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!