Church•Groups • 8 minutes to read
So you want to start a purity ministry at your church? That’s good! According to the data that exists, approximately 67% of men and 33% of women struggle with various forms of unwanted sexual behaviors. They want to be free of this behavior, yet find themselves going back to it, in spite of their best efforts. And even with the reality of these statistics, only 7% of churches say they have a plan to help.
Thank you for willingly stepping into this arena—you can make a huge difference in countless lives!
Not all purity ministries are created equal. We have all heard stories of poorly run or poorly executed plans in this sensitive, personal area. This topic of our human sexuality can be filled with some of the most shame-inducing, embarrassing issues we deal with as people. So getting this right matters.
You can launch an effective, healing purity ministry by avoiding these 10 common mistakes we have seen through the years at Pure Desire Ministries.
1. Announcing a ministry for “those” people.
The language and tone used when launching a purity ministry is important. Without intending to, many churches will shame or condemn those who struggle even as they announce groups intended to help. Such a church will declare, “We have a new group starting for those people who struggle with pornography!”
Announce it like this and no one will want to join a group. No one wants to be considered part of “those people.” Even if someone knows they are one of “those people,” they probably don’t want anyone to know. It’s most likely that even their spouse doesn’t know!
The truth is that someone struggling is dealing with intense excuses of rationalization, minimization, and denial, so they likely won’t even think the group is for them. Instead, you can announce, “We are all sexual beings who have been impacted by sin, and everyone who would like to understand how to move toward wholeness in this area, or who would like to help start a recovery ministry, we are launching a group.” Can you see how different this feels?
2. Keeping the groups hidden.
It’s amazing how hard it is to find groups in this category on a church website or weekend bulletin. We might think this is because these groups are “private” and “confidential,” and the existence of these groups should be as well. This is not the case. When the existence of purity groups is hard to find, the message communicated is that they are not as important as other ministries or as vital to the life of the church.
Purity groups can and should be listed along with all the other methods of discipling men and women in small groups. Who is in the groups should be confidential, but the fact that you have groups is not.
3. Putting all of the attention on men.
Far too many churches communicate that this is a “men’s problem” and so we have groups “for men.” This can be detrimental to the one-third of women who also struggle with unwanted sexual behavior. It leaves them with a message of double shame: not only do they feel shame over their behavior, now they feel an added layer of shame for a struggle they aren’t even supposed to have.
Even if you aren’t ready to start groups for men and women simultaneously (a sequenced launch is common), you can still talk about the need for both men and women to find healing.
4. Focusing only on those who struggle.
Yes, the person who has an active struggle with their sexual purity needs help. But their struggle does not take place in a vacuum. Their unhealthy behavior is impacting their spouse and family, even if their spouse is unaware of the behavior. The deception, manipulation, and control associated with sexually compulsive behavior can devastate a family.
Only having groups for those who struggle is like someone calling for an ambulance after a car crash, having the ambulance show up, then only taking away the person who caused the accident. They leave the other person in the accident bleeding on the road. The spouse facing the trauma of betrayed trust also needs a place and a plan for healing.
5. Taking a “microwave” approach to change.
So often in the church, we like for change to happen in three easy steps at the end of a sermon. (Believe me, I know—I’ve preached many of them!) We want to believe that if someone would “just” do a few basic things, their life would change. If they would read their Bible more, pray, and confess, they will be healed! We want to believe this change can happen quickly, maybe over the course of a four-week class.
Yet brain research and science have consistently shown that lasting change—a new way of life—is a long process. Even after an initial change of behavior, the deeper emotional and relational systems that led to the problem may take 2-5 years for lasting transformation to occur.
6. Telling only happy stories.
Have you ever noticed that most of the stories we tell in church sound remarkably like the first verse of Amazing Grace? “I once was lost (with tons of added, and sometimes too graphic, detail) and now I’m found (with a truckload of ‘Praise God’ added in).”
We should absolutely celebrate when God brings radical transformation into someone’s life, but between this place of being “lost” and being “found” is typically a long, messy, complicated journey.
Do we allow people the grace and freedom to walk a long road by telling stories of people who are in the process of moving from lost to found? Or do we only allow the happiest of stories to be told?
7. Settling for accountability groups.
I apologize if this sounds offensive to anyone, because it may be that an accountability group has been your goal. “Let’s just get men and women to be honest with each other and they’ll be okay.” Honesty helps for sure. But simply being honest, without a follow-up plan in place, rarely leads to transformation.
Most Christian accountability becomes another performance-based, behavior-focused group. “Did you mess up this week? No? Good for you—keep it up!” Or, “Did you mess up this week? Yes? Okay, we’ll pray for you. Try harder not to mess up next week.”
I was in Christian “accountability” for over 10 years, being as honest as I knew how, and my behavior didn’t change. Accountability alone isn’t enough. A real plan and process must accompany it.
8. Lacking any clear structure or curriculum.
This may be a by-product of the accountability group model. We have groups meet with the intent of “being honest” and sharing about our week. We may have a book we discuss or a video we watch, but there isn’t a clear process in place or group protocols being followed. Groups like this will typically flounder, with people dropping in and out.
The reality is that if we set the bar low, people treat it casually with low expectations. If, instead, we set the bar high and have a proven process in place with clear expectations and structure, not only will people tend to commit to this higher level, but they will also gain traction in their recovery.
9. Trying to be the expert on everything.
Many churches hold off getting too involved in this area because they think they need to be the expert on everything. The fear is that we might quickly wade into waters deeper than we are ready to navigate. Based on this fear, we might even require the leader to be an expert—a licensed therapist or highly-vetted staff member. This communicates that this area is too big and too scary for “normal” folks to handle.
The best groups we see are led by humble men and women who are not experts but are in the group for their own ongoing healing. In this scenario, the material is the expert and all group members the “learners” who are in it together!
10. Neglecting support for group leaders.
If this isn’t an area of expertise for us, the temptation might be to give our blessing for someone to lead the group and hope it all works out. This leader doesn’t get the support, training, or covering that other small group leaders might have access to in our church.
Yet the purity group leader is in a vulnerable place. They have the enemy’s target squarely on their back. They need to be networked with other leaders and supported by any care structure our church has to help assist small group leaders. We don’t have to be the one leading the group, but we can support and encourage the one who is leading.
And finally, a “bonus” mistake!
BONUS: Assuming you know who is healthy and who is not.
When I launched groups at my church, I had a general idea of who I thought might need the group. But thankfully, Pure Desire had given me some great guidance on how to promote the groups well. Some of the first people who came to me looking for help would have been last on my list—men and women I assumed were “fine.” Some of them were even on my staff.
This struggle is not a respecter of age, gender, person, or life skills. The reality is that we will have staff members, leaders, and influencers who deeply need this group but don’t feel safe to tell anyone. Decide now to start a group that is safe for everyone to join, even those who appear to be healthy.
I hope this list gives you some quick insights into the common mistakes to avoid when launching a purity ministry. We could spend a day together talking through the flip side of these—the “to do” list! But if you start here and seek to avoid these mistakes, you will be well on your way to an effective group launch.
As you launch a purity ministry, you don’t have to do it alone! Pure Desire exists to help you in this process, every step of the way. Let us know how we can coach and guide you through the process of creating life-changing purity groups: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can do this!