By Allen White
“You should be in small groups” sounds like the modern version of “Everybody ought to go to Sunday school” to many church goers. The only problem is “ought” is not a strong motivator for most people any more. Give them a cause to champion or an environment to connect, but if “ought” is the only tool in your toolbox for connecting people into groups, then they’d probably “ought” to try another church.
If everyone else thought exactly the way small group pastors and directors did, they would all be small group pastors and directors. The problem, of course, is there would be no one left to direct. Face it. People in our churches don’t think like we do. How can we think like them?
When pastors and directors make invitations for folks to join groups, there’s usually a mixed response. Some will join up. Others can’t or won’t. If they were driven by “ought,” they would understand “if you really love Jesus, truly desire to grow spiritually, and want to go to Heaven, then you ought to join a group.” They’re not buying it, so we should quit selling it. Why are some folks resistant to our efforts to get them into groups?
1. I’m too busy.
Everybody is busy. Students are busy. Retired people are busy. Parents are busy. We’re all busy. Busy is not so much an excuse, but a sickness, but we’ll have to save that topic for another day.
“I’m too busy” really means “I have other priorities. I have better things to do.” People have time to do the things they want to do. If you’re getting “I’m too busy,” then they are choosing something else over small groups.
In order to put small group higher on their lists, they will need to demote or eliminate something else. Most people don’t make changes like this unless they are convinced there are compelling reasons a group will benefit them, or if they are in a considerable amount of pain and need support. People who are busy, but generally okay, won’t feel the need.
In order for people to say “yes” to a group, they will have to say “no” to something else. In order for people to make that “yes,” they need a clear and compelling reason to join. If you offer groups for a limited time period, a trial run, and offer groups at times that could fit in their schedules, they might give it a try. But, there are even better reasons to join. Read on.
2. I already have friends.
Years ago, Leith Anderson gave an illustration of people being like Lego bricks. Every Lego brick has a certain number of dots on the top of it. Some have one or two. Others have eight, ten or more. In a person’s life, each dot represents a relationship. So, think about your relationships: spouse, children, parents, other family, friends, co-workers, sports team, book club, parents of your kids’ sports teams or activities, and the list goes on. Most people have all of the dots on their Lego bricks filled. Where do you put a group?
But, think about it this way: how can you help people leverage their existing relationships to form small groups? They don’t need to divorce their friends to join a small group. Their friends are their small group There is great power in asking people, “Who in your life would enjoy or benefit from a group study?” Very quickly, group formation will go well beyond the four walls of any church. Why reconnect people who are already connected?
3. We have kids.
The easier your groups make childcare, the easier it is for people to join a group. Whether the group pools their money to hire a babysitter or rotates responsibility for the kids among group members, this is a necessary part of groups for young families. Once the group is established, then everyone might be able to secure their own babysitter, but especially at the beginning, childcare should be made as easy as possible. For more on childcare solutions, go here.
4. I’m already involved in ministry.
Serving is a great way to engage with the church body and allow God to use them. A ministry responsibility is also a great way to get people connected to the church. Serving responsibility creates a real sense of ownership. But, activity doesn’t guarantee community. This can be addressed in a couple of ways.
Think about this: what are the goals for your groups? Most groups are built on the idea of community around a Bible study. The idea is to create a place where people are known and know each other. They care for each other, support each other, and share God’s Word together. If those are your goals for groups, can those goals be accomplished in a serving team?
This is more than ushers joining hands before they pick up their stack of bulletins, but that could be a start. Serving teams can share personal needs and God’s Word together. This may involve a meeting apart from the serving opportunity. The last thing any church wants is for folks to feel the church only cares about what they do, but doesn’t care about them.
Serving is better than just talking, but a balanced approach is better still.
5. I had a bad experience with a group before.
Most people who’ve participated in groups over the years realize groups aren’t perfect. As Steve Gladen from Saddleback Church says
There are good small groups, and there are not so good small groups. Every group has a different style and personality. One size does not fit all. But, a bad experience in one group doesn’t guarantee a bad experience in every group.
A six-week commitment to one study is a great way to test drive a new small group. If the group works, then they can stick with the group. If the group doesn’t work, it was only six weeks and not the rest of their lives. They can leave the group in good conscience for having completed six weeks and now consider themselves off the hook.
6. I don’t trust other people with my life.
This statement comes from a lot of pain. Granted, there are some people who aren’t worthy of trust. But, when someone globalizes distrust to nearly 7 billion people on the face of the earth, there’s certainly a deeper issue.
Distrust comes from fear. “If I let others in my life, they will only hurt me.” Fear requires a very compelling reason to even think about opening yourself up. If the person recognizes this is a personal issue, then the first step . A regular small group won’t be the cure. In fact, this person’s presence in a life group or Bible study might create a bad experience for everyone else.
When this person has worked through the root issues, then they should be welcomed into a group with open arms. For the present, if the person literally trusts no one, then counseling would be the recommended route. If the person does have a couple of friends, then he or she should start the study with just those friends. Obviously, this person isn’t going to start in an uncomfortable place. Where is a comfortable place to start?
7. I’m wise to small group pastors. They just wants to form groups just to break us apart.
I’m all in favor of multiplying groups, but I’m also aware of some very effective group models from other parts of the world that don’t work so well in North America. People are aware of these strategies. Some have survived them. Others have strongly resisted. Small Group Pastors: It’s time to turn over a new leaf.
What we callously refer to as multiplying, dividing, and birthing groups is translated as encouraging people to develop close relationships only to later rip out their hearts and make them change groups. The positive spin of the term “multiplying” really feels like a divorce.
While we would never want a group to become ingrown or stagnant, unless a group feels the pain of an overcrowded house or a declining group, they are not willing to change simply to fulfill our agenda. To address this issue, simply vow to your groups that you will no longer ask them to multiply, divide, split or birth. Over time, the need will arise on its own.
Look at it this way: the world is fully populated all by natural means. No family needed their pastor’s coaching to fill their quiver. By encouraging the positives of inviting and including others, groups will eventually see the need to subgroup and then form new groups.
8. My relationship with God is personal.
A believer’s relationship with God is personal, but it’s not private. While every believer should experience quiet times alone with God, God didn’t intend for us to live our lives alone. Jesus, Himself, lived a life in community with His disciples. God lives in community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Before I was in a group and before I was even married, I was a great Christian in my own mind. According to the feedback I was receiving, I was an awesome Christian. I kept away from the things I shouldn’t do and did many things I should. But, back then, most of the feedback was coming from me. I was very understanding of myself. I knew why I excelled at some things and failed at others. Sure, I could have worked harder, but I was tired. I needed to give myself a break.
Letting other believers in helps us to discover things we might have been denying. We also get folks to encourage us and allay our fears. The Bible has much to say about encouraging one another, building each other up, spurring one another on and so much more. Faith is lived out in relationship, not in isolation.
People resistant to group life need help crossing the bridge. Some need a challenge. Some need encouragement. Some need an easy entry point. Everyone in our churches comes from a different place – spiritually, emotionally and geographically. By offering multiple entry points into groups, we can serve their needs for community rather than expecting them to fulfill our need for effectiveness or success.
By Allen White
A debate runs between small group pastors and sometimes senior pastors about whether to keep small group attendance and why. While it can be difficult at times to get relational small group leaders to accomplish the task of keeping group attendance, here are some benefits to taking weekly group attendance.
Alerts You to Major Shifts
Groups who typically have 80 percent or more of their group members in a meeting on a regular basis are in their sweet spot. Even if their attendance occasionally dips below 50 percent, there really is not much to worry about.
But, there are two situations where you or your small group coaches need to intervene:
- Groups with Too Many Members
Warm, welcoming groups can’t help but to grow. The members keep inviting their friends and in a matter of days to weeks, the group can grow well beyond what’s comfortable for a group meeting or even the average sized house. Rather than putting a cap on how many new people the group can invite, it’s time for a conversation. What’s next?
If the group is sub-grouping to smaller groups of eight or less, discussion can continue and everybody can get their word in. Sub-grouping paves the way for new groups to form potentially. But, I would not recommend using words like: birth, split, multiply or divide. These are code for “the small group pastor is only concerned about his/her own success and doesn’t truly care about people.” While small group pastors know that’s simply not true, the reality is our group leaders and members are wise to us.
The best way to get a group to multiply/divide/birth/split is to allow the size of the group to become a problem for the group. When they “feel the pain” of an oversized group, they will be more motivated to relocate some of the sub-groups to another house. Coach them toward this decision. Don’t dictate this, but guide them into something they will feel good about down the road.
2. Groups with a Rapid Decline.
For most small group leaders, especially new group leaders or hosts, a significant decline in attendance often feels like personal failure, even though it’s not. If they started with 14 and are now sitting in a cavernous living room with four people, they assume it’s their fault – maybe they’re just not cut out for this. But, we know better than that.
These group leaders need to know 100 percent attendance is not necessarily the goal. What we’re striving for is letting God work in the group. Sometimes God can’t do what he wants when 14 people are there, but He can when it’s only four. When attendance drops, leaders need to be reassured.
But, if attendance drops and stays low, that’s whole other issue. What’s going on in the group that might be keeping people away? Are the meetings going to long? Is the leader unprepared? Is someone dominating the discussion and turning this into his/her personal support group? Not only is it time to coach the leader, it’s also time to conduct some “exit interviews” with group members who have left the group. This is not license for whining, but it could certainly give insight into what’s going on in the group.
The presence of a narcissist (read more here) or someone with a major life issue could certainly curtail the group’s effectiveness and ultimately its existence. Intervention by a group coach is essential to the group’s survival. Don’t hesitate to act.
Identifies Potential Trouble Spots
If a group fails to report attendance, it either means the group leader is not a detail-driven, task-oriented person or the group is facing trouble they’d rather not report. If the group leader is not a report-taker, then have them designate someone else in the group to submit the reports. Sometimes the leader’s spouse is more diligent with reporting. After all, opposites do attract.
If the group leader has gone silent, then the group coach needs to investigate. Maybe the group has stopped meeting. Maybe their attendance has dropped and they’re embarrassed to report (see above). If they miss one week of reporting, it’s probably no big deal. But missing multiple weeks should put the group on your hot list for follow up.
Warns of Groups Going Underground
If groups aren’t reporting their attendance and leaders aren’t calling anybody back, either the group has failed or gone underground. While we live in a free country and people can gather and study whatever they want, there are some key advantages to staying connected to a group coach and a small group system (Article: Why Do I Need a Coach?)
Failure to take attendance is certainly only one indicator that a group may have “gone rogue.” This is not the time to evoke a strict, controlling approach to group oversight. Group coaching is built on relationship (Article: Why Small Group Coaching Fails). Encourage their small group coach to work on the personal relationship. In time, this will bring the group and its leader back in the fold.
Practical Solutions to Group Attendance
Back in the day, the Sunday School superintendent left a folder in every classroom. The teacher would check off the attendance and put the folder outside of the door. Attendance was fairly easy to collect. But, collecting attendance from off-campus groups can be a little trickier.
Paper forms are probably not the solution, especially if they need to be mailed or dropped off at the church. Digital solutions are far superior. You can use a survey tool like Surveymonkey.com to send a simple survey to your group leaders asking them to list their members by name or just give a total for the week, add any prayer requests, and ask questions about group life.
A far superior solution is an online database such as churchteams.com which sends a report reminder after each group meeting. Leaders just need to click a link, fill out their report, click “save,” and then they’re done. Churchteams saves all of the data online and sends out analytics at the end of each month identifying potential trouble spots.
While there are many good reasons to take attendance in groups, there are also some negatives around record-keeping. But, that’s for another post.
When to Refer Someone
Why Do I Need a Coach?
Why Small Group Coaching Fails
By Allen White
Irrational behavior has no good argument. Yes, Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day, but He loved them just as much as He loved His disciples. Jesus came to save the lost. The high priest and the others were lost. They just didn’t know it. People who result to anger, cursing or violence aren’t interested in working through a problem. They only want their way. They make
it clear that the only way to get along with them is to co-dependently acquiesce to their wishes. As long as you’re willing to stay on the bottom, things will work out just fine for the bully. That’s a hard place to live.How do you deal with an irrational person? Jesus provides some answers for us.
Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. John 18:19-24
1. Stay Calm.
When someone yells at you, it’s hard not to yell back. But, then again, you’re not in Kindergarten any more. If the other person decides to jump off of the cliff emotionally, jumping off with them won’t solve anything. (Remember what your mother used to say.)The Bible tells us, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1
). This is a proverb, not a promise. Jesus gave no harsh words. He stayed calm.
2. Speak the Truth.
When people are upset, it’s easy to start back pedalling and even saying whatever it takes to get them out of your face. The problem is that you lose your integrity in the process. The Bible says, “…a double-minded man [is] unstable in all he does” (James 1:8
, NIV 1984).The great thing about always telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said. If you always tell the truth, you’re consistent. But, it’s necessary to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15
). Truth-telling is not an excuse for rudeness.
3. Avoid Personal Attacks.
Jesus taught to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39
), then He got slapped. He didn’t over-react. He didn’t retaliate. He didn’t call down 10,000 angels (Matthew 26:53
).Jesus knew that His accusers weren’t the enemy. He was fulfilling God’s mission. It wasn’t pleasant. That’s for sure. But, it was necessary for our salvation.When someone challenges you, points out a fault, or falsely accuses you, it’s a natural defense to point out the accuser’s faults. It’s childish, but it’s natural. But, it doesn’t get you anywhere.If what they are saying is true, even if it’s hard to accept, then we need to take it under consideration. If it’s false, then we really don’t need to worry about it.My kids often get hurt feelings when one calls the other a “baby.” I’ll ask them, “Well, are you a baby?” “No,” they reply. “Then don’t worry about what they say.” Now, nobody likes to be called a “baby,” not even me, especially when I am acting like one.
When you’re falsely accused, you need to remind yourself of the truth. You need to be who you are whether others like it or not. When you get into defending yourself to false accusations, you’re just wasting your time. There’s no winning there. “For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants” (Psalm 135:14
).What irrational behavior are you dealing with these days? Who is getting under your skin? Pray for them. Ask God to help you calmly speak the truth when you encounter them. Then let God do His work. If you need help getting started, pray this: Psalm 109
.Today’s post comes from the devotional blog: galatians419.blogspot.com
By Allen White
How many times do you forgive a group member who’s offended you or outrightly sinned against you? When do you cut them off? Should there be limits on forgiveness, especially for repeat offenders?
In the Bible, Peter asks this question of Jesus: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Peter was willing to forgive. He just wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose count and over-forgive. After all, everything seems to have its limit. Why offer forgiveness when it’s undeserved?
Some translations use “seventy times seven,” while others use “seventy-seven” times. More often than not, the numbers in the Bible are figurative.
I had a professor in seminary who often said, “I wouldn’t bet my life on the numbers in the Bible.” He believed the Bible was the inspired word of God. He just understood the symbolic nature of numbers in Scripture.
So if we’re not to forgive literally 77 times or 490 times (70 x 7), then what is Jesus saying here? Some have interpreted what 70 and 7 represent. Seven is the Divine number in Scripture. Ten or a multiple of ten points to the exponential, if not infinite, nature of the point.
By using these numbers, Jesus pointed out how forgiveness is both Divine and unending. There is no cutoff at the 78th or 491st offense. Forgiveness should go on and on.
Now, there is a difference between forgiveness and co-dependency. Forgiveness is costly. Co-dependency is a burden. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee reconciliation. Forgiveness isn’t an immediate pathway to trust. There are consequences beyond forgiveness. Yes, we are to turn the other cheek, but as my friend Paul says, “We only have two cheeks.”
How do we know when we’ve forgiven? Well, when we no longer hope the offender gets run over by a bus. When we can actually wish them well, then we know we’ve forgiven.
While the actual act of forgiveness doesn’t take much time, getting to the place where we’re willing to forgive might take a little longer. God is a genius at forgiveness. He will help you forgive even the unforgiveable.
Who do you need to forgive (again)? What’s keeping you from forgiving them?
By Allen White
“I believe that God is directing me to ____________________.” How do you handle that in a small group? Whether the group member feels led to quit his job, move to another state, or end a relationship, how do you help your group member discern the truth?
From the very beginning, God has been in relationship with people. Today, we’re not walking in the garden with God in the cool of the day or getting inspiration to write new books of the Bible, but God does speak to us. The question is how do we know that it’s actually God and not wishful thinking or indigestion? Here are some tests for what you might be hearing:
1. What does the Bible say?
As followers of Christ, we believe that the Bible is God’s Word. All truth is God’s truth, certainly. But, any direction attributed to God must square up with God’s Word. God isn’t going to contradict Himself. That wouldn’t make any sense.
Let’s say your group member feels closest to God in nature, so he feels led to quit his job and spend more time seeking God out in the woods. The problem is that he’s not independently wealthy and isn’t ready to retire. His wife will have to carry the load of the family finances. She hasn’t worked outside of the home for years, and he would basically expect her to do everything she’s doing now, plus provide the total family income. This may seem farfetched, but in over 20 years of ministry, I’ve heard some doozies. This one is hypothetical, however.
While it may seem spiritual to connect with God in a peaceful place, it’s also spiritual to provide for the needs of your family. If you don’t, you’re worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8, KJV). When God’s leading conveniently confirms our own desires and violates God’s word, then we must question whether the person has actually heard from God.
This is just a silly example, but I’ve heard of people feeling led to leave their spouse, stop paying their taxes, stop giving to the church, buy a new car, drill an oil well in a specific spot – you name it. While God does speak to us, the primary way He speaks is through His Word. If what they are hearing doesn’t line up with Scripture, then they need to listen again.
2. How does it line up with other circumstances?
Sometimes people feel a leading from God to escape a problem. I believe that we should allow God to help us work through problems. We come out better people on the other side. “But, my wife just left me. It’s the perfect time for me to go to the mission field.” Not so fast there, buddy. On the Holms-Rahe Stress Test, divorce is one of the highest stressors there is. (And we didn’t need a stress test to tell us that). If you add leaving your home, friends, and your church to taking on a new job, a new culture, a new climate, a new language, and so on, not to mention the spiritual toll of divorce, it’s the recipe for disaster.
But, sometimes the circumstances line up. When the person is not in the middle of a problem, when they feel a leading and finances line up, and the house sells, and the spouse agrees, God’s plan just might be coming together.
3. Has the person sought godly counsel?
Who has the person consulted on this leading? Have they talked to mature believers and pastors who will ask the hard questions and tell them the truth? Or, have they just sought out people who would easily agree with them? Every believer needs people in their lives who love them, but aren’t impressed with them.
They shouldn’t be in a hurry for quick affirmation. It’s important to ask others to discuss the potential leading and to pray with them. God often uses others to confirm a leading.
4. What does the group members sense in their guts?
When the group first hears the news, what is their reaction? What do the faces around the room say? As you’ve spent time together, you’ve started to get to know each other, good or bad. Does this news fall in the category of group excitement or “Here we go again”?
5. What other confirmation have they received?
Is there independent confirmation? Someone out of the blue says, “You would be really good at…” then describes exactly what the person feels led to do without any knowledge of the leading. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but not in careless ways.
If the person is gaining confirmation from dreams or fortune cookies, then he needs a little help. If he feels led to buy a new white car, suddenly he will see white cars all around him. Guess what? They were already there.
6. What if they’re unwilling to listen to others?
There is a place for godly counsel, and then there’s a place for the person to make his own decision. Even if he makes a mistake, it’s his decision. If you and the group strongly feel that he is in error, once you’ve had your say, don’t continue to bash him. But, you also don’t need to offer support for the endeavor.
The Bible tells us, “Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30, GNT). If the member will not listen to the group, then there’s no choice but to allow them to have the experience and learn from it. You should continue to pray for the person and show concern for him. You should also avoid trying to rescue the person when things go south.
If the person is particularly obnoxious about it, then the group might need to implement the disciplinary teaching inMatthew 18:15-17. The last resort would be for the group and the individual to part ways.
Sometimes people get caught up in the moment and feel that God is calling them. Sometimes God does. How do you know? If it’s a calling, then it will last. If it’s a temporary feeling, then it will pass – unless he’s already told people, then his pride might get in the way of his senses.
You want to encourage people to listen to God. These situations come with a label – “Handle with Care.” But, as you guide your members through these criteria to confirm their callings – God’s Word, circumstances, godly counsel – God’s leading will become clear. All of us make mistakes along the way. But, if we don’t try to discern God’s voice, then we never will. The goal is to hear God more clearly with less confusion. It’s possible to lead your group members there.