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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.

“Leading a small group is more like gardening than being a mechanic” Greg Bowman

Knowing your group’s objectives, goals and purpose is essential to leading successfully.  If your church has not clarified those for you, gather your group together and discuss goals and make a plan for 2015.

We have determined three objectives for our groups: Community, Care, Foundational Bible study.

1. Develop Community:

“Nothing unites a group
(builds community)
like a common project or common enemy.”

Here are a few things we emphasize groups have on their calendars in order to help build community:
Party monthly: Each group should have a “party monthly” where we can just be real.  We suggest one of these per quarter be intentionally for inviting our unconnected friends.
Mission trip: If a common project unites the group, then plan for a mission trip every few years.
Serve together: How fast can you rally your group to serve someone outside the group? Build an atmosphere of “serving is normal” so that it is not a scheduled event but a lifestyle/’groupstyle.’  (A common enemy is something like a crisis, someone in the group gets cancer.)
Leave time after the meeting for chat time! Community is built through conversations, not lectures.
Plan ahead increases participation

2. Care for people:

Care builds relationships.
Relationships increase transparency.

Transparency makes way for discipleship.

If you are leading a small group, it probably has a lot to do with God directing you to lead, shepherd, care and disciple people.  One way we see spiritual growth happening is via “Relationships and Conversations” You disciple people because you care about them. To care for people means listening, spending time with and even serving together.
How are you doing on these?    With whom in your group do you have neither of these?

3. Conduct Foundational Bible Study:

“Bible study at least twice a month, party once
and
a service project every month.”

“A. Study the Bible for yourself, but not just by yourself
B. Never engage the text without encountering the author
C. Read the Bible for transformation, not just information.”
Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, Bill Donahue

4. Continue to develop your Leadership:

“If you are interested in being interested…”
the you should naturally be interested in
constantly developing in your leadership abilities.

Check out this Youtube video for our Leadership Camp experience:

-Take advantage of training and developing opportunities
-Take advantage of free books
-Take advantage of leadership development opportunities at your church.

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?

You have probably been on or at least entertained the thought of taking a mission trip.  At Lifepoint we call them ‘experiences’ instead of trips.  That is because a trip implies a start and end date.  Experiences implies a potential life-changing event that can have a lasting impact in what you do when you return.

So why do we spend our vacations, our money, take shots, pills and a week packing for a journey to another city, state or country?  What was the goal of the mission experience in which you participated?  In the years of participating and now leading mission experiences God has shown me several benefits and experienced several stories that have developed my thoughts on mission experiences.

1. For Them:  we go to a country to help with medical issues, construction, education, training, evangelism, etc.  Our focus and conversation is on the people who live where we are going.  This can go to extreme in some cases (which I am not promoting!) where we even print shirts say “saving _______” fill in with country or area you are serving.  We have to be careful in what we communicate. But the goal of helping others is a valid reason to considering going on a mission experience.

2.  For Us: After several mission experiences with various people I began to realize the impact these trips have on the individuals that go.  We will never be the same.  Our worldview just “expanded past the PlayStation and iPhone” as the 13 yr old shared in her story upon the return from Haiti.  God uses this time to expand our faith, grow our relationship with him and draw us closer to the Christ-Centered life to which He is calling all of us.  In the Christ Centered Journey research we discovered a vast gap between Growing and Maturing stages.  The top two answers on how people overcame this gap were: 1. a crisis, which we can’t create in a life. 2. a mission trip, which we can easily calendar and organize.  LifePoint’s purpose statement is to Point People to a Christ-Centered Life.  Mission experiences are one of the major element in that process.

3. The Ministry: We know nothing unites a group like a common enemy or a common project.  So what better way to unite your group and/or ministry division than a mission trip?  The rally cry of a group taking on the work to organize and participate in a mission experience is like no other.  The faith element of being on a trip where you have to trust God for your meals, safety, team unity, etc will grow this team tremendously.  They will never be the same.  This has the potential to change an entire ministry, your church, your group, your community. Nothing unites or builds community like a common project or common enemy or common MISSION EXPERIENCE!

So, now you know why am I so passionate about taking and/or leading mission experiences and expecting EVERY LifePoint small group leader to participate in one before January 2016?  What trip will you plan, take, lead in the next 18 months?

Here are some choices for you.

Here is your Passport application.

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?

 

 

 

1. Connect: LifePoint Adults, Connection Events, Campaigns

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

3. Live Sent: Test Drives, Service opportunities, Mission experiences

 

 

CONNECT:

  • “LifePoint Adults” area: ALl of LPA areaLifepoint Adults is the place for information on small groups, adult ministries, leader resources and Christ Centered Journey resources.  On average we have the opportunity to talk with four new families a week seeking to connect to a small group.  Volunteers work the area on a rotation basis, with help from SG Leaders who are looking to add people to their groups. People who we are unable to connect immediately are invited to attend “Connections Class.”  Connections is an opportunity for you to study God’s Word with other adults at LifePoint Church while building relationships in hopes of starting a SG.  The class itself varies in size and content from week to week but the overall purpose remains the same, connect people to God, His Word and each other.

 

  • Connection Events: This is our version of GroupLink . Each fall and spring we display the open and new small groups in our main foyer.  People looking to connect to a group can browse the listings, talk with leaders and GroupLife team members to discuss group options.  Then attend an event in which they choose which group to commit to a group for six weeks as well as conduct the first session of our 6-week study.

 

  • Create New Groups for Campaigns:  “People like to connect to something new,” @reidsmith.  In order to focus the entire church on community & Bible study, twice a year we launch new groups via a Sermon & Small Group Campaign.  Promotion begins about 6-8 weeks prior to the launch with a call from stage for new small group leaders with our Pastor’s question:  “Are you interested in being interested in starting a small group?” @pathood  Next, we offer a 6-week Leadership Camp for training on meetings and disciple making. (Various ideas exist on how much training to do before starting a group.  Adapt this information to your situation.  See Epiphany: Progression of a Small Group Leader for our experience.)  Here is a brief video on our Camp: Develop Your Leaders

In the end we focus on building relationships, whether it is getting connected at Connection event, via LifePoint Adults or joining a new group in a Campaign.  Relationships are the key to transparency, which comes from time together and building trust.  And transparency is key in making disciples.

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.

My wife and I started our group 4 years ago. We had lots of expectations and hope that God would speak through us and use us to his glory. We started with 4 family’s and lots of kids. Lots!!! As seasons changed so did the group. One family left and we picked up 2 more. Through more seasons, I wondered what God was doing and if this group was the right fit and if we were growing spiritually.

Next thing I know we added another entire group. That made 6 family’s including us in our group. It was crazy. Two of the families were from California. It just so happens that my oldest daughter lives in California and that helped open some doors for conversion and broke down some barriers.

Another year went by and a new season for our group.  One family moved back to California and we were down to 5 couples. That’s about the time the doors flow wide open. We were able to do life outside of church and go canoeing or just hang-out with ‘church’ not being the only focus. We also began serving in the homeless ministry, “Room in the Inn” and the “Journey Home Charities”.  We learned “Nothing unites a group like a common enemy or common project.” (see “Common Enemies”)

After another year went by, my wife Brandie and I hit a rough spot in our marriage. God opened my eyes even more and giving up on my selfish ways and striving for more of him. I gave all of it to God and let him lead us. Since then we had a young couple with a passion for kids, leave and start serving in church with the kids ministry. Another couple stepped out of our group and started their own small group, which has added other couples and done well. So then we were down to 3 family’s total.

More quiet than ever, I keep praying for direction and what we could do to continue this journey. The guys began to have lunch together and even attended the Mighty Men Conference. The ladies were connecting during the week as well. Things were going great. We saw God move in our group as I had the honor of  baptizing one of the ladies in our group. From there I thought wow, it’s ‘ok’ to be small.

In January the church launched the sermon & small group series “New.”  I challenged every one in our group about being new this year and how we could grow in our faith. Well things did change. We had another couple called to lead a “New” group. They attended Leadership Camp, wondering if anyone would even join their group.  At GroupLink 2 family’s joined their group and a new group was formed out of our group.

God is amazing in the changes he has done in all of our lives through these seasons. But through group we have not only grown as a family, but as a “Large Faith Family” as well. Now we are back down to 2 couples. The journey continues and what God has in store for the next season, who knows. But for his glory, I know it will be another great year!!

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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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