Archive for category Small Groups
By Allen White
Group member’s personalities certainly have an impact on the dynamics of the group. For about 20 years, I have taught Vicki Barnes’ The Real You people skills training. Based on a study of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Vicki’s own research, this training gives great insights into group dynamics as well as team relationships. (If you’d like me to lead one for your team, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Over the next few posts, I want to explore the four personality types plus one bonus post. We’ll be looking at the Producer in this post as represented by the Apostle Paul. From here we’ll examine the Planner, the Promoter, and the Peacekeeper plus the bonus.
A producer is known for being bold and drawn to action. The Apostle Paul is a great example. He was definitely a dynamic leader both for and against the church. A producer’s biggest concern is power and results. I’d say Paul certainly had results.
Paul says of himself, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20). He didn’t set out to thoroughly research and write his own version like Luke, which is very much Planner behavior. Paul wasn’t impetuous like Peter, our Promoter. He also wasn’t trying to avoid rocking the boat like we see with Abraham. Paul wanted to break new ground, fish or cut bait, poop or get off the…you get it.
In a group, the producers concern will be over pace and results. They won’t have a lot of tolerance for long winded stories or discussions that go round and round with no clear conclusion. Now, please understand that even though this describes producer behavior, it is not license for bad behavior. Producers can learn patience just like everyone else.
A producer’s motto is “get to the bottom line.” In a group, the bottom line can be reaching the end of the study, taking on a group project, making a hostile takeover of another group so your group can grow. Ok, maybe not that last one.
Producers typically have the highest self-confidence and the lowest self-esteem. Their persona will be to charge any mountain, but their minds they are only as good as their last accomplishment. When a producer has a setback, they will try to “slogan” themselves into a positive attitude: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison) or “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” (Og Mandino). Now there is some truth there, but as a group leader, realize that a producer with a devastating setback is feeling it more deeply than they let on. Now, this isn’t permission to start delving into their wound. They probably won’t open up and share. But, their pain can certainly be exhibited in other behaviors like escapism, over-working and certainly irritability.
Producers will help the group get things done. Sometime producers will get things done at the expense of speed bumping the relationships in the group. They will plow through a lesson to get to the finish, but may not pause long enough to discuss a heartbreak in one of the group member’s lives.
If you want something done, put the producer in charge, but maybe not in charge of the prayer time. Like all of us, producers can learn and grow to become more like Christ. Jesus is working in them, even if it feels like you might be dealing with Attila the Hun. Remember, Saul who became Paul on the road to Damascus.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t give us a personality transplant. After all Dr. Billy Graham has shown tremendous producer behavior. Remember when he was challenged about his trip to Russia years ago? Someone told him Russia wouldn’t accept the message of Christ. Dr. Graham replied, “They will when I leave.”
The ambitious producer nature of Paul’s personality accomplished much for the spread of the Gospel. What can the producers in your group help you accomplish?
For more information on my workshop, CLICK HERE.
To pick up a copy of Vicki Barnes, The REAL You: Making Sense of Relationships: CLICK HERE.
For More Posts in This Series:
By Allen White
Rick Warren has talked about his small group in messages at Saddleback Church and at conferences around the country for years. But, who is this small group? I’ve known for quite a while because I work for Brett Eastman, one of the group’s members.
Last Sunday, Rick and his group did something remarkable — Rick Warren’s small group presented the weekend message together live on the stage of Saddleback Church. Watch this message called “Fighting for Awesome Friendships” and see Rick’s group in action. The group includes: Rick & Kay Warren, Tom & Chaundel Holladay (Tom is the group leader), Glen & Elizabeth Styffe, and Brett & Dee Eastman. Watch here: http://mediacenter.saddleback.com/mc/m/44B1D
One of the reasons Saddleback Church has maintain an unusually high percentage of its members and attenders in small groups is because of Pastor Rick Warren’s example. He doesn’t just talk the talk, but he walks the walk on small groups. If your pastor is not in a small group, his heart isn’t in small groups either. Think about it.
Last week I had the privilege of sharing a few thoughts with Jay Daniell, host of GroupTalk for the Small Group Network. We talked
about recruiting new small group leaders. I had the chance of sharing about five different ways and possibly at the same time. You can listen HERE.
Here are my notes from the call:
What is a group leader?
- An “Official” Group Leader representing the church
- A Group Host for one series
- Someone who gathers their friends for a study – 700 new launched at HPC this month.
- Will they have the title of “leader”?
- Will their names be on the church website?
- Will they participate in a connection event?
Who should you recruit?
- Influencers, existing group members, anyone willing.
- The type of group will determine the starting point re: qualifications.
- Official group – church member, training, interview.
- Host home – member or not, briefing, interview/application.
- “Go and Grow” – breathing and briefing
What should you recruit them to?
- DVD-based curriculum – easy to use.
- Just-in-time training – on the DVD, Youtube, blog.
- Trial Run – 6 weeks – Are they actually good at gathering and leading?
- A job description and a rigorous process don’t guarantee “problem free” groups. According to Mark Howell, there is no “problem free.”
How should you recruit them?
- Small Group Pastor/Director – You shouldn’t.
- Leverage your senior pastor and the pulpit.
- Align the weekend service and the group study, if you can. If not, leverage the senior pastor and the pulpit anyway for a non-aligned DVD-based series.
What if my senior pastor isn’t interested?
- Get your senior pastor interested.
- Create your own curriculum.
- Give your pastor great stories from small groups.
- Begin to think: “How can we launch small groups on that?” – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day, Columbus Day (singles)… Church events, church initiatives, major strategic moves in coming year.
- Intersect groups with your pastor’s interests.
- If your pastor wants to engage men, the answer is groups.
- If your pastor wants to improve stewardship, answer = groups.
- If your pastor wants to build a building…
- If your pastor wants to disciple new believers…
- Emphasize missions…
- Wherever God is leading your senior pastor to go, head right into that direction and become a broken record.
By Allen White
Over the years, I’ve encountered a few folks who are thrilled with Bible study, but less than thrilled by fellow believers. These folks have a great handle on the Word, but fall short in the deeds department. They don’t want to be bothered by going back to “elementary” teachings. They are Scriptural carnivores looking for the meat.
A while back, a church member complained he was bored with the basic, “seeker” nature of the questions in a study guide. “After all,” he told me as Hebrews 5:13-14 says, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV). I told him that’s not what the verse was talking about.
The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were contemplating abandoning Christianity and returning to Judaism. The “elementary teachings” and “milk” refers to the Old Covenant. The “solid food” refers to the New Covenant and life in Christ.
He told me he enjoyed this discussion. It was deep. Oh brother…
Most of us Bible scholars understand that an idol is anything we turn to instead of God. The confusion comes when the idol is studying God’s Word rather than turning to God. That seems a bit like splitting a hair. Maybe the correct issue is our pride regarding our Bible knowledge. We must remember that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). So, how do you know when Bible study has become idolatry for you?
1. You’re more interested in the study guide than your fellow group members.
A small group is community built around a Bible study. If you’re going to err in one direction or the other, then choose community over Bible study. But, if you always neglect Bible study, then that’s a problem too.
But, if you care more about the lesson and less about group life, you just might be missing the point. Sure, you can memorize Ephesians 4:32, but are you practicing it? If you leave your group meeting irritated because someone shared so much about their life crisis and the group couldn’t complete the Bible study, you just might be elevating Bible study a little too high.
2. You can’t tolerate “easy” questions.
Most Bible studies are designed with a opening question that anyone can answer. Then, there are discovery questions which are answered directly from the Scripture passages. Later in the study are interpretation questions and application questions. If you find yourself irritated by icebreakers and bored with discovery questions, then you may be focused on the wrong things. If what you have to say about God’s Word is more important than what God’s Word actually says, you have made an idol out of the study.
I am amazed at the number of “mature” believers who will pitch a fit over questions they already know the answers to. They have no patience for helping new believers understand the Scripture. Their focus is on their own intellectual curiosity. The study needs to cater to their interests. My question is this: How mature are these folks really?
3. You feel prayer requests and sharing life wastes precious Bible study time.
If you love Bible study, but you can’t stand people, you are missing the point. Our knowledge of Scripture should deepen our love for God and our love for each other. If you’d rather parse Greek verbs than persist in prayer for your fellow group members, then take a hermeneutics class and parse away…on your own…by yourself.
Please understand, in no way am I encouraging any group to toss out their Bible study. But, if studying the Bible doesn’t increase our compassion for others, something’s broken. After all, knowledge without grace leads us to legalism.
4. You can recite passages you never intend to obey.
Francis Chan asks this question, “If I asked my children to clean their rooms, and they only memorized my words, would that be enough?” We all must admit that it’s far easier to know the Word than to do the Word. Yet, the Bible tells us that faith without works is dead.
In the church, we have gone far too long substituting knowledge for faith. Often our excuse for not acting is that we don’t know enough. “I can’t witness to my neighbor. I don’t know enough of the answers.” Yet, we know Jesus. Isn’t He the answer? Our apologetic arguments aren’t going to win anyone to God’s Kingdom. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), right?
If we stopped our Bible study until we lived out the commands we already know, do you think we’d ever pick up our Bibles again? Now, we all need the encouragement of Scripture. But, as Howard Hendricks said, “Most Christians are already educated beyond their level of obedience.”
5. Bible study has become an escape from your real life.
I love God’s Word. I might even love God’s Word more than I love other people. After all, I’m going to do what God’s Word says rather than what others tell me to do. But, there’s a line we can cross when it comes to loving God’s Word – Can we love God’s Word more than we actually love God? We can learn His commands, yet not obey them. We can recite obscure nuances of Scripture from memory, yet do we go to those lengths to help other people?
Yes, we should turn to God’s Word for comfort. But, more importantly, we should turn to God. We should delight in helping others discover the truth of God’s Word. We should be challenged by the deeper meaning of Scripture – not secretive, hidden meanings – but truths applied and lived out in our daily lives. The Word of God is active, not passive. Our worship belongs to God, not to His Word.
By Allen White
When you think about such a large scale small group ministry like the one at Saddleback Church, it’s a little hard to wrap your mind around. How could a church of 25,000 or so on the weekend have over 50,000 connected in small groups? A ministry of that size doesn’t sound like small groups. It sounds like a decent sized town.
Sure, any church can get a bunch of people into groups for a short-term church-wide campaign, but how does Saddleback keep the arrow moving up and to the right? If these were temporary, thrown together groups, then you would expect them to disband as quickly as they formed. What’s the secret?
What makes a good group system? Trained, motivated leaders. Visionary direction. Welcoming groups. Growing group members. Any or all of these descriptions would produce effective groups. But, there is one word that captures all of this and is the secret to Saddleback’s small group success: Health. Balancing the biblical purposes of fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship and evangelism creates healthy groups, which in turn produce healthy group members.
Leading Small Groups with Purpose is a multifaceted resource. Steve Gladen not only gives the theory of small group ministry, he offers practical next steps to hit the group where the rubber meets the road. Whether a group has just started or has been together for a long time, each topic contains Crawl, Walk and Run steps to integrate the biblical purposes in the group, thus producing group health. This book is not over any leader’s head and is certainly not beneath any leader either.
Beyond the tools Steve offers in the book, he points the reader to many tools available on the web as well as quite a number of other resources. The book even comes with a small group assessment tool created by Dr. Les Parrott, which addresses group dynamics.
In practical, honest and humorous ways, Steve cleverly relates many stories from his own group experiences to convey his points. Having learned from the laboratory of over 5,000 groups at Saddleback Church, 30 years of ministry experience, and especially his own small group, this book speaks to the heart of small group leaders from a small group leader. While leading one of the largest small group ministries in the country, Steve is a small group leader through and through.
My only objection to this book is the author’s support of the Anaheim Angels in the World Series. Being a long time San Francisco Giants fan, I believe there never should have been a Game 7 in that Series. Other than this significant difference in core values, I’m a big fan of this book.
Every small group member, whether new or experienced, will benefit from this book. If you’re a group leader who feels a bit like you’re on your own, this book will serve as the small group pastor that you wish you had. If you are a small group pastor or director, do yourself a favor and buy a case of these books and hand them out to your leaders ASAP.
By Allen White
Church-wide campaigns are a powerful vehicle for connecting congregations into community and impacting spiritual growth. 40 Days of Purpose from Rick Warren, One Month to Live by Kerry Shook, and a number of other church-wide experiences prove the catalytic impact of a small group study aligned with a sermon series. Churches and their members will never be the same.
One size never fits all, especially in a church-wide campaign. When you invite all of your groups to do the same study that aligns to the weekend service, you might have just set yourself up for trouble. Your groups are made up of new Christians and non-Christians, “mature” Christians and critical ones. How do you meet the needs of all of your different groups with one curriculum?
Over-Promising + Under-Delivering = Great Frustration
1. State Up Front What the Curriculum Is and What It Isn’t
Managing expectations is key to focusing your groups on the right track. If your curriculum is designed for the broadest appeal, you will soon be hearing from your “mature” folks that the study is “light weight.” For the critics I know well, my usually is “I can see how you could think that if you were only talking about the material….”
Recently in helping a church full of nuclear engineers and rocket scientists develop a curriculum on the One Anothers of Scripture, we concluded that if the group members simple memorized all of the One Anothers, then we had failed. Practicing the One Anothers was the key, and it isn’t rocket science.
Let your groups know up front how the curriculum is designed and why. “We have created this curriculum for any person to use in doing this study with their friends.” It’s not that you avoided creating a “deeper” study – boy, that’s a loaded word – but, you have intentionally designed or chosen a study to include as many people as possible. After six weeks, they can choose something that’s maybe more to their liking.
2. Mayday, Mayday — If a Study Does Work, Throw It Out.
The worst thing that can happen to a group is to feel obligated to complete a study because they spent $10 on the book. Some studies just don’t work in every group. It’s better to lose the study rather than to lose your group.
Problems with ill-fitting studies can range from outright complacency to lack of participation to high absenteeism. This is not the time to just tough it out or put your head in the sand. State the obvious: “Is it just me or is this study not going very well?” Then, get feedback from the group. If the feeling is mutual, then it’s time to move on. If your members didn’t use the books (and they didn’t), there’s always Ebay.
The problem may not be the whole study, but just part of the study. A few years back, a group of 20-somethings were participating in a church-wide study. They were enjoying the study guide, but felt the DVD-teaching wasn’t scratching them where they itched. I recommend that they do the study without the DVD. Their response, “Oh, we’re way ahead of you on that one, Pastor Allen.” Some groups will never do a study without a DVD. Others will never do a study with one. And, that’s okay.
The bottom line is to do what makes sense for each group. Even if other groups raved about the study, it has to fit each group in order to work.
3. Design Your Curriculum to Meet a Variety of Needs
In designing your own curriculum, you can meet a variety of needs with one study. As my friend, Brett Eastman at Lifetogether.com says, “You need to double clutch the study.” At the beginning of the study offer two different ice breaker questions. For new groups and new believers, maybe the question is light-hearted and offers a way for folks to get to know each other. This is something that everyone will feel comfortable talking about. “Who is your favorite super hero and why?” “What was the source of warmth in your home?” “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” (That last one’s a joke.) For more mature believers, the question should go something like, “How did you apply what you learned in last week’s study?” Deeper involves doing.
For the rest of the study, you can offer a variety of questions at different levels. For newer folks, you want to start with questions that are easy to answer right out of Scripture. For more mature members, it’s good to include a “Going Deeper” section that offers more personal questions as well as Scripture cross-references to the core text. The aim in the “Going Deeper” section is to meet a need for knowledge along with a greater need for application.
The point here is to create different questions for different types of people, then articulate the study design to the group members. Some groups will use the first half of the study only. Other groups will skip the first section and dive into the deeper questions. Giving group members the full picture of the design will help them to understand and appreciate what you have developed.
You can’t please everybody all of the time. But, by taking the time to develop your own study with different group members in mind, you go a long way in meeting a variety of needs. Hearing and addressing their expectations up front will go a long way in leading a unified campaign.
By Allen White
How many times do you forgive a group member who’s offended you or outrightly sinned against you? When do you cut them off? Should there be limits on forgiveness, especially for repeat offenders?
In the Bible, Peter asks this question of Jesus: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Peter was willing to forgive. He just wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose count and over-forgive. After all, everything seems to have its limit. Why offer forgiveness when it’s undeserved?
Some translations use “seventy times seven,” while others use “seventy-seven” times. More often than not, the numbers in the Bible are figurative.
I had a professor in seminary who often said, “I wouldn’t bet my life on the numbers in the Bible.” He believed the Bible was the inspired word of God. He just understood the symbolic nature of numbers in Scripture.
So if we’re not to forgive literally 77 times or 490 times (70 x 7), then what is Jesus saying here? Some have interpreted what 70 and 7 represent. Seven is the Divine number in Scripture. Ten or a multiple of ten points to the exponential, if not infinite, nature of the point.
By using these numbers, Jesus pointed out how forgiveness is both Divine and unending. There is no cutoff at the 78th or 491st offense. Forgiveness should go on and on.
Now, there is a difference between forgiveness and co-dependency. Forgiveness is costly. Co-dependency is a burden. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee reconciliation. Forgiveness isn’t an immediate pathway to trust. There are consequences beyond forgiveness. Yes, we are to turn the other cheek, but as my friend Paul says, “We only have two cheeks.”
How do we know when we’ve forgiven? Well, when we no longer hope the offender gets run over by a bus. When we can actually wish them well, then we know we’ve forgiven.
While the actual act of forgiveness doesn’t take much time, getting to the place where we’re willing to forgive might take a little longer. God is a genius at forgiveness. He will help you forgive even the unforgiveable.
Who do you need to forgive (again)? What’s keeping you from forgiving them?
By Allen White
Over the years, the traditional method of recruiting coaches has always tended to fail me. I would select a reputable candidate, then I would sit down with them and talk about the role of a small group coach as outlined in a job description. Some were overwhelmed by the responsibilities. Others were enamored by the title, yet later proved to not actually do anything. As hard as it was to “hire,” it was considerably harder to “fire” them. So, I gave up on this method and found something better.
The solution was discovered in a moment of crisis. My senior pastor and I had just successfully doubled our groups in a single day. Now, I had double the coaching problem. If we weren’t adequately coaching the existing groups, then how could we possibly coach an equal number of new groups. My minor coaching problem had just turned into a major problem. Then, the light bulb turned on.
If half of my leaders were experience and the other half were brand new, then half of my leaders knew what they were doing and the other half didn’t. The solution was sort of a buddy system. I paired them up and let them coach each other. After the campaign, the folks who showed interest and ability to coach were invited to coach more formally. Those who didn’t get around to coaching were thanked for their valuable time….
Since then, recruiting coaches has become a more effective, though unconventional, process. Here’s what I recently shared with Brett Eastman, founder of Lifetogether.com, and Steve Gladen, Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church on The Small Group Show:
I have never recruited another coach with a job description or based on their resume. We would start them with “helping” leaders. If they enjoyed it and were effective, then they would become coaches in a more formal role.
The initial job description for helping new group hosts and leaders simply became:
1. Call your new hosts and leaders once per week.
2. Answer their questions.
3. Pray for them.
The “helpers” who can accomplish these things over a 6-week campaign are prime candidates for coaching. Those who can’t pull this off are not the right ones. You’ll be glad you didn’t give them a title that you’ll just have to take away later.
By Allen White
Disappointment results from unmet expectations. We expected something other than what we got, but we didn’t get it. For some, this disappointment comes on Christmas morning. For others, disappointment shows up in a relationship. For group members, disappointment might arrive in a much hyped small group or an eagerly awaited study. The key to fending off disappointment and the frustration it brings is to manage expectations. Here are some practical ways to direct the thinking of your group members:
1. Avoid the Blind Men and the Elephant Syndrome.
Everyone has an opinion on basically everything. The temperature of the room is too hot or too cold or somewhere in between. The music is too loud, too quiet or just right. If your opinion becomes the Goldilocks standard of “just right,” then everyone else’s thoughts become either Mamma Bear or Papa Bear. “Just right” for you is usually not “just right” for someone else.
In the fable of the blind men and the elephant, the men have very different opinions on what an elephant is. The one holding the tail believed an elephant is like a snake. The one touching the elephant’s leg thought it’s like a tree. The one with the tusk thought the elephant was like a plough. The one with the ear thought it was like a basket. And, so goes the fable.
When it comes to groups, everyone has different expectations of the group and of the studies they take on. Some want a group for connection. Others want a group for support. Some want deep Bible study. While others want action: outreach, ministry, parties or worship. Some long for that great group they were a part of in another church 10 years ago. While no group can be all things to all people, a conversation about expectations can go a long way in avoiding disappointment with the group.
2. What Do the Group Members Want?
The key to creating a group members actually want is to ask the group members what they want to see in a group. Don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing. This is the beauty of small groups – there is flexibility in each group to uniquely serve its members.
What is your church communicating about small groups? The communication sets the expectation. Do your groups offer community built around a Bible study? Are they fellowship groups without a Bible study? Are they Bible study groups first, then everything else later? Are your groups sharing life or just sharing information?
When people are invited to form groups, the message from the church sets the tone. Avoid trigger words like “deeper.” The study or group will take you deeper relative to what? This creates a very unmanageable expectation, and you’ll soon find yourself deep in something else.
3. Never Assume.
A simple exercise can quickly make the group aware of its expectations. Have each group member write their top 5 expectations on a piece of paper and turn it in anonymously. These expectations can arrange from having a weekly worship time to healthy refreshments to serving the poor.
After the leader has collected everyone’s Top 5, compile the list for the next meeting. List each item, but don’t tally the number of votes for each just yet. Give the list to your group members at the next meeting. Have them circle the Top 3 values from the list, then collect their sheets.
From this new data, the leader should clearly see the group’s interests. At the next meeting, have a conversation about the results. Then, create your group’s core values around the Top 5 values indicated by all of the group members. The group’s core values should become part of your group agreement.
While lesser values may come into play, the group will focus on the Top 5 and then re-evaluate periodically. Decisions made for the group create resentment. Decisions made together create community.