By Allen White
When I was a kid, summer started when school was out just before Memorial Day and ended just after Labor Day. We had enough time to actually wonder what we would do with ourselves. Sure, there was a week of church camp and a family vacation in there, but there were weeks and weeks of playing outside and watching old reruns, if we were fortunate enough to have a mom who wasn’t hooked on soaps.
Today, summer starts the second week in June and ends about the middle of August. It’s about six to eight weeks, if you’re lucky.
Many groups automatically decide to break for the summer. It’s just what they do. They assume that it’s too hard to get together or that they’re group members are too busy, so why bother gathering as a group? But, when was the last time you rethought your assumptions?
1. Who’s gone for the entire summer anyway?
We go into summer making a few assumptions like “Everybody’s busy traveling, so we might as well not even try to get together as a group.” In a normal year, most families do one big vacation and maybe a few day trips. While everyone in your group probably won’t take vacation on the same week, they also won’t be gone for the entire summer. Before school ends, ask your group about their summer schedules, who knows they might be available after all?
2. Your group may be the spiritual resource for the summer.
In this age of staycations and day trips, people tend to be busier on the weekends than during the week. Few of us could be categorized as the idle rich. Yes, it’s summer, but we’ve got to keep our day jobs. While your group might be headed to the mountains or the beach on the weekends, they’re in town Monday through Friday. They might not be around for church services on Sunday, so your group gathering might be the consistent touch they get during the summer.
3. Your group doesn’t need to meet every week to be spiritual.
If your group meets every week, then meet every other week or meet once a month during the summer. The key is to keep the relational connections up. Ask your group to bring their calendars and see when most of the group will be in town. Even if you can only get together once or twice during the summer, do it. I’ve even seen groups spend vacations together, go on camping trips, and even take a cruise together.
4. Your group doesn’t need to have a Bible study every week to be spiritual.
Have a party and invite prospective members. If you live in the South, grill out. If you live in the rest of the world, have a barbecue. Ask everyone to bring something. Invite the neighbors, but be sure to only invite people that you actually like.
Serve together with a local organization. Is there a neighborhood school with projects, but their funds were cut this year? Is there a yard in your neighborhood that needs work? Is there a single mom or an elderly person who could use a hand? Is a member of your group moving? If you’re part of Brookwood Church, there are many opportunities listed at brookwoodchurch.org/care.
Change it up with your group. While some groups will meet 52 weeks of the year, the frequency of the meetings is not nearly as important as keeping in touch over the summer. You never want to give your group the impression that you only care about them September through May, and not as much during Christmas break.
Oh, and on the being spiritual part, we are spiritual beings, so everything we do is spiritual. Our spirituality involves every part of us, not just worship services and Bible studies.
As your group heads into summer, take time to ask what the group would like to do together. Don’t assume that everyone is busy and that no one wants to get together. If you as a leader need a break, then ask other group members to host a party or head up a service project. You’re not alone.
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Now, the rest of the story:
This little girl’s mom told me last night that her daughter had sold two bicycles at a yard sale for $65. She asked how much she should give to God. Her mom explained that a tithe would be 10% or $6.50. The girl replied, “I don’t think that’s right. I’ll give $60 and keep $5. That seems right to me.” Even 7-year-olds can reverse tithe to save lives!
By Allen White
A couple of guys in our small group in California would wonder out to the sidewalk after the meeting each week to smoke. They would just hang around in front of our house and talk. The other guys in the group were a little jealous of their fellowship and considered taking up the habit themselves.
Someone from another group heard about our smoking members. Then, that person passed the news to a friend of theirs. The third person in the chain approached me at church one day, “I heard that you’ve got group members who smoke in front of your house every week. That must be embarrassing for a pastor.”
I replied, “Yes, it’s terrible. I wish they wouldn’t smoke. But, I’ve heard that some groups are full of gossips.” Okay, I actually didn’t say that, but I wish I had.
Gossip is a small group killer. There is nothing more fatal to a small group than gossip. It is the deadliest sin in group life.
The Bible teaches that “a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28) and “a gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19). The Apostle Paul includes gossip on the sin lists in Romans 1 and 2 Corinthians 12 along with murder, envy, strife, jealousy, rage and deceit. Gossip is serious business. So, what do you do when it shows up in your group?
1. Be Proactive.
Even though your group is filled with wonderful people, the first place to deal with gossip is on the first day of the group. As your group talks about their group values, you should formulate a group agreement. These are simply the things the entire group agrees to. This can include when and where the group meets, the frequency of meetings, childcare, etc.
A key value for your group is confidentiality. What is said in the group needs to stay in the group. Period. Your group should be declared “Las Vegas.” Nothing in the group – comment, prayer request, joke or off-the-cuff remark – should be repeated outside of the group.
Sometimes the rules get blurry. Let’s say a group member requests prayer for a mutual friend, let’s call her Jane, who is not in the group. Jane is having some tests for a serious health problem. One day you bump into Jane’s husband and tell him that you are praying for Jane and her health issues. The problem is that Jane hasn’t said anything to her husband. She was afraid that the news would affect his heart condition, so she didn’t want to worry him unnecessarily. (This is a fictitious story. I am not telling tales out of school here). Now, you get the picture.
Gossip, as benign as it might seem, is a missile that will sink the whole ship. Who would ever share another prayer request or personal issue in front of someone they feel that they can’t trust? If the group lacks trust, relationships are broken down. There is no more group.
Confidentiality is the foundation of group life. Creating a small group agreement and reviewing it periodically will help to insure trust in the group.
2. Even Gossip in the Group About Others is Dangerous.
Gossip shuts down trust. Even if the gossip is about someone outside of the group, it certainly makes the group wonder what this person says about them behind their backs. Gossip of any kind will diminish trust in the group. If the group lacks trust, then the members will not open up. The leader should redirect the gossiping member with “Let’s keep our discussion to those present in the group.” Then, take the member aside and personally talk to them about gossiping and the harm it can bring to a group.
What is gossip? Well, the rule of thumb is that if the person you are talking to is not part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s gossip.
3. Act Quickly.
If something about your group is told outside of the group, deal with it as soon as you are aware of an incident of gossip. Don’t interview every member of the group. The offended person should go directly to the offender. As Ross Perot once said, “If you see a snake, kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” As Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). If the offended person isn’t willing, then you as the group leader must step in.
The first step is to pray and ask God for wisdom. Ask Him to prepare the way and to work on the offender in advance. If you’re eager to confront the offender, then you should probably pray some more. If you’re reluctant to confront, then you’re probably in the right place.
Unless you heard the offender tell the gossip yourself, you must give them the benefit of the doubt. Tell them what was said outside of the group, and let them know the harm that it caused. Hopefully, they will admit their fault before you have to ask them directly. If they don’t own it, then you have to ask: “Do you know who told this outside of the group?”
If they admit to the gossip, then they should be given an opportunity to confess to the group. If they don’t admit it, then you must take the next step and bring a person with you who either heard the gossip or is somehow involved in the incident (Matthew 18:16).
If the person did gossip, but won’t admit to it, more than likely, he will stop coming to the group on his own. Most people are not so callus as to offend the group, lie about it, and then continue participating in the group. But, don’t be surprised.
4. Bring the Issue Before the Group.
If the person is repentant, then give him an opportunity to confess to the group and seek their forgiveness. The best scenario is that the group will forgive and everyone will be reconciled. This is ideal. But, it may take time for the group to trust the person again. Reconciliation isn’t necessarily automatic with forgiveness. Over time, as the group bears with one another, they will be able to trust each other again.
If the person won’t admit their fault, then the gossip must be addressed in the group in the person’s presence. This shouldn’t be presented in an accusatory way, but simply stated: “Someone in the group broke the group’s confidentiality by saying _______ outside of the group. What do you know about this? How did this affect the group?” The offender might come to repentance in the meeting.
5. As a Last Resort…
If the group is certain about who committed the offense, then the last resort is to ask the offender to leave the group. Jesus taught us, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). In this case the “church” is the group.
The question is how should believers treat “pagans and tax collectors”? As with anyone who is not in relationship with God, believers should love them, even if they’re an enemy (Matthew 5:44) and challenge them with the need for repentance. When the person repents, then the process of reconciliation should begin.
Few other issues are as harmful as gossip in a small group. But, if the leader deals with the issue quickly, chances are the group will remain strong. If the issue is not dealt with, it won’t go away. In fact, it will become a greater problem.
Gossip is not just a bad habit, it is a prideful sin. The gossip is pleased to divulge information that other people don’t have. It makes them feel powerful. As a group leader, the issue becomes how to serve a person who needs gossip to make them feel significant. What are they lacking? What are they misunderstanding about their relationship with Christ?
By Allen White
People are busy. There is no doubt about it. Often job schedules, travel schedules, family schedules, and numerous other activities will dictate against the group meeting. When the current arrangement works for most of the group, the dilemma is how much to change for a few without losing everybody else in the process.
1. What is the issue?
Something significant has changed in a group member’s schedule, and they are no longer able to make the group meeting on that particular day. There are some things that people just can’t control – a standing meeting at work is now standing on the group meeting time, a major project is demanding overtime, a family situation is conflicting with the group time – these are all legitimate issues. There are also things people can control that might conflict with the group – the member has decided to take a class on the group meeting day, his child’s ball practice is at the same time as group, she’s not a morning person and just can’t get up that early – these are also legitimate issues, but they are preferences.
Is the schedule conflict temporary or permanent? Has their schedule become too crowded to even participate in the group? All of these factors will play into the group’s decision.
2. Who raised the issue?
People do what they choose to do. Even if a lot of things are being thrown at them, they will ultimately do what they want to do. So, the question here is — who is proposing the change?
If the member wants to continue with the group, then the member will ask the group to consider a change. “Guys, I really hate to inconvenience you, but I can’t meet on Tuesday’s for lunch because my boss moved a mandatory weekly meeting to that day and time. Would you consider meeting on another day, so I can participate in the group?” That’s a reasonable request that the group should consider.
If another group member is intervening on the member’s behalf, you must determine if this is what the member in question really wants. Your group could possibly move Heaven and Earth to accommodate the member, when the member was content to just skip the meeting for a while. You certainly don’t want the whole group to change their schedules only to find that the one they changed for can’t make it anyway. This happens more often than you might imagine.
3. What defines the group anyway?
Is the group just the members who show up for the meetings? Is it the group roster? What is the group? Think about it this way: if a member of your family couldn’t eat dinner with the rest of the family, are they no longer a family member? But, if the same family member is estranged from the family, what do we do then?
If the group is the meeting, then commitment is determined by a lack of tardiness and absences. But, isn’t a group more than a meeting? A group is more like a family. There is a commitment to each other, even if there is an issue with the commitment to the meeting.
Every group goes through challenging seasons. And, there are even times when scheduling conflicts can’t be resolved, so a group member has to move on. A group is a living thing. It is constantly changing. New members are added, and sometimes even long-time members move along. This is a normal part of group life. Don’t panic.
But, if your group is more than just a meeting, then continue to invite your group members who can’t attend the meeting to be involved in other aspects of group life. Include them in group service projects, parties and other activities. Keep them on your email list, unless they intentionally choose to join another group. If the member is dealing with a ridiculously busy schedule, even a text or a tweet from other members is significant.
4. What is the group willing to do?
The entire group should consider the situation and the options together. Is the situation beyond the group member’s control? Did the group member prioritize something else over the group meeting? What options does the group have? Then, the entire group should decide together. Don’t put yourself in a leader versus group member decision, and certainly don’t dictate to your group. You are the group leader, not the group owner.
In my group, one member decided that he didn’t want to pay $10 for lunch any more. He was more of a dollar menu kind of guy. He was also a member of another small group in addition to ours. The group decided to wish him well, but didn’t move to Wendy’s.
Another group member kept getting called into meetings in another city on Thursdays, but Wednesday were typically good for him. So, the group chose to move to Wednesdays so he could join us.
Our group meets in restaurants up and down Woodruff Road in Greenville, South Carolina. We will never run out of restaurants even though we change every month. The group decides together where to meet each month. For one season, we had ventured a little too far down the road for some of the guys to get to back to work on time, so now we’re at restaurants closer to their businesses.
Whether your group chooses to change days or locations, the key is for the whole group to make the decision together. It’s a decision that needs to work for everyone.
5. What is the result?
If your group decided move the meeting to accommodate the group member, did it work out? Is he still involved in the group? If so, then you’re group can continue as normal.
If after trying to accommodate the group member, he doesn’t come after several weeks to months, then it’s time for a conversation with the member. This shouldn’t be a guilt-induced, brow beating. But, obviously something else is going on with this group member. What’s going on with him personally? Did something happen in the group? Did something happen outside of the group?
If the group member hasn’t rejoined the group after the change, then I would be reluctant to make another change for this group member. Sometimes the people you make the greatest lengths to reach still never show up. I learned this when I reorganized an entire Bible Institute class for a student who needed to complete the class and needed to participate on a mission trip in order to graduate. After his mission trip, the class reconvened only to discover that the student we tried to accommodate never returned.
Every group leader wants to be the good shepherd who will leave the 99 and go after the one. If you go to extremes, however, you might alienate the rest of the group and find yourself in a small group of two. And, there can be a purpose for a group of two.
You can’t keep every group member for life. That’s just not possible. After the group has done everything they can, if the group member can’t participate, then it might be time to move on.
By Allen White
Group members, like everybody else, are busy people. “But, if they’re really committed, they would do their homework,” you might object. What if they’re really committed and show up to the group most weeks? The question of homework raises several issues about expectations and gifts in your group.
1. What is your goal concerning homework?
What is the homework preparation for? If the center of the group is sharing life together, then the preparation comes from our life experiences of the previous week. If the group is centered on a lesson, then by doing homework, each group member is prepared for the discussion. Statistically, half of the group members will do homework and the other half won’t. As the group leader, it’s important to include everybody in the discussion. Group members who prepared will be quick with their answers. Group members who didn’t prepare will need a little more time to respond.
2. What expectations have been set by the group?
Has the group agreed to homework? Did the group choose the study together and go into it with eyes wide open? Did they understand how much homework would be involved? Or did the group leader spring the study on them?
Group expectations are best decided together as a group. Everyone should agree to what study the group will be discussing as well as any expectations for homework, rotating leadership, bringing refreshments, etc. If the group leader chooses to assign homework without the group’s consent, then don’t be surprised by a lack of participation or a possible mutiny.
3. What benefit is there to doing homework?
If the group has prepared in advance, then we understand that the lesson will be easier to lead. But, what’s in it for the group? Other than avoiding the group leader’s wrath, what do they get out of it?
Group members who spend time studying the topic in God’s Word will definitely benefit from spending time in God’s Word. The principles more than likely will stick with them longer. These are all great things if the entire group agrees to it. Be clear about what is expected: self-study, daily reading, reviewing the discussion questions, attending the Sunday service.
4. What if the group can’t live up to the agreement?
One summer my group decided to study a great Christian book. Our assignment was to read and discuss one chapter per week. We all agreed. Then, reality set in. While everyone attended the group each week, most of us, including the leader, had trouble getting to the chapter every week. Yet, we were committed to completing the study.
Our solution was simple: at least one group member would read the assigned chapter each week, give the group a summary, and lead the discussion. This was great for many reasons. Our guilt was relieved. Everyone led at least twice that Summer, so they read at least two chapters. The group didn’t fall apart. Then, of course, we agreed to never attempt another book study again.
5. Asking for homework reveals a teaching gift.
Carl George has wisely said that if the group leader is assigning homework, then more than likely, the group leader has a teaching gift. Teachers make homework assignments. His suggestion is not to use the teaching gift to assign homework. Instead, the group leader should use his gift to do the homework themselves, and then teach the group along with the group discussion. While you don’t want to turn the small group into a class, the group leader’s teaching gift can certainly enhance the discussion. Of course, the other alternative would be for the group leader to teach a Sunday School class or a Bible Institute type class rather than leading a group.
Expectations can run awry unless they are clear, reasonable and accountable. The key is buy-in from the group. Adult learners are motivated by what interests them. Imposing something on them is highly demotivating. Taking the time to agree together as a group will greatly reduce frustration all of the way around.