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The political landscape is more polarized than it’s ever been (and it’s never been great). You don’t have to look too far before you find memes or yard signs that either strongly agree or strongly disagree with your own political position. But, how can you love your neighbor/enemy in this day and age? How do you reach people who are far from God and post an oppositional meme? What if they show up in your small group?
The challenge is to reach people with the truth of God’s word by putting politics aside. If your politics get in the way of your witness, then your politics are more important than they should be. Your concerned about political causes should be the same as Jesus’ concern. In my read of the Gospels, Jesus didn’t have much concerned for political causes. He stayed on mission regardless of the political situation.
You have a right to vote your conscience. You have a right to hold a political opinion. But, when does politics cloud the church’s mission? Here are some ideas about how groups can draw in people with opposing views and make disciples amid a hostile political environment.
By inviting friends and neighbors to a Bible study based on a relevant topic, every person in your church can reach people who are far from God and point them to the Truth. They don’t have to agree on everything. Besides, what small group actually agrees on everything anyway? By connecting with people and supporting them in overcoming practical issues in their lives, groups can break through some of the barriers that politics creates.
Stick to Jesus and What the Bible has to Say.
Over the centuries, the Church has faced a lot. Whether the church thrived with a favorable government or thrived with a hostile government, the Church has continued to thrive. But, all along the way the truth of God’s Word has held true. Jesus remains on the throne. God is a big boy. He can take care of Himself.
Once you’ve chosen a relevant study for your groups or have allowed them to choose the study based on the needs of their friends, then groups should stick to what the Bible says and avoid controversial issues. The goal is to win souls for eternity not to win the next election.
By creating an environment to accept people where they are, the group can show the newcomers the love of Christ. Jesus is very attractive. Political agendas are not. By breaking down barriers to invite others in, the Holy Spirit will do His work in their hearts just like He does in yours. This doesn’t mean that people will change overnight. This also doesn’t mean that you have to be in agreement with their political views or lifestyle choices. As the saying goes, “You catch them. God will clean them.”
Show God’s Love in Practical Ways.
What are the needs you see around you? How can your group help your neighbors? After all, Jesus boiled down all 613 commandments in Scripture to just two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). How can you love your neighbor as yourself?
First, get to know your neighbors. I’ve made it a personal challenge over the years to find something in common with everyone I meet. Now with some folks that’s more challenging than others. Sometimes though I’m surprised that I have a lot in common with someone I thought I would have nothing in common with.
Start with your neighbors’ names. If they’re just moving in, walk over and unload something from the moving truck, introduce yourself, and either continue helping or move on if you need to. Now, if you’ve lived in your neighborhood for a while and there’s a neighbor you haven’t met, then walk next door with some cookies, knock on the door, and say, “I’m a little embarrassed that we’ve lived here for so long, yet you and I have never met.” They’re probably embarrassed too.
Pray for Your Neighbors.
If you’ve met your neighbors, then pray for them by name. Pray for their lives to be blessed. Pray for openness to hear about Jesus. Pray for any needs that you are aware of. If you haven’t met your neighbors, then pray for an opportunity to meet them. The power of prayer is much greater than the power of Facebook.
Help Your Neighbors.
Do your neighbors have a practical need? Make yourself available. If it’s a big job, then invite your whole small group. Whether your neighbor needs some work done around their house or needs a night of fun, include them. People are lonely. As my wife once said, “People have more ways to connect than they’ve had, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” Facebook and other social media provide pseudo-relationships, but lack the real personal connections that people need. By opening up and including others, you and your group are taking the first step in helping people find Jesus.
Think About This
Pastor Jonathan Hansen from Hills Church in El Dorado Hills, California recently told me, “Most Christians are only one yard sign away from destroying their witness.” How can you introduced people to Jesus when your politics keep getting in the way? Winning somebody to your political point of view is not nearly as important as winning someone to Christ. The change of a nation starts with the change of the hearts of individuals. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). This should still be our mission. When it comes to politics, as Larry Osborne said recently on the Exponential Groups Podcast: “Your church (or your group) should be Switzerland.”
Heather Zempel serves as the Discipleship Pastor and Ministries Director at National Community Church in Washington, DC. With a background in biological engineering and experience as a policy advisor in the United States Senate, she brings a unique perspective to ministry, leadership, and discipleship. Heather is the author of several books including the most recent, Amazed and Confused and Big Change, Small Groups. She loves football, BBQ, and having adventures with her husband Ryan and fun-loving daughter Sawyer Elizabeth.
By now you’ve probably heard of Rooted or used it in your church. Rooted is an experience brought over from Kenya by Mariners Church about a decade ago. If you haven’t heard of Rooted, you can get the full details here and here . While many churches have seen phenomenal life transformations through Rooted, other churches have struggled to implement Rooted or to deal with life after Rooted. While I’ve written a great deal about what is working with Rooted, let’s take a look at what churches are finding difficult.
Rooted is a Big Deal, but It’s Only 10 Weeks
Where will your groups go after Rooted ends? While Rooted should be a major initiative in any church, it is only 10 weeks. Rooted requires a certain amount of training in order to qualify a facilitator to lead the Rooted group. So, for the group to continue, you need to raise up a new leader to lead the on-going group. If you don’t then, you will lose your Rooted facilitator and will have to recruit more facilitators for future groups. You have to begin with the end in mind.
As the Rooted group starts, the facilitator needs to quickly size up the Rooted group to see who the potential on-going group leader might be. You could even get ahead of this by recruiting the on-going leader before the Rooted group begins. Of course, this puts you in the dilemma of recruiting both Rooted facilitators and group leaders. We all know how tough handpicking leaders can be.
One option would be to ask someone to gather a group, then give them a Rooted facilitator. Similar to a church-wide campaign where someone would gather their friends, then the church would supply a video-based curriculum. Instead of giving them a video, you would give them a Rooted facilitator. Then, when the 10-weeks of Rooted ends, you have the on-going leader in place.
The approach to disciple making in Rooted is much different than most Western left-brained approaches. The rhythms of Rooted touch on both the left and right sides of the brain. (For more on this see, The Other Half of Churchby Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks). While there is plenty of left brained activity like daily homework and Bible discussion, the addition of the rhythms and experiences of Rooted produce powerful transformation. This combination creates an appetite for more. The problem is at this point there isn’t more.
I have seen a few other attempts at follow up studies to Rooted like Story and Life in Rhythm, but at this point neither of these measure up to the original Rooted. So, should your church avoid Rooted until this is remedied? Absolutely not! But, here’s what you need to think through.
First, in time Life in Rhythm will measure up, so be patient. You can offer Rooted without offering its immediate cousin as a next step. In fact, you can turn any 6-8 week study into a Rooted sequel by adding the prayer experience, strongholds study, serve experience, and celebration. The appetite is for the rhythms and not necessarily the “brand.” (But, the brand is pretty great.)
Next, consider other studies which relate to the themes of Rooted. At the Rooted Celebration the graduates are commissioned to find and fill needs in the community as “ministers of the Gospel.” Studies like The Neighboring Life by Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis or The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon would dovetail beautifully with this commission. After all, you don’t need any special ability to be a neighbor!
Before you begin Rooted in your church, you need to have a next step study in mind. If you haven’t planned a next step, then you will have created an appetite that will go unsatisfied in your church. That is never a good thing.
Churches Don’t Know What They’re Getting Into
Rooted is a powerful experience. I have seen little else that produces the level of life transformation as Rooted. But, you know when you introduce powerful godly forces, then you will face a significant amount of spiritual warfare.
When I worked with Mariners Church and the Rooted Network on their pastors’ training events, as a Rooted semester began things would always happen: financial struggles, relationship tension, health problems – you name it. In every semester stuff happened. As a Presbyterian friend of mine says, “Well, when you do things for God you can expect a certain amount of spiritual flak!” And, we did. At one point, I mentioned to Robin Riley, the former COO of Rooted, “When it comes to the dynamics of Rooted, sometimes I wonder if you should run toward it or run away from it.” I’m not saying these things to scare you, but you need to be prepared.
You need to bathe your Rooted launch and Rooted experience in prayer. This is a powerful tool. God will do amazing things, but you will face opposition. Before you execute a single strategy, ask the prayer warriors in the church to pray for your staff, your facilitators, your members, your church, and your community. Otherwise, if you launch headlong into Rooted without sufficient prayer covering, you might end up like the Sons of Sceva (Acts 19). Ok, maybe not exactly, but you get what I’m saying.
Give every Rooted facilitator a coach and check in with them regularly. Rooted will bring up a lot of stuff. You won’t see this in the first two or three weeks, but after that, your facilitators will face some things they may not have experience in. They will need to process what’s going on in their group. Enlist some mature folks in your church to check in with your facilitators every week and make themselves available to them. While this is something you might be tempted to skip, don’t skip it. This is necessary for the well-being of your leaders.
Rooted Brings Up Major Issues
If Rooted works well, then Rooted graduates will never be the same. People will come to Christ. People will be set free. Some will be completely overwhelmed by the spiritual strongholds in their lives (Week 5). They will need something beyond Rooted to address these issues.
I am currently working with a church that did Rooted as a church-wide campaign a couple of years ago. All 1,400 of their people did Rooted all at once. They are still trying to sort everything out. For months there was not a single counseling appointment available in their town. All of the counselors were booked up with Rooted graduates who needed to process their strongholds.
If your church is doing Rooted as a church-wide campaign, then have some resources in place to deal with these strongholds. Celebrate Recovery and other support groups can be a great resource. Recommendations for local counselors will be welcome. The strength of Rooted is that people will face stuff that they’ve buried for a long time. They will experience freedom. They will experience blessing and connection with God. But, this isn’t automatic. Be prepared to give them the help they will need.
The Biggest Problem with Rooted
Churches have been anxious to offer Rooted to their people to see their lives transformed. This is a wonderful thing. This is what first attracted me to Rooted. But, this is only half of the equation.
The purpose of Rooted is to transform both people AND churches. When the people change but the church doesn’t change, there is a problem. Rooted is built on the Simple Church concept [LINK]. Rooted calls for you to re-evaluate the ministries in your church and to purge the things that don’t align with your mission.
In the early days of Rooted in North America, much was made about the Loop (pictured below). Now, many Rooted churches don’t know what the Loop is.
The title of the Loop tells the story: Transformational versus Transactional. The intent of Rooted is to change people’s lives, but also to change the culture of your church. The focus goes to culture, connection, and outreach – nothing else. Rooted is an empowering movement. But, if you attempt to put new wine into old wineskins, then you’ll have a mess on your hands.
Think About This
If you’re church is using Rooted or planning to, do it! But, plan ahead. Here’s your checklist:
What is your prayer strategy?
Who will lead the on-going group?
What are the next steps after Rooted?
Who will coach the Rooted facilitators?
What resources will you offer people to process their spiritual strongholds?
How will you allow Rooted to impact your church in every area?
Rooted can and will make a tremendous difference your community. If you are ready or reluctant to launch Rooted in your church, then let’s talk. Click this link to set up an appointment.]
You can agree that it takes disciples to make disciples. When you think about groups, there are many parts – leaders, curriculum, group dynamics, training, coaching, and supervision. But, the most basic part of any group is someone who is willing to make themselves available to other people for the purpose of helping them to become more like Christ. While there is a definition of “disciple” that means student. There are other words translated “disciple” that mean “to follow” or “to rub off on.” Making disciples is a multidimensional enterprise. What does this have to do with getting the most new leaders next year?
Obstacles to Recruiting Leaders
Often the limitation of how many new leaders you can recruit stems from your definition of a leader. If you are looking for leaders according to the definition in Paul’s letters, then you are looking for a select group. You have a very small fishing pond in which to recruit new leaders. But, do you really need elders to lead small groups? Sometimes the word “leader” gets in your way.
If you think of disciples as students who are following a course of study, then you need very knowledgeable people to impart biblical and theological knowledge to the students in their small groups. You may have a few seminary trained folks or even a few who have spent copious hours in self-study, but you don’t have enough teachers or leaders to disciple as many people as you are responsible for.
Think about all of the people attending your in-person services, attending your online services, and listed in your church database. (To gauge the true size of your church, go here.) You have a much bigger responsibility than you realize. Yet, your methods of recruiting and developing leaders are lagging behind. (You’re probably thinking: Good grief, Allen. I thought you were trying to encourage me here. We are apparently still in a pandemic. Give us a break). Okay, I hear you, let’s talk about how you can get the most new leaders.
Every Church Attender Can Lead a Group
Every person in your church can lead somebody. If they can recommend a restaurant, they have influence. If they have influence, then they are leaders. If they know Jesus as their Savior and are filled with the Holy Spirit (according to your definition), they have the light of the world. They have hope. They have truth. They have something to offer.
Start looking at your congregation (in-person and online) as an army instead of an audience. Audiences need to be entertained. Armies need their marching orders. The people you have in your congregation right now are ready for their marching orders. The consumer Christians are gone. Don’t hesitate from challenging the people you have with bigger responsibilities. In the last two years you’ve lost just about as many as you are going to lose. If you ever wanted to change your church’s culture, now is the time.
Challenge every person in your church. Challenge every person in your worship service. Challenge every online attender to gather a group of friends and do something intentional about their spiritual growth. For the people you aren’t sure about, don’t advertise the group they gather. Start leading the church you have.
Stop Babying Your People
Your people have more to offer than you give them credit for. But, the only way you will find that out is if you stop doing things for them and encourage them to do things for themselves. I know some pastors are stuck on the “leader” or “teacher” concepts mentioned in the last section. Most of your people fall more in the category of “by now you ought to be teachers, but you still need to be taught” (Hebrews 5:12 – paraphrased).
Your people can gather a group of friends. Have they ever had a party?
Your people can follow the instructions of an easy-to-use, video-based curriculum. Have they ever watch a show on Netflix, followed a recipe, or built a piece of furniture from Ikea?
Your people are doing what you expect them to do. Or as Andy Stanley once said, “Your system is perfectly designed to achieve the result you’re getting.” (Amen or Ouch!?) Your people would do more if you expect them to do more. And, here’s the deal, your church has been through it over the last two years. The people you have right now are the survivors. They are committed. They are ready for action. If you give them permission and opportunity, they will start groups – even in a pandemic, even if they’ve never done it before, or even if you don’t think they can.
How did you get your children to move out of your house and become productive members of society? (I’ll be careful here. I’m still trying to launch one.) If you pay their bills, guide their every move, and let them stay, they will live in your basement for a very long time. If you expect them to pursue a career, start a family, and find a life on their own, they’ll do it. It’s natural. It’s normal. So, why do pastors create an abnormal relationship with their congregations? You will gain far more from sending people out than you ever will by keeping them. Who’s the next group leader? Who’s the next coach? Who’s the next small group pastor? Who’s the next church planter? Who’s the next senior pastor? They are sitting in your congregation just like you were at one time.
Think About This
God has given you a calling and a mission. God has also given you the ability to fulfill your calling and mission. You cannot possibly care for and disciple every person in your church in a personal and profound way. But, that is not your calling. You are called to “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). That doesn’t mean you need to stop teaching and making disciples. But, it does narrow the focus of who you teach and what you teach them. You must be a ministry multiplier to effectively disciple everyone who is truly part of your church. To disciple every online attender you must multiply yourself. Sure you can dispense content, but content only does half the job of development and discipleship. It takes a disciple to make a disciple.
How will you activate your people to make disciples this next year?
Now, before you take all of this and create a mess for yourself, you need to have a system in place to manage and develop this new crop of “leaders.” You need coaches. You need training. You need next steps. Don’t get stuck here. Because your success only requires developing the minimal amount of structure necessary to support this. For a glimpse of what this looks like, follow the 5-part video series called the Small Group Restart. It provides a road map of how to build this. If you start right now, you can launch the most new group leaders in just a few weeks.
Community is just as essential to spiritual growth as content. Think about this: Jesus who designed your brain also taught you how to make disciples. According to one study, Jesus spent 73% of His time with His disciples. This involved teaching, eating, serving, debating, correcting, and sending. All of this was wrapped around community. While the Enlightenment hijacked the Western church’s approach to disciple making, neuroscience is showing the importance of community in developing godly character.
Disciple making is not merely a transfer of information. It’s not simply making better choices. Disciple making is certainly not a process. After all, you’re not manufacturing widgets. And, as I’ve written before, sermons don’t make disciples. Character is formed in community. How is community formed? Here are some ways to connect your congregation into community:
Leverage Existing Relationships
“Everyone is already in a group.” That’s the first sentence of my first book, Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential(Hendrickson 2017) . When you think about your people, they are in families, workplaces, classes, sports teams, hobbies, friendships, and neighborhoods. Over the years, I discovered that some people won’t join a small group because they value these relationships more than a church small group. Rather than grousing against that pull, I embraced it. Resource and empower people to make disciples in the groups they already enjoy. You don’t have to make it hard.
The short of it is if you will give your people permission and opportunity to start a group, give them an easy-to-use resource (like self-produced curriculum with your pastor’s teaching), a little training, and a coach to walk alongside them, you can start more groups than you’ve ever dreamed. If you don’t know the leader, then don’t advertise their group. They’re gathering their friends anyway. These groups tend to form more easily and stay together longer than groups formed in other ways. After all, groups of friends tend to last longer than groups of strangers. (You’ll have to read the rest of Exponential Groups to learn the system of starting and sustaining small groups for the long haul.) Leveraging existing relationships is one way to create community.
Pursuing a Common Topic or Interest
Sometimes community starts from the other direction. Instead of gathering friends for a study, people sign up for group based on a relevant topic. You can start groups around marriage, parenting, relationships, finances, Bible studies, book clubs, and a myriad of other subjects. People are drawn by the topic, but stay for the community.
Similarly, you can start groups around hobbies, interests, or activities. What do your people enjoy doing? These groups can connect both people in your church and in your community. Again, by giving permission and opportunity, someone with an interest can start a group around it.
Now in both of these cases, you will need to know these leaders well, since you will advertise these groups. They will need to qualify as leaders in your church, so the start up process will be longer than gathering groups of friends, but it’s important to offer multiple strategies to form groups. After all, one size does not fit all.
Connecting through a Shared Experience
Shared experience can range from serving teams to missions trips to Rooted groups. These are higher commitment experiences that quickly bond people together. While every group may not start this way, it would be a waste to allow these tight knit groups to discontinue.
When your people serve in the community, they develop a connection. When they travel together outside of the country, they certainly bond together. When they spend 10 weeks in a Rooted group, they are united by a powerful experience that stretches them in many ways. All of these experiences beg for a way to continue. Give them an opportunity to continue.
Think About This
This is a short list. This is just a sample of the ways your people can connect into community. What I want you to hear is that people need more than content. If they only needed content, then you could post online videos for them to watch, and they would just grow on their own. The problem is that they won’t watch videos in isolation, and they can’t grow without encouragement, support, accountability, and relationship with others. People are just not made that way.
Offer as many opportunities as possible for people to connect in community. Start friend groups, campaign groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, topic studies, activity groups, affinity groups, support groups, and on-going groups out of shared experiences. My only caution is this: Don’t start all of these all at once. But, for everyone who tells you “no,” offer them something they might say “yes” to.
Justin Bird from Crossfit once said, “People came for the fit and stayed for the family.” (from a recent episode of the Church Pulse Weekly podcast with Jay Kim). I wrote about Crossfit a few years back in a post called What Michelob Ultra Understands About Community: “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.”
How are you creating community in your church? What do you need to try?
Your life is busy. This is true of every pastor, especially if you are a senior pastor. When you started ministry, you were focused on shepherding and teaching. But, as things it turned out, the senior pastor’s role feels more like being the CEO of a small (or not so small) company. Your time and attention are greatly divided. And, the ministry of every staff member is important. But, research shows how small groups contribute more to the overall ministry of any church.
I’m not going to waste your time delivering a sales pitch about why I think small groups are the best thing since sliced bread. I want to present you with the facts based on over 30 years of research from multiple sources.
Why a Post-Pandemic Edition? The world has changed. The culture has changed. Your church has changed. It’s time to stop leading the church you lost and to start leading the church you have. This guide will help you to move your church forward.
Every church I’ve worked with since March 2020 has increased the number of group leaders and the number of group members. While many other aspects of church ministry are struggling, groups are thriving. While worship services have struggled in decentralized environment, groups have thrived.