Wednesday, December 14, 2011

3 Abnormal Gifts for Your Small Group This Christmas

White elephant? Nah, everybody’s already seen your awful Christmas sweater, smelled your industrial-sized drum of cheap perfume, and heard your Chipmunks’ Christmas carol CD. They're just not that funny anymore.

Creative gifts? That can work, but finding the perfect gift for your closest small group friend(s) can be a major stresser! It can bring an awful lot of un-needed emotional pressure this time of year. And what if you swing and miss?

Here’s a different idea; how about getting your small group a group gift? Kinda like a gift for your whole family. But this one’s for your spiritual family.

The idea is for you to give a gift to each other that will be a blessing to everyone in your group. Something that will minister to each person/couple at a deep spiritual level. Something that someone outside of your community couldn’t give to each other.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Daily Prayer – Give the gift of committing to prayer for each other every day for a month. Let’s be honest, we often talk about praying for each other—and some of us do—but many times our prayers for our group members are less-than-consistent. This ratchets things up a notch!

2. Bible Reading Accountability – Here’s a way that you can truly help each other get closer to God. Employ a reading plan that encourages and helps each other read the Bible daily. A couple of our small groups are using a new Bible product called The Books of the Bible: New Testament by Biblica. ( It’s an NIV translation of the New Testament that reads like a story—as they have removed all verses, chapters, and chapter headings. The Bible reading plan is very doable, covering 10 pages of reading, five days each week. This will get you through the entirety of the New Testament in eight weeks!

3. Serve Everybody Once – Each person/couple likely has some project (i.e. taking down Christmas decorations after the holidays) that needs attention. Pick something that your group can do as a community. Then bang it out in far less time than the person/couple could do themselves? This is the sort of gift that goes beyond what a mere ‘thank you’ will ever cover.

Just a few ideas to help your group become a true faith family this holiday season.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Facing Unrealistic Expectations

What do you expect of your small group members?

Faithful attendance? Promptness? Having read this week’s study materials? Must all members come prepared to talk about the latest NFL battle, have a fresh joke in their arsenal, and bring a gooey baked good? Warm hugs at the door? Working toward BFF status?

Here’s the question at the heart of it all; are your group’s expectations of each other realistic?

Similar to the expectations wrapped up in a marriage—that a spouse will meet all my needs—small group participants often have expectations that simply go beyond what’s reasonable. The desire can be something like this: close friend, trustworthy confidant, accountability partner, prayer warrior, Bible scholar, and pastry chef.

Let’s not forget a few more items of utmost importance for group members: great parenting skills—exhibited in near-perfect kids, a fairytale marriage, a strong sense of humor, and a nice pad (complete with a man-cave) to host the whole shebang!

The problem with this thinking is that every group and every group member will collapse under the weight of these unrealistic expectations.

Sinners let each other down. Period.

We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all bump and bruise each other. As Christ-followers, we often fail to live up to our own expectations—much less the expectations of others.

Unfortunately, our lives are messy. We don’t always pray as we say we will. We don’t have perfect children. Our marriages often lack grace.

So, what are we to do? How should we engage with others who just don’t live up to our expectations? Consider the practical counsel of The Apostle Paul regarding life among other fallen members of a Christ-centered community.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you…Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:13-15

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Facilitators of Reconciliation

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of leading a number of new small group leaders through an evening of training. I love that!

We spent a few hours revisiting the Biblical foundations for small groups, unpacking the vision our church has for community life, examining the different developmental stages of an individual small group, and we worked through the nuts and bolts of structuring a healthy meeting.

Those things were great.

But there was one portion of our evening that I enjoyed working through more than any other—presenting small group leaders with the weighty challenge of their call to be ministers of reconciliation.

In their classic book on small groups, Making Small Groups Work, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain clearly the role of a small group leader—what it is and what it is not.

“God has not called you to be moral police who set people straight. He has called you to help restore life unto Himself in the way it was created to be. The Bible’s word for this is reconciliation. God’s purpose is to reconcile things back to Himself and to use you in that process.”

This is something that should both energize and intimidate each of us who lead a small group of God’s people. Energize, because you have been given the gift of walking alongside His children and pointing them to the Reconciler. Intimidate, because God has given you this significant responsibility. You are not the one who does the work of reconciliation, but you will be used in the process. That’s powerful!

Often times, the leadership of a small group can be draining, unrewarding, even discouraging. Yet, if we take time to re-evaluate the calling—as a facilitator of reconciliation—it just might inspire us anew.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Is it Time to Go?

Is it time for you to move on? Time to step down from the weekly responsibilities of leading a small group? Is it time to lead your small group by moving on altogether?

These are very difficult—yet honest—questions for any small group leader to consider.

You’ve invested your time, your energy, and more important—your heart—into the lives of the people in your group. You’ve spent hours praying for them, hours preparing for your study time together, hours looking for creative ways to bring the group closer. Yet you find yourself in a weird place—there seems to be a disconnect.

The things you thought the group wanted in a Christ-following community no longer seem to be what the group wants. The strengths you brought to your role as group leader—no longer seem to be strengths the group needs.

Like many successful professional football or basketball coaches have experienced, a leader’s voice can begin to trail off. Your group once heard you loud and clear, and responded favorably to your leading. Today your guidance comes through softly, without little or no response. What’s a leader to do?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Pray – God needs to hear your heart. He needs to know your commitment to His purposes in this community of His people. Be honest with Him about your former joys and your current struggles.

Then do something that’s hard for many leaders—listen! Listen for His still, small voice to guide you. Are you being released from your role as leader? Are you being given the freedom from God to step away from the role of shepherd of His people?

2. Talk
– Be honest with your small group about how you’re feeling, what you’re wrestling with. Sometimes, just being forthright about your recent struggle to lead will get things moving in the right direction. (Typically, this won’t fix all the problems—but it’s a start!) If your honesty leads to a difference of perspective about the current state of the group, (or the future direction) perhaps you’ve come to a point of departure.

3. Announce – After you’ve talked with God (and listened to Him) in prayer, talked with your group members, and come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on, be clear about your intentions to step down as leader. Be clear about your plan to move on. When you leave, be sure to communicate why you’re leaving and what your future plans include. This is critical to bring appropriate closure to your tenure of leadership.

4. Strategize – As you depart, work with group members to figure out who will be stepping into leadership of your community. (As hard as this may be, the selection does not hinge on your opinion. The selection of a new leader works best when done by the entire group.) A gracious hand-off is helpful for the success of the leader moving forward!

Give your replacement any leader tools, tips, and resources that you found helpful for leading your small group. Encourage the new leader(s) to connect with the pastoral leadership of your church’s small group ministry, and be sure to communicate this leadership transition with your pastor.

Transition is never easy. But it can be done in a way that honors all parties involved.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Missing You

You’re group’s back in the groove. You’re meeting regularly again, after taking it easy over the summer. Your discussion times are lively, your prayer times are meaningful, and the snacks are tasty as ever. Things are firing on all cylinders again!

Here’s a question for you to consider; what did you miss most about your group over the summer months?

At your next small group, ask group members to think about that question. (Assuming, of course, that your group did not meet regularly.) The friendships? The support? The prayer time? The Christ-centered discussion? What did each person/couple miss most without their small group community?

While at first glance, this may seem a bit too touchy-feely, this question can give great insight into the true strength of your community.

When you go without consistent relationships that encourage, support, challenge, and stretch you, it’s easy to become stagnant. Complacency can set into your faith journey, your marriage, your parenting, etc. That’s where the power of doing life together in Christ-centered community comes into play—other believers call us to a better place. Others of like mind and heart want more for us, and they help us get there. They speak words of truth. They pray for us when we need it most. They deliver the love of the Father presented through familiar faces.

So ask the question, and learn something about those in your community. When you do, you’ll also help your group members realize and more deeply appreciate the immense value of your small group.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Have You Had Your DTR Conversation?

The kids are back in school—or will be very soon. You’ve held your fantasy football draft. The grill is soon to go into hibernation. Labor Day is upon us. And your small group is ready to get back into ryhthm.

Have you had the conversation? Have you Defined The Relationship with your small group members? Are they committed to another year of study, prayer, and doing life together?

I spoke with a longtime small group leader this week who did just this. He fired up his grill, threw on some burgers and brats, enjoyed a time of catching up, sharing summer vacation stories, and talking about the new school year. That’s when he sprung it on them—“Are you interested in coming back for another year of small group?”

The leader’s question wasn’t one of intrusion. It’s wasn’t pressure packed or guilt inducing. It was simply an attempt to get a handle on what his small group looks like moving forward. Who’s in? Who’s out? Who’s interested in continuing to develop relationships within your small group? Who’s feeling the nudge to move onto another Christ-centered community?

As each group partcipant shared his/her level of interest, or lack therof, in returning for another year of small group life, the leader had a clearer picture of what people were looking for in the coming year. Now, he’s in a better place to lead, shepherd, and serve. (One couple even got emotional about how much they missed the relationships during the group's summer hiatus.)

Have you had your DTR conversation? Go ahead. It can give you much-needed direction for the upcoming ministry year ahead.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Flying Leader’s Guide

Just moments into his small group gathering, the veteran small group leader of a long-standing small group had heard enough. He tossed his leader’s guide to the ground and took a long hard look at each person in his living room.

What caused such righteous frustration? What made this mild-mannered, godly man lose his cool? Reading? Preparation? Investment? Or, should I say, the lack thereof?

The leader’s frustration mounted moment-by-moment as each couple in his group acknowledged their lack of preparation for their weekly small group gathering. As he went around the room to inquire about initial thoughts on the study materials, he got a room full of blank stares and “didn’t get to it” shrugs.

One couple hadn’t done the 20 minutes of prep time required because of house guests. Another couple couldn’t work through the study during the week because they had busy work schedules. The next couple hadn’t found the material all that compelling the previous meeting, so they chose not to dig in and discuss it together. And the last couple mentioned their large dog and his huge appetite…

Are some of the reasons couples don’t get to their study materials during a given week valid? Of course! And grace should be given liberally. But a consistent pattern of “no-reads” can make any leader crazy. So what’s the answer? How do you make your small group intriguing from week to week? How can you help your people to engage?

Here are three tips that just might ground the next flying leader’s guide:

1. Make sure that every member of the group is interested in the particular study. The quickest way to lose group members is for the leader to chose a study on behalf of everyone else. Avoid that temptation. Select a study/book/DVD resource that has the interest of all group members. Can’t get consensus? Work to find something that almost all can agree upon and be somewhat excited about.

2. Be specific about study expectations for your next meeting—before you leave the current meeting. Once you’ve completed your discussion, spell out what you plan to cover at your next gathering.

3. All study guides are not created equal. Use only the best study questions. Most study guides will offer up eight or 10 questions. There’s no way that most small groups can cover that many questions with any sort of depth. You don’t have to! Select three or four that connect with your group members and where your people are on their journey of faith. Then dig into those three questions with intentionality and fervor. If you can tell group members the three or four questions you’ll be digging into next time, that will help them better prepare.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Move Beyond the Social-Only Meeting

“Talking. Plenty of really engaging dialogue.” That’s how one small group leader described his start-up small group to me recently.

Since this group of young parents formed in the spring, they have deeply appreciated their time together. Therein lies the problem. The group has enjoyed each other’s company so much—they haven’t moved beyond talking and socializing. There’s been no study of God’s Word. No praying with and for each other. And no discussion or planning about the future of the group.

Essentially, what they’ve done since they formed as a group three months ago is hang out as fellow Christ-followers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

While I firmly believe that it’s important for any start-up small group to error on the side of building community (as opposed to immediate in-depth study), most people actually desire more from a small group community.

So what is the best way to get past the social-only meeting? Pray.

Prayer is the quickest way to help a group move past a purely social gathering into some depth. The simple act of asking for prayer requests invites people to open up. It creates an environment for deeper honesty. It helps people peak out of their shell and volunteer a bit of information about themselves.

And then, taking the next step to actually pray together takes your group to yet another level of depth. When you hear another person speak things that are important to you in prayer to the Father your hearts are naturally drawn closer. And your community is strengthened.

In their excellent manifesto on small groups, Making Small Groups Work, clinical psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend write, “Coming together for prayer in small groups connects people with God and each other…it draws us close, vertically and horizontally.”

Pray. Pray about your kids, your job, your friends, and the needs of your church. Pray.

Move beyond a social-only gathering into a more personal and meaningful group time by coming before the Father—together.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Four Tips to Ensure Your Small Group Fails This Summer

Now that school’s out, your summer vacation is planned, and you’ve geared down, it’s time to consider what to do with your small group during June, July, and August.

If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to destroy your small group this summer, put these four tips into motion and watch your small group fall apart like an old baseball stadium on implosion day.

1. Stay in touch on Facebook only
Be sure to avoid any face-to-face time. Don’t get together for a barbeque. Don’t meet together for a few minutes at church. Don’t even set up play-dates for the kiddos. Just type out a friendly message every other week or so.

2. Don’t Mention your Family’s Summer Plans
Going away for a week this summer? Go stealth with your groupmates. Just leave. Enjoy yourself. Then when you return, don’t tell anyone. Be sure not to tell your group members about your summer schedule. Hide your family calendar at all costs!

3. Don’t Pray for Each Other
Praying for your group members might actually draw you back into getting together as a group again—you know, a heart connection. So keep it simple—don’t pray for them. Tell them on Facebook that you’ll pray, but be sure not to follow through.

4. Agree to Get Together in the Fall
If you can go an entire summer without meeting, you’ve set a pattern that will continue in the fall—no small group meetings! No more times of Bible study and discussion. No more group prayer times. No more “doing life together”. Congratulations, you’ve successfully ensured that your small group is a thing of the past!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Does Your Disdain for Meetings Affect Your Small Group?

Let’s face it—most of us don’t like meetings. You know, the kind that have an agenda (allegedly), where there’s more engaging conversation about last night’s ballgame than strategizing, and where decisions typically get “tabled” until the next meeting. You’ve been there. And, let’s be honest, you don’t enjoy them any more than I do.

The question is; does your disdain for these sort of meetings negatively impact your level of engagement and participation in your weekly small group meeting? If you’re frustrated with a string of boring get-nowhere meetings, here are two quick tips to make sure your small group doesn’t suffer the same fate:

1. Have a Plan
Whatever sort of meeting you’re involved with—work-related, PTO, baseball coaching—things go more smoothly if there is a specified plan. Your small group gathering is no different.

People like to know what they can expect when they get together. They like to know what the focus will be for the next hour and a half of their lives. As a leader, it’s your job to communicate your plans for the evening as soon as you have everyone’s attention.

This helps everyone feel at ease that there are no surprises—and gives them the opportunity to prepare their mind and heart for what comes next.

You don’t need an official agenda, but clarifying a plan at the beginning can make a big difference.

2. Lead with Respect
We’ve all been in meetings where the leader/facilitator clearly did not have much respect for you or your time. They don’t say it, and it’s not an intentional thing, but they lead their meeting without a specific plan. They often toss in a joke here and a rabbit-trail conversation there. (Sometimes this is needed to loosen people up a bit, but more often then not it’s due to a lack of concern for others.)

This is the sort of thing that makes people not want to return to your group each week.

So the recommendation is to lead your small group meeting with intentionality and purpose. Lead with a sense of urgency. Lead with a sense of meaning and purpose and focus. Not rushed, of course, but with a goal in mind. That goal might be an evening of prayer, an in-depth study time, or the sharing of each other’s stories. Whatever the goal is, it’s your responsibility as a leader/facilitator to guide your group down the right path.

Getting bogged down in trivial things will slow your group’s progress and frustrate group members. Try not to recreate the disdain they have for corporate and PTO meetings in your small group. Instead, lead your group with respect for people’s time and concerns.

Friday, May 13, 2011

You Know How I Have Lived

A group of church leaders that I have the privilege of journeying with is currently working to memorize Acts 20:16-24.
“Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears…However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.”
Acts 20:16-24
In summary, the passage summarizes the Apostle Paul’s passion for repentance, faith, and the Gospel of Grace. It’s his impassioned plea for his co-laborers in the Gospel to see how he has given his life for the furthering of God’s Kingdom.

In the center of this Paul’s words, one proclamation captures my attention—and I hope yours: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you.”

As a leader of a small group, or any other Christ-centered community, these words must cause us to evaluate our own faith journey. They must cause us to consider our own leadership. Do those in my Christ-centered community truly know me? Do they genuinely know how I have lived? And how I am living today?

They should.

Transparency and authenticity is critical to the life of a spiritual leader. How can someone follow your lead if they don’t know you? How can those in your community support you if they don’t know your heart?

Living openly and honestly about your pain points, your struggles, your joys, and your victories is crucial to the health of your community—and ultimately the ministry that comes from your hand and from those in your group.

The Apostle Paul made a bold proclamation—“you know how I have lived.” Can you say the same?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Jesus in You, The Jesus In Me

“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother.”
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor / Theologian / Martyr
I heard a great story this week. The kind of story that encourages your heart about the impact of a small group of Christ followers engaged with each other in community.

The story is about a man who’s currently serving in vocational Christian ministry. He holds a key position within his organization. He’s wresting with some ideas that could have lasting ministry impact. Yet he was hesitant to present his ideas for change. He wasn’t sure the time was right. He wasn’t sure if he was the right person to bring these new ministry-shaping ideas to the key decision-makers in his organization.

He prayed about what to do. He remained uncertain…

Then he went to his small group. That’s when the quote from Bonhoeffer’s classic work on community came to life.

He opened up with his small group about his ideas and told them of how he had been seeking the Father on what to do. Yet he remained unclear. He asked his small group to speak into his situation.

The group heard his plea. They knew how intentionally he had sought wisdom and discernment from the Father. They listened as he wrestled. Then something significant happened. They encouraged him. They spoke words of truth into his life. He listened. And received the Godly nudge that he needed.

The following day, he walked into his office and presented his ministry idea. The president of his organization loved it! Wheels are now turning to put this new idea into motion.

The power of Christ in small group community has tangible impact in the lives of those willing to be honest, real, and seek Godly counsel.

Allow the Jesus in others to encourage the Jesus in you!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Take a Diversion!

My family just returned from a great vacation in Southern Arizona. We re-connected with some friends from our small group who moved to Tucson a year ago. The dads hung out and watched Spring Training baseball, the wives talked and shared parenting tips, and the kids played and played and played. We had a great time!

And then it was time to come home. So we loaded up the minivan and began the long trek. Lots of miles and road signs laid between us and our mid-point hotel destination.

After four hours on the road, a few pit stops mixed in for good measure, we were presented with a choice—take a diversion to see a city (Sedona, AZ) that came highly recommended by friends or stay on task and keep driving the Interstate to get to our night’s destination.

We took the diversion. Wow, are we glad we did! We were blown away by the beauty of God’s creation that envelops Sedona. It was simply breathtaking. And it was something that we would never have enjoyed had we stayed on task.

That got me thinking about small groups. (Yes, I’m weird like that.) I couldn’t help but think of our natural propensity to want to stay on task in a small group meeting. Whether the focus of the night is to finish a chapter or to spend the evening in prayer—all too often we get passionately tied to our agenda. We get locked in. Focused.

When we do this, we miss the diversion that could breathe life into our souls. We miss the opportunity to be surprised.

I’m not suggesting that every meeting should be a hunt for rabbit trails—structure and consistency to your group’s meeting time is crucial. But it’s also important for a small group community, at any given time, to be open to taking a diversion. You just might experience something that blows you away!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do You Really Care About Each Other?

Do you really care about the other members of your small group? Not just a passing “I’ll pray for you” sort of thing. I mean the kind of care that you don’t mind if someone called you in the middle of the night sort of care and concern? I’m talking about a “you-hurt-when-they-hurt” experience?

Recently, I met with a small group leader who shared his story of Christian community heartbreak. He and his young family had attended their church for many years. They were connected in a church-based community. They attended worship regularly. People knew them. They were cared for…or so they thought.

In their deepest hour of need, their utter lack of community broke their hearts. This man told me that in the midst of a family crisis—the sudden and severe illness of his infant child—the lack of community was deafening.

No phone calls. No emails. No visits. Nothing!

When his local body of believers had a golden opportunity to be The Church—they let him down. In a word, he and his wife were “heartbroken”.

Today, their child is healthy. And so is this couple. They’ve become an integral part of a vibrant small group at our church, and he told me that his engagement in a Christ-centered community that loves well is something he does not take for granted.

In a couple’s deepest hour of need, their Christ-centered community needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Can your group count on each other?

It’s a question that you absolutely must have an answer to—an honest answer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Your Small Group Can Learn from John Piper v. Rob Bell

By now, you’ve probably heard about the skirmish between two heavyweights from the Christian pastorate. John Piper v. Rob Bell. A disagreement over a doctrinal issue. It's created a very public controversy. In case you aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a summary:

• Rob Bell, Founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, has written a new book titled Love Wins. The promotional materials—a video clip and the publisher’s summary—could lead one to believe that Rob is teaching a doctrine called universalism. Simply put—everyone goes to heaven.
• John Piper, Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Bible Church, makes a concise yet direct statement through Twitter about what he knows of Bell’s latest work. The tweet said simply, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
• CNN and other popular media outlets ran with the “story” and made the controversy even larger.
• A wave of tweets and Facebook posts ensued. In amazing numbers!
• Many Christians took sides. Either (1) Bell has moved away from orthodoxy, or (2) Piper is mean and judgmental.

I’m not going to write about who’s right or who’s wrong. I’m not going to attempt to sway you to a particular side. What I am going to do is connect with the reality of why such a thing happens within the Christian community.

Two words: Doctrine matters!

Doctrinal Christian beliefs are orthodox for a reason—faithful Christ-followers and brilliant scholars from generation to generation have studied the Word of God and found them to be true. They’ve withstood multiple tests throughout many turbulent years of church history. And they remain.

Doctrine matters!

Consider the words of the Apostle Paul when addressing the issues surrounding church leadership (Overseer/Elder) in Titus 1.
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9
When publicity for Bell’s Love Wins suggested that he might be taking a position that stood outside of orthodoxy—Piper refuted. He didn’t waste time. He didn’t mince words. He was direct and to the point. Period.

Was Piper’s response hasty? Perhaps. Was it harsh? Possibly. Was it necessary? That’s what we must wrestle with and consider…

Doctrines are derived from systematic study of the Scriptures. They are not opinions. They do not fluctuate due to a cultural trend or a political agenda. They hold firm. This is precisely why religious trends have never destroyed what God is building—His Church.

Doctrine matters!

As followers of Christ, under submission to the Word of God, we have a responsibility to hold true to the long-standing doctrines of our faith. Moreover, we have a commitment to the teachings of our Savior.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus gave us this exhortation. To teach new believers everything that He commanded. And He taught us to obey these things. In order to obey, we must know what Jesus taught. Pretty straight-forward stuff! Clearly, Jesus is suggesting that doctrine and obedience cannot be divorced. This is true in a small group, a mid-sized community/Sunday school class, or a congregation. To live out our faith, in practical tangible ways, we must know what Jesus taught. It shouldn’t be ignored, dismissed, softened, or patronized.

So, read it. Study it. Discuss it. Live it. Because doctrine matters!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Is Your Group Falling Apart?

Is your small group falling apart? Be honest. Are you having trouble with attendance? Has an outside offer of a movie or a ballgame taken precedence? When people do show up for your group meeting are they often late? Is their preparation lacking? Do they seem generally disinterested?

All of these things are signs that your group just might be coming apart at the seams. Busyness and too many other things to mention are taking their toll on your community.

What do you do about it?

Talk. Discuss. Bring the issue into the light. Like any relationship, talking is critical! Talk about your perceptions. Talk about your group’s expectations. Not in a shaming manner, of course, but in a way that communicates your genuine care and concern for the disconnected members. Sometimes, people just need a phone call or a one-on-one conversation to know that someone cares. They just need to know that people care.

Give people an opportunity to discuss what’s really going on in their lives. When you do so, you give group members a voice. You give them a chance to discuss what’s really going on in their lives. You open the door for folks to give feedback on the group and potential ways to improve your time together.

The worst thing a small group leader can do is ignore the issue. Commitment issues rarely fix themselves. Fact is; everyone else in the group sees what’s happening. Others sense a lack of commitment, promptness, preparation, etc. If they see the leader ignoring trouble, they’ll quickly lose confidence in your leadership and your commitment to shepherd the group.

Be intentional. Talk about it. The conversation just might save your small group.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Who Should Join Us?

Let me paint a picture for you. Your group is ready to add a new person or couple. You’re excited for some new faces, some new stories, some new perspectives.

But one question hangs over your next move. How do you know who will fit into your small group? Will they push your group to the next level? Or will the new folks unravel everything that you’ve worked hard to build?

It’s an exciting and stressful thing. There are a number of questions to approach the decision-making process of welcoming new participants. Here are a few that come to mind:

Should your decision be based on:
● Similar hobbies?
● Favorite sports team?
● Parenting styles?
● Theological views?
● Worship-style preference?
● Preferred Bible translation?
● Ability to grill a mean burger?
● Prayer?
● All of the above?

There really isn’t just one right way. All may be important if the items listed above have a place in the DNA of your small group. Only a few may truly matter. But the ones that do—they’re too large to overlook.

So talk about it. Ask your group members what aspects of your covenant are non-negotiable? What element(s) of group life are the most life-giving? Your answers to those questions should determine the likelihood of a potential fit, or a potential struggle, for your new members.

New members don’t have to look like you, think like you, or vote like you—but they should hold the same values and priorities that your group does.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Hot Seat

Have you ever been in the hot seat? I’m not talking about a football coach or baseball manager whose job is under scrutiny. I’m not talking about your small group roasting you for laughs. I’m referring to the hot seat of prayer. Have you been there?

Recently, one of the small group communities that I engage with put me (and everyone else in our group) on the hot seat. Tense? Intimidating? Nope!

Here’s what it looks like: one chair in the middle of the room—that’s the hot seat. That’s where you sit, with palms open, with everyone gathered around. Some stand with hands on your shoulders, others bow down with hands on your knees. All are linked together to bring you before the Father in prayer.

Sound weird? It’s not. It’s powerful!

It’s about calling out to God on your behalf. Some pray for your walk of faith. Others lift up your marriage. Others pray for your personal ministry. In our group, the final person prays the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27) over you.

It’s humbling to hear, and tangibly feel, your group members pray for you. It’s a powerful experience for the person on the hot seat—and for the entire group as you pray for your brothers and sisters.

So don’t be shy—put each other on the hot seat!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Go Old-School Nike with Your Small Group

It’s February. That means the inertia from your New Year’s resolutions have likely worn off. You’ve now reached the old Nike slogan phase, “Just Do It!”

Life in small group community is a lot like that.

I met with a small group leader yesterday who admitted as much. He said that many times he just doesn’t feel like going to his weekly small group—much less leading it! He told me that he’s tired. Everybody in his group is busy. People are stressed. And then it’s time for small group…

But then he followed up by saying something significant. He said something like this, “So many times when I don’t really feel like going to our small group, and I don’t feel like getting myself ready for small group—I walk away at the end of the night encouraged. Whether it’s a rich study, a powerful time of prayer, or just the friendships. I often wonder why I struggled to get there?”

This comment is a great—and honest—reminder to all who participate in small groups as a ministry leader, small group leader, or group participant. Small groups can be hard work. Community takes effort—but it’s worth it!

Authentic, life-changing, God-honoring community doesn’t just happen—it comes with a cost. Sometimes the cost is financial (babysitters), or emotional (needy people dealing with a tough situation), or time consuming (we sacrifice other things to participate). Yet when you’re willing to pay the costs and make the commitment—the benefits can far exceed the initial cost.

So the next time you’re tired and don’t feel like going or leading your small group, try the old-school Nike way—just do it!

Authentic Biblical community is worth the cost.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Who Doesn’t Like a Birthday?

Do you enjoy celebrating a birthday? You know, the cake, the candles, the singing? (Well, maybe not the singing.) For most of us, a birthday is time to have a little fun and honor someone in the process. Your birthday or someone else’s, it makes no difference. Some birthdays are more significant than others. But a celebration is a celebration, right?

I spoke with someone this week who’s small group didn’t care too much for birthdays. In fact, they never bothered to get to know his or his wife’s special day. In the big picture, this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Right? Well, actually, it is a big deal!

At first glance, you might think the guy’s story I share today might seem a bit needy or self-absorbed. He’s the exact opposite. He’s understated. He loves Jesus. And he is genuinely concerned about others. That’s what made this scenario so intriguing. Because there is a bigger issue here.

You see it’s the little things that we experience together in community that establish a level of care and concern for each other that builds a solid foundation for the big things. After all, if someone doesn’t care enough to find out or celebrate your birthday, they certainly aren’t going to care about the deeper issues in life. If a group can’t take a few moments once every year to shine the spotlight on the individuals in the group—what is the real point of the group?

Small group community is about the day-to-day, week-by-week stuff of life. It’s about the small stuff that we face each week that accumulates over time and becomes the big stuff. If your group isn’t doing the small stuff well—something as simple as getting to know each other’s birthdays and celebrating them—you’ll likely face serious issues of trust when the big stuff comes along.

So, invest in the basics of life (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). Spend time on the mundane. The investment you make now will pay relational dividends later.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Keep Talking

This past week or so I’ve done a lot of talking with small group leaders. Plenty of listening went on too, as the leader talked. All of this reminded me that talking is critical!

I’ve talked with and listened to small group leaders who are wrestling with all sorts of choices, challenges, and opportunities. Plenty of things they are genuinely seeking to find answers to. Stuff like:

● How to most effectively integrate the small group community into the challenges pressing in from family and professional commitments?

● How to sort through the Biblical and theological minefield of women leading a small group that includes both men and women?

● How to best serve the needs of a single parent in a group?

Great questions! All without clear-cut, easy answers. Stuff that takes time to process. That’s where talking becomes crucial. Speaking it verbally to another interested and engaged party helps bring clarity. As you put ideas into words, things become a bit more clear. Try it some time! Try explaining why you’re handling a specific scheduling situation the way you are.

Sometimes clarity comes simply by putting the words into the air. The sound of the words in your own ears brings you to a point of conviction on your decision. Other times talking takes you to a place you never thought you’d go. As you verbalize your thought, you might just hear it as the most ridiculous, ludicrous, and silly idea that it really is.

Talking through possible ideas and/or solutions is far more helpful then just kicking them around in your own head. Why? Interaction and feedback.
As you understand your own reasoning, it becomes more clear to those listening. And more clear for them to give you feedback on your thoughts and plans of action.

So, talk! And keep talking. It can truly help you sort through the tough situations.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Preparing to Launch

This weekend we’ll kick-off our first Small Group Launch event of the new year! It’s an exciting, invigorating, and somewhat stressful time all rolled into one.

January is always an active time for small groups. New Year’s resolutions and new beginnings help spur people to action. The discussion goes something like this:

Wife: “I’ve been thinking that we need to get more deeply connected in church.”

Husband: “You know, you’re right…But where?"

Wife: “I think a small group might be what we need."

Husband: “What does that look like?”

Wife: “About a dozen people who get together in people’s homes each week. They talk about life, study the Bible, and pray for each other.”

Husband: “That’s sounds like something we could do. How do we get started?”

That’s where my excitement, invigoration, and stress come in. These people are ready to jump in. My job is to provide them an opportunity to connect with others who are interested in the same. Give them a solid foundation on which to do this. And then prepare them launch.

At our church, we work through a 3-week process that includes a bit of foundational Bible teaching on authentic community, vision-casting that details the specific way our small groups are structured, and some facilitated (yet organic) group discussion. It’s a process that has produced much fruit in 2010 and over the past few years!

So we begin our first Launch event of the new calendar year. We do so with hope, prayer, and expectation. But we don’t do it without a clear plan. We are very intentional about how we form and how we launch new small group communities. We believe it’s of utmost importance to lay a strong Biblical foundation for small groups. To explain and instruct on what makes our small groups a bit different than other churches. Without that, a small group can quickly become a group of people hanging out who just happen to be Christians. No purpose. No focus. No growth.

So we pray for those who are coming. We pray for those who will launch. We pray that their desire to be connected will be the start of something truly life-changing!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are You in Pursuit?

Are you pursuing folks in your small group? Not in a weird, stalker sort-of-way. Rather in a loving, caring, want-you-to-stay-connected sort-of-way?

I’ve recently been in dialogue with a small group leader who has done an excellent job of pursuing those in her small group. Her group is comprised of members who are faithful, some who battle the challenge of an intense schedule, and those whom have disengaged and now treat the group as though it were the IRS and they have a bill to pay.

In spite of it all, this leader has stayed faithful. She’s stayed faithful to her calling as a small group leader. She’s remained faithful to shepherd and guide the group members who are consistent. And she has faithfully pursued those who’ve subtly disconnected. She’s communicated through phone calls, emails, and Facebook. She’s worked hard to keep everyone updated on group events, study details, and service opportunities.

This leader has done the hard work of pursuit. She’s seen some fruit from her efforts, but has also been dismissed. Yet her faithfulness continues.

Are there people or couples in your small group that need your pursuit? Folks who need to know that someone truly cares? People who need to know that they are genuinely missed?

Pursue them with the passion and love that Jesus has pursued you! The Son of Man left the presence of His Father to put on skin and enter our sin-stained world to pursue you and me. And when He came, He came not to be served—but to sacrifice his life for us.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45
Consider this reality when your small group attendance lags and commitment gets sketchy. Pursue God’s children as He pursued you.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Help! My Small Group Ministry is Floundering

Yesterday, I spoke with a pastor who oversees the small group ministry at his church. It’s a growing church, somewhere around 1,100 people in the congregation. They do small groups—sort of.

They have groups for theological discussion, groups for accountability, and groups that meet together just to be a group. (I’m kidding, but you get the idea.)

He told me that his small groups are floundering. The question is; what can I do to make this important ministry thrive?

After hearing my pastor friend give some specifics about his small group ministry, and details about his current groups, one thing became clear to us both—they lacked a consistent focus. They didn’t have a point of connection for the whole church.

My counsel was to not have a small group for every unique interest, of for every person’s hobby-horse issue. The Pastor knows this. Yet it’s hard to rally around a consistent message when everyone has their own interest.

That’s why it’s so critical for any small group ministry—large of small—to have a Biblical foundation. A foundation based on the early church model we see in the Book of Acts.
“They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”Acts 2:42
This Biblical example gives a small group ministry focus, direction, and a clear point of connection for the entire church. It communicates, “This is what our small groups are all about—study, doing life together, and prayer.”

Interestingly enough, the practices of the early church have something for the person who wants discipleship and spiritual growth (devoted to the Apostle’s teaching and prayer) and to the individual who seeks accountability (fellowship).

Is your small group ministry floundering? Return to the Scriptures for a focus that is clear, concise, and one that has stood the test of time.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Time to Re-New!

In January, I always find myself thinking about re-starting, re-connecting, re-focusing, and other such re-things. You too?

Everyone knows there’s nothing inherently magical about the month of January. Yet the start of a new year, the hanging of a new calendar on the wall, and going back to work after a few days off with family always seems to generate some “new” thinking. It’s just time to begin anew!

This creates the perfect time for a small group to re-engage with your small group covenant. Pull it out. Print it out. Hand it out. Look it over. Read it aloud—together. Pause. Repeat.

What is it saying? Does your covenant accurately represent your small group? Does it accurately capture your group’s goals and ideas for life transformation? It should. If it doesn’t, it’s time to re-visit and re-work your covenant.

In her book, Community That Is Christian, author Julie Gorman writes, “Covenants may be discussed and revised at any time. In fact, it’s important to keep current on commitments. If people renege on what was agreed upon, the group can rethink its decisions.”

The start of a new calendar year is always a good time to evaluate some of your original covenant decisions. Ask group members for honest answers to some tough issues:

• Are group members having a difficult time keeping their time commitments?
• Has the economy impacted the things group members can afford socially?
• Has the group grown emotionally close, but remain spiritually stagnant?

These things might cause you to re-work or adjust your covenant. Remember, the covenant is something that is developed by your group—for your group. It’s a tool to be used regularly to provide guidance and direction.

So re-engage your covenant. Re-work it. And encourage everyone to re-new for a great year of community life!