I recently saw a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. Apparently, I only watch for the game. A group is working out at a crossfit gym while anothers are running a marathon or doing a spin class. There’s a lot of energy. Matched with the challenges and the celebration is the theme from Cheers. Okay, Cheers and beer would go together. But, what do Cheers and beer have to do with crossfit? The answer is community. (You can watch the commercial below.)
Trouble Viewing? https://youtu.be/Cj4NWNWLyhk
If CrossFit is new to you, it’s not just a health club or a workout facility. It’s a culture with it’s own language: “100 double-unders, 15 power snatches (105 lb.), 15 bar muscle-ups in sub-3 minutes.” Give me the interpretation, please.
I’m not a member of a CrossFit gym, as you might imagine. You won’t see me tossing around tractor tires to get fit. My only spare tire resides around my waste. But, there is something appealing about this ad and the community it portrays.
We grow in community, not in isolation.
Now, before you announce in the next staff meeting that your church is going to open its own CrossFit gym, don’t miss the point. Community comes in various shapes and sizes: small groups, activity groups, task groups, classes, Bible studies — all of these are environments where community can take place, but none are a guarantee that community will take place. Community is formed around common goals, common interests, and even common enemies. Maybe promoting community in the church is recognizing the community that is already taking place. After all, everyone is already in a group, according to Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential.
We need others to challenge us.
CrossFit pairs competition with community. From the video, you see the members challenging each other in the quest to do their best. They’re pushing themselves to outdo their fellow members. The thought of this makes me sweat.
Small groups should also challenge us. Maybe not in a sweating, brink of exhaustion sort of way, but in a way that iron sharpens iron and knocks off some of our rough edges. If your group is only about Bible study and brownies, you might be missing out. We have each other for more than coping with life, even though that’s part of group life. Groups bear one another’s burdens, but they also spur one another on.
Who’s pushing you? Who won’t let you get away with mediocrity? Who loves you enough to tell the truth? This is how we grow.
We need to celebrate our wins.
The church as a whole is quick to move on to the next assignment, but slow to celebrate progress. God is a God who enjoys a good party. Just look at the number of parties God mandated in the Old Testament: Passover (Exodus 12:1-4); Hag Hamatzot (Unleavened Bread; Exodus 12:15-20); Yom Habikkurim (First Fruits; Exodus 23:19); Shavout (Feast of Weeks; Exodus 23:16); Rosh Hashana (Trumpets; Leviticus 23:23-25); Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement; Leviticus 16:1-34); and Sukkoth (Tabernacles; Exodus 23:16). That’s a lot of parties.
Before groups move quickly to the next study, it’s time to celebrate. Whether the celebration is worship and communion or a barbecue and a baptism, it’s important to reflection on what God has done because we’ll need this reminders to face what is ahead.
Beyond studies, celebrate group life: weddings, babies, new homes, new jobs, promotions, and other good things that God gives. When we celebrate with others, there is no room for jealousy. Sometimes the church does an amazing job at weeping with those who weep, but misses it when it comes to rejoicing with those who rejoice. Out of anybody in the world, the church has so much more to celebrate!
Your church does not need to start a CrossFit gym that places decades old Christian music. But, you could certainly join a gym in town. You can find community in a wide variety of places. The key is an environment where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came…
Reid Smith has served churches as a pastor, consultant, trainer, and contributing author for such publishers as Christianity Today’s smallgroups.com and LifeWay’s ministrygrid.com. He has been equipping leaders for effective disciple-making since 1996 and continues to do so at goChristFellowship.com. Reid lives in Wellington, Florida with his wife of 20-years and two children.
Q1: You’ve built small groups in Oregon and in Florida. What differences did you find building groups in these two environments?
The difference has less to do with geography and more to do with the specific church and its leadership. In Oregon, I began working with a church when it was about 300 people and groups were instrumental in helping the church grow nearly ten-fold in 5-years. In Florida, I began working with the church when it was already one of the largest in the nation, and it did not have a well-defined small group system. Although growing healthy group life is hard work in any ministry context, my experience has showed me that it is much easier to start when a church is younger and smaller rather than introducing groups to a church that has more history and successful growth prior to building groups. As a side note, the campuses of our church fall within an area designated as the least churched city in America. Even so, I’ve personally encountered more people coming from churched backgrounds in Florida while Portland, Oregon lived up to its reputation of being one of the most unchurched areas of the U.S. in terms of those who actually showed up at a church on the weekend. Generally speaking, I’ve found it to be much easier building groups with people who are “new” to church in every sense of the word!
Q2: Christ Fellowship seems to be talking over South Florida. What does your coaching and support system for leaders look like across large, multiple campuses?
We have not yet solidified what this should look like. When I landed at Christ Fellowship in early 2008, there were a dozen Community Leaders who were paid a modest stipend. This had to be discontinued due to the economic crisis impacting our country at that time (as it did for many churches) and the coaching system naturally dissolved because there was no strong leadership or organization undergirding it up to that point. In the years that followed, the church navigated many new changes and focused on other church-wide needs besides small groups so we are presently processing what the best coaching and support system should be longer-term. Currently, every campus has a Discipleship Pastor or Coordinator who is responsible for groups at their campus. The team I work with supports our leaders through regular communication, monthly huddles, a leadership blog, and quarterly leadership events where leaders are trained and appreciated.
Q3: Recently, I saw a comment you made in the Small Group Network Facebook Group about starting temporary, on-campus groups monthly, then launching groups off campus. Explain what the first month looks like.
We have a 4-week, highly relational membership class called The Journey where we organize people at round tables (by affinity as much as possible). This is intended to give people their first taste of group life at Christ Fellowship. Throughout this series, we encourage people to move from rows to circles and plug into a small group directly out of the experience. Although we see this occasionally, we’ve found it’s too big of a leap for most people so we’ve created a second onsite experience called Biblical Community that also runs 4-weeks. Similar to The Journey, we organize people at round tables based on when they think they can meet in a group. Unlike The Journey, people know they’re coming to this study for the purpose of joining a group that will ultimately launch offsite. For this reason, almost everyone who attends actually does connect into a new group. Over the course of the 4-weeks, we work through the first 4 of 8 sessions of Andy Stanley’s small group curriculum called “Community.” The second half of the study is completed in the group when they launch offsite and almost all take flight.
Q4: Follow up question: How do you recruit the leaders for these groups after the first month? How are the leaders introduced to their new group? Do all of the members of the on-campus group stay together or do they choose different groups?
All of our discipleship leaders are encouraged to be continually on the look-out for new leaders. Each month, we ask leaders of our offsite groups and onsite studies if there is anyone they’d recommend. We also keep an eye open for anyone who might be coming through The Journey that could serve as a co-leader in some capacity. The invitation for recruitment usually happens from one of our discipleship staff or volunteer leaders. Leaders are encouraged to form their own groups. If for whatever reason they don’t, we use them as leaders in The Journey and/or Biblical Community and each meets their group spontaneously in that initial onsite experience. In answer to the third part of your question, the members of the on-campus group formed at The Journey usually don’t stay together (though that was our original hope and vision), however, members of the groups formed in the Biblical Community study almost always stick together after they launch offsite.
Q5: Second follow up question (or fifth, but who’s counting): In tracking groups formed on-campus, then moved off-campus, how many of these groups have continued? What issues have you encountered with people not moving forward?
I’ll work backwards on this question. The biggest issue we’ve faced with people not moving forward is their history of meeting onsite. Historically, the larger campuses of Christ Fellowship had a lot of classes and programs running on-campus. I’ve found that people who became accustomed to meeting onsite tend to not be as open to moving offsite and ultimately return to the nest whenever we offer something of interest to them onsite. Conversely, those who do not have history with meeting on-campus are much more open to meeting offsite in homes, coffee shops, etc. – they find a way to launch and remain offsite. The tracking of groups that have launched basically holds true to this observation: People that met onsite and saw themselves as a group tend to not stay together after moving offsite. However, most groups that form new and had no history of meeting onsite have launched and continue to meet together. Our data, however, is relatively new on this so it’s far from being book-worthy! Other common issues we have encountered with people not moving forward have to do with one of three things: 1) Over-committed/ crowded schedules 2) Childcare needs 3) Personal crisis.
Q5.5. In most of our meetings, you usually look for me to say something inappropriate. How shocked are you that I behaved in this interview?
Lady Gaga recently sang our national anthem to open Super Bowl 50 and she delivered it with poise and melodious polish; noticeably absent were any of her usual shock value antics. So, to answer question 5.5, in my mind you have Lady Gaga beat by how well you’ve behaved here.
AW: LOL. Reid I appreciate your openness about what is working, what’s not working, and what is in process at your church. You are a smart guy who I’ve learned a great deal from over the years. Your honesty is refreshing. We will need a 5.5 Questions update as your coaching model comes together. Thank you!
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.
Steve Gladen and Brett Eastman from Saddleback Church host a weekly web-based series called The Small Group Show and are adding The Small Group Leader Show as well. Each show features Training, a Testimony, Trends, Tips and resources for Small Group Pastors/Directors and now Small Group Leaders. Featured guests include small group experts such as:
Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church
Heather Zempel, National Community Church, Washington D.C.
Eddie Mosley, LifePoint Church, Smyrna, TN
Rick Howerton, NavPress
Bill Search, Southeast Community Church, Louisville, KY
Ben Reed, Grace Community Church, Clarkesville, TN
Spence Shelton, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC
Carolyn Taketa, Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, CA
and, once in a while, you’ll even see me on the show.
The Small Group Show and The Small Group Leader Show are completely free. You just need to sign up by CLICKING HERE.