Posts Tagged assimilation

Why Bother with Small Groups?

By Allen White  why bother with groups people are like legos

“You should be in small groups” sounds like the modern version of “Everybody ought to go to Sunday school” to many church goers. The only problem is “ought” is not a strong motivator for most people any more. Give them a cause to champion or an environment to connect, but if “ought” is the only tool in your toolbox for connecting people into groups, then they’d probably “ought” to try another church.

If everyone else thought exactly the way small group pastors and directors did, they would all be small group pastors and directors. The problem, of course, is there would be no one left to direct. Face it. People in our churches don’t think like we do. How can we think like them?

When pastors and directors make invitations for folks to join groups, there’s usually a mixed response. Some will join up. Others can’t or won’t. If they were driven by “ought,” they would understand “if you really love Jesus, truly desire to grow spiritually, and want to go to Heaven, then you ought to join a group.” They’re not buying it, so we should quit selling it. Why are some folks resistant to our efforts to get them into groups?

1. I’m too busy.

Everybody is busy. Students are busy. Retired people are busy. Parents are busy. We’re all busy. Busy is not so much an excuse, but a sickness, but we’ll have to save that topic for another day.

“I’m too busy” really means “I have other priorities. I have better things to do.” People have time to do the things they want to do. If you’re getting “I’m too busy,” then they are choosing something else over small groups.

In order to put small group higher on their lists, they will need to demote or eliminate something else. Most people don’t make changes like this unless they are convinced there are compelling reasons a group will benefit them, or if they are in a considerable amount of pain and need support. People who are busy, but generally okay, won’t feel the need.

In order for people to say “yes” to a group, they will have to say “no” to something else. In order for people to make that “yes,” they need a clear and compelling reason to join. If you offer groups for a limited time period, a trial run, and offer groups at times that could fit in their schedules, they might give it a try. But, there are even better reasons to join. Read on.

2. I already have friends.

Years ago, Leith Anderson gave an illustration of people being like Lego bricks. Every Lego brick has a certain number of dots on the top of it. Some have one or two. Others have eight, ten or more. In a person’s life, each dot represents a relationship. So, think about your relationships: spouse, children, parents, other family, friends, co-workers, sports team, book club, parents of your kids’ sports teams or activities, and the list goes on. Most people have all of the dots on their Lego bricks filled. Where do you put a group?

But, think about it this way: how can you help people leverage their existing relationships to form small groups? They don’t need to divorce their friends to join a small group. Their friends are their small group There is great power in asking people,  “Who in your life would enjoy or benefit from a group study?” Very quickly, group formation will go well beyond the four walls of any church. Why reconnect people who are already connected?

3. We have kids.

The easier your groups make childcare, the easier it is for people to join a group. Whether the group pools their money to hire a babysitter or rotates responsibility for the kids among group members, this is a necessary part of groups for young families. Once the group is established, then everyone might be able to secure their own babysitter, but especially at the beginning, childcare should be made as easy as possible. For more on childcare solutions, go here.

4. I’m already involved in ministry.

Serving is a great way to engage with the church body and allow God to use them. A ministry responsibility is also a great way to get people connected to the church. Serving responsibility creates a real sense of ownership. But, activity doesn’t guarantee community. This can be addressed in a couple of ways.

Think about this: what are the goals for your groups? Most groups are built on the idea of community around a Bible study. The idea is to create a place where people are known and know each other. They care for each other, support each other, and share God’s Word together. If those are your goals for groups, can those goals be accomplished in a serving team?

This is more than ushers joining hands before they pick up their stack of bulletins, but that could be a start.  Serving teams can share personal needs and God’s Word together. This may involve a meeting apart from the serving opportunity. The last thing any church wants is for folks to feel the church only cares about what they do, but doesn’t care about them.

Serving is better than just talking, but a balanced approach is better still.

5. I had a bad experience with a group before.

Most people who’ve participated in groups over the years realize groups aren’t perfect. As Steve Gladen from Saddleback Church says

There are good small groups, and there are not so good small groups. Every group has a different style and personality. One size does not fit all. But, a bad experience in one group doesn’t guarantee a bad experience in every group.

A six-week commitment to one study is a great way to test drive a new small group. If the group works, then they can stick with the group. If the group doesn’t work, it was only six weeks and not the rest of their lives. They can leave the group in good conscience for having completed six weeks and now consider themselves off the hook.

6. I don’t trust other people with my life.

This statement comes from a lot of pain. Granted, there are some people who aren’t worthy of trust. But, when someone globalizes distrust to nearly 7 billion people on the face of the earth, there’s certainly a deeper issue.

Distrust comes from fear. “If I let others in my life, they will only hurt me.” Fear requires a very compelling reason to even think about opening yourself up. If the person recognizes this is a personal issue, then the first step . A regular small group won’t be the cure. In fact, this person’s presence in a life group or Bible study might create a bad experience for everyone else.

When this person has worked through the root issues, then they should be welcomed into a group with open arms. For the present, if the person literally trusts no one, then counseling would be the recommended route. If the person does have a couple of friends, then he or she should start the study with just those friends. Obviously, this person isn’t going to start in an uncomfortable place. Where is a comfortable place to start?

7. I’m wise to small group pastors. They just wants to form groups just to break us apart.

I’m all in favor of multiplying groups, but I’m also aware of some very effective group models from other parts of the world that don’t work so well in North America. People are aware of these strategies. Some have survived them. Others have strongly resisted. Small Group Pastors: It’s time to turn over a new leaf.

What we callously refer to as multiplying, dividing,  and birthing groups is translated as encouraging people to develop close relationships only to later rip out their hearts and make them change groups. The positive spin of the term “multiplying” really feels like a divorce.

While we would never want a group to become ingrown or stagnant, unless a group feels the pain of an overcrowded house or a declining group, they are not willing to change simply to fulfill our agenda. To address this issue, simply vow to your groups that you will no longer ask them to multiply, divide, split or birth. Over time, the need will arise on its own.

Look at it this way: the world is fully populated all by natural means. No family needed their pastor’s coaching to fill their quiver. By encouraging the positives of inviting and including others, groups will eventually see the need to subgroup and then form new groups.

8. My relationship with God is personal.

A believer’s relationship with God is personal, but it’s not private. While every believer should experience quiet times alone with God, God didn’t intend for us to live our lives alone. Jesus, Himself, lived a life in community with His disciples. God lives in community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Before I was in a group and before I was even married, I was a great Christian in my own mind. According to the feedback I was receiving, I was an awesome Christian. I kept away from the things I shouldn’t do and did many things I should. But, back then, most of the feedback was coming from me. I was very understanding of myself. I knew why I excelled at some things and failed at others. Sure, I could have worked harder, but I was tired. I needed to give myself a break.

Letting other believers in helps us to discover things we might have been denying. We also get folks to encourage us and allay our fears. The Bible has much to say about encouraging one another, building each other up, spurring one another on and so much more. Faith is lived out in relationship, not in isolation.

People resistant to group life need help crossing the bridge. Some need a challenge. Some need encouragement. Some need an easy entry point. Everyone in our churches comes from a different place – spiritually, emotionally and geographically. By offering multiple entry points into groups, we can serve their needs for community rather than expecting them to fulfill our need for effectiveness or success.

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Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Start Groups After Easter

By Allen White

The temptation to start new groups after Easter is fairly irresistible. Easter is by far the largest Sunday of the year. Why not launch groups from the largest crowd you’ll see all year? You might not see them again until Christmas.

But, there are three group killers after Easter: June, July and August. Why start groups in the Spring only to watch them die out over the Summer? It seems they would have a better chance of survival in the Fall.

I have to admit this is exactly what I used to think about launching groups off of Easter, but I had a change of heart once I discovered ways to sustain 80 percent of those new Spring groups in the Fall. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1.       Groups Need a Next Step.

Most new groups do not have an opinion of what they want to study next. How many times has a new group leader presented a selection of curriculum to the group only to hear, “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one.” Happens almost every time.

Of course, the other factor here is the fact you invited folks to join a group for six weeks and not for the rest of their lives. For some strange reason, once the six weeks ends, they feel like their commitment is up – because it is.

The first time we launched groups in the Spring, we gathered the new leaders mid-way through the Spring study and invited them to join our next series which began on the second Sunday of October. Then, we held our breath. It’s a long stretch from mid-May to mid-October. October held a big surprise.

When we gathered groups in the Fall to give them a sneak peek at the Fall curriculum, 80 percent of the groups who started in the Spring were right there to join the Fall study. You could have knocked me over with a feather. By giving the groups a next step, even a huge step over four months, is key to helping groups sustain. If I hadn’t experienced this first hand, honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it.

2.       Very Few People Take the Entire Summer Off.

Only a handful of folks spend the entire summer at the beach. For the rest of us, chances are we will miss more weekend services in the Summer than group meetings. Before the group hits Memorial Day ask everyone to bring their calendars. Then, find six dates during the Summer when the group can meet. You might choose a six session study or you might choose one of the options below.

The six dates probably won’t fit neatly in a row, but that’s okay. Even if the group can only meet once per month, it’s a great way to stay connected to group life, even if you don’t have a formal group meeting.

3.       Summer is a Great Time to Recruit New People to Your Group.

You will find more neighbors outdoors during the Summer than any other time of year. With longer days and kids out of school, why not host a neighborhood block party with your group? Roll the barbecue grill out onto your driveway to grill a few hot dogs. Rent an inflatable bounce house for the kids. Bring plenty of lawn chairs. Maybe even have a little music. Invite everybody.

People will wonder by and join in before you know it. This is a great way to meet your neighbors, and maybe even invite them to your group. By putting the party in the front yard rather than the backyard, neighbors will come and see what’s going on.

4.       Get Your Group Outside.

Group discussions don’t work so well outside. The neighbors haven’t agreed to confidentiality for what they hear over the backyard fence. Outdoor Bible studies usually don’t work, but there are plenty of other reasons to go outside.

Who does your group know who needs help? Plan a service day and help a neighbor. If you’re not aware of someone in need of help, go to wydopen.com and see if there’s a project in your area. Or, volunteer a day with Habitat for Humanity or another community organization.

Experiencing life together in a different setting will add depth and richness to your group. Once everyone sees the group in action, the dynamic of your meetings and studies will become dramatically different.

Summer shouldn’t be the death of small groups. In fact, June, July and August can breathe new life into both new and existing groups. With a little planning and a lot of flexibility, Summer could become the best time of year for group life.

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Most Read Posts for August 2011

These are the Most Read Posts for allenwhite.org in August 2011:

By Allen White

1. How Do You Know When God is Speaking to You? 

2. Are You Discipling Your Online Followers? 

3. Why Bother? (Smallgroups.com article)

4. The Power and Potential of Small Groups By Brett Eastman

5. How Can I Get My Group to Share at a Deeper Level? 

6. How to Beat Small-Group Burnout 

7. Is Pornography Adultery? 

8. Is Worship in Small Groups Even Possible? 

9. Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Engaging Introverts (3-Part Series)

10. How Do We Balance Developing Relationships and Completing Lessons in a Group?  

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Finding (More) Great Coaches

By Allen White

Rapidly growing groups during a church-wide campaign has a very positive upside. New leaders get their gifts in the game. New people are connected into new groups. Relationships are developed. Believers are disciple. There are awesome results all around. The problem comes in caring for new leaders when your coaching structure is already overwhelmed. Where do you get new coaches?

 

I ran into this problem a few years ago, when we doubled the number of our small groups in one day. We didn’t feel we were adequately coaching the first half. Now, we needed to help an equal number of newbies. Then, the light bulb turned on – if half of the groups are new and half of the groups are experienced, we just needed to match them up. We created a “buddy system” with experienced leaders helping new leaders. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Over the years, this coaching strategy was finessed into an intentional approach rather than a last ditch effort. In advance of a new church-wide campaign, we expect dozens, if not hundreds, of new leaders or hosts to step forward. Otherwise, why would we do a church-wide campaign? In anticipation of this new growth, we also know that we will need new coaches to encourage the new leaders. Where do we get the new coaches?

At least a month before we start recruiting new leaders and host homes, we gather all of our existing leaders for a “Sneak Peek” event to reveal the Fall campaign curriculum. This is a great way to rally the troops and get our existing groups in on the new series. We explain all of the details of the series. We cast vision for new people connecting in groups and for new leaders starting new groups. Then, we present an opportunity for our existing leaders to walk alongside a new leader just for the six week campaign. Notice that we don’t use the word “coach” at this point.

The ask goes like this: “Once upon a time, you were a brand new leader who had a lot of questions and a few fears about starting a new group. Some of you had a coach. Some did not. All of us need someone in our corner to encourage us, to pray for us, and to answer our questions. Would you be willing to do that for a new leader or group host during this next series? The commitment starts when the leader attends the host briefing and goes through the six week campaign.” And, our existing leaders sign up to help every time.

The job description is simple. We ask them to do three things: (1) Pray for the new leaders. (2) Contact them every week in a way that’s meaningful to the new leader (not in a way that’s merely efficient for the new coach). (3) Answer their questions.

During the New Host Briefing, I match the new leaders and group hosts with their new “coach.” Usually I start the meeting by introducing the series content and the timeline, then I tell the new leaders, “Now, I would like to introduce some very important people to you who are going to help you get your group started. They will be available to answer all of your questions as you’re getting started.” I introduce the new “coaches” and pair them up with the new leaders according to the type of group they are starting or the geographical region where they live. The “coaches” take over the meeting at this point and give the new leaders all of the details of how to gather their group, what to do the first night, and answer any questions they have already. They exchange contact information and the “coaching” begins.

After the six week campaign, we check in with the new “coaches” about their experience. We ask three key questions:

  1. How important do you feel you were to the new leaders?
  2. How easy was it to keep in contact with the new leaders?
  3. Which of the new groups plan to continue?

The results are uncanny. If the new “coach” has the ability to coach, the answers are always come out: “My help was very important to the new leaders. Contacting them was easy. Most of the groups continued.” If the new “coach” doesn’t have it, the responses are: “My help wasn’t important. Contact was difficult. Most of the groups will not continue.” There is very little middle ground.

For the new coaches that answer positively, we invite them to continue coaching. For those who answer negatively, we thank them for serving for six weeks, and let them go back to leading their groups. You might be asking, “But, isn’t it risky to give a new leader to an inexperienced coach?”

It’s risky working with people period. Personally, I’d rather hire staff to do all of the coaching, but who has the budget for that? What’s more risky is sending out a new leader or group host without a coach. The payoff here is that new groups will be established, and new coaches will be recruited.

I’ve stopped recruiting with a job description over coffee. I don’t always do a great job choosing coaching candidates. What I have learned is that sometimes the most unlikely people make the best coaches and leaders. Let the trial run define who has what it takes to coach.

Other Great Coaching Resources:

Coaching Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue & Greg Bowman

Everyone’s a Coach by Ken Blanchard & Don Shula

How to Be a Great Cell Group Coach by Joel Comisky

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Why Do We Need a Group Agreement?

By Allen White

Every person in your group has different expectations for your group, whether they realize it or not. Some folks were in a group before and long for the good old days of comfortable koinonia. Others were over-sold on groups: “You’ll make your new best friend.” For whatever reason they joined or what they expect, the key to successful group life is a thoroughly-discussed and well-articulated group agreement.

1.       The Key Word is “Agreement.”

An effective group agreement has input from the whole group, and a decision for the group ground rules is made together. You are not asking your members to sign a contract that you put together for them. If you impose an agreement on them, you may get compliance, but you won’t necessarily get buy-in from the group. Don’t wonder why no one is honoring an agreement they didn’t help to create.

Forming a group agreement doesn’t need to be a lengthy or hectic process. In a relaxed atmosphere, just get everybody’s ideas on the table. Decide on the group’s values together. What’s important to the members? When and where will the group meet? How will the group provide childcare, if they do? What will the group study? How will the studies be chosen? How will the group spend their time together?

While there are a number of great templates out there, your group agreement needs to fit your group. Imposing someone else’s agreement on your group just doesn’t cut it. Examples can be helpful, but you’re not looking for a good document, you’re aiming for a great group.

2.       Everyone Knows What to Expect.

A group agreement puts all of the members on a level playing field. They know what’s acceptable and what’s out of bounds. From basic, but important, items like when the meeting with start and end, the group will know what to count on. If members need to get back to work or put kids to bed on a school night, they will know when it’s acceptable to leave.

More importantly, the group agreement insures things like confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group. Broken confidences and gossip are group killers. If the group has a party, what will they be drinking or not drinking? If your group doesn’t know if any of its members are in recovery, that’s an important conversation to have.

How will the group meeting run? While the meeting doesn’t have to be the same every week, the members do need to know what to expect. My group meets in a restaurant for lunch. If we order from a menu, then we order, discuss the lesson, eat when the food comes, and then pray together. If it’s more of a “fast food” place, then we eat first and ask questions later.

3.       Everyone Knows What is Expected of Them.

Some people are reluctant to join groups because they fear being asked to do something they just aren’t comfortable with. Will they have to pray aloud? Will they have to read aloud? What if they don’t read very well? The group agreement helps them understand if these things are voluntary or mandatory.

If a member has to miss the group, what is his responsibility to the group? Should he call or not worry about it? If it’s important that the member informs the group, then put that in your agreement.

As the leader, you shouldn’t do everything for your group. It’s just not healthy, and it robs others of opportunities to serve in ministry. If your group intends to pass around the responsibilities for leading the discussion, hosting the group, bringing refreshments, lead worship, follow up on prayer requests, and whatever else you can give away, your agreement should include the expectation that every member would serve in some way.

Again, what are the values of your group? What is expected of each member? Decide together and let everyone know up front in the agreement.

4.       Group Agreements Must Be Reviewed.

Your group agreement will not stand the test of time. Circumstances change. Groups change. While you would always include things like confidentiality and shared responsibility, your meeting day, place, time, study and so forth will change over time. Group agreements should be reviewed at least once per year to make sure that it’s still working for everybody.

5.       Group Agreements Help When New Members Join.

It’s important to review key items in your group agreement when new members join your group. You don’t have to recite the entire agreement, but important things like confidentiality, child care details, and so on should be shared with new members. This doesn’t have to be formal. “Just to let you know, our group is like Las Vegas. Whatever is said here stays here” or “We’re going to order our food, then get into our discussion. When the food arrives, expect a little silence, then we’ll close with prayer needs.”

6.       Agree on the Agreement.

While it’s good to have your group agreement written down somewhere, you don’t need to have it notarized or have your attorney present. I have seen some groups give their agreement a simple thumbs up. I’ve seen others sign it like the Declaration of Independence. Do whatever works for your group. Some folks are resistant to words like “covenant,” so “group agreement” or “ground rules” would work better for most.

I recently bought the board game “Sorry” for my family. We read all of the rules, but to limit frustration with my young children, we modified a few of the rules. They don’t need the exact number to move their pawn home. That works for us now. Later on, we might need to up the difficulty of the game. You see there are the official rules, and then there are the house rules. Your group agreement should be the house rules for your group. The rules may change over time, but the most important thing is that the rules work for the whole group right now.

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Send Your Groups on Vacation

By Allen White

If your church has 30 percent or better in small groups, then you are among the top five percent of churches in the nation. If small group ministry was a numbers game, then you could rest on your laurels and take it easy. But, how many people are actually connected to your church?

For most churches, Easter reveals the true attendance of a church. Easter is the day that everyone who attends your church shows up all at once. On average, there are at least 30 percent more folks on Easter than on a typical Sunday. At Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, SC, where I serve, we average about 4,000 adults on Sunday, but had 7,500 adults on Easter. The bottom line is that once you do the math, there is a lot of work to do. So, this Fall we are challenging our groups to take a six-week “vacation” from their group. The entire group will leave to start new groups, and then return at the end of the study.

Sure, you could try to assimilate prospective group members into existing groups, but that creates a certain amount of weirdness for both sides. New people usually do best in new groups. But, to have new groups, you need new leaders. As Steve Gladen writes in his book, Small Groups with Purpose, “We have discovered tomorrow’s leaders are today’s group members.”

Small group members who are cozy in the groups won’t like this idea. But, what if they could help start a new group and not leave their existing group? Here’s how it works:

1. Ask Your Entire Group to Start a New Group.

Give your groups the information about the unconnected folks in your church. Tell them about the additional 30 percent who showed up at Easter, but to your knowledge aren’t connected. Ask them to consider taking a break from the group, not for the rest of their lives, but for a six-week series this Fall.

If you use a DVD curriculum, it’s very easy to facilitate. They don’t need to be a Bible scholar or to have been a Christian for 50 years. The teacher is on the DVD. They know what it means to be in a group. By stepping out of the group for six weeks, a group of say 10 people could form four or five new groups and potentially impact 40-60 people over the six-week series.

2. Send Them Out in Pairs.

As your leaders look around their groups, they will probably have some misgivings about a few of their group members. They would be hesitant to send them out on their own and have them lead a group. Send them out anyway, but send them with someone who is stronger. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs (Luke 10:1). That’s a pretty good precedent.

The other side of this is that as group leaders, we don’t always see the potential of our group members. Some of the most unlikely people make the best small group leaders. Don’t doubt what God can do with a willing heart.

3. Fill Up Four to Eight New Groups.

The greatest fear in sending out group members is the fear of failure. Equip your group leaders and members by sharing these opportunities to connect with prospective members:

Use the Circles of Life. This is a great tool developed by Brett Eastman to identify potential group members from the folks that they already know. Ask the group members to consider co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, relatives and friends, who would enjoy or benefit from the study. They don’t even need to attend your church.

Start by brainstorming names, then make this a prayer list. Once they’ve prayed, make this a personal invitation list.

Use the Church’s Website. Make sure that every new group is listed on the website. Many prospective members can locate a group near their house with the mapping feature or zip code look up. The web can also be used at a on-campus connection event.

Ask for a List. Provide your group members with lists of prospective members that live near them. A zip code search of the church database would be a great place to start. This is a bit of cold calling, but don’t make it that. Send out invitations for a small group open house. Everybody likes a party. Then, at the open house invite them to join the group for the six-week series.

Participate in the Small Group Connection. Set a day and time for prospective members to meet new small group leaders and join the groups. Over the years, we have done this in the church lobby or on the church lawn after the service or held mixers on an evening. The important thing is to create an opportunity for prospective members and group leaders to meet face to face in a relaxed setting. In 30 seconds, prospects can get an idea of whether or not they want to spend six weeks with a leader.

4. Make Sure that They All Leave the Group.

Our home group in California did a six-week vacation a few years back. Half of the group agreed to go out and start a new group for the six-week series. The other half decided to stay. We liked them, so we let them. Big mistake.

Guess who left the group, and guess who stayed? All of the extroverts started new groups for the series. All of the introverts stayed in our group. It was a much quieter group. And, we had problems getting new members to join our group for the six weeks.

We asked, “Who are your friends?” Silence. We asked, “Who do you know that would enjoy or benefit from this study?” Silence. Our little group of introverts did the study together, and then was grateful when our more boisterous folks returned.

5. Help Them Scout Prospective Leaders in the New Group.

The hope is that the new group will be successful, but if the new leader returns to the existing group, what will happen to the new group? The key is identifying someone to take the group after the six-week study. Who is the group important to? Who attends every week or lets you know when they can’t? Who has leadership potential? This would be a good place to start.

Passing around the leadership in the group meeting is also a great test of leadership. While someone may not feel that they are a leader, if they have an opportunity to lead a lesson, it will show the group leader and them their true leadership potential. Ask everyone in the group to lead for one lesson, host the group in their home, and bring refreshments. This will also help the new leader.

Midway through the study, offer another study as a next step for the group. Groups that like each other will be eager to continue on together. Groups that don’t like each other should end immediately.

6. Enjoy the Blessing of Introducing Others to Group Life.

People who have never experienced community in church, now can have what you enjoy every week. By inviting them to join a brand new group, you are giving them a precious gift. While they could join an existing group, the experience is much like getting married and having in-laws. Interpretation: it’s not always warm and fuzzy. A new study in a new group is a great start for new members.

You can breathe new life into your existing group. Over time every group atrophies a bit. Members move away or their schedules change. Then, it takes more effort to add to your group. It’s not impossible. It’s just challenging. With the six-week vacation, you can easily add new members, since you are essentially starting a new group. The new members have six weeks to bond before the established members return.

You can discover the potential of your group members to lead. Some of your group members might not return to your group. They may decide to stay with the new group after the six weeks. You can stay connected with them by becoming their coach. You already have a relationship with them, so that just makes sense. While most of us don’t want to see our friends leave, we also don’t want to hold them back from an opportunity where God can use them.

Small groups, like churches, are living things. People come and go. Groups serve different purposes for different seasons. Some groups last for decades. Other groups hold on for a couple of years, then part ways. There is no right or wrong. The key is to keep moving in the right direction and to be open to letting God use you to serve others.

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Review: Connecting in Communities by Eddie Mosley

By Allen White

Connecting in Communities is smart on many levels. Eddie Mosley gives us not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’ and ‘how’. He is not a philosopher or a demagogue. He is a practitioner with a heart for God and a heart for people. You can tell that Eddie didn’t write this book merely to sell books. He has a genuine passion for small groups and for helping other pastors and group directors.

First, Eddie shows how he has consulted with the best of the best in small group thinking and practice: Steve Gladen of Saddleback Church, Carl George, aka Small Group Yoda, Bill Donahue of Willow Creek, Bill Willits of North Point and many others. Why reinvent the wheel when you can build on the knowledge and experience of others? After carefully gleaning from these thought-leaders, Eddie does an even smarter thing — he adapts the best of these models to his church’s mission and culture.

Too many pastors are looking for a silver bullet out there that will be the one-size-fits-all, homerun solution that will address every issue and help every person grow spiritually. That silver bullet doesn’t exist. Eddie wisely integrates what works for others into what works for his church, LifePoint. In the book, we read about the host home strategy, the GroupLink strategy, the neighborhood strategy, the free market strategy among others. LifePoint has adjusted the strategies to fit the life of the church rather than adjusting the church to fit someone else’s strategy. Too many pastors are prone to throwing out what is working for some and replacing it with what might or might not work at all. LifePoint adds to their success by implementing additional strategies for success. They are in favor of whatever works rather than whoever is right. This is the smartest thinking to come along in a long time.

What makes the book even better is that Eddie shares stories, positive and negative, from his own experience. He is not writing from an ivory tower. He’s writing from the trenches. He lives where his reader lives. His humility in sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of groups is refreshing and encouraging.

Connecting in Communities is the new primer for small group ministry. Whether you are just starting out in leading groups or you’re in need of a course correction, this book will inspire and inform you of some of the best practices in small group ministry today. The only thing that might have made this book better is if it were mine. Not that I would have done a better job, I would just love to have the credit.

Get your copy of Connecting in Communities.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Related books:

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

Leading Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

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Why Make Space for a Small Group?

By Allen White

Most people already have most of the relationships they need. They are as closely connected with the people they need in their lives. When they are challenged to join a small group, they might not sense the need, because there isn’t a need.

An examination of Joseph Myers’ book, The Search to Belong, reveals four spheres of human relationships: public, social, personal and intimate. His perception is that an invitation or urging to join small groups causes people to jump from pubic relationships, meaning people who attend the same church and might or might not know each other, to intimate relationships in a small group, where they would share the most personal details of their lives.

I’m not sure that most groups are formed by transitioning public relationships into intimate relationships. I am certain that such a premise for forming groups is either bound to fail or quite short-lived.

First of all, there is no guarantee that folks in small groups will form intimate relationships or should. When I think of intimate relationships, I think of a very select group of people: my wife, my parents, my children and my closest friends. The last thing I want in my small group is a relationship with another man that is akin to the intimacy I have with my wife! I’m not a macho man, but all guys must draw the line somewhere.

Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point says that there are only 10-12 people whose deaths would dramatically affect our lives. While we certainly would sense grief at the loss of anyone we knew, not everyone’s death has the same impact on our lives. Most healthy, functioning folks already have these relationships. Since the limit for most of us is 10-12 and the size of a small group is usually 10-12, the likelihood of complete or partial strangers being graduated to my inner circle is quite slim.

Perhaps, the best we can do with small groups, according to Blair Carlstrom in the article, “Small Groups May be Overrated” (Church Executive, February 2005), is create an environment where close relationships could happen. “At our church, we don’t even use intimacy to imply “cozy” because we don’t want anyone confused about what we want to accomplish. In fact, we tell people not to expect it in a small group. If we can help set a realistic expectation, then they may have a good experience in a group.” According to Carlstrom, pastors should not raise the expectation that any group of members can go from strangers to close friends in no time at all. Perhaps, the disclaimer should read, “Results are not typical. Some group members may luck out and develop close friendships over time with much perseverance, but many will experience side effects such as feeling awkward, uncomfortable or lonely in the crowd, similar to side effects found with sugar pill. Group members should expect much uneasiness regarding their group accompanied by the desire to play hooky on a regular basis.”

Without the equivalent of e-harmony, the dating service, for member placement into groups, meeting day, location and possibly one item of affinity does not guarantee the formation of biblical community and for good reason. Since most people already have those 10-12 spots filled, and since the randomization of group placement does little to guarantee the cultivation of such relationships, perhaps pastors are aiming at the wrong thing in forming small groups. The better fit is to offer an environment for developing personal relationships with the rare possibility of a few becoming intimate relationships over time.

The other issue with Joe Myers’ premise is the starting point: public relationships. The commonality of sitting in the same worship space on a regular basis is an insufficient affinity, and perhaps not even that. People in churches seated in rows facing the same direction have about as much ability to deepen relationships as movie goers in a darkened theater. The format is not conducive to developing closer relationships, even if we do turn and shake hands for 2-3 minutes. The odds of signing up for a group that might produce lasting relationships seems a bit preposterous. This process of random selection causes few strong groups to evolve and leaves many artifacts along the way.

Yet, some small groups do succeed and thrive over the long term. Are these miraculous occurrences? Or, are these groups created with members who socially travel a shorter distance from departure to destination?

The simplest means of forming new groups that might last really doesn’t involve pastors much at all. In addition to 10-12 intimate relationships, most people have about 40 personal relationships. A recent study by MSN Messenger in the United Kingdom found that the average Brit had 396 relationships during his or her lifetime, yet only had 33 relationships at any one time. My suspicion is that Americans might have a few more. While the 10-12 intimate relationships would be included, the balance would be made up with other friends, neighbors, co-workers, and extended family that we know, but not as well as our intimate circle. We keep close tabs on their lives. We might not know their heart of hearts, but we’ve spent time together and know quite a bit. And, we like them or else they wouldn’t be among our personal relationships.

If small groups are not created to form intimate relationships, but to maximize personal relationships, then the simplest way of forming lasting groups would be to create groups from the 40 or so personal relationships we already have. The group is already there. All that a pastor needs to do is recommend a Bible study, draw a circle around them and call them a group! We’ve formed nearly 100 groups this way in our church over the last 12 months. What we’ve discovered is that groups of friends far outlast groups of strangers. One person takes the initiative to select 10 people or so of their 40 personal relationships and spend time together studying God’s Word with an easy to use DVD-based small group curriculum. This strategy provides both the biblical content and the close relationships to help a group start well and thrive.

The potential of creating groups from within someone’s current personal relationships is much greater than turning public or social relationships into personal relationships. If the average person is capable of maintaining only 33-40 or so personal relationships at any one time, then to ask someone to accept folks from their public or social relationships into the realm of personal relationships means that we are asking them to essentially replace 10 or so personal relationships with relative strangers from their public or social relationships. The person, first of all, might be very unwilling to give up any of their current personal relationships and thus, never truly bond with the small group. Secondly, we are asking the person to risk 10 relationships they can count on with basically the luck of the draw. Who in their right mind would give up their good friends for the sake of another church activity?

But, there are exceptions. A person who has recently started attending the church by moving from another church, from another city or from the kingdom of darkness, probably does not have any personal relationships with people in their new church home. There are other points of transition that influence people’s relationships: job changes, moves across town, divorce, life stages, etc. How do they take the step from public relationships at the church to personal relationships?

The easy answer would be to turn their current personal relationships into former friends and adopt new friends from their new church home. But, that’s not so easy.

My point is simply this: most people have at least eight people in their lives that they could do a small group with. They don’t need to be assigned to a group of strangers and expect instant relationships. They don’t need to give up existing relationships to establish new ones. Every believer is called to “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). As pastors equip their people to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12), let’s not make this more complicated than it has to be. Discipleship is not something that we do to other people. Discipleship is what we do with other believers. The people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, interacting with the Word of God brings about positive results.

In forming small groups, what are you really asking your people to do?

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Face to Face is Better than Face to Web

by Allen White

When our family was living in Orange County, California, we had the privilege of being part of Saddleback Church. Saddleback is an awesome church. While they currently have an attendance of about 30,000 people and 3,000-4,000 small groups, my impression is that they are just getting started.

 

As I traveled with Brett Eastman and the team from Lifetogether.com, I was often asked, “So how’s your small group going?” I would sheepishly bow my head and reply, “I’m not in small group right now.” I knew that this “do as I say, but not as I do” thing would not stand up for long. So, I decided to join one of Saddleback’s then 2,000 small groups back in 2006.

I filled out the response card on Sunday morning requesting information on men’s groups. I received a letter in the mail directing me to look on the website. I had already been on there. That’s partly why I turned in the response card. The website gave me what every small group website gives you: Group Name, Leader Name, Day of the Week, Time of Day, Location and Current Study. How did I know which group to try? It was a crap shoot.

Now, I was a bit of an odd duck at Saddleback. Through my position at Lifetogether, I knew all of the pastors. I just didn’t know many of the members. If a friend had invited me to Saddleback, then they would have shown me the small group ropes. But, I was an “outsider.” I didn’t have that connection.

What I began to realize that day was every church has a lot of “outsiders.” A job or a warmer climate brought them to the area. They don’t have extended family. They like the Sunday morning service, but beyond that they are just at a loss as to where to get started.

Some brave souls will roll the dice and contact a group through the web. They believe in the importance of small groups, so they will tough out the awkwardness of the introduction to get to the good stuff. But, there is a better way.

For seven years now, at both New Life Christian Center and Brookwood Church, we have offered a Small Group Connection after the services on the Sunday morning prior to a new series and the Sunday morning of the new series. Group leaders and new group hosts are available to meet prospective members face to face. Most people have a sense of the leader within the first 30 seconds. Is this a person they would hang out with for the next six weeks? If so, then they sign up right on the spot. If not, then they meet another leader until they find a group they would like to try.

I’ve found that prospective members discover old neighbors, high school classmates and even co-workers. Even those who don’t know any of the leaders at least have a face with a name, so they aren’t walking into someone’s house cold turkey on the first night of group.

There is a place for the small group website, but honestly, why depend on a programmatic method to form small groups that are highly relational? There is no substitute for a personal invitation and a face to face meeting.

I eventually found a men’s group at Saddleback Church. The leader was a former preacher. He talked too much. I went twice, then I stopped going. Today, I have a great lunchtime group that has met every Wednesday for two years. It also is probably led by a preacher that talks too much.

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