Posts Tagged bible

Writing Effective Group Curriculum

By Allen White

Photo Courtesy of Luke Tevebaugh.

Whether you are writing curriculum for a video-based study or a weekly sermon discussion guide, effective curriculum requires some dedicated steps and some finesse that comes from experience. Based on studies I’ve written for both churches I’ve served on staff as well as other churches and ministries, I want to share some of the things I’ve picked up over the years.

Every Lesson has Four Parts.

Bible studies consist of these four things: Ice Breaker, Observation Questions, Interpretation Questions, and Application Questions. Or, to put it another way: How are You? What does the Text Say? What does It Mean? What are You Going to Do About It? While some studies may appear to have more parts and pieces, it all boils down to these four.

The purpose of an Ice Breaker is to get the conversation started. You want to ask a simple question that anyone can answer to get the conversation going. You don’t want an ice breaker just for the sake of an ice breaker. You want a question that will lead into the discussion to follow. A great resource for ice breakers is Cheryl Shireman’s What’s Your Story?

Observation Questions are questions anyone can answer from the Scripture passage. (I am old school and believe that a Bible study should involve the Bible.) Questions can come from quotes or actions in the text. Even a question like “What jumps out at you from this passage?”can be a great start. These are the Who, What, and Where questions. The answers are the facts from the text. Try not to oversimplify these questions or else the group will avoid them. These questions are to help the group members dip their toe into the water.

Interpretation Questions ask the How and Why questions. How do you feel about Jesus’ words? Why did the person in the passage react this way? The caution here is to ask questions that can be answered without knowledge of other passages of Scripture. If your questions assume the same vast Bible knowledge that you have, then you’re going to leave some people behind. If a cross-reference will shed light on the meaning of the passage, then add the cross-reference to the question. Don’t assume the groups know as much as you.

Application Questions are the meat of any Bible study. In our mission to “teach them to obey” as Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20), practically applying what the group members are learning to their own lives is the most important part of the study. How does this passage challenge their attitudes? What action should they take? Encourage group members to take on an assignment or set a goal for them to live out the following week. Then, in the next lesson, after the ice breaker, check in on their progress.

Create a template with these four parts. You can name them whatever you want to name them. If you write from a template, you never start with a blank piece of paper. For a sample template, contact me at allen@allenwhite.org.

Writing for the Entire Congregation is Tricky.

Every congregation is made up of a broad spectrum of believers. You have everyone from new believers to seasoned saints. You have people who perceive themselves as not having much to offer spiritually and people who pride themselves on their spiritual maturity. (But, how mature are they really?) You have members who have a strong command of Scripture, and you have people who are just discovering their Bibles have both Old and New Testaments. How do you write curriculum that will connect with every member in your church?

Unfortunately, most curriculum is written toward the least common denominator. You don’t want to go over anyone’s head, so you write easier questions for newer, less knowledgeable believers. The problem is you leave out those who are well beyond the new believer stage. I have found that creating a section of the curriculum simply titled “For Deeper Study” meets the needs for those who regard themselves as “deep.” This could include questions based on cross-references to the text or questions assuming greater Bible knowledge.

Deep is a slippery word. I don’t believe you need to parse Greek verbs to meet this need. You want to avoid writing lessons to what I call Bible connoisseurs who are searching for some nuance of the text they have never learned before. Read more here.  To me deep speaks to deep application. How does the word penetrate my Christian façade and speak to my true self? What if Jesus was serious about what he commanded us to do? How should my life change starting today?

You don’t want to leave anyone behind whether they have vast knowledge of Scripture or no knowledge. Creating different levels of questions in the curriculum will help you to bridge this gap. Explain to your group leaders that say the first 10 or so questions are for newer believers, but then the Going Deeper section is for more mature believers, then let them decide which questions are the most appropriate for their groups.

Integrating the Video in Your Curriculum Writing.

If you are creating video-based curriculum, then you need to provide links connecting the teaching on the video with the study guide. I’ve found that transcribing the videos with a service like Rev.com is very helpful in writing curriculum. Take exact quotes from the video teaching and put them into the study guide followed by a question. “In the video, our pastor said __________________. How does that statement impact what you think about _____________?” If you don’t refer to the video in the study guide, then sometimes the video can seem unrelated to the group study.

I prefer to write the study guide after the video shoot. This way the video doesn’t change. It’s done. Then, using your template from #1, write your questions using the same passage(s) of Scripture, the teacher used and add some quotes from the video. If something wasn’t thoroughly covered in the video, then you can add material in a lesson introduction which should be read in the group meeting.

Video-based curriculum is a great way to start discussion on a topic. The group leader does not need to be a Bible expert, because the pastor on the video is the expert. Video curriculum also makes the link between the pastor and small groups stronger. The pastor’s effort is meaningful to the group. For more on video curriculum, click here.

Training Your Group Leaders with the Curriculum.

Whatever you want your group leaders to do in a meeting should be stated in the curriculum. I prefer to put these instructions in every book rather than creating a leader guide and a student guide. I want group members to see how easy it is to lead a group and maybe they’ll lead a group on their own eventually.

Leader instructions that are taught in a meeting or hidden in the introduction to the study guide will never make it into a group meeting. If you want the group to pray together at the end of the discussion, then add a question or statement about prayer at the end of the application section. If you want group members to take responsibilities in the group like bringing refreshments, hosting the group in their home, or leading the discussion, then add these instructions into the application section during the first two weeks of the study. If you want group members to invite more people to the group, then put that in the study. If you want group members to avoid spending time on prayer requests like “Please pray for my Aunt Gertrude’s big toe,” then add those instructions into the study. You get the picture.

Leaders will be reminded if the instructions are in each lesson. If the leader skips something, then a group member will be quick to bring it up. And, in the process, group members will discover that they could lead a group themselves.

Concluding Thoughts.

There is an art and a science to curriculum writing. Curriculum requires a basic structure to get the group to where you want it to go. Remember the four parts? Curriculum writing also requires the finesse to write for an entire congregation without leaving anyone out. Integrating quotes from video teaching will make your curriculum more cohesive. Training leaders and their whole group is another great way to cast vision for future groups and get the Word of God deeper into your members’ lives.

Oh, and if all of this seems too much for you, then recruit a volunteer team of writers to help you. Don’t make any promises on what you will or won’t use, but ask them to help. Other paid services like Lifeway’s smallgroup.com can also help you create your own curriculum.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing your curriculum. But, writing your own curriculum gives you the chance to encode each lesson with your church’s DNA and address specific things to your congregation.

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Maybe Your Church Doesn’t Need Small Groups

By Allen White group

For people who know me and know what I do for a living, the title of this post probably seems pretty ridiculous. After all, I am Mr. Small-Groups-On-the Brain. In this last season, I have help a couple of dozen churches recruit leaders and launch thousands of groups across the country. Did something go wrong?

No, but let’s think about the purpose of groups for a minute. Why are we so obsessed about group life? I am a big fan of groups because it creates a place for people to care for each other, apply God’s Word, serve together, and reach others. The emphasis is on the “small” part. A group fulfills the second part of the early church’s paradigm: they met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). There was a large public space and a smaller personal space. Groups work. But, maybe not for everyone.

Most churches already have something in place for these functions of care, application, service and outreach. Not all of these functions are in the same place, however. Adult Sunday School might focus on teaching and then care, but maybe not on service and outreach. A task group might focus heavily on serving, but not incorporate the other three functions. A softball team might have a care and outreach function, but not a Bible application or serving component. The question is do we swing the wrecking ball at the ministries that partially fulfill the list, or do we challenge them to become more well rounded? Before you give an answer, answer this question: If It Ain’t Broke, Break It?

This is really a question of form and function. Churches who embrace the form of small groups will sometimes go overboard and call everything a small group. If your church has 200 adult members with 30 in Sunday school, 40 on service teams, and zero groups, suddenly you can have 70 out of your 200 in groups. That’s 35 percent, which is much higher than the national average. But, just because Sunday school classes are now “small groups,” and service teams are now “task groups” doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything “groupish” happening at all.

Of course, you can also go the other way. You can throw a bunch of ill prepared people into a living room in a sink or swim fashion and suddenly have a high percentage of the much coveted “off-campus small groups,” yet what are they doing? Is care happening? Are they applying God’s Word and serving?

I’m not saying avoid small groups. I’m definitely not. But, what will small groups accomplish in your context? Why do you want small groups? And, “just because growing and effective churches have them” should not be your answer.

What is your answer? I’d love to hear it!

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How Do You Deal with Irrational People?

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

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When Bible Study Becomes Idolatry

By Allen White

Over the years, I’ve encountered a few folks who are thrilled with Bible study, but less than thrilled by fellow believers. These folks have a great handle on the Word, but fall short in the deeds department. They don’t want to be bothered by going back to “elementary” teachings. They are Scriptural carnivores looking for the meat.

A while back, a church member complained he was bored with the basic, “seeker” nature of the questions in a study guide. “After all,” he told me as Hebrews 5:13-14 says, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (NIV). I told him that’s not what the verse was talking about.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were contemplating abandoning Christianity and returning to Judaism. The “elementary teachings” and “milk” refers to the Old Covenant. The “solid food” refers to the New Covenant and life in Christ.

He told me he enjoyed this discussion. It was deep. Oh brother…

Most of us Bible scholars understand that an idol is anything we turn to instead of God. The confusion comes when the idol is studying God’s Word rather than turning to God. That seems a bit like splitting a hair. Maybe the correct issue is our pride regarding our Bible knowledge. We must remember that “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). So, how do you know when Bible study has become idolatry for you?

1.       You’re more interested in the study guide than your fellow group members.

A small group is community built around a Bible study. If you’re going to err in one direction or the other, then choose community over Bible study. But, if you always neglect Bible study, then that’s a problem too.

But, if you care more about the lesson and less about group life, you just might be missing the point. Sure, you can memorize Ephesians 4:32, but are you practicing it? If you leave your group meeting irritated because someone shared so much about their life crisis and the group couldn’t complete the Bible study, you just might be elevating Bible study a little too high.

2.       You can’t tolerate “easy” questions.

Most Bible studies are designed with a opening question that anyone can answer. Then, there are discovery questions which are answered directly from the Scripture passages. Later in the study are interpretation questions and application questions. If you find yourself irritated by icebreakers and bored with discovery questions, then you may be focused on the wrong things. If what you have to say about God’s Word is more important than what God’s Word actually says, you have made an idol out of the study.

I am amazed at the number of “mature” believers who will pitch a fit over questions they already know the answers to. They have no patience for helping new believers understand the Scripture. Their focus is on their own intellectual curiosity. The study needs to cater to their interests. My question is this: How mature are these folks really?

3.       You feel prayer requests and sharing life wastes precious Bible study time.

If you love Bible study, but you can’t stand people, you are missing the point. Our knowledge of Scripture should deepen our love for God and our love for each other. If you’d rather parse Greek verbs than persist in prayer for your fellow group members, then take a hermeneutics class and parse away…on your own…by yourself.

Please understand, in no way am I encouraging any group to toss out their Bible study. But, if studying the Bible doesn’t increase our compassion for others, something’s broken. After all, knowledge without grace leads us to legalism.

4.       You can recite passages you never intend to obey.

Francis Chan asks this question, “If I asked my children to clean their rooms, and they only memorized my words, would that be enough?” We all must admit that it’s far easier to know the Word than to do the Word. Yet, the Bible tells us that faith without works is dead.

In the church, we have gone far too long substituting knowledge for faith. Often our excuse for not acting is that we don’t know enough. “I can’t witness to my neighbor. I don’t know enough of the answers.” Yet, we know Jesus. Isn’t He the answer? Our apologetic arguments aren’t going to win anyone to God’s Kingdom. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), right?

If we stopped our Bible study until we lived out the commands we already know, do you think we’d ever pick up our Bibles again? Now, we all need the encouragement of Scripture. But, as Howard Hendricks said, “Most Christians are already educated beyond their level of obedience.”

5.       Bible study has become an escape from your real life.

I love God’s Word. I might even love God’s Word more than I love other people. After all, I’m going to do what God’s Word says rather than what others tell me to do. But, there’s a line we can cross when it comes to loving God’s Word – Can we love God’s Word more than we actually love God? We can learn His commands, yet not obey them. We can recite obscure nuances of Scripture from memory, yet do we go to those lengths to help other people?

Yes, we should turn to God’s Word for comfort. But, more importantly, we should turn to God. We should delight in helping others discover the truth of God’s Word. We should be challenged by the deeper meaning of Scripture – not secretive, hidden meanings – but truths applied and lived out in our daily lives. The Word of God is active, not passive. Our worship belongs to God, not to His Word.

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What If I’m Not a Good Example to My Group?

By Allen White

When it comes to measuring up, most small group leaders fall short. That’s the simple truth. You’re not the only leader who fought with your spouse right before the doorbell rang and your first group member arrived. You’re not the only group leader who’s lost your temper, then felt the need to paste on a smile. What do you do when you feel like you don’t measure up to God’s standard? Should you stop leading? If that’s the case, we’d all stop leading.

In the Bible, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart” Psalm 15:1-2

While we should all strive to become more like Christ, if perfection is the qualification, then that sounds like a pretty empty tent to me. I hope Jesus enjoys His solo camping trip.

Every person on the face of the earth has fallen short (Romans 3:23). No exceptions. There are no perfect people. Now, this isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. It’s just the simple truth that even at our best, we just don’t measure up. Fortunately, there is also good news.

If the requirements are to be blameless, righteous and truthful, we all fail to meet those requirements. But, Jesus is blameless (Hebrews 4:15), righteous (Romans 5:17), and the Truth (John 14:6). Some would say the solution is to act more like Jesus. WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) Only problem is, we can’t live up to that either.

Jesus always did the right thing. Jesus always had the right thing to say. He always had the right response to the Pharisees’ tricky questions. No one tied Jesus up in knots intellectually. No one got His goat emotionally. Nothing broke His connection with God spiritually. Imitating Jesus is not the answer. We’re just not that good.

What if we stopped trying to live for Christ and allowed Jesus to live His Life through us? Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus doesn’t desire for us to try to become like Him with our own efforts. Jesus just wants us to get out of His way, so He can do His work.

Our job is not to work hard on being blameless and righteous. Our job is to remain connected to the Vine. Sometimes we’re so busy with the appearance of the fruit, we forget the connection to the Root. Decorating ourselves with artificial fruit might fool some of the people, but we’re really only fooling ourselves.

Disconnection from Christ doesn’t produce fruit. It produces death and uselessness (John 15:6).

How do we remain connected with Christ? First, we keep ourselves in constant conversation with Jesus. Not out loud in public places like some kind of a freak. But, to ourselves. Rather than mulling things over and over in our heads – replaying old tapes that keep us defeated – we need to talk to Jesus about it. “I don’t feel too good about this meeting coming up. What should I do? How should I handle this? Please guide me and help me.” And, guess what? He does.

When we read the Bible, it’s not for the purpose of discovering more things that we’re required to live up to but can’t. The Bible reveals God’s vision for our lives. When we read things that might seem impossible to do, we take those to Jesus: “Jesus, if you want me to be kind and compassionate like you said in Ephesians 4:32, you’re going to have to do that in me, because I’m not going to get there on my own.” As we surrender ourselves and give our natural responses to situations over to Jesus, He will guide our words, our actions and our steps.

Here’s the best part – the blamelessness, righteousness and truthfulness required to dwell with God is exactly what Jesus gives us. We aren’t blameless. We don’t become righteous on our own. We walk in the Truth by allowing the Truth, Jesus Christ, to live in us.

What part of your life doesn’t look like Jesus? Before you start beating yourself up, ask Him to create Christlikeness in you. You just might be surprised at how Jesus can change you for good.

Doing ministry without the power of Christ is like trying to fly without an airplane. You and I lack the ability. Doing God’s work in God’s way with God’s power will reap God’s result. You are not alone.

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How Can I Encourage My Group Members to Open Up?

By Allen White

Most leaders realize group life extends beyond well prepared and executed group meetings. While Bible study is an important aspect of a group, if everyone leaves thinking, “Boy, that was good. See you next week” without sharing what’s going on in their lives, something is definitely missing. Here’s how to help your group open up:

1.       Set the Right Expectations.

When your group members joined the group, what were they expecting? Were they looking for a 60 minute inductive Bible study followed by brownies and coffee as thanks for surviving it? Were they looking for a free-flowing discussion of everything that popped into their heads? Did they know what to expect?

Managing expectations is crucial for a successful group. Rather than dictate what the group will be or won’t be, it’s best to start by discussing what kind of group the members actually want. A simple exercise like having everyone write their top three group expectations on a card, then tabulating the results will go a long way in getting buy-in from the group.

If the group skews toward Bible study, then gradually implement some aspects of care. Start with something simple like asking for prayer requests and closing the meeting with prayer. As the group continues to meet, begin to focus more on application questions rather than Bible exploration questions. Don’t get me wrong. The discussion should be based on God’s Word. But, you want to aim for where the rubber meets the road, not where the rubber meets the air.

2.       Set the Example.

“Speed of the leader, speed of the team” is a common axiom from Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. The leader sets the pace. If you are open with your life, then others will be open with theirs. If you hold back, so will they.

A couple of years ago someone gave me an older car. It’s not perfect, but it’s transportation and a gift at that. One night I became frustrated with the dashboard lights. About a third of the lights wouldn’t work. Out of my arsenal of mechanical expertise, I pounded my fist of the dash. The change was both immediate and dramatic – I now had no dashboard lights.

Driving in the summer or during the day wasn’t a problem. But, anytime I had to drive early in the morning or at night, I had absolutely no idea how fast I was driving. I was embarrassed by my “repair.” While I confessed the problem to my wife, I never mentioned it to anyone else.

But, one day a circle of folks in the office were discussing their cars’ various ailments. I chose that moment in the safe circle of used car owners to confess my dashboard issue. A woman turned to me and said, “My husband has the same problem with his car. He uses his GPS to check his speed.” What a brilliant idea. I had a GPS. I no longer needed to fly blind at night.

I had dreaded the conversation with the first officer who ever pulled me over. “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”

“No, officer. My dashboard lights aren’t working.” Somehow I imagined only a scenario with multiple traffic tickets involved. Now, I had the knowledge to detect my own speed and avoid a traffic violation.

I never would have learned that workaround if I had never admitted my problem. As Rick Warren says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” And, it has to start with the leader.

I shared this story when I spoke at a church a few months back. The next week, the Executive Pastor called to say that my message already was making an impact. A man confessed to his men’s group that his marriage was on the brink of divorce. He and his wife were separated, and he didn’t know what to do. Rather than judge this guy for his situation, his group members rallied around him to support him and his wife through their struggle. My illustration of automotive failure helped him open up about his marital failure.

Group leaders are no better than the group members they lead. You must be careful the leader title doesn’t block the way for your own vulnerability. If you’re group isn’t opening up, you need to check your own transparency in the group. Your honesty will encourage theirs.

3.       Set the Meeting Agenda.

To balance the need for open sharing in the group and the need to meet group expectations, the group agreement is the ideal place to start. If you’ve never created a group agreement, you should soon (Read more here).

The ground rules for your group could include an option where the group can help a member process a life situation. Some issues involve more than a casual mention during prayer request time at the end. If a group member has faced a devastating turn of events like a job loss, marital blow up, issues with children or other bad news, the group should allow space to even put the Bible study aside and support their friend in need.

But, you don’t want your group to turn into the “crisis of the week.” While every group should offer support, there is a difference between a small group built on relationships formed around a Bible study and a true support group. If a group member needs dedicated support for marital problems, grief or a life controlling issue, then a specific support group may offer better help (Read more here).

There is no perfect way to organize every small group meeting. Your group can’t offer only Bible study at the expense of care. But, your group also can’t avoid Bible study and only focus on care. As Andy Stanley says, “This is a tension to be managed rather than a problem to be solved.”

If during the discussion, you notice a group member getting teary or tender, stop and ask if they want to talk about it. They might or might not. The last impression you want to leave is that the meeting agenda is more important than the group members in the meeting.

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Most Read Posts for August 2011

These are the Most Read Posts for allenwhite.org in August 2011:

By Allen White

1. How Do You Know When God is Speaking to You? 

2. Are You Discipling Your Online Followers? 

3. Why Bother? (Smallgroups.com article)

4. The Power and Potential of Small Groups By Brett Eastman

5. How Can I Get My Group to Share at a Deeper Level? 

6. How to Beat Small-Group Burnout 

7. Is Pornography Adultery? 

8. Is Worship in Small Groups Even Possible? 

9. Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Engaging Introverts (3-Part Series)

10. How Do We Balance Developing Relationships and Completing Lessons in a Group?  

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Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Including the Isolated

By Allen White

People are isolated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes poor health or a disability limits their participation. Rotating shifts or even certain occupations can work against group participation. Connecting isolated folks takes some creativity, but can lead to some great results.

Some barriers are easy to remove. If a single mom can’t afford to pay for childcare, then figure out a way to cover the costs of childcare for them. In the past, I have given group leaders gift cards to the church bookstore to either purchase childcare vouchers for on-campus childcare or study guides based on the leader’s good judgment of the situation. While the church may not offer free childcare to every group, single moms are really our modern day widows and orphans (James 1:27). If your church lacks the means, then enlist volunteers to provide childcare while these moms meet.

Health problems can greatly limit small group participation. With the aging of our population and the rise of autism and other disorders, this segment of the church body is growing every day. Our son was born with some special needs. When he was little, we would feed him and put him to bed before the group started. The baby monitor was nearby, so we were always close at hand during the group meeting. While we couldn’t allow other group members to host the group in their home, this was the best solution for us to be involved.

If folks can’t get to the group, then bring the group to them. You might need to send someone early to help get their house ready. But, the extra effort to include them will mean a great deal.

Some jobs make small group participation difficult. If a business or agency runs on rotating shifts and varying days off, it’s impossible to commit to a specific day of the week for group. At New Life in California, two couples had this exact situation. They started a group with just the four of them. One week they’d meet on Tuesday. The next week they’d meet on Friday. Since there were only two rotating schedules to coordinate and fewer people involved, they could make the changes they needed to without inconveniencing others or missing meetings.

A few occupations make group life difficult. Recently a group of police officers presented the idea of starting a group specifically for first responders. One dilemma they faced was rotating shifts, so they chose two nights of the week for the group to meet. While members only went to group once per week, their shift schedules dictated which night they could go.

Police officers found some interesting reception in other groups. One couple, after trying several groups finally gave up. In the first group, someone wanted them to fix a ticket. In another group, someone wanted them to intervene for their child who had a brush with the law. These officers needed a group that would give them a level playing field, so they decided to form a group of just first responders. They don’t meet to talk shop, but they have a common understanding of life. No one is asking to get a ticket fixed.

There are many other groups of isolated folks out there. A church in Hilmar, California holds a men’s group at 4:00 am for dairy workers. They get a Bible study before they milk the cows. I had one leader start a group on a commuter train. Rather than reading the paper on the way to work, they gathered every Tuesday morning to study God’s Word. Once they started, word spread and they filled an entire section of the train. Folks who work swing shift may like a group at midnight when they get off work. Others working the graveyard shift might prefer a group at 7:00 am.

Isolated, Independent and Introverted folks don’t fit nicely into typical small groups. Rather than expecting them to get with the program and join a predetermined group, why not give them permission to create biblical community on their own terms? You will be surprised at the ideas that surface.

Read More About Connecting the Last 30 Percent: 

Enlisting the Independents

Engaging the Introverts

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Why Do We Need a Group Agreement?

By Allen White

Every person in your group has different expectations for your group, whether they realize it or not. Some folks were in a group before and long for the good old days of comfortable koinonia. Others were over-sold on groups: “You’ll make your new best friend.” For whatever reason they joined or what they expect, the key to successful group life is a thoroughly-discussed and well-articulated group agreement.

1.       The Key Word is “Agreement.”

An effective group agreement has input from the whole group, and a decision for the group ground rules is made together. You are not asking your members to sign a contract that you put together for them. If you impose an agreement on them, you may get compliance, but you won’t necessarily get buy-in from the group. Don’t wonder why no one is honoring an agreement they didn’t help to create.

Forming a group agreement doesn’t need to be a lengthy or hectic process. In a relaxed atmosphere, just get everybody’s ideas on the table. Decide on the group’s values together. What’s important to the members? When and where will the group meet? How will the group provide childcare, if they do? What will the group study? How will the studies be chosen? How will the group spend their time together?

While there are a number of great templates out there, your group agreement needs to fit your group. Imposing someone else’s agreement on your group just doesn’t cut it. Examples can be helpful, but you’re not looking for a good document, you’re aiming for a great group.

2.       Everyone Knows What to Expect.

A group agreement puts all of the members on a level playing field. They know what’s acceptable and what’s out of bounds. From basic, but important, items like when the meeting with start and end, the group will know what to count on. If members need to get back to work or put kids to bed on a school night, they will know when it’s acceptable to leave.

More importantly, the group agreement insures things like confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group. Broken confidences and gossip are group killers. If the group has a party, what will they be drinking or not drinking? If your group doesn’t know if any of its members are in recovery, that’s an important conversation to have.

How will the group meeting run? While the meeting doesn’t have to be the same every week, the members do need to know what to expect. My group meets in a restaurant for lunch. If we order from a menu, then we order, discuss the lesson, eat when the food comes, and then pray together. If it’s more of a “fast food” place, then we eat first and ask questions later.

3.       Everyone Knows What is Expected of Them.

Some people are reluctant to join groups because they fear being asked to do something they just aren’t comfortable with. Will they have to pray aloud? Will they have to read aloud? What if they don’t read very well? The group agreement helps them understand if these things are voluntary or mandatory.

If a member has to miss the group, what is his responsibility to the group? Should he call or not worry about it? If it’s important that the member informs the group, then put that in your agreement.

As the leader, you shouldn’t do everything for your group. It’s just not healthy, and it robs others of opportunities to serve in ministry. If your group intends to pass around the responsibilities for leading the discussion, hosting the group, bringing refreshments, lead worship, follow up on prayer requests, and whatever else you can give away, your agreement should include the expectation that every member would serve in some way.

Again, what are the values of your group? What is expected of each member? Decide together and let everyone know up front in the agreement.

4.       Group Agreements Must Be Reviewed.

Your group agreement will not stand the test of time. Circumstances change. Groups change. While you would always include things like confidentiality and shared responsibility, your meeting day, place, time, study and so forth will change over time. Group agreements should be reviewed at least once per year to make sure that it’s still working for everybody.

5.       Group Agreements Help When New Members Join.

It’s important to review key items in your group agreement when new members join your group. You don’t have to recite the entire agreement, but important things like confidentiality, child care details, and so on should be shared with new members. This doesn’t have to be formal. “Just to let you know, our group is like Las Vegas. Whatever is said here stays here” or “We’re going to order our food, then get into our discussion. When the food arrives, expect a little silence, then we’ll close with prayer needs.”

6.       Agree on the Agreement.

While it’s good to have your group agreement written down somewhere, you don’t need to have it notarized or have your attorney present. I have seen some groups give their agreement a simple thumbs up. I’ve seen others sign it like the Declaration of Independence. Do whatever works for your group. Some folks are resistant to words like “covenant,” so “group agreement” or “ground rules” would work better for most.

I recently bought the board game “Sorry” for my family. We read all of the rules, but to limit frustration with my young children, we modified a few of the rules. They don’t need the exact number to move their pawn home. That works for us now. Later on, we might need to up the difficulty of the game. You see there are the official rules, and then there are the house rules. Your group agreement should be the house rules for your group. The rules may change over time, but the most important thing is that the rules work for the whole group right now.

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Win $600 in DVD Small Group Curriculum

The contest has now ended. Instructions were left to give context to the comments below. Thanks for entering. Congratulations to Dan Brubacher. His curriculum reject, “What’s That? A Biblical Look at Infectious Skin Diseases” cracked me up.

My friends at only144.com are offering my readers a chance to win $600 in curriculum. Let’s have fun with this. Create a title for a study that no one would ever publish. If you can make me laugh out loud, then one humorous reader will get the whole shebang. Here’s what you will win:

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How is your love life? Think it could or should be better? Married? Single? College Student? No other area of our life impacts our quality of life more than this one. It can lead us to the best of times and for many of us it has led to the worst of times.

The LoveLife Conference is a 6 hour investment into your present situation, your future and truly even your kids and grandkids. One of, if not the most important role we can play with our kids is giving them a happy and well-adjusted home, and that starts with a healthy marriage. An ounce of prevention is most certainly worth more than a pound of cure.

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Their lives portray dysfunction and emptiness, but are totally transformed by the Gospel. True joy and Christ’s love begin to live within them, giving them a life of purpose. In fact, Paul himself was enslaved and then by God’s grace and mercy he could pen these popular and profound words: To Live is Christ and to Die is Gain. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Song of Solomon by Tommy Nelson

Used and loved throughout the world, the Song of Solomon series teaches the Biblical design for relationships. For both singles and married couples, this exegetical study follows Solomon’s relationship from attraction to dating and courtship, marriage and intimacy to resolving conflict, keeping romance alive, and committing to the end. This 10th Anniversary Edition (released in 2005) updates Tommy Nelson’s original study with updated teaching and added features.

Here’s How to Enter and Win: (This Contest has Ended).

  1. Leave a comment below. Leave your humorous (but appropriate) never-published curriculum title below. (Comments on this blog are moderated, so don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear immediately.)
  2. Tweet a link to this post. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can use Facebook. For example: Win $600 in Small Group studies just by being funnyhttp://wp.me/p1qrsD-gv #only144
On Thursday, July 28, I will select a winner from whoever makes me laugh the loudest.
Thanks for reading,
Allen

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