Posts Tagged co-leader

Is Your Group Relational Teflon?

By Allen White

If the plan works right, group members form close-knit bonds. They become a true band of brothers. It’s a cord that’s not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). The group has become exactly what everyone wanted. People you can count on. People who know you and you know them. A safe place to deal with the struggles and mess of life. But, sometimes groups become too tight.

Groups over time develop a history. There are stories of victory and defeat. Inside jokes abound. Group is like family. This is all great until someone tries to join the family.

Adding new members to your existing group is often more like getting new in-laws rather than having a new baby. No one resents a new baby, except for the next youngest sibling. But, in-laws are another story. Who is this person? How will they fit in? But, the new in-law is asking questions too.

“Will this group accept me?” “What are they joking about?”

It takes hard work to welcome a new group member into the family (read more here).

I’ve seen great groups become very close-knit over time. They’ve developed a tight bond. But, when prospective members visit the group, they don’t come back. Soon they discover their group is a revolving door. Visitor after visitor comes and goes. It might be time for your group members to move out.

It’s Time for the Kids to Move Out.

No one would ask their infant to move out of the house. They’re so little and vulnerable. You need to nurture and protect them. There may be a case, however, for asking a two-year-old or a teenager to move on. But, parenting responsibility and child neglect laws dictate otherwise. But, there comes a time when your children should move on.

When children become adults, they should be encouraged to fulfill their God-given purpose in life. That purpose is not living in your basement until they’re 35. (Yes, go tell him right now). Group life bears a resemblance.

New and growing believers need some care and guidance. As they learn and grow, they also need additional responsibility over time. They don’t need a co-dependent leader who wants to do everything for them, who never thinks they’re ready to move on, and who needs to be needed. After a season of no more than two years, group members should be encouraged to lead on their own. Leaders often find a million reasons why this shouldn’t happen.

“Who’s that living in your basement, leader?”

Jesus gathered His disciples with the invitation to “Follow me.” After a short season of training, Jesus sent them out to experience ministry for themselves. He gathered them back together and debriefed their experience. Eventually, Jesus died on the cross and ascended into Heaven, leaving His disciples fully in charge of the church on earth.

While group leaders won’t necessarily follow the path to capital punishment, Jesus provided an effective model for developing leaders. The Son of God, who knew everything about His disciples, chose to empower and release them for ministry. The pinnacle of this empowerment was Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. While He promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), the disciples reached a place where they needed to serve on their own. Your group members will get there too.

Jesus knew Peter was impulsive. He knew Thomas needed More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Jesus knew the tension between Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector. Libertarians and Liberals don’t mix well. Jesus knew Judas Iscariot wouldn’t make it. He knew the good, bad and ugly of His small group members, yet He chose to empower them to serve.

If your group has been together for 18-24 months, someone is ready to step out and start a new group. If your group is younger than 18 months, it’s time to pass around the group responsibilities and see who rises to the top. Don’t get stuck with old group members living in your basement.

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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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Top 10 Posts of 2011 So Far

Here are the Top 10 posts on allenwhite.org for 2011:

1. Are You Discipling Your Online Followers? 

2. Who Should Choose Our Next Small Group Study? 

3. Is Pornography Adultery? 

4. Rethink Summer 

5. $10 Can Change a Life in India

6. How Do I Get My Group to Do Their Homework? 

7. Very Cool Donation to Water of Life 

8. How Do I Deal with Group Members who Gossip? 

9. Small Group One on One 

10. Turning Wine into Grape Juice 

Top 1o Small Group Leader Posts of All Time on Upstate Groups

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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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How Do I Find a Co-Leader?

By Allen White

David had Jonathan. Moses had Aaron. Peter and Paul had Mary. John, Paul and George had Ringo (well, until Yoko Ono broke them up.) Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your partner in ministry? Last week, we talked about the importance of a co-leader. But, how do you find one? Here are some qualities to look for:

Standout 
1. Are they breathing? A dead man will do no good.

2. Is this person a growing believer? It doesn’t really matter how long a person has been a Christian. The question is “are they growing?” Some people have repeated the same two years of their Christian experience ten times, so they’ve been a Christian for 20 years. But, are they growing? Are they actively seeking God? Do they pray and see their prayers answered? Are they allowing God to work in their lives to forsake sin and to see God’s Kingdom grow?

3. Is this person interested in the group? In selecting a co-leader, consider the folks who care the most about your group. Who is there more often than not? Who lets you know when they have to miss? These are good indicators of how important the group is to the person.

4. Who creates warmth? Are people drawn toward the person, or does he repel others? Now, that doesn’t mean that this has to be the biggest hugger in your group. That person could just be needy. You want the person who is open and accepting of others.

5. Who has shown some skills? As your group has passed around the leadership for the discussion, who has shown potential by leading the discussion well?  Were they sensitive to what was going on with the group members? Did the discussion get beyond the surface of the questions? While these skills can be taught, if a person shows a natural knack for leading, you might have a winner.

6. Who gives you the most trouble? Often the opinionated and the instigators in the group have leadership gifts. While your first inclination would be to run them off, the better thing would be to redirect them. To engage their leadership ability in a positive way will help the person and help the group.

These are just a few things to look for. In my time with Brett Eastman out at Saddleback Church and Lifetogether.com, I learned that rather than popping the question right away, it’s better to give a potential co-leader different responsibilities and see how they perform. Brett called this “Crawl, Walk, Run.” If they aren’t ready to lead a whole study, could they lead a section of the study? If they’re not ready to lead a section, have them lead the opening question.

Take your time in choosing a co-leader. Don’t just stop with question number one. Take your time, but don’t take forever. Your co-leader will be an awesome ally in your group ministry.

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How Important is a Co-Leader for My Group?

By Allen White

You became a small group leader because you are a capable leader. If you weren’t a capable leader, then you never would have been able to gather your group let alone keep them. As a capable leader, you can successfully deliver on all of the tasks associated with group life. You can lead the discussion. You can follow up on group members. You can host the meeting. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. But, just because you can do it, should you? Listen to what Jackie Jones, a small group leader, learned on our retreat about developing a co-leader.

You can also view the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLIe1w9U8HE

While I have sworn publicly that I will never ask a group to “split,” there are many good reasons to develop a co-leader for your group:

1. A co-leader provides built-in emergency backup. Everyone has one of those days when you have to work late or you have to beat a deadline or your kid gets sick. With a co-leader, you already have backup. While there may be a number of people in your group who could lead the discussion (and I advise that you let them), your co-leader is ready, willing and able to help at the last minute. It would be a good idea to let them lead once in a while even when it’s not an emergency.

2. A co-leader benefits from the lessons you’ve learned. As a group leader, like most of us, you’ve learned some lessons the hard way. Don’t let those lessons go to waste. As your co-leader is learning the ropes of ministry, share your experiences and include them in the learning. When they make a mistake, help them process what happened and what they should do next time. You’ve learned more than you probably give yourself credit for. Share your knowledge.

3. A co-leader shares the ministry. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul had many ministry partners over the years. Timothy, Titus, Barnabas and Silas among others were there to encourage and help Paul. You and I are no better than the Apostle Paul. We all need someone in our corner to share the ministry.

After a meeting, you and your co-leader can debrief the meeting. As you evaluate how the meeting went and how the members of the group are doing, your co-leader will give much needed insight and perspective on the group. It might not be as bad as you think it is sometimes. After all, two heads are better than one.

4. A co-leader prepares for a future group. Eventually, your co-leader will leave your group. It’s up to you to make sure that your co-leader leaves for the right reason. Leaders who are not tapped for leadership will ultimately find a place of leadership somewhere else.

One of three things will eventually happen to your group. (Well, there might be a fourth, but we don’t want to go there). Your group will grow to an unmanageable size, your church will grow and need new small groups, or you as the group leader will be unable to continue at some point.

If your group becomes too large, you will just turn the group over and over until someone gives them another option. Your new members will cycle in and out of a revolving door. This isn’t a good experience for anyone. As your group continues to grow, you must consider everyone’s ability to share in the group and everyone’s comfort in the meeting space. If your group feels crowded, they will stop inviting their friends. If your members can’t get a word in, they will feel unloved. When numbers go up, care goes down. It’s crucial at this point to address these problems with the group. While it may be uncomfortable, if the group is also feeling the pain, then they will be ready to consider some options. Your co-leader could take part of the group and start a new group. Then, both the existing group and the new group can feel the love and invite their friends again.

As your church continues to grow, more people will need a small group. Sure, new people can attend an existing group, but that creates a little weirdness for everybody. [REF] New people do better in new groups. Your investment in your co-leader can certainly pay off with them starting a new group. I’ve seen groups start new groups and in a period of just a few months see the whole ministry grow to 60 plus people. You could never accomplish that in just one group. And, by the way, the best coach for your co-leader is you.

Sooner or later, life can get in the way of group life. Whether the leader is facing a difficult circumstance, a relocation, or something else, if there is no one prepared to lead the group, the group will cease. Since you have developed a co-leader, the group can easily continue with your co-leader taking over the group. As John Maxwell says, “There is no success without a successor.”

The unthinkable fourth scenario: You have no co-leader. Your group stops growing. As the leader, you burn out. One by one your group members stop attending for various reasons. And, eventually, your group is no more. There are a lot of factors that play into this, but, hey, let’s not go there.

How do you find a co-leader? I’ll answer that next week.

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How to Beat Small Group Burnout

By Allen White

Elijah called down fire from Heaven (1 Kings 18), and then Elijah wanted to die. Moses worked very long, hard days mediating the disputes of God’s people (Exodus 18), and then Moses got some feedback from his father-in-law, Jethro: “What you are doing is not good” (Exodus 18:17).

Moses insisted that he was the only one who could serve the people and that the people liked coming to him (Exodus 18:15). Basically, Moses was co-dependent on the people of God. It made him feel good. But, one detail from this account shows why it wasn’t good: Moses’ wife, Zipporah and his sons were living with Jethro. Moses’ busyness for God had separated him from his family. This was not good.

Elijah did exactly what God had directed him to do. With God’s power and direction, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. The result was not a big celebration. The outcome was a manhunt, and Elijah was that man. Jezebel wanted his head (1 Kings 19:2). You would think that doing God’s work would be rewarded in better ways. Elijah survived for another day, but he was exhausted, depressed and ready to cash it in. You can avoid burnout in ministry, but you need to start before the fuse has burned to the end.

1. Pass around the Leadership. As the small group leader, you can give away the leadership on practically every aspect of your group: leading discussions, opening your home, bringing refreshments, taking prayer requests, following up on new members and absentees, planning social events, pursuing outreach opportunities, recruiting new members – and almost everything else can be given to a member of your group. The only thing that a leader can’t give away is the responsibility for the group. It’s up to you to make sure that things get done, but not to do everything yourself. It might be easier to do it yourself. You might like doing it yourself. But, okay, Moses, don’t go there.

2. Balance the other parts of your life. What else are you doing right now? Most of us need to work at a job and/or at home. We raise our kids. Some of us homeschool our kids. Then, there are kids’ sports – boy, that can quickly take over your life.

Beyond activity, you need to consider what changes have taken place? What is new this year: a job, a home, a baby, reduced income, Cub Scouts, a major health issue? We can only tolerate so much change at a time. Fortunately, God made time so that everything wouldn’t have to happen all at once. Many things you have absolutely no control over. But, if you are feeling the stress of change, then opt out of optional changes for now. That doesn’t mean putting off taking that class or losing weight or buying a new car forever, but put it off for now. Maybe wait a year.

3. A co-leader is a cure. Who really cares about your group? Who’s there every week and calls when they can’t make it? Who has shown the ability to lead? A co-leader can bring some welcomed relief when life gets to be too much. Everyone needs to take a break once in a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you quit attending your group, but maybe you go through a season when you let your co-leader take the lead. The big key here is communication. Make sure that you are on the same page with the direction and focus of the group. That’s not to say that your way is the only way, but people joined your group for a certain reason. If your group’s purpose radically changes, then your group might not tolerate it. Shared leadership requires shared vision.

4. Take a Break. If you find yourself at your wit’s end, you need to take a break. If you are burned out, tired, frustrated or experiencing health problems, start by focusing on your physical well-being. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Get a little exercise. Stepping out of your group will allow you two more hours in the week to do these things. If you don’t feel well physically, you won’t feel well emotionally or spiritually either.

Once you feel a little more rested, focus on your emotional health. How’s your attitude? Do you find yourself scowling or laughing? Are you hopeful or hopeless? On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your cynicism these days? Find a way to do some things for yourself. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Invest in your relationships. Hours of television will only slow your recovery. Honest conversations will revive your soul.

Now, this might seem completely backward, but your spiritual health comes last. I used to think: “Lord, I’m doing your work. I’m tired. I’m burned out. I’m frustrated. Give me supernatural strength to rise above the situation that I’ve created for myself by too many late nights, poor nutrition, and taking on too much. It’s all for you God. Help me, so that I can help you.” God’s response was usually something like: “Oh, give me a break.” God won’t bail you (or me) out and reinforce our bad behavior. Constantly violating God’s design is a sure path to burnout.

God designed us to work hard. God designed us to rest. God designed us for relationship with Him and with others. God designed us for a purpose. God designed us to be fragile (clay pots). Lives are best lived with an ebb and flow. We apply effort and energy, and then we take a break and rest.

The reason that you feel physically tired and emotionally negative after a group meeting is that your body, your system, is telling you that it’s time to get out of group leader/Mr. or Ms. Hospitality mode and relax. It’s not a time to evaluate your performance as a group leader. It’s not a time to consider quitting the group or slitting your wrists. It’s time to rest. Leave behind the mess that you can tolerate (more on OCD another day). If another member is hosting, then you can just go home and not worry about it.

I’ve heard ministry leaders say, “I’d rather burnout than rust out.” I don’t think either is a very good option. It’s better for us to wear out gradually.

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