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.
We are living in anxious times. In fact, the #1 selling small group studies at Zondervan right now all center on the topic of anxiety. Counselors schedules are booked. Small group launches aren’t back to where they were. The world has changed. Church ministry is changing. This is all cause for much anxiety. But, God has given us a use for anxiety that will produce peace as Allen explains in this video.
In this video, Allen outlines three trends he’s hearing from pastors across North America:
Salvations and Baptisms.
Personal Note: While I believe the global pandemic caused an abundant disruption to help churches realign their priorities, COVID also caused a great deal of heartache, grief, and loss. I lost my mother and another dear friend last year. Neither died from COVID, but my loss was and is profound. If you’ve lost someone or have dealt with tumultous circumstances, I can empathize. In highlighting what the cultural change has made possible for the Church, I would be remiss if I did not acknowlege the pain and devastation it has caused for many.
And, gives a few thoughts on making the biggest Kingdom Impact this fall.
Burnout appears in many different ways. It encompasses everything from physical exhaustion to deep cynicism to escape into sin. Now, you may be asking yourself why I’m addressing burnout on a blog about small groups and discipleship. Some of you are burning yourselves out, and it’s completely unnecessary. Here are some ways to beat burnout:
Start with Your Physical Health
Focus on your physical wellbeing before you focus on the emotional or spiritual part. This may seem counterintuitive. In fact some may attempt to pray away burnout as an attack of the enemy or ask for supernatural strength. God could do that, but consider how God dealt with Elijah after the showdown at Mount Carmel. Elijah slept and ate and slept and ate and repeated (1 Kings 19).
If you don’t feel good physically, you don’t feel good about anything. Your temper is shorter. Your work is twice as hard. Maybe your brain is in a fog. Now, I’m not going to give you a list of 40 things you need to do every morning to succeed, because to me just the notion of 40 more things to do dooms me to failure. In your own way, factor in these things:
Sleep. Get adequate rest. Most adults require 8-9 hours of sleep per night. I know that Elon Musk only needs 4 hours of sleep, but you aren’t Elon Musk. Put your electronics to bed an hour before your bedtime. Turn off the TV. Maybe read. Then sleep. Try to wake up without an alarm clock.
Eat. Everybody knows what’s healthy and not healthy to eat. If you need a guide, follow The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Mark Hyman. Don’t do extreme diets. Eat your vegetables. Drink water. Lay off the bad stuff. As Dr. Daniel Amen says, your brain consumes 30% of all of the calories you take in. What you eat affects how you think!
Exercise. Do something physical every day. Combine exercise with something else you like to do. I walk 150 minutes per week. When I’m walking alone, I talk to God. When I’m walking with my wife, I invest in our marriage. Don’t put this off. Don’t buy a gym membership. Don’t buy a new outfit. Don’t put a new Peloton on your credit card. Open the front door of your house and take the first step. Find an exercise video on Youtube. Do something to move every day.
Get a Check Up. Don’t skip your annual physical. If you have a concern about your body, talk to your doctor. Don’t Google it. While a physical ailment can set you back, worrying that you have a health problem also adds to your stress.
Then Move to Your Emotional Health
After you’re getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition, then move to your emotional health. Improving your emotional health doesn’t require a trip to the counselor’s office, but it could. Choose a couple of things from this list to focus on:
Have you laughed several times today?
How do you talk to yourself? Is it positive?
What amount of time this week did you spend living in the present?
How are you relaxing and recreating?
What is your level of cynicism? Cynicism is often repressed anger, which comes from fear.
What are you over-doing? Over-eating, over-screentiming, over-anything.
Have you forgiven the last three people who offended you?
How much is envy affecting you? Most people are depressed after using social media.
Who have you talked to about your feelings?
How can you delegate strategically? Find someone to share the load. Empower your people.
Finally, Focus on Your Spiritual Wellbeing
When people sense burnout, they immediately want to reduce their stress, which is good. But, in many ways stress is caused by your perspective. Perspective is based on spiritual things.
Make Your Requests of God.Philippians 4:6-7 is my power verse for beating burnout. (It might be my life verse).
Honor the Sabbath. God worked for six days in creation, then rested. You are not better than God. For pastors and church staff, Sunday is not your Sabbath. Designate a day to rest from your work. Spend time with your family and friends. Relax. If you can’t manage a full day, start with half of a Sabbath.
Manage Your Expectations. I would never accuse a pastor of laziness. That’s why I’m writing an article on burnout. While you want to fully give yourself to the cause of Christ, Jesus will build His church. While you might consider your effort as diligence and faithfulness, you have to be careful that it’s not really co-dependency. Do you need to be needed? If you do, then you have to ask yourself: “Who is this about?”
Make a Joyful Noise. Sing praise to God. You can sing in worship services. You can sing with Youtube videos. I keep an old hymnal handy. Singing praise will lift your mood and your perspective.
Repent. Confess your sin to God and turn from it. Don’t try to justify or excuse it. Get rid of it. “Confess your sins to one another that you might be healed” (James 5:16). If you could stop on your own, you would have stopped. Break the power of sin in your life, which is the secret. Tell somebody. Call somebody. Confess to an Uber driver. Break it today.
Practice the Presence of God. Remind yourself that God is always with you. Thank Him for every little thing you can be thankful for as you go through your day. Stop and ask for wisdom when you need it. God is with you.
I’ve heard people say, “I would rather burnout than rust out.” I don’t think either ending is good. I believe God intends for you to wear out gradually.
Start with your physical wellbeing: Sleep, eating, and exercise. Start today. Don’t make a big plan. Just get going.