again.

8. Centralized support for equipping - While not really necessary, it makes sense for the larger church to band together and form a program to assist home churches in equipping their people. This kind of program usually includes classes taught by leaders with some kind of expertise. Although home churches could equip their own people, a central program will speed up the process and relieve home group leaders from part of their burden. We do not believe such a program will work apart from personal discipleship in the home church. At Xenos, our class system adds a minimum of approximately 230 classroom hours of instruction to the leadership training program in the home church.

9. An actual plan for planting - If everything else is in place and a home church is growing to capacity, leaders need to decide how they will plant. There are several possibilities here, and material has been written on how to decide the planting method.

Constraints on Church Planting

While the notion of church multiplication is common in contemporary ecclesiological and missiological theory, successful examples of church planting movements are hard to document, especially in the U.S. Why is such a promising and biblical concept so often unsuccessful? There are probably many answers to this question, but in our view, most failures fall into the a few basic categories:

1. Superficiality - American church leaders tend to interpret the biblical picture of church planting in very superficial and non-demanding ways. Leadership in a home church is seen as something that must not significantly interfere with typical bourgeois American middle-class living. American culture already places heavy time demands on the modern family that may interfere with an adequate family life. Most American families are convinced they have to:

  • work long hours;
  • be available for any travel demands their careers may dictate;
  • belong to sports leagues;
  • keep their houses and yards immaculate;
  • clean and care for their late-model cars;
  • shop for the latest styles;
  • maintain their hobbies;
  • keep up with several weekly TV serials;
  • take their kids to every sports league and activity available at school;

If we add attendance at one or two church meetings per week, who has time to do any more?

When we compare American living to the early church, we see a striking contrast. In the early church they were "day by day" having meals together and meeting from house to house. (Acts 2:46) This expression suggests Christian community took up a very large part of people's lives. Deep community like that described in the New Testament requires significant time investment into relationships. We can't drive up to the McDonald's window and demand community be handed through the window! How can the "one another" passages in the New Testament be viewed as realistic apart from heavy time investment? Likewise, the training needed to become competent as Christian leaders takes a great deal of time investment. Becoming a man or woman of God ready to lead a flock for him will certainly interfere in a massive way with materialistic and entertainment pursuits that so dominate the schedules of adult Americans today. Like the rich young ruler, many American church members must turn away in sadness at the New Testament picture of radical Christian living.

The result of the divergence between the radical commitment of the New Testament church and today's petty bourgeois approach, where only our leftover minutes are devoted to spiritual growth and community is superficiality. Church leaders try to patch together some form of community outwardly like that in the New Testament, but without the devotion and investment assumed in the New Testament. They feel they don't dare call on their people for their time (or, they realize whether they call on them for time doesn't matter, because they aren't going to get it anyway). But simply introducing a structure involving home groups to a church is not going to produce New Testament-style fellowship, let alone a church-planting movement. Although such groups may superficially resemble New Testament house churches, the heart of the matter is missing—men and women of God sold out to each other and the non-Christian world in the love of Christ!

Superficial groups may substitute artificial exercises for real relational closeness. Members may be called on to share something embarrassing, or huddle in prayer while revealing a key need in their lives. People who aren't really close at all, try to act like they are close. Likewise, superficial groups may substitute a scripted approach to ministry for real ministry. Leaders are told what to say and do during a meeting and during personal encounters because they don't understand the Bible or other people well enough to respond to situations creatively and spontaneously. People who are seeing each other in a personal setting for the only time that week, or even the only time in two weeks cannot be expected to know each other's needs or how to meet those needs. The demands of personal discipleship virtually always are too high for today's superficial approaches to home group ministry (unless personal discipleship is also redefined in superficial terms). But without effective, deep discipleship we see little prospect of multiplication, either of disciples or of home churches.

2. Impatience - We believe the American church is enamored with spiritual shortcuts. For instance, we want shortcuts to spiritual health and deliverance from sin through a variety of pathways involving miracles or esoteric insights. Plodding, steady spiritual growth seems too unmiraculous for quick-fix Americans. Likewise, when it comes to evangelism and church growth, Americans are fascinated by approaches that provide quick growth. Our media resounds with stories about churches that went from nothing to thousands in a few years or even a few months. And we admit God does work this way in supernatural revival, and he has worked that way at Xenos. But is explosive growth in a short time really the norm for Christian ministry? Is this something we should seek or desire? We think not. We believe building quality and depth in a self-replicating, church-planting movement will eventually result in big numbers of people being reached, in fact bigger numbers than revivalism can ever hope to achieve. But leaders and members have to take the long view if they are to successfully pursue a house-church planting strategy.

Many impatient churches aren't even willing to pursue home fellowship in any meaningful way, but focus almost exclusively on public shows or musical programs that promise more rapid growth. Such groups are unwilling to invest in any pursuit that takes manpower or resources away from the worship services.

In the field of home groups, the Yonngi Cho experience in Korea may have caused problems here for the American church. Cho's formula involves doubling and planting small groups every six months. This model is so aggressive it could begin with one six-person small group, and win every adult on earth in 13 years! We think that's a bit impatient, and it should also be clear that something isn't working in the model. We fear the peril of planting such rapidly reproducing groups is unavoidable shallowness in practice. "Ministry" becomes oversimplified to mean nothing more than praying God will "fix" or heal those with complicated problems. Our reading of the Bible suggests to the contrary, people have to grow out of their problems through a gradual process including struggle, learning, slow growth—and prayer, too. In extreme cases, members of groups with oversimplified ministry models may even pretend to be changed and keep their hurts or sins secret in the future.

Our own ministry has suffered in the past as a result of impatience. Overheating the growth of the church can have catastrophic results as groups are duplicated in numbers, but steadily decline in depth, quality and maturity. Eventually people begin to lose confidence in the whole project because they sense their lives are as messed up as ever and that their relationships are shallow and transitory. An overheated impatient church planting ministry may eventually become unstable, like a house of cards in danger of complete collapse. In the ensuing chaos, the leadership of the church may turn away from house-church planting completely, the membership may become very demoralized, or a division of the church could result.

One thing that always suffers in an impatient atmosphere is personal discipleship. Experience suggests most new Christians need to undergo a process of discipleship lasting some years before they can be expected to lead a group or disciple others. But impatient leaders can't stand the long haul implied in a discipleship approach.

Learning also suffers in impatient churches. Justified theologically, the ignorance of members is excused and even glorified over against "bookworms" and "ivory-tower" theologians who are "do-nothings." Unfortunately, under this super-spiritual approach, New Testament admonitions to "study to show yourself a workman approved by God, having no need to be ashamed, and handling accurately the word of truth" become nonsensical. Neither are we able to "preach the word," as Paul urges Timothy (2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2). Impatient churches usually shortcut to formulaic teaching that holds no one's interest and cannot offer the answers we need to cope with the falsehood of the world system. The result of an ignorance-based, church-planting approach is a steady reduction of quality in churches planted. Such weak and confused churches tend to collapse over time.

3. Inward Focus - We have talked with quite a few churches who started a home group ministry, only to see the groups turn inward and lose evangelistic effectiveness. Such groups are mainly interested in blessing each other and have lost the excitement of evangelism. This pathology is desperate because it is extremely hard to turn around. If anything, we believe that groups who turn inward are in even worse shape than impatient or superficial groups.

STAVES: New Testament priorities for the local church

A quick survey of the New Testament reveals these emphases for the local church:

  • OUTREACH (Matt. 28:19; Jn. 13:34,35; 17:21,23; Acts 1:8; 2:47; 1 Cor. 9:19-23; Phil. 2:14-16; Col. 3:17ff.) (“Go” Groups | Outreach Groups)
  • COMMUNITY (Jn. 13:34,35; Jn. 17:21,23; Acts 2:42,46; Phil. 1:27-2:4; 1 Cor. 14:16-26) (Healthy Home Church Meetings | Lead-Team Dinners)
  • EQUIPPING (Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; Eph. 4:11,12) (more tips on how to make wise use of our classes)
  • BIBLICAL DEPTH (Jn. 8:31,32; 15:7; 1 Cor. 2:15-3:3 & Heb. 5:11-14)
  • CORPORATE PRAYER (Matt. 18:19,20; Acts 2:42 and other Acts examples; Col. 4:2,12) (Corporate Prayer | Prayer-Fast Teams)
  • FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP (Lk. 16:1-13; Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-35; 1 Tim. 5:17,18; 6:7-19; 2 Cor 8:7) (sample FST teaching for HC; tips on 100% participation)
  • MISSIONS (Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 8,9; 10:15,16) (more info on how leaders can raise awareness in this area; role of the HG missions rep)

Just as the water can only rise to the level of the lowest stave, so quality numerical church growth is limited by the spiritual quality of the home group.  Low staves prevent the church from carrying out its task.

Folks in your Home group need to have deep convictions about each of these!  We need to be aware of the health of our staves and play our individual part in lengthening the shortest one.

BANDS: Local church structures

Structures are practical strategies we implement that facilitate key spiritual mandates. In the early church these were: large gatherings, house church meetings, hospitality, etc. In Xenos, structures would be things like CT, Home Group, cell group, etc.

Spiritual mandates without structures (a practical way to live them out) are a dead letter. How can people in the local church practice body-life without a structure that facilitates gathering in groups where this can occur?

GOOD structures facilitate key spiritual mandates. GREAT structures facilitate many spiritual priorities at once (like bands going around ALL of the barrel staves). They involve Christians in God’s priorities for the church. If a structure does not facilitate key spiritual mandates, it should be modified or eliminated. That’s why we canceled cell groups and classes during the evangelism campaign in 2004, eliminated Christian-only small groups and team fellowship groups, and did away with the plural leadership requirement for experienced home group leaders.

WATER: People that God wants to add to your group

Should the church be concerned with numeric growth? Or is it better to simply focus on being faithful to do what God has commanded us to do? Some would say, "Swinging the axe is all that matters." Others would counter, "Yes, but is the woodpile getting bigger?"

Early Christians noted their numeric growth and praised God for it. For example, in the book of Acts, Luke frequently pauses to report the number of people who were coming to Christ. (2:41; 6:7, 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:10,20)

Without measuring our progress, we may be unaware of our own effectiveness and fail to introduce needed changes. Early Christians adapted their approach to each audience and were constantly looking for effective ways to reach them. (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4; 2 Cor. 5:11, 20). Sometimes persistence in the same approach was needed (Acts 17:17); other situations required a modified approach (1 Cor. 9:19-23). The goal in every case was to “by all means save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)

Results are not always immediate (2 Tim. 4:2 " season and out of season.") and God ultimately causes growth (1 Cor. 3:5-7). But at Xenos, we’re committed to evaluating our own role as well. Paying attention to results will help us determine effectiveness and make needed changes in our approach.

BOTTOM: What God promises to do to build his Church

Just as each stave must be custom-fitted into the barrel bottom, so each spiritual mandate for the church must be grounded in an understanding of and dependence on what God has done for us. If the barrel can only hold water up to the shortest stave, how much more can it only hold water if it has a solid bottom!

The Bible makes many statements that indicate what God has done for us. We call these “indicatives.”  Example indicatives include:

  • God unconditionally accepts us. (Rom. 8:1,38,39)
  • God has given us spiritual gifts. (1 Cor. 12:7)
  • God is sovereign – he is in control. (Rom. 8:28)
  • God empowers us. (Col. 1:29)

Everything God commands us to do (imperatives) is based on what he has done for us (indicatives). 1 John 4:11 illustrates this relationship:

(1 John 4:11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

God has loved us, and based on this, we are commanded to love each other.

Leaders must tend to bottom of the barrel, sealing leaks and cracks (our subtle tendency to lose sight of God’s grace) and communicate their confidence in God—that he is able to build his church and give us all we need (individually and corporately) to build effectively with him.

What will happen to the church if we pursue the imperatives without a regular reminder of the indicatives? We’ll have a leaky bucket! Demoralization, burn out, and other negative effects creep in, hurting the quality and eventually the quantity of growth our group enjoys.

What has God done to enable us to obey him in each stave – each priority for the local church?

  1. OUTREACH (Matt. 28:19; Jn. 13:34,35; 17:21,23; Acts 1:8; 2:47; 1 Cor. 9:19-23; Phil. 2:14-16; Col. 3:17ff.)
    • God is drawing all men to himself  - John 12:32
    • God is convicting the world regarding sin, righteousness and judgment – John 16:8-11
    • God is willing to open doors – Col 4:2-4 – and direct us to receptive people.
    • God is revealing himself, through us, to others! - 2 Cor. 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
  2. COMMUNITY (Jn. 13:34,35; Jn. 17:21,23; Acts 2:42,46; Phil. 1:27-2:4; 1 Cor. 14:16-26)
    • God has given us a supernatural basis of unity – 1 Cor. 12:13 (note how he says “preserve unity” in Eph 4:3)
    • God has given us a secure foundation in his love, from which we can move out and love others in a non-needy way. – Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    • Jesus has put us all in the same family and made us his brothers and sisters. – Hebrews 2:11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying, "I WILL PROCLAIM THY NAME TO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING THY PRAISE." 13 And again, "I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM." And again, "BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN ME."
    • We have a common heritage and a shared purpose – Ephesians 1; Philippians 2
  3. EQUIPPING (Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; Eph. 4:11,12) – trained for service
    • Among the 15 or so people in our new group, some have been given a supernatural gift empowering them to teach others. See Ephesians 4:11,12
  4. BIBLICAL DEPTH (Jn. 8:31,32; 15:7; 1 Cor. 2:15-3:3 & Heb. 5:11-14) – competent in the word
    • God has given us his Spirit that we might understand the things of God. – 1 Cor. 2:12
  5. CORPORATE PRAYER (Matt. 18:19,20; Acts 2:42 and other Acts examples; Col. 4:2,12):
    • Philippians 2:12,13
    • Matthew 18:19,20
  6. FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP (Lk. 16:1-13; Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-35; 1 Tim. 5:17,18; 6:7-19; 2 Cor 8:7)
    • Matthew 6:33
    • Ps. 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD; And He delights in his way. 24 When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. 25 I have been young, and now I am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Or his descendants begging bread. 26 All day long he is gracious and lends; And his descendants are a blessing.
  7. MISSIONS (Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 8,9; 10:15,16)
    • “Lo, I am with you always…” – Matt 28:20

The bottom of the bucket is the RATIONALE and the MOTIVATION for pursuing the STAVES. 

Home Group Evaluation and Planning Tools

The evaluation tools below are designed to help you assess your home group’s ethos, and to stimulate your thinking on how to improve it.

Step 1: Evaluation Workbook & Scorecard

Start by reading the instructions in the Evaluation Workbook. Then use the workbook to rate your group’s dependence on God’s promises and qualitative health. When you are finished, use the Scorecard to tally the results of your evaluation. The Scorecard will help you gauge the health of your group in four areas: confidence in God, qualitative health, group consensus, and numeric growth.

Step 2: Home Group Planner

After gaining a better understanding of the present status of your group, use this planner to outline the main things your group should focus on over the next 12 months.


See the attached Evaluation Workbook to assess the health of confidence under grace in God’s PROMISES for your home group leaders & members. Then fill in the table below including a trend arrow and comment.

Barrel BottomHealthy90 Day
1. Leaders under grace  Y/N  !/?  
2. Members under grace  Y/N  !/?  
Overall Confidence
Under Grace
  Y/N  !/?  


See the attached Evaluation Workbook  to assess the health of each of the 8 ‘BARREL STAVE’ qualitative measures of God’s MANDATES for your home group.  As you go, fill in the table below including a trend arrow and comment.  When you’re done, put an ‘X’ next to the one you feel is most important to improve.

Barrel StavesHealthy90 Day
1. Growing as Leaders   Y/N  !/?  
2. Outreach   Y/N  !/?  
3. Community   Y/N  !/?  
4. Equipping   Y/N  !/?  
5. Biblical Depth   Y/N  !/?  
6. Prayer   Y/N  !/?  
7. Financial Stewardship   Y/N  !/?  
8. Missions   Y/N  !/?  
Overall 'Stave' Quality   Y/N  !/?  


How is the relationship between your “barrel staves” and “barrel bottom?”

When home group leaders tend properly to both the STAVES and the BOTTOM, the spiritual atmosphere of the home group is a powerful paradox.  On the one hand, there is a consensus of high commitment to God’s mandates—people sense that serious commitment to Christ and his mission is right and normal.  On the other hand, there is a sense of relaxed confidence that flows from knowing and believing that God is with us and in control.

CIRCLE the quadrant below that best describes the CURRENT consensus (‘ethos’) in your group and show the direction you’re headed now with an arrow.

If you’ve seen a trend over the last year,  put an “x” in the quadrant where you were a year ago and use a dotted line to show the path to where you are today

High Confidence in God's Promise;
Low Commitment in God's Mandates

High Confidence in God's
High Commitment in God's Mandates

Low Confidence in God's Promise;
Low Commitment in God's Mandates

Low Confidence in God's
High Commitment in God's Mandates


 ____% ↑ ↓

Enter your 90-day growth % from the top right hand corner of your January home group Profile Report.          Note:  If your group has planted or re-started in the past 12 months this statistic is not applicable – enter ‘N/A’

Circle the arrow that shows whether the growth has been improving (↑), declining (↓) or holding about the same (−) vs. the prior 12 months.


With your Scorecard and Evaluation Workbook handy, use this Planner to outline the MAIN THINGS to focus on in the next 12 months.


Our mission is to plant healthy new home groups.   This is the mission that provides purpose and motivation for our outreach, follow-up, discipleship, etc.  Consider the following questions as you plan for your next home group plant.

If everybody in our home group showed up for our next meeting, how much room would there be for guests?   (Circle the best answer)

  1. None, everyone on our group roster could hardly fit where we meet!
  2. Some, but it would be pretty tight!
  3. Lots, it would be very comfortable!

What can we do to plant at least one new home group in the next 12 months?  Besides planting  conventionally (dividing into two new home groups) or collaboratively (e.g., joining with one or more existing home groups to plant one new home group), consider possibilities for planting out much smaller home groups led by a faithful worker or two who would like to start a new group with their friends, in their neighborhood, etc.  This is especially urgent if your answer was (a) or (b) above.

BRAINSTORM: Jot down the names of prospective leaders who may be willing to lead a new church, a target time-frame, and the MAIN THING that needs to be accomplished before you can plant.


‘BOTTOM’  -  YOUR GROUP’S GROUNDING IN GRACE                               

For the BARREL BOTTOM, what is the MAIN THING you can do to improve your home group’s confidence in God’s PROMISES? (Be specific!  Reference the detailed items in the BARREL BOTTOM  section of your Evaluation Worksheet for ideas.)



For the BARREL STAVE that you put the ‘X’ next to on the Scorecard as the most important one to improve, what is the MAIN THING you can do to make this stave healthier?  Do the same for up to one or two other staves if needed. (Be specific!  Reference the STAVE section of your Evaluation Worksheet for detailed items pertaining to the stave.)


‘BANDS’  -  YOUR GROUP’S STRUCTURES                                                              

If you detected structural ineffectiveness during your assessment, you may need to make structural adjustments.  Please discuss structural changes with your sphere leader & lead workers before implementing them.

  • Some leadership teams tend to be overly conservative about changing structures, while others tend to be overly impatient with existing structures.  Which tendency (conservative or impatient) best characterizes your leadership team?  (Circle it)
  • What ONE structure do you think you need to eliminate, adjust, or add?  Explain why you think this change will help your home group’s ethos.



  1. Talk with your consultant (and any leaders who missed the retreat) about your assessments, plant possibilities and other planning ideas you identified.  Star or highlight the items that would make good points of discussion in preparation for meeting with your other lead workers.
  2. Call a meeting with your lead workers to share your findings and ideas, get their input, and finalize your plans for a workers’ meeting.  (Typically invite anyone who considers himself part of your group.)
  3. Schedule a workers’ meeting to present your findings and plans.  Worker’s meetings can be powerful tools for improving your group’s ethos.   (If needed, your consultant can help you plan this meeting.)  List the items you want to discuss at your workers’ meeting.



  • The January Profile Report and updated copy of your Ministry Chart for your Home Group (this comes from the office)
  • A list  of names of first-timers your group has brought around during the last 12 months (this comes from you)
    • Organize the names into the following CATEGORIES A through D of those who came to:
      • CATEGORY A:  Home group
      • CATEGORY B:  Central Teaching
      • CATEGORY C:  Pre-evangelistic event with your group (e.g. C&C, softball league, etc.)
      • CATEGORY D:  Other (e.g. informal dinner; neighbor function, co-worker, etc.)
    • Next to each first-timer include the name of the ‘bringer’ from your group
    • Indicate whether the first-timer has returned at least once
    • Indicate whether you think they are spiritually receptive


Assess the ‘BARREL BOTTOM’ (Step 1a) and each of the 8 ‘BARREL STAVE’ (Step 1b) qualitative health measures below for your group over the past 12 months.   (As you go along, use the attached SCORECARD to record your overall rating assessments for each measure) 

  1. Growing as Leaders
  2. Outreach
  3. Community
  4. Equipping
  5. Biblical Depth
  6. Prayer
  7. Financial Stewardship
  8. Missions
For each measure, fill in the tables with the respective code that best answers the question:
“Was this item at a healthy level over the past 12 months?”
Y = Yes      Y!  = Strong Yes            Y? = Probably Yes
N = No       N! =  Strong No             N? = Probably No


‘BARREL BOTTOM’:  God’s Promises

Leaders Under GraceHealthyNotes
Share vulnerably & tease appropriately   Y/N  !/?                                           
Confess sin with peers   Y/N  !/? 
Practice forgiveness & forbearance   Y/N  !/? 
Understand & trust God’s role in ministry   Y/N  !/? 
Encourage freely & admonish when needed   Y/N  !/? 
Draw identity from Christ   Y/N  !/? 
Have personal time with God   Y/N  !/? 
Cultivate vision for others   Y/N  !/? 
Approachable for critique & input   Y/N  !/? 
Leaders Under Grace Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Members Under GraceHealthyNotes
Share vulnerably & tease appropriately   Y/N  !/?                                           
Confess sin as needed   Y/N  !/? 
Practice forgiveness & forbearance   Y/N  !/? 
Curtail negativity, gossip & divisiveness   Y/N  !/? 
Approachable for critique & input   Y/N  !/? 
Take risks in ministry   Y/N  !/? 
High on encouraging, low on judging   Y/N  !/? 
Members Under Grace Overall   Y/N  !/? 


‘BARREL STAVES’:  God’s Mandates

Stave 1: Growing As LeadersHealthyNotes
Student of the Word   Y/N  !/?                                           
Vital personal time with God   Y/N  !/? 
Progress in character   Y/N  !/? 
Leadership enrichment (books, classes, etc.)   Y/N  !/? 
Growing marriage (incl. sexuality) & family life   Y/N  !/? 
Using spiritual gifts in the home group   Y/N  !/? 
Growing As Leaders Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 2: OutreachHealthyNotes
First-timers at Home Group or CT   Y/N  !/?                                           
Salvations   Y/N  !/? 
Baptisms   Y/N  !/? 
Leaders modeling & championing outreach   Y/N  !/? 
Hearing frequent witnessing stories   Y/N  !/? 
Mobilizing gifted evangelists & ‘bridges’   Y/N  !/? 
Making efforts to penetrate new ‘fields’   Y/N  !/? 
Trying new ways to share Christ   Y/N  !/? 
Outreach Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 3: CommunityHealthyNotes
Sense of group ownership, identity & mission   Y/N  !/?                                           
Effective follow-up of guests   Y/N  !/? 
Spirit-filled meetings (interactive, real)   Y/N  !/? 
Quality retreats & other group activities   Y/N  !/? 
Conflicts addressed & (usually) resolved   Y/N  !/? 
Fellowshipping together at CT   Y/N  !/? 
Transformational male relationships   Y/N  !/? 
Transformational female relationships   Y/N  !/? 
Community Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 4: EquippingHealthyNotes
People being discipled   Y/N  !/?                                           
People discipling or shepherding others   Y/N  !/? 
Multiple-tiers of discipleship (3 tiers or more)   Y/N  !/? 
Leaders intentionally training lead-workers   Y/N  !/? 
Delegation of ministry (including teaching)   Y/N  !/? 
Appropriate & timely workers’ meetings   Y/N  !/? 
Use of classes   Y/N  !/? 
Equipping Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 5: Biblical DepthHealthyNotes
Ethic of daily Bible reading   Y/N  !/?                                           
Lead workers feeding themselves   Y/N  !/? 
Helping new people learn how to study   Y/N  !/? 
Discipleship includes time together in the Word   Y/N  !/? 
Note-taking at CT & home group   Y/N  !/? 
Biblical Depth Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 6: PrayerHealthyNotes
Ethic of personal time with God   Y/N  !/?                                           
Disciplers pray regularly with disciples   Y/N  !/? 
Vitality of prayer at home group   Y/N  !/? 
Participation in corporate prayer   Y/N  !/? 
Ethic of initiating spontaneous prayer with others   Y/N  !/? 
Prayer Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 7: Financial StewardshipHealthyNotes
% with active pledge (see office pledge report)   Y/N  !/?                                           
% current on their pledge (same report as above)   Y/N  !/? 
Workers on FST (same report as above)   Y/N  !/? 
Ethic of generosity towards others   Y/N  !/? 
Ethic against materialism & consumer debt   Y/N  !/? 
Financial Stewardship Overall   Y/N  !/? 
Stave 8: MissionsHealthyNotes
Support of Xenos Missionaries   Y/N  !/?                                           
Other involvement (Urban Concern, IFI, etc.)   Y/N  !/? 
Serving in ANY capacity at CT   Y/N  !/? 
Participation at Xenos-wide meetings   Y/N  !/? 
Periodic presentations & teachings at home group   Y/N  !/? 
Grass-roots missions discussion & prayer   Y/N  !/? 
Missions Overall   Y/N  !/?