How to Start an Accountability Group

Become accountable to grow in your Christian life. by Christopher Easley

An accountability group exists to help people of God stay pure and faithful in their walk with him and help them overcome sins. It provides a context to live out James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

There are many benefits and blessings that come with an accountability group. Here are four (I’m sure there are more.):

  1. It helps each member submit every part of life to God’s will, because it is keeps each member accountable to acting in a holy way. As each member continually submits her life to God, God grows her character and she matures in her walk with Christ.
  2. It acts as a safeguard against adulterous relationships and lustful habits, by bringing into the open each member’s behavior. If he starts going down a dangerous path, the others can call him to purity. Richard Exley, former pastor and Christian author, says, “Temptation flourishes in the dark, but it withers and dies when it is brought into the light of accountability.” (Man of Valor)
  3. Group meetings provide a regular time of encouragement and prayer for each member.
  4. It builds strong friendships between brothers and sisters in Christ. As men and women of God become vulnerable with one another and encourage each other their friendships deepen.

As shown by these four benefits, an accountability group can be a great help in the lives of its members as they walk with Christ. Pray about starting an accountability group, so that you and others may benefit. Even if you don’t consider yourself a great leader, inviting some others to start an accountability group with you shouldn’t prove to be too difficult.

Choosing Whom to Invite
It is best to form the group by sexes. Coed groups have difficulty providing accountability to sexual purity. Pray about whom to invite. Consider these criteria:

  • Each person you invite should seek to follow Christ in everything, care about their character, be able to keep a secret, care about others, and not belittle others when they fail.
  • No one who gossips about others should be invited. “A gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid a man who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19). Vulnerable information will be shared at group meetings, and you want the group to be a safe place to share. The effectiveness of the accountability group only goes as far as how vulnerable the members are willing to make themselves, which will be determined by their trust in the group as a whole.
  • You need to know those you invite well enough to know that they fit the above criteria.

If you calculate five minutes for each member to share and be prayed for, a one-hour meeting can work for a 12-member group. However, the larger the size of your group, the harder it is for the members to build friendships with each other.

This causes problems for the group, as the effectiveness of the group is built on trusting the other members. If someone in an eight-member group knows five of the members well but doesn’t know the other two, he probably won’t be as open or vulnerable during meetings as he would be if he knew everyone in the group. So use discretion concerning how many people to invite. If you have 11 people you want to invite, consider asking one of them if he would like to start a group himself, making two six-member groups.

Instructions on the Invitation
Once you have your final list of people to invite, write an invitation. Some helpful guidelines are:

  1. Include a short explanation of the purpose of this accountability group.
  2. Make clear that this requires a commitment to come to regular meetings and to invest in the lives of the other members.
  3. Ask the recipient of the invitation to pray about whether God wants him to join the group.
  4. Ask the recipient to respond by a given date, usually about four weeks after you send out the invitations.
  5. It may be helpful to include a page upon which they can write questions about the group.
  6. Don’t include the details about when and where the first meeting will be. You want your first meeting to be a strong start to a group of committed members. Some of those that you invite might not commit to joining the group. Only those who commit to being members of the group should be invited to the first meeting.
  7. Don’t mention the names of the others whom you are inviting. The recipient’s decision to join should be a decision between him or her and God, not dependent on who else might be in the group. Also, if someone decides not to join the group, his decision should be respected and remain confidential. The others who are invited don’t need to know about it.

Once you have everyone’s final response, you can officially start the group. Even if only one person out of those you invited is interested in starting a group with you, start the group.

Set a time and place for your meetings with the other members. The place needs to be private, somewhere where everyone in the group feels safe from intrusion. The length of your meetings will depend on what fits in everyone’s schedules and on the size of your group. I recommend you take the number of people in your group and multiply by five to get the number of minutes for an ideal meeting. Using this method, an ideal meeting for six people is 30 minutes. (This is only true if everyone is always on time, and it doesn’t allow for extra chatting after the meeting. You might want to multiply by seven instead to allow for conversation.) I strongly recommend having weekly meetings. It will be difficult to maintain effective accountability if you meet less frequently. Once you have these logistics figured out, you need to prepare for the first meeting.

There are two crucial parts to an effective accountability group meeting. The first is a time in which each member shares how he has sinned and the temptations he has faced since the last meeting, and how he fared concerning the temptations he mentioned at the previous meeting. You can facilitate this sharing in several ways. One is for the leader of the week to ask the following four questions of each member at every meeting:

  1. What sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations did you face?
  3. How were you delivered from those temptations?
  4. Are you unsure if any of your actions, thoughts, or words since our last meeting were sinful or not? If so, which ones?

You could also just ask questions 1 and 2. Another way is to go over at the first meeting what each member will share each week and skip actually asking them the questions each week.

Someone may confess a sin of which they appear to be ashamed. If you observe this to be the case, ask him if he has been able to receive the Lord’s forgiveness for his sin. If he says he still doesn’t feel forgiven, lay a hand on him (ask permission first) and say, “You are forgiven in the name of Christ.” It is important to affirm that we have been forgiven for our sins when we repent of them. You may be tempted to respond, “That’s okay” but this is neither true nor helpful. “You have been forgiven through Christ” is the truthful response to a confession of sin.

Remember to ask them about how they fared concerning the sins and temptations that they mentioned at the last meeting. I have found it useful to actually take notes on what the various members share at each meeting so that we can remember during the prayer time and at the next meeting.

After everyone shares, the leader of the week can ask if anyone would like to be kept accountable throughout the week in some way beyond the group meetings. (For example, someone may want to be asked questions during the week about how she is doing concerning what she shared at the meeting.) This is the time to determine how each member can get the accountability he or she wants and needs.

The second essential part is group prayer for each member concerning what he or she has shared.

Start with a short opening prayer. This helps focus everyone on God and acts as a clear sign that the meeting has officially started. In my group, I find it helpful to have the leader of the week prepare a get-to-know-you-better question, which starts a discussion about low-key issues before entering into sharing our sins and temptations. This is helpful because it is hard to start a meeting right off with sharing deep, personal problems and difficulties, even if everyone knows that’s what the meeting is for. When we close our meeting, we have each person pray for the person on his left or right, and go around the circle praying.

Feel free to experiment with formats. The goal is to have a format that provides a comfortable context for the sharing of sins or temptations and for group prayer. Try one format for a couple of meetings, and if it doesn’t accomplish the goal, change it. You want to find a format that works and stick with it; that way everyone can become familiar with it and be the leader of the week if you ask them to be.

Leadership of the Accountability Group
Leaders have the responsibility of making the final call on decisions, but a good leader will get feedback from all the members affected by the decision before making it. Many decisions can be made as a group. It’s your call whether to put decisions up to a vote or not.

Leadership of individual meetings can rotate from person to person. Once you’ve settled on a familiar format for meetings, ask the other members if they would like to lead the meetings once in a while. The “Leader of the Week” would be responsible for preparing any discussion questions or devotional thought for the meeting. Anything that you would do as the leader at one of the meetings, the leader of the week should do on their week.

Characteristics of a Healthy Accountability Group

  • Vulnerability. Each member is honest about how he has failed.
  • Accepting of God’s Love and Forgiveness. Each member accepts God’s forgiveness for his sin, trusting him and rejecting feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Validation and Support. Regardless of what temptations a member struggles with or how he has sinned, he should be accepted by the group and loved, not judged or ridiculed.
  • Trust and Safety. What is shared in the group stays in the group.
  • Prayer. The members of the group together ask God to help them with their specific struggles, strengthen them as they face temptation, forgive them when they fail, and help them stand up again to walk with him and live as “more than conquerors through him” (Romans 8:37).
  • Accountability. If a member is struggling with a certain sin or temptation and shares this with the group, the group will hold him or her accountable to act in a godly way in that area.
  • Ownership. Each member that participates in the group is consciously engaged in the group’s meetings.
  • Fellowship and Friendship. All of the members build healthy friendships with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective €¦ My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:16, 19). May God richly bless you as you and those in your accountability group keep each other walking in the truth.

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