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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.

How can I be intentional about building deeper relationships with friends this summer?  The flowers are all in bloom, the allergy season has passed, the temperature rises and grilling out seems to be the natural thing to do.  This summer why not be intentional about building relationships with friends and neighbors.  I’m not talking about trying to build more relationships with new people.  Focus on the social circles your already run in…teams, neighbors, friends, co-workers, etc.  Take one night a week or a couple of nights a month this summer and invite some friends over and use that deck, patio, pool, swing that you worked so hard to get.

Here’s three thoughts on being intentional:

1. Invites: who should you invite?  I would start with a group of people who are my friends but may not know each other.  Invite four or five couples and ask each one to bring their favorite dessert and drink.  You can provide the main course to grill along chips or veggies.

2. Gas, plastic ware & decorations:  Don’t forget to check the grill gas  and have plenty of plastic ware on hand.  Maybe decorate the backyard with colorful balloons, tiki torches, fresh-cut flowers or your favorite decor from Better Homes and Garden.

Ok, so all that sounds simple, I know.  But this next step is what makes the evening intentional.

3. Ice breaker Questions: plan to have a couple of questions you would like for people to answer.  My favorites are the ones that share something about the person’s childhood, home life, dreams and/or passions. Remember to sprinkle in spiritual language in your conversation.

Sample ice breaker questions: (not for cookouts only 🙂 )
-When you were a child, what was your favorite room in your house? Why?
-What would be your dream vacation and why?
-Who was your best friend growing up?  What was unique about them?
-If you were rich, what do you think you would do with all your time?

 

 

 

Each Summer Lifepoint Church encourages families to intentionally invest in their neighborhoods.  Sometimes this is walking the streets, lending a hand, borrowing tools, or cooking out together.  At least once a summer we help them throw Block Parties for fun and relationship building.  Here are three steps we encourage people to take to have a great experience.

1. Develop a team, don’t do this alone!  Several reasons this is #1: it sounds overwhelming to take on such a party by yourself so we eliminate that right up front.  Talk with a couple of other families (from your church or not) and develop a team to manage the party.   Why? Because
-You will need families in charge of various items below.
-You will encourager more people to attend by including more people in the planning.  -You will still have energy to get out of bed the day after the party.

2. inflatables, donuts eating contest, music, etc:  this is where the creative minds on the team really get excited.  For larger neighborhoods, find out if there is a Home Owners Association (HOA) if so, is there a socials budget?  For smaller gatherings, have team decide on activities, food, timing and entertainment.  Then assign each family some of these responsibilities.  We have 1 or 2 inflatables to keep kids and younger minded dads busy.  Someone is brings chips and grills hotdogs.  The party couple seems to always end up running the games and contests.

3. Email list: I don’t like to have a bunch of people together and not get their name or a way to communicate with them again.  So have a sign up sheet so they can get info about other neighborhood events, needs, emergencies, information, etc.  Keep the communication going because it is a part of building relationships.

Good luck!   And please share your Block Party story with me via comments on this blog.

Helpful resource for being Intentional in your neighborhood: Making Room for Neighbors by Max Lucado & Randy Frazee       making room for life  

Think about the many social circles you run in: family, work, sports, hobbies and community.

Are you intentional about listening?

Are you intentional about sprinkling your conversations with spiritual language?

Are you intentional about discovering where people are in their relationship with Christ?

This summer I plan to be intentional about all three of these questions. Over the last few years I have slowed down in what I try to accomplish in a meeting, a day, a community project, and at home. Not because I am getting older. Nor is it because I want to be lazy. It is so I can be intentional, so I can listen and share more about life and eternity.

This was a hard lesson learned while on a mission trip to southern Mexico. We were there to install wood cook-stoves in Mayan Village huts. We were told there were 50 stoves in the warehouse, so I took that as our goal for the week (silly American). After watching the missionary install two stoves, my teammate and I took off on our own to install as many as we could on the first day. Halfway through the fourth installation the missionary walked in and said “Eddie, if you would slow down a little I might have time to tell the hut owners about Jesus.” I stopped dead in my tracks. I had missed the intentionality of which we were there for…not stoves, but THE story!

Can you identify a couple or two that you would enjoy cooking out with? What about a co-worker or someone on your kid’s sports team? It may be a neighbor whom God has placed on your heart who you already spend time with, but lack intentionality. How could you use three months of your life to be intentional for God in one of your circles?

I challenge you to consider being intentional about listening, deepening the relationship you already have with them and sprinkling your conversations with spiritual language. Take time to listen. Offer encouragement to them.

For helpful idea s on how to sprinkle your conversation with spiritual language see:
Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels.hybels

What do you do to love your neighbor as yourself? For many this may seem like a chore, others may see it as a normal daily life activity. Most of us are so busy, how could we have time to think of serving others? I was taught that it does not have to that difficult!

My mother-in-law taught me a lot over the years. One of the life-lessons she taught me was how to love our neighbors daily, in the natural course of life. When she bought groceries she would pick up an extra can of food. When she bought linens, she would grab an extra set of towels. And of course the baby gifts would pile up too, by purchasing a teether, rattle or package of diapers when they were on sale. She would store these items in the front bedroom closet. On almost every visit Mamaw would tell us to get something out of the “front bedroom closet” and take it to someone she knew. At her funeral I mentioned how most everyone present had received something from the “front bedroom closet.” Several people smiled and agreed they had been the recipient of item or two over the years.

What an example this became for our family.  We are always looking for opportunities to love our neighbors and this practice makes it a normal part of our life.

Where is your “front bedroom closet”? Can you pick up an extra item or two today as you stop by the store?  What could you do today to “love your neighbor as yourself?

Several years ago Randy Frazee and Rick Howerton launched my family and me into a lifestyle of making room for neighbors.  That lifestyle continues today and we continue to see the multiplications as neighbors repeat the practice.

It all began with a 42 inch picket fence.  Randy, in his book The Connecting Church, encourages the readers to not build privacy fences, build 42 inch picket fences so you can talk over them to your neighbors.  I even joke that 42 inch tall fence is perfect height to lean on as you talk. Fortunately when we moved into our neighborhood, both our neighbors had 42 inch sectional fences.

For the first couple of years I would make time for neighbors by talking to them over the backyard fence.  Many times I would lean on their fences and chat. This investment over time developed into a deep friendship. The couple joined our small group.  We ate meals together.  We helped each other with projects, doctor visits, service to other neighbors, and a lot of laughter about what God had done through our relationship that started by leaning on a backyard fence.

The time came when our neighbors had to move.  It was a very sad day for us.  But we trusted God in what he was doing in all of our lives.  They moved into an apartment in a much larger city, where they knew no one.

About a year after moving I received a call from them.  We caught up on old times and laughed about the projects and ‘trouble’ we used to get into. Then my friend mentioned our backyard conversations and how I leaned on his fence as we talked about projects, life, family and God.  He complained how he thought I had wore the paint off his rail fence by standing there so many times as we talked.  He then said “You know, I am doing that same thing with a guy who is far from Christ right here in our apartment building, except I am using a truck fender since we do not have a fence.”  We both laughed out loud.

God had used a fence and many conversations over time to draw an entire family to him.  Now he was multiplying that practice to the next recipient hours away from where it started.

Spring is near! Beautiful weather invites you to come lean on a fence.

Now is the time to prepare for an Easter Egg Hunt as an opportunity to get to know your neighbors and have a fun-safe event for the kids,.  The steps to hosting an Easter Egg Hunt for your neighborhood are simple.   Our neighborhood of 200 homes can host an Easter Egg Hunt for less than $100.

First, consider the streets around you.  What do you call “your neighborhood”?  For some it may be as simple as the houses that are inside your subdivision, clearly defined by only one or two entrances.  For others it may be a community identified by a common name or region.  Either way, identify the area you want to invite.

Second, invite some neighbors to be part of the core group that will help you host the hunt.  For us, this is our neighborhood Small Group.  To discover other church attenders who live near you, ask your church  office if they can send you a list of other church attenders who live near you.  You then can call and ask them to help.  Get together with these people and decide on who can bring coffee, get prizes, set up tables, and bring eggs for the egg toss. (in Middle TN it is usually too cold for donuts).

Third, design a flyer (or email if you have a directory of your neighborhood), copy, and have core team distribute to homes.  The flyer will need to have:
Event title        Hosted by/for
Time            Location
Date            Age Divisions (Birth-3 yrs; 4-6 yrs; 6-9yrs)
**Egg toss following hunt for ages 10 –up.
“We are asking each family to bring a dozen or two plastic eggs filled with individually wrapped candy.  We can stuff the eggs for you if you do not have time.  Please drop off all eggs by (Friday night date) at (addresses of two core team members).  You can help us hide eggs on Saturday morning.   There will be prize eggs for each division.
If you will be blocking off any streets, please include this on the flyer and the times the street will be blocked.  People will still complain, but at least you tried to explain ahead of time.

Always start 10 to 15 minutes after advertised time.  In 10 years of hosting Easter Egg Hunts I have learned that there are ALWAYS two or three families that are late.  And for Easter Egg Hunts you only have about four minutes before all the eggs are gone.  ☺

Fourth
, core team will meet on Friday night to stuff eggs.  Saturday morning, hide eggs, set up prize table (usually 5 prizes <animals, coloring books, crayons, chocolate bunny> per division; however the last few years so many people have helped in collecting prizes that we have a prize for every participant), rope off division areas, (we use wooden stakes and caution tape), and keep kids out of hiding areas until 10 minutes after start time.  Some of the core team will manage the hunt while others work the crowd.  Many parents will stand around, drink coffee and introduce themselves to their neighbors while the kids hunt eggs.  This is the time for some of your core team to be meeting others, listening for stories and discern next steps in the relationships with neighbors.

Fifth, encourage everyone to attend the next event, gather names of people who would like to help with next event and then clean up.
The entire event is about an hour and a half.  Our work begins at 10am to hide eggs and set up tables.  Easter Egg Hunt will be at 11:00am.  Then we clean up and take down tables and go home by 11:30am.
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**The egg toss consist of real eggs and teams of two players of any age old enough to catch and throw.  The two players line up across from each other approximately five feet. One has an egg that he/she tosses underhand to the other player.  The receiving player must catch the egg without it breaking.  Take two steps back and repeat toss in the opposite direction.  Be sure to not catch the egg over your head or in front of your face or a messing cleanup will be the result.  The team who can toss and catch the egg without breaking it is the winner.  Kids (and some parents) will continue to play this until all the eggs are broken.  We usually provide two dozen eggs for this game.

Happy hunting.

We scheduled our last, regular small group, before taking a summer break gathering in a local park.  This way the kids could “run amuck” and we would have a nice quiet place to talk, laugh and just enjoy each other’s company. Well because we decided to do this last-minute AND it happened to be a big high school graduation weekend, there weren’t any pavilions available.  We finally found one open but it was not as secluded as we had wanted. We had hoped for a pavilion that just our group could enjoy without being “bothered” by others.

We arrived at the park and started setting up. We were right beside the playground, so the kids were able to go and play, while the adults hung back and talked. I noticed that there were about 5 kids that kept hanging around our kids, playing with them and the toys they brought. After we had been there a while, I heard one of our ladies, Meagan, tell her son to run to their van and get his old flip-flops out and bring them to her. When Beau brought them back to her, I watched her go up to one of the little boys playing by us and ask him to take off his shoes. When I looked at him, I noticed that he had on some old broken, sandals. They literally had one little strap that kept them on his feet. She told him to try on the flip-flops her son had retrieved from their car. They fit him perfectly. He got the biggest smile on his face and she told him, “ you can have these”.  I heard him say, with such excitement, “I have some flip-flops!” He ran off in those shoes and I saw him showing other kids, “his new flip-flops”.  Our entire group saw what she did and realized, at that very moment, how God had orchestrated that whole event. He knew we needed to be at that park! He knew we needed to serve! I was so caught up in us being able to hang out with each other, without being “bothered” by others, that I lost sight of why we are there.

What God has called us to do is minister and serve, every day in every situation. We do not get to choose who we influence, that is God’s job! We simply live life, expecting to give God glory! I am so proud of Meagan and her servant’s heart. She was paying attention when most of us were preoccupied with our own lives. We all learned a lesson that day and realized, God can show up anywhere and that we need to be watching for Him and noticing the needs of others.

(story submitted by the Wilhoite LifePoint Small Group)

How am I doing?  Summer time = Influence Time (3 of 3)

As we wind down the school year and prepare for summer, activities galore hit us. I am sitting here trying to arrange travel for my baseball playing son to 5 cites for multiple nights in May-July, making sure we have a few dates to see the grandparents, wondering about family vacation, small group get-togethers, baseball practice or games every night, oh and work and pool/boat time.  (Are you tired yet?)

Then I realized I am not on my street, in my community, involved in baseball or part of a small group for ME.  It is not about all the “What’s” on our schedules, but the “Who’s.”

God has given me these opportunities to influence people toward Him.  When my family participates in pool parties, sits in the stands or helps coach a baseball team, travel with other families to games, have small group get-togethers, these are times to show Christ.  These are opportunities, if we are intentional, to help people move closer to being like Christ.

Influencing people toward Christ this summer is not something extra!  It is not something to add to your schedule.  It is being intentional and thinking about where God has planted you and the interests/hobbies he has placed in your heart.  It is being intentional to talk with people in your everyday summer activities.

Who is on your team that is not a Christ-follower or could use some encouragement?

Who could you invite to your pool party that is not connected to a Small Group or Church?

Who lives on your street that needs a smile and words of encouragement or maybe an invite to your cookout?

How will your summer end differently because you intentionally focused on the “Who’s” rather than the “What’s”?

Summer time changes a lot of schedules for families.  This summer I want to challenge you and your group to take advantage of this and try to notice others, their needs, their hobbies/interests and the opportunity to build relationships with them.  Take a few minutes to help someone or encourage someone.  There are a variety of fun, creative and exciting ways you can meet your neighbors/groups/organizational leaders and build meaningful relationships with them.

Here are some key ingredients that your group might want to consider. Make a few notes to help focus your thoughts:

-What area of town do you want to focus on? The area you meet in, schools your kids attend, where you shop most, etc:

-Where is the need? Most of us drive to and from work and never notice the needs around us. Pray to see the need in your community.  Then try to identify the top 5 needs you see and discuss with neighbors or your group.  This will help you discover your groups/neighbors interests and where you are being led to serve.

-Here are questions to consider as your group discusses the options:

-How often will our group need to fill this need?  1, 2  or may be 4 times a year?  What about monthly?

-How many people will it take to fill the need?  Can our entire group serve or just one deliver what we collect?  Maybe your group could combine with another group.

-What skills do we need to fill this need?  Be careful and not over commit to something like replacing a roof unless you have the skills and equipment needed.

What are people’s responsibilities? I would encourage someone to take notes on who will do what and when.  Getting a list of jobs and dates for them to be completed can help in keeping the community and productivity strong in your group.

And finally, how will we know if we have been successful in meeting this need?

Jesus’ words should be a constant reminder of why we do these things.  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence–and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  Luke 10:27 msg

When you are finished, here are some questions to consider as a group:

How will we share this story?  Facebook, blog, twitter, pictures, video?  Who will be in charge of sharing the story?

How will sharing this story benefit the community?

How will it benefit our group?

Here are some fun and creative suggestions specifically for your neighborhood:

-Note cards to encourage someone you see doing something well: garden, lawn, painting, parenting, etc.  -Throw a party for new neighbors or deliver a basket of fruit or flowers to new neighbors.  -Have a movie night on your garage door.  The kids can watch the movie with you or you can pool your resources and hire a babysitter.  -Create a hanging basket out of construction paper and ribbon.  Fill with flowers and hang on neighbors doors in the spring.  -Begin an annual Night Out for your community/street.  Plan for fun activities for all ages to have fun as well as meet neighbors.

(Always learn from others!  This blog was adapted from a pamphlet which I was given by Matt Graybill of LCBC Church. And Field Guide to Neighborhood Outreach, Group)

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Disclaimer

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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