Posts Tagged bible

How Do You Know When God is Speaking to You?

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 in Matthew 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.

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

By Allen White

While some folks seem to prefer a Shallow Small Group, many small group members joined a group for relationships that lead to spiritual growth. If the conversation continually just skims the surface, some members will go looking for a scuba diving group or at least one that requires hip waders. But, what are these members looking for and how can your group get there?

Going Deep-small

1.       How Deep is Deep?

If your group is looking for depth spiritual growth, I’m not sure that parsing Greek verbs will get you there. I don’t know if a cathartic experience of reciting the details of painful pasts will accomplish that either. The problem with most people seeking a deeper experience is that they don’t actually know what they want.

I recently recommended a curriculum named “Deeper” to a small group leader. She told me that it seemed kind of shallow. Every group is at a different place of maturity. What’s challenging to one group might be child’s play to another. The key is to ask your group to describe as best they can what they expect of the group. When someone throws out “deep,” ask them what they mean by deep. There are many varieties of deep.

2.       Speed of the Leader = Speed of the Team

The leader sets the pace for the group. If you want your group to become more transparent, then the leader must become more transparent. If you want the group to personally apply God’s Word, then the leader needs to talk about his or her struggles with making that application.

Sometimes leaders resist opening up, because they’re the leader. They feel the need to come across as more together than the rest of the group. They might even aim for perfect. After all, if the group members knew their flaws, they might leave the group. Actually the reverse is true.

Your group members will identify with your weaknesses and failures more than they will connect with your strengths and successes. Why? Because every one of us has failed. Every person has weaknesses. When my wife and I brought our baby home after months in intensive care, people called me for counseling. I told them, “I’m really not a counselor.” They told me that they wanted to talk to me because I knew what it was like to hurt. That pain transformed my ministry.

As the leader, you set the tone for the openness of the group. If you’re group isn’t getting “deep,” check your own depth meter. It might be time to offer a little more transparency.

3.       Confidentiality is Key.

In order for group members to share their thoughts and feelings about life, God’s Word, or anything else, they need to feel safe in the group. What happens in your group must stay in your group if you want your group members to share openly. Gossip is a group killer.

Make confidentiality a key point in your group agreement. When new members join your group, you don’t need to share the entire group agreement, but  at least make it a point to talk about the importance of confidentiality. There will be awkwardness anyway, but getting the new folks’ agreement to confidentiality is the first step to everyone feeling safe in the group.

4.       Fixing is Forbidden.

When someone shares in the group, the response can’t go to advice giving. They don’t want to be fixed. They want to be heard. When others in the group chime in with advice, the person sharing quickly shuts down. Remember what your mom said about why you have two ears and one mouth?

Probably one of the worst examples of fixing happened in a group I lead in the early 90’s. We were a group of six: one older couple, one younger couple, a middle-aged single guy, and me. During our prayer time at the end of the meeting, the younger couple asked for prayer because they were having trouble getting their one-year-old to go to sleep. She was often staying up until midnight.

The middle-aged single guy began to give them parenting advice. He had never been married. He didn’t have any children. Yet, he was carrying on about how they should put their child to bed. We all sat there frozen. We didn’t know what to say. Finally, after a few minutes he ran out of advice or at least words. It was the dictionary definition of awkward.

In a group meeting a few weeks later, I simply asked everyone to listen to each other’s prayer requests without making comments. Our offender wasn’t offended, and he obliged during prayer time. Fortunately for the group, that never happened again.

5.       Acceptance is Oxygen.

Openness requires acceptance. Your group members are asking themselves, “If I share something hard, will the group accept me or will I feel embarrassed?” They aren’t looking for helpful hits or advice. They want understanding. They want acceptance. They want the group to not act weird after they share.

Appropriate responses sound like “Boy,  that must have been hard” or “I can’t imagine how painful that would have been.” What they don’t want to hear is “My cousin had the exact same problem…” or “I know exactly how you feel.” Is that even possible?

The group should respond with enough so that the person sharing knows that he’s being heard. But, not so much that he feels interrupted or brushed aside.

If the sharer has a bad experience, he might leave the group. If he is a no show for the next meeting, it’s important to follow up with him. You don’t necessarily have to bring up the topic. Just let him know that he was missed, and you’re looking forward to seeing him next week. If he admits feeling awkward in the group now, diffuse his concern: “Everybody in the group has gone through tough things. No one is judging here. We accept each other just the way we are.”

Whether your group is looking for deeper Bible study, deeper sharing, or deeper dish pizza, it’s important to start with expectations of what the group should be. If your group is the place for your members to decompress from the worries of life, then make it a value to let it all hang out. If your group is longing for deeper spiritual things, then find an appropriate study, set the right tone, and remind the group of James 1:26-27. (If it’s pizza, I recommend Lou Malnati’s).

But, remember, the pace of the group starts with you. Group members typically won’t go any deeper than their leader. Take the plunge yourself, and your group will also go deep.

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Is Worship in Small Groups Even Possible?

By Allen White

Worshipping together in a small group conjures up a lot of awkward memories. Even if you find a guitar player, few people sing, and no one sings very loud. The discomfort usually causes groups to abandon further attempts at worship. But, if you want to have a well-rounded, purpose-driven group, how can you successfully worship?

Guitar player

1.       You need louder music.

Seven people sitting in a circle trying to sing along with an acoustic guitar spells disaster in most situations. A few people barely sing. If you know the words, you close your eyes or look down at your shoes. If you don’t want to sing, you just pray that either the music will end soon or the rapture will take place.

Worship DVDs can be a good alternative. The DVDs usually have the words and a visual, so everyone can look at the TV rather than working hard to avoid eye contact. The key is to crank up the volume. If you want your group to sing, the music needs to be loud enough, so people don’t feel self-conscious.

Two or three songs are sufficient to focus the group away from the worries of their day and into the presence of God. The group may not be into it initially, but they will discover that this is a great transition from the outside world to the group.

2.       Music is only one form of worship.

Worship in group can be built around methods other than music. You can read a Psalm with instrumental music playing in the background. Someone could read a poem. The group could write their praises on helium balloons and release their balloons to lift up praise to God.

As Executive Director of Lifetogether, I planned to open a conference using a worship DVD. Unfortunately, the DVD didn’t work. So, we worshipped with Alphabet Praise. I called out each letter of the alphabet, and everyone chimed in with something they were thankful for or a word describing God’s character that began with that particular letter. I warned the group ahead of time that the letter X was coming. I was afraid that we would have to skip that one unless someone was really into xylophones. A woman in the back exclaimed, “X-rays that show my cancer is gone.” I’m glad we didn’t pass on X.

There are many great worship ideas for small groups on and other online resources.

3.       Celebrate Communion in your group.

Communion is a symbol of what Jesus did for us. Since communion is a symbol, you don’t need silver trays or wafers that taste like Styrofoam. You simply need bread to represent Christ’s body and a drink to represent His blood. Any kind of cracker or even matzo would serve the purpose. On the drink, you should err on the side of caution and go with something non-alcoholic.

The practice of communion is as easy as reading directly from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. You can offer prayers or not. The important thing is to remember Christ’s work on your behalf and in your lives.

My favorite communion elements are a loaf of French bread and bunch of grapes. Each person takes a hunk of bread and several grapes and shares communion with other people in the group. Sometimes this becomes the time to repent of an offense and to seek forgiveness. Often it’s a time to encourage each other and to share appreciation.

4.       Give a group member the worship responsibility.

As the small group leader, your plate is pretty full already. Who in your group would be interested in leading the worship portion of your group? Has anyone asked about having worship in the group? Rather than trying to figure out how you are doing to accommodate their request, why not ask them to head it up?

5.       Worship as a group at a Sunday morning service.

The easiest place to worship together as a group is during a Sunday morning service at church. Rather than attempting music in your group, why not have the “professionals” lead your group in worship? It’s a great group dynamic to attend the same service and sit together. This also encourages your group members to attend the services.

Worship in a group can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. By asking someone to champion worship in your group and trying different ways to worship, your group will grow in enjoying worship together.

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Top 10 Posts of 2011 So Far

Here are the Top 10 posts on for 2011:

1. Are You Discipling Your Online Followers? 

2. Who Should Choose Our Next Small Group Study? 

3. Is Pornography Adultery? 

4. Rethink Summer 

5. $10 Can Change a Life in India

6. How Do I Get My Group to Do Their Homework? 

7. Very Cool Donation to Water of Life 

8. How Do I Deal with Group Members who Gossip? 

9. Small Group One on One 

10. Turning Wine into Grape Juice 

Top 1o Small Group Leader Posts of All Time on Upstate Groups

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

By Allen White

When we hear a question like this the fear is that the answer will lie at one of two extremes. Either the group would be a bunch of Bible eggheads In the balancewho care for God’s Word, but don’t really care much for each other or the group meeting would become a freewheeling discussion that is no more than a pooling of ignorance. There is a balance, but it’s not the same for every group.

1.       Why did your group get together in the first place?

People join small groups for various reasons. They want to get to know other believers. They want a better understanding of God’s Word. They want to feel that they belong. They need acceptance. They want encouragement and accountability. The pastor told them it was a good idea. There are many reasons.

While most small groups involve a Bible study, the group is not a class gathered to learn lessons. There are other settings for that. It’s always a good idea to talk to the group about the expectations. How many studies would the group like to do in the course of a year? How many meetings out of the month should focus on a study? How many meetings should focus on fellowship, serving, worship, outreach or something else? The group may be on the same page, but you don’t know until you’ve had the conversation and decided things together.

2.       What are your group members’ personalities?

Are your group members task-oriented or relationship-oriented? What are you? When you lead the discussion are you attempting to cover all of the questions or are you interested in what everyone has to say? If you tend to be more task-oriented, then your goal is to complete the lesson. If you’re more relationship-oriented, then you might be tempted to throw the book out of the window.

Rather than resorting to an extreme, reach in the opposite direction. Task-oriented folks should train themselves to encourage personal sharing in the group. Maybe even have a night where folks share their spiritual journey and dispense with the lesson all together. When relationship-oriented folks lead a lesson, they should make sure good progress is made in the lesson, otherwise, they might frustrate some of the group members.

3.       Is the curriculum too ambitious?

Some small group studies have as many as 30 questions. This is far too much to attempt to cover in a 45-60 minute group discussion. The group leader should prioritize the questions according to their significance to the group and to the discussion. If the group is 10-12 people who actively participate, you might not need more than five or six good questions for the entire discussion. The goal is to engage your group members, not just to complete a lesson.

4.       Be  aware of your group environment.

Often God does His best work in the unplanned moments of group life. The leader needs to take the cues from the group members as well as the Holy Spirit to determine when to pause the curriculum and allow a group member to share.

If a group member becomes a little teary, it’s good to pause and take notice: “Dave, I see that things are a little tender right now. Would you like to talk about it?” He may or may not want to unpack what he’s dealing with right then, but he will appreciate your sensitivity. To just continue the lesson without acknowledging what’s going on is essentially telling Dave, “I’m not sure what your problem is, but we’ve got a lesson to finish.”

I was leading a group discussion a few years ago. We were several questions into the study and one of the group members began telling a story. Her story had nothing to do with the question that I had just asked. It had nothing to do with the lesson. We all gave her our attention and listened carefully.

I quietly prayed and asked God for direction, “Lord, should I let her continue or do we need to move on.” The rest of the group seemed to be attentive to her story. I didn’t feel any gut check about redirecting the discussion. She finished. The group responded. Then, we continued with the discussion.

Later, while the group was sharing dessert, the lady’s husband pulled me aside. He said, “I can’t believe she told that story tonight. She hasn’t talked about that for 30 years.” Even though her story was off-topic, after 30 years, she was ready to share. The time was right for her. The rest of the group made the timing right for us as well. Can you imagine the damage that might have been done if we had moved on?

Building relationships and doing Bible study is a balance in any small group. If you’re going to err one way or the other, then err toward building relationships. Don’t dispense with Bible study, but remember that small groups are life on life. It’s not life on curriculum.

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How Can We Find Good Small Group Studies?

By Allen White

Back in the day, good studies were few and far between. Today, the problem is out of so many great studies, which do you choose? Here are a few resources that might help:


1.       View Samples Online.

Online Booksellers like or sometimes offer samples of study guides and often video content. If they don’t , then the publisher might offer these samples. A quick review of a sample lesson or video might give you a sense of whether the study would work for your group. Often you can print out a sample lesson for your group to review. At a minimum, point them to the website

2.       Connect with Your Coach.

Your coach is an experienced small group leader who has led quite a number of studies over the years. Since coaches work with groups that are similar to yours, they will have suggestions based on what other groups have enjoyed. They can also help you in evaluating a study that is outside of the norm for the church

3.       Check This Study Review Site.

The Small Group Studies site is a place where small group leaders can find information for the DVD-based studies currently available in the Small Group Library. You will find reviews from other small group leaders along with links to online curriculum samples.

4.       Use a Message Discussion Guide.

A Message Discussion Guide is a great way to help people take their weekend into their week. The Discussion Guide gives group members an opportunity to take the truths learned on Sunday morning and apply them to their lives. There is no advance preparation apart from attending the Sunday morning service or viewing it online prior to the group meeting.

5.       Follow a Church-wide Series.

At least once a year, the church will align a message series with a small group study. Like the Message Discussion Guide, this offers an opportunity to discuss and apply the teaching from Sunday morning. Usually the small group study will involve a teaching DVD. The DVD allows the opportunity for multiple members of your group to facilitate a lesson, since the pressure of teaching is relieved by the DVD.

These are just a few ways to choose a study. There are many more. The key is to find a study that your entire group is interested in. If there’s a difference opinion, then plan out the next two or three studies to incorporate everyone’s good ideas.

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Is Pornography Adultery?

From the Devotional Blog:

By Allen White

NOTE – Today’s devotional presents a disturbing image. If you are highly sensitive, you might want to pass on this one.

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30

Joe crept down the stairs into the darkness. They were waiting for him – lined up in various stages of undress. Who would he be with? The variety was like ordering from a catalog. What they promised was exciting and temporary. He knew that he would leave ashamed, but the intensity he felt in this moment erased any thought of shame.                                                                                          

He wasn’t limited to one. They all smiled at him. Not one of them appeared to have had a bad day or were the least bit tired. They didn’t complain about him. They were eager. Much different than the situation he faced upstairs. They were available to him. This was as convenient as picking an apple from a tree.

As midnight came and went, Joe knew he needed to get to bed. Tomorrow was a work day. With the click of a mouse, he quickly deleted his history and prayed for God to forgive him. He would never do this again, just like he had promised last night and the night before and who knows how many nights before that.

After a trip to the bathroom, Joe slid into bed next to his wife. She whispered, “Is everything okay? What time is it?”

He whispered back, “Good night.”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

As Jim Smith said in yesterday’s post, Jesus wasn’t talking about noticing someone. The first look doesn’t cross the line. Jesus was referring to the second look. If the second look crosses the line into lust, then pornography plunges the looker into the deep end.

Pornography creates a sensation, an escape, and false intimacy. It’s a temporary fix that in this day and age is constantly available. It lures both men and women, young and old.

I’ve heard men complain, “But, it’s not a real person.” Real or imagined, photographed or photoshopped, sin doesn’t take place inside someone else. Sin happens inside of us. Spiritually and emotionally, it’s the same thing.

After it’s all said and done, the user is left feeling empty and ashamed. Pleas to God for forgiveness and promises to abstain might last a few days or hours, but it won’t be long until the user is right back there. No one leaves pornography by himself. No one.

In recovery, folks say, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” Porn is the sickest of the secrets.

In today’s verse, Jesus says that the sin is serious enough that the removal of eyes and hands might be preferred to continuing to sin. Jesus didn’t mean this literally, but he is challenging all of us to remove anything that might cause us to stumble. Blindness won’t cure porn addiction. People can lust after the images already in their heads. They don’t go away. But, an internet filter can certainly keep future images away from you and your family.

Ministries like Faithful Eyes offer software for filtering and accountability. The filter keeps pornographic or violent images away from both your eyes and your children’s. The accountability software sends every website you surf to an accountability partner of your choosing. This should be someone who loves you, but is not impressed with you. If you don’t have that person in your life, ask God to send you one.

So, is pornography adultery?

The dictionary defines adultery as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.” Jesus redefined adultery to include lust. Lust is “intense sexual desire or appetite.” Jesus’ definition of adultery, then, is “intense sexual desire between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse.” You’d be better off losing body parts than going down that road.

CAUTION – If you struggle with pornography, after reading today’s devotional, it will be more tempting than ever. Find an excuse to stay away from your computer tonight. Spend time with your spouse or with a friend. Don’t face this alone.

If you’re ready to get out of porn for good, Celebrate Recovery is a great resource:

Related Article: 40 Positive Reasons to Avoid Pornography

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Who Should Choose Our Next Small Group Study?

By Allen White

Selecting the right study for your group is important, but how you select the study may be more important. Adult learners learn best in the area of their felt needs. The best study in the world won’t work with an uninterested group.

To guarantee that a study is the right fit for your group, here are a few things to consider:

1.       How long has your group been together?

If your group has just start or is less than six months old, chances are that your group members won’t have much of an opinion about what to study next. In fact, taking too much time to decide on the next study might cause your group to falter.

Over the years, I’ve heard the conversation go like this when the leader presents three or four possible studies:

Leader: “Which study looks good to you guys.”

Group: “They all look good. Why don’t you pick one?”

It happens every time. If you send the group to the Christian bookstore or to the internet, well forget it. There are so many choices. They will never decide.

As the leader, go ahead and choose the next study before the current study ends. Introduce the study to the group and ask them if they would like do it next. More than likely, the group will agree and you can move forward with confidence.

If your group is more than six months old, forget everything that I just said. If your group doesn’t have buy-in for the next study, they might be bored, they might be frustrated, or they might leave. Again, midway through the current study, ask the group what they would be interested in studying next. But, this time, don’t bring a study along with you, unless the church is offering a church-wide series. If established group members feel ownership in the group, they will want to have a voice. If they don’t feel ownership, then what in the world are you doing?

Ask the group to share topics of interest or even specific studies they are interested in doing. Have group members research the studies on the internet, view the video content online, and even print out the first lesson for the group to sample. Then, together as a group decide which study to do next.

2.       Who’s in your group? New believers, maturing believers or Bible connoisseurs?

Newer believers will need more direction. More mature believers will need less direction, if any. Take the situational leadership model on this. The less knowledgeable the group, then the more input they will need from the leader. The more knowledgeable the group, then they will only need someone to facilitate the decision-making. But, don’t be mistaken—even experienced group members can drop the ball. As the leader, you must follow through in helping the group reach a decision. It won’t decide itself.

Then, there’s a third category – Bible connoisseurs. These are the folks who have consumed material from the best of the best. Any average Joe, poorly produced, old school Bible study will not do. They only want to learn from the pros. Their idea of going deeper is listening to the teacher who will tantalize them with a morsel of Bible trivia that they’ve never come across. Bible connoisseurs are in need of a service project, not “deeper” teaching.

3.       Should you go with consensus or the majority?

If you want to keep your group together, go with consensus. If you would like to quickly form a new group, then go with the majority. If 60 percent want one study, but 40 percent want another and you go with the 60 percent, you have effectively split the group. If everyone agrees together on a study, then they will stay. But, what if they can’t agree?

If it’s a 60/40 decision, then you should do one study now and plan to do the other study next. There’s no reason to divide your group over choosing a study. Now, if you have one group member who likes to dictate to everyone else, that’s a whole other deal. You might want to read this post on dealing with difficult people.

4.       If the study doesn’t connect, punt.

Sooner or later every group gets into a study that they just don’t like. Rather than persevere through a study that doesn’t connect, recycle it. I mean in the trash. Find another study. Nowhere in the Bible does it command, “Thou shalt complete every lousy study thy group commences.” Find something else.

“But, we spent 12 bucks a pop on the study guides.” Ebay, my friend, ebay.

Years ago, when I knew less about small groups, one group leader nearly faced mutiny. The group had not talked about plans for the summer. But, most of the group had assumed that they would take a break and do some fun things together. On the night of their last lesson in their study, the group leader showed up with a fresh set of brand new study guides under his arm. He wanted the group to get closer to Jesus that summer. From what I heard, the leader almost experienced it that night.

Needless to say, there was no group meeting that summer. There almost wasn’t a group, except that they really liked each other. The group continued on with another leader eventually. And, no, I was not the leader of that group. I just wasn’t a very good coach.

By following these steps, your group can certainly get closer to a study that will meet their needs and keep their interest. By avoiding some pitfalls as you facilitate the decision-making process, you can keep the group intact and keep your head, I mean role as leader.

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Send Your Groups on Vacation

By Allen White

If your church has 30 percent or better in small groups, then you are among the top five percent of churches in the nation. If small group ministry was a numbers game, then you could rest on your laurels and take it easy. But, how many people are actually connected to your church?

For most churches, Easter reveals the true attendance of a church. Easter is the day that everyone who attends your church shows up all at once. On average, there are at least 30 percent more folks on Easter than on a typical Sunday. At Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, SC, where I serve, we average about 4,000 adults on Sunday, but had 7,500 adults on Easter. The bottom line is that once you do the math, there is a lot of work to do. So, this Fall we are challenging our groups to take a six-week “vacation” from their group. The entire group will leave to start new groups, and then return at the end of the study.

Sure, you could try to assimilate prospective group members into existing groups, but that creates a certain amount of weirdness for both sides. New people usually do best in new groups. But, to have new groups, you need new leaders. As Steve Gladen writes in his book, Small Groups with Purpose, “We have discovered tomorrow’s leaders are today’s group members.”

Small group members who are cozy in the groups won’t like this idea. But, what if they could help start a new group and not leave their existing group? Here’s how it works:

1. Ask Your Entire Group to Start a New Group.

Give your groups the information about the unconnected folks in your church. Tell them about the additional 30 percent who showed up at Easter, but to your knowledge aren’t connected. Ask them to consider taking a break from the group, not for the rest of their lives, but for a six-week series this Fall.

If you use a DVD curriculum, it’s very easy to facilitate. They don’t need to be a Bible scholar or to have been a Christian for 50 years. The teacher is on the DVD. They know what it means to be in a group. By stepping out of the group for six weeks, a group of say 10 people could form four or five new groups and potentially impact 40-60 people over the six-week series.

2. Send Them Out in Pairs.

As your leaders look around their groups, they will probably have some misgivings about a few of their group members. They would be hesitant to send them out on their own and have them lead a group. Send them out anyway, but send them with someone who is stronger. Jesus sent His disciples out in pairs (Luke 10:1). That’s a pretty good precedent.

The other side of this is that as group leaders, we don’t always see the potential of our group members. Some of the most unlikely people make the best small group leaders. Don’t doubt what God can do with a willing heart.

3. Fill Up Four to Eight New Groups.

The greatest fear in sending out group members is the fear of failure. Equip your group leaders and members by sharing these opportunities to connect with prospective members:

Use the Circles of Life. This is a great tool developed by Brett Eastman to identify potential group members from the folks that they already know. Ask the group members to consider co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, relatives and friends, who would enjoy or benefit from the study. They don’t even need to attend your church.

Start by brainstorming names, then make this a prayer list. Once they’ve prayed, make this a personal invitation list.

Use the Church’s Website. Make sure that every new group is listed on the website. Many prospective members can locate a group near their house with the mapping feature or zip code look up. The web can also be used at a on-campus connection event.

Ask for a List. Provide your group members with lists of prospective members that live near them. A zip code search of the church database would be a great place to start. This is a bit of cold calling, but don’t make it that. Send out invitations for a small group open house. Everybody likes a party. Then, at the open house invite them to join the group for the six-week series.

Participate in the Small Group Connection. Set a day and time for prospective members to meet new small group leaders and join the groups. Over the years, we have done this in the church lobby or on the church lawn after the service or held mixers on an evening. The important thing is to create an opportunity for prospective members and group leaders to meet face to face in a relaxed setting. In 30 seconds, prospects can get an idea of whether or not they want to spend six weeks with a leader.

4. Make Sure that They All Leave the Group.

Our home group in California did a six-week vacation a few years back. Half of the group agreed to go out and start a new group for the six-week series. The other half decided to stay. We liked them, so we let them. Big mistake.

Guess who left the group, and guess who stayed? All of the extroverts started new groups for the series. All of the introverts stayed in our group. It was a much quieter group. And, we had problems getting new members to join our group for the six weeks.

We asked, “Who are your friends?” Silence. We asked, “Who do you know that would enjoy or benefit from this study?” Silence. Our little group of introverts did the study together, and then was grateful when our more boisterous folks returned.

5. Help Them Scout Prospective Leaders in the New Group.

The hope is that the new group will be successful, but if the new leader returns to the existing group, what will happen to the new group? The key is identifying someone to take the group after the six-week study. Who is the group important to? Who attends every week or lets you know when they can’t? Who has leadership potential? This would be a good place to start.

Passing around the leadership in the group meeting is also a great test of leadership. While someone may not feel that they are a leader, if they have an opportunity to lead a lesson, it will show the group leader and them their true leadership potential. Ask everyone in the group to lead for one lesson, host the group in their home, and bring refreshments. This will also help the new leader.

Midway through the study, offer another study as a next step for the group. Groups that like each other will be eager to continue on together. Groups that don’t like each other should end immediately.

6. Enjoy the Blessing of Introducing Others to Group Life.

People who have never experienced community in church, now can have what you enjoy every week. By inviting them to join a brand new group, you are giving them a precious gift. While they could join an existing group, the experience is much like getting married and having in-laws. Interpretation: it’s not always warm and fuzzy. A new study in a new group is a great start for new members.

You can breathe new life into your existing group. Over time every group atrophies a bit. Members move away or their schedules change. Then, it takes more effort to add to your group. It’s not impossible. It’s just challenging. With the six-week vacation, you can easily add new members, since you are essentially starting a new group. The new members have six weeks to bond before the established members return.

You can discover the potential of your group members to lead. Some of your group members might not return to your group. They may decide to stay with the new group after the six weeks. You can stay connected with them by becoming their coach. You already have a relationship with them, so that just makes sense. While most of us don’t want to see our friends leave, we also don’t want to hold them back from an opportunity where God can use them.

Small groups, like churches, are living things. People come and go. Groups serve different purposes for different seasons. Some groups last for decades. Other groups hold on for a couple of years, then part ways. There is no right or wrong. The key is to keep moving in the right direction and to be open to letting God use you to serve others.

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Rethink Summer

By Allen White

When I was a kid, summer started when school was out just before Memorial Day and ended just after Labor Day. We had enough time to actually wonder what we would do with ourselves. Sure, there was a week of church camp and a family vacation in there, but there were weeks and weeks of playing outside and watching old reruns, if we were fortunate enough to have a mom who wasn’t hooked on soaps.

Today, summer starts the second week in June and ends about the middle of August. It’s about six to eight weeks, if you’re lucky.

Many groups automatically decide to break for the summer. It’s just what they do. They assume that it’s too hard to get together or that they’re group members are too busy, so why bother gathering as a group? But, when was the last time you rethought your assumptions?

1. Who’s gone for the entire summer anyway?

We go into summer making a few assumptions like “Everybody’s busy traveling, so we might as well not even try to get together as a group.” In a normal year, most families do one big vacation and maybe a few day trips. While everyone in your group probably won’t take vacation on the same week, they also won’t be gone for the entire summer. Before school ends, ask your group about their summer schedules, who knows they might be available after all?

2. Your group may be the spiritual resource for the summer.

In this age of staycations and day trips, people tend to be busier on the weekends than during the week. Few of us could be categorized as the idle rich. Yes, it’s summer, but we’ve got to keep our day jobs. While your group might be headed to the mountains or the beach on the weekends, they’re in town Monday through Friday. They might not be around for church services on Sunday, so your group gathering might be the consistent touch they get during the summer.

3. Your group doesn’t need to meet every week to be spiritual.

If your group meets every week, then meet every other week or meet once a month during the summer. The key is to keep the relational connections up. Ask your group to bring their calendars and see when most of the group will be in town. Even if you can only get together once or twice during the summer, do it. I’ve even seen groups spend vacations together, go on camping trips, and even take a cruise together.

4. Your group doesn’t need to have a Bible study every week to be spiritual.
Have a party and invite prospective members. If you live in the South, grill out. If you live in the rest of the world, have a barbecue. Ask everyone to bring something. Invite the neighbors, but be sure to only invite people that you actually like.

Serve together with a local organization. Is there a neighborhood school with projects, but their funds were cut this year? Is there a yard in your neighborhood that needs work? Is there a single mom or an elderly person who could use a hand? Is a member of your group moving? If you’re part of Brookwood Church, there are many opportunities listed at

Change it up with your group. While some groups will meet 52 weeks of the year, the frequency of the meetings is not nearly as important as keeping in touch over the summer. You never want to give your group the impression that you only care about them September through May, and not as much during Christmas break.
Oh, and on the being spiritual part, we are spiritual beings, so everything we do is spiritual. Our spirituality involves every part of us, not just worship services and Bible studies.

As your group heads into summer, take time to ask what the group would like to do together. Don’t assume that everyone is busy and that no one wants to get together. If you as a leader need a break, then ask other group members to host a party or head up a service project. You’re not alone.

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