Download a free chapter from Zondervan’s forthcoming book Biblical Counseling and the Church (2015). The summary below provides a brief snapshot.
A Redemption Group™ is an intense small group that digs deep into difficult and seldom-discussed areas of life, such as abuse, addiction, and trials of all sorts.
Knowing Your Redeemer’s Love
Our God abounds in steadfast love toward us, and this is most clearly shown to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Redemption Groups are about personally knowing and experiencing the Redeemer in his abounding love.
Relational and experiential
Far beyond Bible study, Redemption Groups are about life study—your life connecting with Jesus’ life. Group participants actively engage with one another: listening, sharing, comforting, and challenging. Group discussions tend to be very candid. The experience tends to help participants grow in how they relate to God, themselves, and others with greater love and honesty.
Many initially join a Redemption Group to address a behavior (“I thought I was here to learn how to stop looking at porn”) or support a spouse, but oftentimes God accomplishes something much deeper.
Sin and suffering
Someone entangled in a habitual sin, like addiction, not only needs delivery from sin, but also to come face to face with a Redeemer who delivers from suffering, pain, and misery. Someone limping from the wounds of abuse is not only desperate to know the compassionate presence of Jesus, but is also in great need of the Word, which discerns the sinful intentions that turn a wounded heart into a wounding heart. Our sins and sufferings are inextricably interwoven and Jesus redeems it all.
Redemption Group curriculum follows the story of Exodus, with the Israelites journeying through the wilderness from slavery to freedom. Along the way, Jesus shows up. The curriculum is the book Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry.
A Redemption Group is only the beginning—or a way station—in a lifelong journey. Groups are brief, usually meeting only about ten weeks. Participants leave groups armed with new ways of seeing God and themselves, and tools for working it out over time in community.
Redemption Groups help people with all sorts of struggles to reframe their own stories with God’s story and to deeply experience Christ’s love and work of redemption in their own lives. That makes these groups a vital component in many care plans. However, Redemption Groups do not substitute for long-term counseling, therapy or rehabilitation where those services are needed.
Group Size and Composition
A single Redemption Group is ideally composed of eight people, total. That’s two co-leaders, one apprentice, and five participants. A supervisor may occasionally sit in a group, making an ninth person in the room.
In a given cycle of Redemption Groups, there may be two to ten groups. All of these groups start and end together, all meeting in the same facility for each gathering. Each gathering begins with a main teaching session, usually lasting thirty to forty-five minutes, based on the scope and sequence of the Redemption book. All members of all groups attend this together. Then, there is a group session where each group meets for about ninety minutes. Typically, a church will run this format on Wednesday nights, 7:00pm–9:30pm, or so.
Redemption Groups normally run one session per week, such as on a Wednesday night. A best practice used by most churches is to start each quarter of Redemption Groups with a “weekend intensive”, which covers the first two to four sessions on a Friday evening and Saturday. The typical cycle includes twelve meetings:
- Three sessions in the weekend intensive, covering the three parts of the Introduction of Redemption: God’s Story, Redemption and Worship.
- Eight sessions week-by-week, one for each of the numbered chapters of Redemption.
- A celebration service.
On a calendar, this works out nine or ten weeks from beginning to end.
Redemption Groups are usually “closed groups”. This means that select leaders and members are placed together in a group at the beginning of the cycle and they remain together without adding any one new for the duration of the group cycle.
In the first group session, group members agree to the following, from the Group Member Agreement: I will attend all teaching and group sessions, or else I will notify my group leaders in advance of any unavoidable absences.
An unannounced absence is taken as a cause for concern. Often, the real reason someone skips a group like this is the very reason he needs to be there. Leaders will follow-up to check in on the safety and well-being of that absent member, inviting him to return to the group for the remaining sessions. If he skips two sessions, he is asked not to return to the group, as a protection for the group. A supervisor or pastor will contact that individual to discuss concerns in greater depth, and consider whether it would be appropriate to help the individual in some other way before considering placing him or her again in a future cycle of Redemption Groups.
With this high commitment standard, most of the time, groups remain intact until the end.
We prefer not to mix men and women in these kinds of groups. All men and women meet together for the main teaching session, but their groups are either men-only or women-only.
Redemption Groups are designed to include people with problems of all kinds in a single group. So, in a group of women, one woman may be hurting with the wounds of past abuse, another may be battling a pornography addiction, another may have a troubled marriage, and another may be depressed.
Discussion Within Groups
The group discussions broadly follow the corresponding themes of each session’s Redemption teaching, but leaders have significant flexibility on how they plan and use their time in group. In the first few sessions, every member of the group tells a small bit of his or her story, enough to let the group know “why I’m here”. In the remaining group sessions, leaders organize the group’s time and activity around connecting truth to life. This involves further drawing out individuals in the group with questions and eventually speaking into their lives, at times with words of comfort, at times with words of confrontation. But it’s not just the leaders who counsel individuals in the groups; leaders strive to help the group come together as a group to learn and grow, to work through conflict, and care for each other.
Redemption Groups are fixed-length in their duration. For example, they might last ten weeks or eleven group sessions, but they are not ongoing—participants do not participate indefinitely.
Integrated with the Church Community
The ministry of Redemption Groups is tied to the larger community of the local church. We find that they have immense potential to transform the culture of a local church to be more loving and redemptive. A thriving Redemption Groups ministry tends to equip church members who lead and participate in these groups to care for one another more meaningfully in their relationships throughout the church.
One woman told of her experience in a church where Redemption Groups had had this effect. Through tears she spoke of honesty. Though she’d not been through a group herself, she experienced the blessing of honest relationships.
Ideally, Redemption Groups are not run as a separate ministry silo in the church, but as a complement and catalyst to other ministries. For example, churches will typically require that participants in a Redemption Group are already committed participants in the local church community.
Co-Led by Volunteer Biblical Counselors
Groups are usually lead by two co-leaders and one apprentice, a leader in training.
Group leaders are equipped for, at least, basic, volunteer-level biblical counseling. Probably the single greatest factor contributing to a successful, fruitful Redemption Group is the readiness of its leaders.
However, Redemption Group leaders are usually not professionally trained or licensed counselors. Even if they are, they usually minister under the umbrella of a church’s volunteer counseling ministry. Redemption Groups are not a substitute for licensed, professional counseling.
Redemption Groups are not…
Not every group that uses the Redemption book should be called a Redemption Group. For example, a small group Bible study whose members elect to read through and discuss the Redemption book together is not a Redemption Group.
The Redemption Group Network was founded in 2011 by Mike Wilkerson, author of Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry to promote the development of Redemption Groups at local churches and other ministry sites. Redemption Groups were first developed at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington where Mike worked on staff as a pastor with key contributors Bill Clem and James Noriega. More history can be found in the Preface of Redemption.
In mid-2014, Mike moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he continues to run the Redemption Group Network with the help of volunteers.
Redemption Group™, Redemption Groups™ and Redemption Group Immersion™ are trademarks and may not be used without a licensing agreement.