Thursday, July 29, 2010

Got the Summertime Small Group Blues?

How’s your group handling the summer? Getting together regularly? I didn’t think so. How about every other week? Or maybe monthly?

Typically, summer is prime time for T-Ball, camping trips, and big travel plans. These things are great and necessary, but they can wreck havoc on a small group.

For many groups, consistent participation in your small group during the summer months goes the way of your favorite TV shows—on hiatus until the fall. How you handle this time apart can make or break your small group moving forward. I’m serious!

As with any relationship—marital, dating, or small group community—time apart can be approached in two very different ways: with intentionality or with apathy.

Intentionality – Effort to maintain and strengthen a relationship when there isn’t consistent face-to-face contact.
Apathy – Lack of effort or interest to connect with any form of consistency across the obstacles of summer.

If your group members are intentional about staying in touch, encouraging one another, and praying for each other—the time will go quickly. You’ll truly be excited to re-connect once the T-Ball gear has been packed away!

If your group members went apathetic with each other over the summer months, and didn’t bother to pursue one another, the tone of your meeting in the fall will likely be similar to what you practiced all summer—more apathy.

Here are five tips on how you can be intentional with your group members in spite of everyone’s crazy summer schedule.

1. Call – I know it’s old school, but it’s quick. It’s easy. It’s highly personal. And it shows that you value interaction and true communication about what’s taking place in their life—and in sharing a bit about your own.
2. Text – It’s the ultra quick way to say you’re thinking about someone and being intentional about staying connected.
3. Facebook – Most of us are on Facebook at least a couple of times during the week anyway, so why not take a few moments and post something on the wall of your small group members?
4. Email – Send your group an update on your life this summer, share a prayer request, etc.
5. BBQ – Schedule something fun! It doesn’t have to be structured, just something outdoors that will bring everyone together at least once during the summer.

Don’t let the summertime small group blues get to you. Use this time to be intentional in developing your relationships and staying connected. You’ll see your group grow even closer when the fall TV season rolls around!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fundamental Questions

I received a lot of small group questions at church this weekend. It’s a good thing when people ask me why we do things the way we do at Woodmen Valley Chapel. It gives me an opportunity to explain the subtle nuances of our structure and style of small groups.

Our groups are not something out of a futuristic sci-fi film. Instead, they’re based on the elements practiced by the early church. In Acts 2:42, first century Christ-followers were intentional about studying, experiencing fellowship with one another, breaking bread together, and praying. That’s the foundation of small group life.

Yet how we form and set these groups in motion varies from church to church. Some like a geographic model. Others prefer an interest-based approach. And we form our groups in yet another way—by life stage.

So, if you’re a young married couple, you’ll be in community with other young married couples. If you’re an empty nester, you’ll meet weekly with other empty nesters. For those of us somewhere in the middle, we’ll also be connecting with people in a similar life stage.

Is our life-stage structure perfect? Of course not! A life-stage group cannot meet the expectations of everyone. It won’t provide built-in babysitters. Everyone won’t have a personal mentor. You won’t all live in the same sub-division. And everyone is not going to fire up the Harley for a weekend riding excursion.

Yet this small group structure works for our church because we place a high-value on authenticity and truly doing life together. We believe this happens naturally—and most effectively—with those who are working through the same stuff of life.

I received many questions about our structure. Yet for every why and how inquiry, I was drawn back to the fundamentals of small group life—study, fellowship, food, and prayer.

Again, questions are good. They are welcome. The intriguing thing is this; many times my answer is the same. And it’s almost always rooted in the fundamentals. Why? They are the ingredients of Biblical community that have stood the test of roughly 2,000 years!

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Good Problem

I met with a small group leader yesterday. We talked about his job, his family, and our church. Then we got serious about his small group. Boy do they have issues! Are you ready for this? Food issues.

That’s it. Nobody’s leaving the group. There isn’t a relational schism between two couples. Nobody is struggling with a crisis of faith. The groups’ lone issue—too much food!

Will larger problems come? Certainly. But right now, the only thing the members of this community are dealing with is the potential expense of a larger belt and a pair of pants with an adjustable waist for each man. That’s it. What a great season of small group life to be in!

This group meets on Sunday nights and began with the idea of sharing a desert each meeting. Then the women of this group of young empty nesters found that they couldn’t help themselves. Their mothering (parenting) instincts kicked in. The deserts got bigger and more expansive each week. Now, they enjoy (Or, perhaps, struggle through) a full spread of food each week—that includes a desert.

Is your group in a similar good season of life? Praise God for it!

So many times our prayer times as a community are centered on the tough stuff. Yet God loves it when we come to him with hearts of gratitude. Take a few moments together this week and thank God for His favor on your small group.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What About Music?

This weekend, I taught a class on finding God in pop music. That got me thinking; what can a small group do with music?


Whether we’re talking about pop, contemporary Christian, or classical—the reality is music connects with us on a deep level. It causes us to think. It stirs emotion. It can even bring back memories. So why wouldn’t we use music in our small group time?

I recently shared a key piece of my faith journey with other members of the staff at my church. I told the bulk of my story verbally and then played a song that had ministered deeply to me during a significant season of my life. The song, I Am by Ginny Owens, communicated my thoughts and emotions more effectively than another word or two of mine could. The song did more than tell my story, it connected deeply with my friends! They identified with the words of the song. The lyrics linked with a few of their own stories. Through music, we connected more deeply than we would have without it.

In Group Publishing’s helpful booklet, R.E.A.L: Surprisingly Simple Ways To Engage Adults, author Carl Simmons says, “Because music can evoke deep emotion, it can be a catalyst to a great discussion.”

We often see popular movies used as illustrations in sermons, yet we often overlook the art form that provides the soundtrack to our lives—music.

Here are three suggestions for using music effectively in your small group:

1. Your Story
Use a piece of music that has ministered to you during an important (or difficult) time in your life. This will take some vulnerability on your part, but it can help your group members see a different part of your life.

2. Supplemental Illustration
Music tells a message. The question is; what message is it communicating? As you prepare to lead your group through a Bible study or a book study, seek to find music that can support the message of the text. If your study is focusing on the sovereignty of God, find some music that communicates God’s power and might. Then listen to it together and discuss.

3. Finding God in our culture
Biblical themes like redemption, forgiveness, love, mercy, and hope are present in many different styles of music. Encourage your group members to listen for these biblical themes presented through the music they listen to during the week. Then discuss them at your next group meeting.

Music can be a powerful tool. Let’s use it for God’s glory!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Got Structure?

My son, Reid, closed out his first season of T-ball last night. Fun stuff! We’ve enjoyed a great time together as a family this summer. Although, as a dad and baseball fan, the way they structure T-ball here in Colorado Springs is a bit…shall I say, loose.

Outs are optional. (The defensive team can get a hitter out at first, but the young Albert Pujols gets to stay on the base anyway.) There are no umpires. Every child in uniform takes a defensive position—even if that means you have three shortstops. And nobody keeps score.

This lack of structure created chaos for the kids—and, frankly, for us parents as well. I confess, I’m skeptical of the value of being so loose. Did the kids truly learn about the game of baseball? Did they learn the defensive positions? Did they learn anything about winning and losing? Likely not.

Structure is needed in all aspects of our lives—especially when it comes to small groups. Structure is critical when it comes to both logistical issues (When will your group meet? How often? How long?), and value issues (What does accountability look like for our group? How can we best pray for each other? How will we speak truth to each other?).

For groups at our church, developing your structure through a small group covenant, is something we strongly encourage at the formation of a group.

In her book, Community that is Christian, Julie Gorman writes, “Spelling it (group objectives) out at the beginning is imperative for the survival and progress of a group.”

Has your group spelled it out? Have you talked openly and honestly about the logistical stuff? Do your group members have the same thoughts on accountability? Is everyone moving in the same direction?

These are not things to assume when it comes to small group life. A covenant can, and will, help establish some helpful ground rules to work within.

Got structure?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Prayed

My small group had a meeting this weekend. It’s something we’re scheduled to do every weekend—though summer has a way of making the “weekly” gathering more like “every-other-week”. But this weekend was different.

We prayed.

Now don’t run off thinking that we’re some weird anti-prayer group that would prefer to roast smores together rather than talk with God. Prayer is a regular part of our small group’s time together. (In fact, we believe prayer is a critical piece of authentic biblical community. Think early church. Think Acts 2:42.) But this was different.

We prayed for each other’s struggles. We prayed for the busyness of life. We prayed for the challenges of parenting young children. We prayed about the stress that is pressing in on all of us.

We prayed—and it was really good!

Nothing in our immediate circumstances changed. But we did experience a peace that only comes from bringing things to our Heavenly Father in prayer. We enjoyed the closeness of knowing someone else cares about our “stuff”. We enjoyed the bond of community that grows when you pray with other believers.

We prayed.

Friday, July 09, 2010

LeBron & Loyalty

LeBron James is on his way to Miami. The basketball superstar who’s had teams recruiting him for the past two weeks has decided to leave his Ohio roots and head for South Beach.


King James, as he’s called, is arguably the best basketball player in the NBA. After spending his first seven seasons in his home state of Ohio, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he became a free agent this offseason. He could now chose the team he wanted to play for and the city where he desired to live. Many NBA suitors lined up to offer King James their $100+ million dollar deal. Teams from New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami all made their pitch. As did the incumbent, the hometown Cavaliers.

And when the over-hyped decision came, LeBron turned his back on the team, the city, and the state that loved him, supported him, and dedicated so much to keeping their homegrown superstar in the Midwest.

The best player in the NBA put the Cavs on his back and carried them to the NBA Finals in 2007, but his team was overmatched and lost to the San Antonio Spurs. The game’s best player has not yet led a team to an NBA championship—that’s the reason he chose Miami. He believes that by signing with two other superstars, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, his path to an NBA title just got much easier.

That’s why his decision is disappointing.

James is probably right. He’ll likely win at least one title in South Florida. But the easiest way? Really? Is that what sports, or life, is about? Taking the easiest path?

What about loyalty? What about working and investing and pouring your life into something to reach your ultimate goal? Doesn’t that type of soul-level investment bring greater fulfillment in the end?

As I learned of James decision, I couldn’t help but think of life in Christian community. When times aren’t perfect, it’s easy to think of running. When things get tough with the people you do life with, it’s tempting to want to find another group. When your small group faces challenges, it’s hard not to think of looking for a group that’s not quite so messy.

The problem is we’re all a mess! We all have issues. Doing life with other fallen human beings isn’t always easy. We shouldn’t expect it to be.

Instead, what we should expect from each other is loyalty. We should strive for commitment. We should make every effort to work through the challenges and issues and messy stuff of life in Christian community. Then, when spiritual victory comes for the people in your community, the reward is that much more meaningful!

Living out your Christian faith in a community that God has sovereignly placed you in is not about “easy”. Instead, it’s about loyalty and learning what God can, and will, do in your eclectic group of messy people.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

How Does Your Small Group Celebrate?

The Fourth of July holiday weekend came and went. What did your small group do to celebrate together? Did you fire up the Weber and sizzle-up all varieties of meats? Did your group show support for the local baseball team? Did you pack up the kids and go on a camping trip? What did you do together?

I ask these somewhat rhetorical questions for a very succinct purpose. To communicate an expectation; that social events are a regular part of your small group calendar.

The Gospel impacts all of life not just “religious” activities—like praying, and reading the Bible. That’s why I believe so strongly in the importance of believers “doing life together”. It’s a phrase I often toss around regarding small group life at the church I serve. “Together” includes the good, the bad, and everything in between—all the stuff of life on which the Gospel comes to bare.

Unfortunately, Christians in general and small groups in particular don’t take (or make) enough time to celebrate the good things that God is doing in us and through us. We share prayer requests, but rarely praises. We tell of the struggles we’re dealing with, but seldom discuss the victories we’ve enjoyed.

Because the Gospel impacts all of life, our small groups should remember that when “doing life together” we need to get out celebrate once and awhile!