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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.

“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?

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.

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 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)

Live Sent: How are you using the influence, the talent, the time, the things God has given you…to help others realize His presence and grow in a relationship with Him?  It may start with serving at your local church, finding a need in your neighborhood and meeting it or traveling to another city, state or country on a special mission experience.  But how to you start living sent?

  • Test Drives: This is your opportunity to spend 15 minutes in an overview tour of an on-campus ministry that you are interested in serving.  If you like to work with sound, lights or production, take a Test Drive of Worship Arts ministry.  If after the 15 minute overview you like what you see, your heart beats a little faster for the excitement of serving in that area, we invite you to stay for a worship experience to see options for where you might serve.  We do test drives in all our ministries to help people discover a place to live sent on campus.  You can sign up for a test drive at LifePoint here.

 

  • Service Opportunities: Work with your staff and local agencies for opportunities to serve others locally.  Volunteer as a group or individual to minister to others.  A guiding statement around LifePoint is “The more we grow, the more we serve. The more we serve, the more we grow.” Kyle Goen.  Watch for needs in your neighborhood or city for which you could rally a group of people to help serve.  Check out this list for ideas for your group, your church or your family.

 

  • Mission Experience: We have discovered a major spiritual transformation experience is going on a mission trip. After reviewing the Christ Centered Journey with several of our leaders, it became more clear that some were living a transformed life in the Maturing and Christ Centered stages.  We asked several of these leaders what was the biggest catalyst that moved them forward on the journey.  Immediately they referred to a mission trip where God had clearly shown them, challenged them, gave them a vision of what life in Christ could look like.  It was not the trip location or project necessarily, but the chance to be set apart for a week dedicating all your energy and time to serving Him.  The relationship has a chance to grow deeper and more personal.  The communication and faith increase at a rapid level when on a mission experience.  Here are  some of LifePoint’s opportunities for you to live sent.

What can you do to help people around you live sent?

 

 

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.

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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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