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This week’s blog is from a couple who started a Small Group via a Connections class.  Their journey is much like many leaders as they continue to watch for God’s direction as they lead a group.

I have no idea how you evaluate your success as a leader.  For us, it has been a constant evaluation.  Our small group was big, then small, then big then small, see a pattern?  When I was asked to write this blog I pondered these questions:
1. You can’t help but wonder is there some activities that I can do to keep members coming? We did the picnic at the lake… But group members moved and some found other groups they liked to try out or went back to their previous small group.
2. So, then we thought, are we not engaging the small group enough, with the right studies?  We asked for their input on study choices and talked to other group leaders.
3. Then we wondered if we had not mastered the scriptures enough to engage our members?
Well it all began at home for us, our children began seeking God and had many questions, a family member of another belief began placing her practices and beliefs on my children, this of course concerned me.  I did not want my children to be as lost and alone as we were years ago.  My husband began seeking answers in the bible and became over time totally immersed in the word, which was a beautiful transformation from my view.  It took me a little while to come around and surrender my mind, body and soul to Jesus.
When we were all on board we began a Bible study at home, my husband, myself and our 3 children. I guess you could say this was our first small group.  The scripture in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 reviled to us that we needed to share our testimony and surround ourselves with other Christ followers so we began searching for a church.  Instead of walking into several churches we searched online and boy was that scary. When we came to Lifepoint it was at first very overwhelming for us all, and that was just walking through the doors.  Once we got the kids situated and we found our seats and began to listen to the Pastor it was amazing how we discovered that there really are more believers out there!
We walked the halls of the church for a few weeks, dropping our kids off in their departments and attending worship.  Then we meet a kind man with a kind face and a gentle spirit.  He led us to Connections (an on-campus class designed to help new comers get connected with LifePoint and other attenders for the purpose of forming small groups).  We stayed in Connections for about 6 months and in that time we developed relationships with people with whom we just clicked with.  We launched our new small group with a handful of Christ followers that were eager to learn more about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Our group has met every Sunday since.  I hear many groups that use books and videos for their studies, which is great.  However, we tend to stay focused on one book, the Bible, as our guide and resource.
Our group grew closer together, then one couple left, then another…then new couples came aboard. This just goes to show that whatever walk in life you are in there’s always a place you can come in and continue your journey as a Christ follower.  As disciples of Christ, we continue to love on those that walk in and take their next step towards a Christ Centered Life.   We will always welcome the newcomers and check up on those moving on.  Staying connected on your Christ centered journey is vital.  Our group has learned to help each other on this journey, through the tough times as well as good times.

The questions of evaluation will always be there, but that is not a bad thing.  Continually striving to be the best leader, taking advantage of training, and seeking God’s direction as a leader has helped us answer these three questions.  I pray this story will help you on your journey as a leader.

This wasn’t my first rodeo. I had been a couple’s small group leader at Lifepoint Church years ago and decided to take the plunge again. Given the fact that I had done it before, I thought doing it again would be fairly simple. Last time around, there was no training to attend. We just started leading. Honestly, I kind of liked that level of independence.

My wife and I enrolled in Leadership Camp together (she is leading a ladies group) with other prospective small group leaders, some of which had lead before, like me. We went through 6 weeks of structured but informal discussions on the nuances of leading a group. The ages of the attendees ranged from late twenties to sixties. What an incredible experience! Any time you get a chance to discuss scenarios that may come up with others who may or may not have experienced them, take advantage of it. I picked up on a lot of things that helped me today, as well as several things not to do. 🙂

Leadership Camp was finished, and I was fired up about my new small group-to-be. Then Connections Event came along. This event is designed to give people interested in small groups a chance to basically “speed-date” with several small groups. The leaders have tables set up to display their interests and communicate aspects of their group to prospective members like location, age, married or single, kids, is childcare available, etc. I was excited and interested to see who would like to be a part of my new group.

One problem, no one signed up. I netted ZERO!

I was about to be reminded of the fact that God’s timing and mine aren’t always the same. We went almost two months with no one showing real interest. We had a few couples here and there tell church staff they were interested, so staff members passed their information along to me. After phone conversations with 3 or 4 couples……nothing.

I started to question whether God really wanted me to lead a small group. It was something I had prayed about a lot, and felt lead to do it. But now I was second guessing His intentions.

About 2 months after the Connection Event, Eddie sent me one couple, then another, then another. Now we are 3 months after the Event. We have 5 regular couples in our group, ages ranging from early twenties to late thirties. We all have kids ranging from 8 weeks old to 15 years old. We have done two service projects and are 4 chapters into a book study on Psalm 23. We’ve also had a couple social events that have been loads of fun. New friendships are being formed and we are able to support each other when needs arise. We have formed an incredible prayer team for each other, as well.

We have actually had another unchurched couple, who is neighbors with one of our members, show interest in our group and church. This couple has seen our group interact like great friends in social settings, even though we haven’t know each other for more than a couple of months. They say they don’t know what causes that, but they want it. Maybe God delayed our group to meet His timing in their lives.

I’m sure I’m not the only leader out there whose group trajectory hasn’t been quite what they planned. If that is you, be patient. Don’t try to fix it (as so many of us guys tend to do). Leading a group is not a task that you finish, it is a process. Don’t try to do God’s job! Let Him do it through you. His timing surpasses anything we can understand. It’s not His first rodeo either.

After many years in small group ministry, leading a small group, working with small group leaders and tracking the journey of hundreds of small groups, we have discovered that there are two clear killers of small groups.  Practicing either one of these will cause stress on group members and eventually destroy the group.

1. Gossip:  Relationships are one of the keys to a great small group.  For the group to become transparent, relationships have to be built.  However, when someone breaks the written (or in some cases the unwritten) agreement of “What happens in SG, stays in SG” confidentiality, transparency is squelched.  The length of time it will take to seriously damage or kill the group depends on the degree of the gossip, the subject or comments made through sharing personal information outside the group.

This is one of the subjects that should be discussed early on in the life of the group and when a new-comer joins the group.  Whether you have a written, voted on, signed Covenant or just a list of agreements by which you will life together, CONFIDENTIALITY must be discussed!

2. Lack of planning: Not all of us are organized and detailed.  Many of us carry a smart-phone which contains a calendar.  Our lives are busy and most families plan for things outside of work and/or family more than one day in advance.  (I did not want to push for too many days in advance :-))   So when the text comes during the Sunday morning worship service from your small group leader that “We want to have small group tonight, who wants to host?” it is too late.  Or when some individuals in the group begin to email “When are we meeting again?” it usually means we have not planned very well.

This is not an instant killer, but over time, repeated offenses will result in no-shows, drop-outs and the death of the group.  While it is not a subject on most Covenant lists, it is a vitally important task that you may want to delegate.  If you are not planning over 2 weeks in advance (we suggest 2 months planning for the summer) you may be putting undue stress on the group members.

Take time in your next small group to mention these two killers.  Don’t let them sneak into your group’s life and destroy the trust and relationships.

All of us know the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20: Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” MSG

Yet, requests come in from all over the nation for a disciple making plan.  Various churches have offered their own plan to make disciples who make disciples.  You may have even tried several books or even written your own plan.  But many of us still struggle with a clear process to help fellow believers along the maturity process of discipleship.  Well, I have another great option for you to consider: Disciples Path.

What do you look for when considering a guide to help you make disciples?  The Beginning, First Steps for New Disciples (the first of the 6-book series) is a great foundation for you and the 3 or 4 people with whom you are beginning a discipling journey.

Here are three of the criteria I used to evaluate a disciple making guide:

1. We know that one of the biggest transformers of a life for Christ is spending time with God in His Word. So the first thing I look for in a resource on disciple making is something that pushes me to have a quiet time/devotional/daily time in the Word.  The Beginning has emphasized this time by giving you personal worship, personal study and application sections each week for your own use between meetings.

2. Next I look for a guide/help in having a discussion in a community of 3 or 4.  I am not looking for a curriculum with a lesson to be taught but a discussion to be shared.  The Beginning has helpful guides for you and your friends to pray together, read and discuss the Bible.  These guides serve as launching points for deeper conversation.

3. Let’s do this: I am an active (some say hyper) person who does not like to just sit and talk about something.  I am usually the first one out of the room to go do ‘it’.  In one of my early church staff roles I had a deacon who said in almost every meeting, “Men, let’s put feet on these prayers.”  I guess this stuck. The Beginning (and all 6 books in the Disciples Path series) has application suggestions.  You will walk away from the group discussion with a plan to put into practice what you have discussed.

The key to a disciple making resource is to use it. So let’s get started!

“This six book/discussion guides were created by experienced disciple makers across the nation, it is an intentional path of transformational discipleship. While most small-group studies facilitate transformation through relationship and information, these disciple-making resources do it through the principles of modeling, practicing, and multiplying.”
For more on Disciples Path click HERE 

 

We start new groups with anyone, anytime, anywhere. We use various connection methods from cookouts in neighborhoods to GroupLink events at church.  When you start a group with people who do not know each other very well it can be difficult to get to know each other quickly.  Here is one groups story on how they shared with each other beyond the formal meeting time in order to care, build community and practice foundational Biblical instructions (Acts 2:42-47)

As we closed our first meeting time, We pass out one index card to each couple to write down their prayer requests for the week, it can be one or it could be 10. We then took those index cards and swapped them between couples. We ask that each couple to take their index card they received & pray for that family for the week along with our group as a whole.We then do the same process the following week & made sure each couple gets someone different the next week.  Now, we still do prayer requests with the group when desired, however, we feel this way, we are helping our group learn to pray for each other & get to know the needs of one another.  

So far, this has been a hit in our group & the fact that we are writing them down, we can reflect back at them and see God at work through our prayers that were on the index cards! So it really has a lot of excitement that goes along with it as well as confirmation in knowing Prayer is Powerful!

What are you doing to help group members get to know each other?  Many times it is the time between the meetings (time thinking and praying for the group) that creates the deepest community.  In the end it is about relationships.  Deeper relationships make way for transparency. Transparency makes way for discipleship.  How are your relationships going?

Our intention was not to lead a small group or even be a part of one. But it all started when my husband and I taught a series on Marriage in our Sunday School Class.

 

We were very vulnerable and open with the class.  Although the intention of the series was to end after four weeks, at the end of the last session I was approached by several of the ladies of the class who were interested in meeting with me on a regular basis. Then my husband was approached by four of the husbands interested in the same thing.  We prayed about it and started meeting a few weeks later.  It took the guys a little longer to get started, 1 1/2 years to be exact.  We  took a very serious role in mentoring these couples that the Lord had brought across our path.  Time went by and what started out as a mentoring-teaching role, turned into friendship which now is family.

After 2 years of gender-based meetings,  we decided to merge our individual groups and meet as couples.  We have been going through struggles in our walk with Christ, job losses, new jobs, moves, births, deaths of parents, everyday ordinary things, marriage issues and  personal struggles with sin.  We shared our past struggles and victories with each other.    We have been there to cry, pray, study the Word together, serve together  and rejoice with each other.  We learn from each other and we are there to hold each other accountable. We found ourselves being involved in each others lives on a much deeper level. Our responsibility is to share what God has done in our lives with others.

 

Let me get personal:  I want to be careful not to paint a perfect picture of 5 couples getting together and that everything is wonderful.  We have  issues with commitment.   I don’t know what the answer is to fix this problem, because the bottom line is that it is an individual heart issue.  It is the same problem that makes people only come to church when they feel like it.  A friend of mine used to tell his kids that there are only two times that you need to go to church, when you feel like it and when you don’t.  I love that!  The truth is that we let things get in our way of doing what we know God wants us to do, whether it is to attend weekly Worship, read His Word  or to be faithful in your commitment to your Small Group.  We are all selfish and struggle with our own desires to do our own thing.

The answer is to stop looking at ourselves and focus on Jesus.  It is not about us, it is about allowing God to use us, for His purpose.   Our journey here on this Earth as Christ followers is to use this vapor of a life to glorify Him, to share with others what He has done and to let the gentle workings of His Holy Spirit make us more like His precious Son everyday.  While we are all on this journey with our group,  we just keep on keeping on.  We do have a strong base of 6 and when the others come,  we love them, embrace them and we  are all still there for them. Part of what I have learned as a leader through this struggle is  being able to realize that everyone is in a different place on their journey.  Not everyone feels like I do.  As a leader I have to be able to let go of my expectations of what commitment means to me and that I think it should mean the same to you.  We  have had to learn to accept that and to understand that God is still doing something.  Just because I can’t see it or don’t understand it, does not mean that He is not working.  God is always working, and sometimes He uses the small community of a group of people to do it.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”  Prov. 27:17.

This month’s guest blogger shares his about his journey from attendee to leader.  He is writing from a different angle of leadership, leading a ministry at the church.

I used to be one of those back row Baptists who showed up at church on Sundays when it was convenient.  I’d wander in, shake a hand or two, sit through the sermon daydreaming about whatever crossed my mind and then head back out.  I had been a Christ follower for years, but grew up in a small town church where worship was more of a social gathering than a worship experience. I assumed this was “right.”

At some point I felt God talking to me, leading me to do something more.  He continued to show and tell me “Hey, I am so much more than an hour on Sunday mornings.” I bet you have been at this point in your life as a Christ follower too.  I  looked for ways that I could grow in my faith, to be a better Christ follower and disciple.  The obvious choice was one that God asks/tells all of us to do, serve.  There are many opportunities to serve, especially at Lifepoint.

I signed up to serve in the First Impressions ministry.  I started the way many of the folks in this ministry started, I wandered up to some guy who looked like he was in charge and asked “What can I do to get involved?”  This was a leap of faith for me as I had NEVER served in the church in any way.

This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I lead a great group of volunteers who are passionate about Christ and helping others.  It seems like a simple ministry: smiling, saying hello, opening a door,  giving bulletins, or giving a tour to a visitor may all sound quite easy, actually it is.  But, one thing I know, it has brought me closer to Christ! Serving people and making them feel welcome in the church building is one of the first steps in helping the unchurched get connected and that brings me and my team great joy.

I encourage you to get involved in a service opportunity, whether it is serving at Lifepoint, serving your community, or serving one another.  The sense of community and accountability that you gain when you serve with others is one of God’s greatest gifts.  Take that leap of faith and do like I did, find someone who looks like they might be in charge and ask “What can I do to get involved?”

 

This is a three-part series that shares ideas on how to accomplish the foundations of small group ministry.  Not to be too simple, but help ground us in the basic starting blocks for a ministry that helps move people on the journey of being a Christ follower.

1. Connect: LifePoint Adults, Connection Events, Campaigns.  You can find out more about Connect here.

2. Grow: Spiritual Health Survey, Christ Centered Journey, Gender-based Huddles

3. Live Sent: Test Drives, Service opportunities, Mission experiences  (For more on the LifePoint Living Sent Journey read The Sending Church, Pat Hood)

GROW:  Research shows a vast increase spiritual transformation in those who spend time with God in his word at least 4 days a week.  (Transformational Groups, Stetzer & Geiger)

So how do we know people in our ministry, our small group, our family are growing in Christ.  Well of course the words they use, how they spend their time, what they do with their finances and maybe how they use their gifts and talents.  But is there more? Is there a way to check my own growth on a regular basis?

  • Spiritual Health Survey: We have an on-line spiritual health survey in which we can check our growth on the 5 Characteristics of a Disciple for LifePoint Church.  This survey is notall inclusive, nor are the 5 Characteristics.  But this gives each of us a starting point to keep us on the tracks to becoming disciples.  Twice a year every small group is asked to
    • take the survey here
    • discuss the results
    • decide on a personal or group plan using one (or more) of the options from the Next Steps page.

 

  • Christ Centered Journey: Being a Small Group Leader is more than planning where and when we will meet next; or even which study we will choose, filling out an attendance report or worrying about childcare.  (In fact, if you are spending your time doing any of these you need to read about sharing the load here).   A Small Group Leader’s job centers around helping those around you grow in their relationship with Christ and each other…as they help you in those same endeavors.  We do not arrive at this spiritual shepherd level over night, it takes time to grow. (Read more about our progression as a small group leader here).                                                                                                               As you consider your leadership or participant role in spiritual growth, review the Christ Centered Journey here.  Determine where you think you are and make a decision to spend time this week with God and his word to determine your next step.

 

  • Gender based Huddles:  We are experiencing the value of gender-based relationships or huddles.  Huddles are groups of 3-5 people of the same gender spending extra time together each week or bi-weekly.  Before you jump off the deep end and say “I don’t have time for that” consider how much time you are already spending with the guys in your group.  If you are in a small group chances are you are already doing the time part of a huddle.  Why not add some intentionality to that time.  Add a key question or discussion topic to your cookout or golf game.  Have a “ladies night out” with a disciple making principle as the topic of discussion.

In a more formal process for one-on-one disciple making become a shepherd to those in your group.  Individually meet with the same gender once a week as you shepherd them through the Next Step they have chosen from the survey results.

Growth takes effort.  Growth takes time.  Growth takes more than a single element. Growth needs to be an intentional focus of your life.  What is your next step?

 

 

 

My husband and I started attending Lifepoint in 2010.  At the time, we were not yet married and he had been going to Men’s Fraternity and to church on Sunday.  He was not at all convinced he needed a small group to get more connected.  When I joined him at the church in the spring of 2010, there were several things we were living through that kept us from immediately joining a small group.
As we worshiped each week, I knew this was the place that God wanted me (and Bryan) to get connected deeper, He wants us to live in relationship with Him and others who follow Him.  In the late winter of 2010 I convinced Bryan to go to a on campus group class that was going to be discussing REAL Marriage – after-all, we were getting married in a couple of months.  We joined this 6 week class, led by our Marriage and Family Pastor and his wife.  While there, we met a great couple and really hit it off with them.  We had a great experience in this group setting so Bryan was open to joining the Connections Small Group that met each week on campus.  Yeah! I was thrilled to get more involved in the church, meet more people and really strengthen my (fairly) new walk with Christ.
We went to our first Connections Small Group and who was also in there? Our friends we met in the marriage group!  That made it seem all the more right that we were where we were suppose to be.  We continued attending the Connections group for the remainder of 2011.  When the church announced they were doing GroupLink to start new small groups, Bryan and I thought this was the perfect time to leave Connections (Connections purpose is to make connections then start a small group) and be part of another small group.  Apparently our friends were wanting the same thing and one Sunday when Bryan and I were out of town, they volunteered us to not only start, but LEAD a small group! (Note to self, don’t miss a Sunday because you may just get volun-TOLD to do something).
We were completely OK with taking on a group in our home, although we were both a little nervous.  We had not been part of an off-sight: small group, we were NOT well versed in the Bible, we were in the INFANT stage of our walk, what if we didn’t lead people correctly?  What if they knew more about the Bible than we did?  What if…..ANYTHING?  Satan really tried to convince me that we were NOT leader material.  Well, Satan did not win.  We started our small group in February of 2012.  The church wide campaign made it quite easy to lead as they provided study material and our Pastor was preaching the series on Sunday.
Here we are, 2 1/2 years later. 4 families sharing life – the good, the bad and the ugly.  I love my group like family.  We laugh, we cry, we challenge and above all we love!  We have seen growth and will be sending out one of our friends to start their own small group this year.  While this is so bitter sweet because this is the couple we bonded with from the very beginning, it is awesome to see how God has used this family to do GREAT things in our church and for His Kingdom!  I could not be more proud to have been able to witness this transformation.
Small group is amazing,  It is a way to connect, to grow, to live, to care and to serve.  It has had its struggles but the rewards are great.  If your not in a small group, will you consider joining one?  You will not be sorry.  We weren’t.

After directing Sermon based Small Group campaigns for many years I have discovered there are foundational questions we need to answer each year.   This may be your first campaign or tenth, either way, here are some foundational questions you need to answer for each campaign.

1.   What is the goal (hope to accomplish) of conducting this campaign?  It happened a few years ago in our evaluation meeting of the 6-week campaign.  As we sat in staff meeting discussing the campaign no one had any excitement about what had just consumed hours and weeks of our energy.  There was not a clear answer as to what we accomplished in the campaign.  Then someone asked: “What was our goal for this campaign?”  No one had an answer. As Zig Ziglar said “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”

2. What is success for the Small Group Leader?  Is it to baptize a member of the group; grow the group larger than any other small group;  enter into a disciple making relationship with a member, start a church; have stories of life change; build community; etc?  All of these are grand endeavors, but clarifying the win for the leader will give them something at which to aim.  Our on-going success goals for a small group can be found at lifepointchurch.org/groups

3. How will we connect the unconnected to a group?  There are a lot of ways to conduct a Connection event and we try something new at least every 3 years.  We help potential leaders think about this question on our “Leader Interest Application.” We help leaders think about the unconnected at the time they express interest in leading a group.  A couple of months before the campaign we begin to promote the connection event to existing leaders to encourage co-leaders to start a group and how they will add to their group. Each potential leader should be able to think of at least 2 couples they would like to invite to their new group.

4. How will we prepare and/or train the leaders for this campaign? This has become a passion of mine as I have watched various methods of preparation succeed in different ways.  One thing I know, the energy and effort I give to preparing leaders before the campaign has never been wasted.  We have given books away to every leader, had Facebook chat sessions, shot videos, used RightNow Media trainings,  brought in speakers/trainers for certain resources and conducted Launch Lunches weeks prior to campaign.  We are currently using a 6-week development process that covers making disciples and leading a group.  This process overlaps our connection event which has encouraged many new leaders after the big event.

5. What do we do after the campaign is over? I learned this one in 2003 but have to remind myself and our team every campaign.  In 2003 our church did the Purpose Driven Life campaign, 40 Days of Purpose.  While this campaign was life-changing for many as well as community-building for the entire church, we did not plan for day 41.  When the campaign ended everyone looked around and asked What’s next? We did not have suggested small group studies nor a daily devotional plan.  We had not taught people how to develop their own devotional methods, resources to use or how to discover service opportunities on their own.  Now, one of our key questions to ask as we plan every campaign is What do we plan to do on day 41?

What more Small Group leadership help?  Check out questions like these and other helpful thought provoking stories in Connecting in Communities, Understanding the Dynamics of Small Groups.

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I am on staff at LifePoint Church as the Executive Director of GroupLife. While I get to serve with a great team and help lead a great church, the opinions and views shared here are not necessarily the views of LifePoint Church or other staff. You have been warned...
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