Posts Tagged curriculum
By Allen White
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
Pastor Wayne Cordeiro leads New Hope Oahu, which is certainly the largest church in Hawaii as well as one of the largest churches in America. Wayne came to us with two objectives in mind. He wanted to create a small group curriculum based on his recently released book, The Seven Rules of Success, and he wanted to connect his congregation into groups for the series and beyond.
New Hope Oahu already had a strong production crew, so they didn’t need the work done for them, but they knew that while the expertly produced weekend services, video-based group curriculum was a new genre for them. NHO partnered with us to coach their production team, to provide on-site direction for their video shoot, and to coach their small group team in launching new groups and sustaining those groups past the seven week series. Our team rolled up our sleeves to help them masterfully produce the curriculum for the book.
We provided guidance through the pre-production process from what equipment to have on hand to determining what elements to shoot and which on-camera personnel to use to help with turning a tradebook into a teaching script for the teleprompter. While this was new for the NHO team, this was not new to our team. Prior to this project, we worked with a variety of pastors to create small group curriculum based on a tradebook including Rick Warren’s The Daniel Plan, Chris Hodges’ Fresh Air, Wilfredo (Choco) de Jesus’ Amazing Faith and In the Gap titles, and Pastor Kerri Weems’ Rhythms of Grace. By repurposing great content, these pastors developed additional tools to help their congregations and many others to apply the principles to their lives in a group.
Before you get jealous, the video shoot took place in Oregon, not Hawaii. As you can see from this beautiful outdoor setting, Wayne and his team shot on a horse farm in both indoor and outdoor settings. The Lifetogether team provided on-site coaching to lead their team through every step of the process, every element on the DVD, and every promotional video to recruit leaders and launch their church-wide initiative.
The end result was both a beautiful small group tool and seeing 6,000 people connected into groups at New Hope Oahu in their first video teaching series. There is work ahead to continue support their small group team with the structures and training necessary to sustain groups for 6,000 people, but this isn’t new to us either. Best of all, New Hope Oahu now has the ability to continue producing curriculum for their groups with or better yet, without our help well into the future.
Fall is a prime season to launch groups in churches across the country. In my consulting work, I am working with churches from Florida to Washington and Southern California to New York City. Among churches of various sizes and denominations, we are seeing some tremendous results. But, not every church hits a home run with their group launch. Here are some reasons why.
- You picked the wrong topic.
Small groups are a great vehicle for people to grow spiritually. But, in order for people to grow in a group, they need to actually be in a group. If a church’s goal is to connect their congregation into groups, then a felt needs topic is very attractive. If you give people something they want to study, they will jump right in. If you offer something they “should” study, it may not go so well.
Let me go on the record: Healthy, balanced small groups cannot live by felt needs topics alone. But, kicking off groups usually doesn’t go well with series on evangelism, stewardship, fasting, or other self-sacrificial studies. You need to establish your goal. If you want to increase the number of groups, then go felt needs. If you want to grow your people deeper, then offer these topics to your established groups.
- You set the bar too high.
The more requirements for group leadership, the fewer leaders you will recruit. If you required all of your new leaders to be church members, complete a lengthy leadership training process, or graduate with their Master of Divinity, you certainly limited the number of groups you could launch this Fall.
Your level of acceptable risk will greatly determine the reward. If you invite people to do a study with their friends, then you are only limited to people with friends. If you increase the requirements, you lessen the impact.
If you choose to lower the bar next time, then lessen the risk by forming “unpublished” groups. If the groups don’t appear on your church’s website, group listing, or bulletin, you are not implying any kind of official endorsement of the groups. If friends invite friends, you will form good, lasting groups, and if someone gets in a bad group, well, it was their friend’s group after all.
- You focused on recruiting group members.
As a pastor, if the invitation is for potential group members, you may or may not actually start groups. You will certainly give yourself a lot of busy work trying to find enough leaders to accommodate the prospects or trying to place people in the right group. But, you’ve missed the mark and the point.
If you have a bunch of prospective group members, you might have a group. If you have a leader, you WILL have a group. In fact, the best way to get into a group is to start a group — you’re automatically in! When the focus is on recruiting leaders, you will greatly increase your number of groups. If your focus is on members, you will probably just end up with a mess.
- You put too much distance between the invitation and the response.
When you or your senior pastor made the invitation for people to start a group, how and when did they respond?
If they were sent to the church website to register, they didn’t go.
If they were sent to the church lobby, they walked right by.
If they were invited to a meeting in the near future, they forgot.
If they had a sign up card in their hand during the service, bingo, they’re in!
If they were sent an email to remind them to sign up at church on Sunday, they forgot again.
If they were sent an email with a registration link, then they signed up.
The less distance between the invitation and the response, the greater the result.
- You gave too many steps from “Yes” to starting the group.
If the pathway from the response to the group starting took too many steps, then you lost leaders at every phase.
If you recruited months in advance of your group launch, there were too many days before they started. Cold feet and good intentions didn’t get them there.
If you required a training class, a membership class, a pastoral interview, a group orientation, a group connection, and a final debrief meeting, you lost, lost, lost, lost and lost new group leaders.
If you kept the steps to a minimum, based on your own acceptable level of risk, you kept far more than any of the above scenarios.
- Your recruitment period was too short.
A few years ago, I was working with two churches of similar size who were launching groups on the same week. One church recruited 20 new leaders. The other recruited 60. The first church recruited leaders for one week. The second church recruited for three weeks in a row. Triple the recruiting equaled triple the result. You do the math.
- Your senior pastor was not on board.
If your senior pastor was hesitant about your next series in any way, it hurt you. Half-hearted appeals and hit or miss invitations lead to lackluster results.
If your senior pastor didn’t make the invitation for leaders, that was a huge miss. The senior pastor will get three times the result of any other staff member. I’ve served as an associate pastor for 20 of my 24 years of ministry. As soon as I learned this, I never made the invitation again.
How do you get your senior pastor on board with the series you recommend? You don’t. If you want your group launch to succeed, you have to get on board with where your senior pastor wants to go. If you respect your senior pastor’s direction, you will see respectable results. If you try to pressure your senior pastor into a series that is not his idea, you are on your own (literally).
Last Sunday, I worshipped with a church who had never had small groups. Their senior pastor decided it was time. He cast vision for groups. He kept the response close to the invitation. He focused on recruiting leaders. He did it all right. Then, on Sunday afternoon, 360 new group leaders showed up for training (and they have two more weeks to recruit!)
Learn the lessons from your failed attempt. There is no shame in failure, but there is shame in not learning.
Free Fall Group Launch Debrief – Based on YOUR Questions and Issues
with Allen White
1. Take a brief survey to share where your launch fell short.
2. Login to the webinar on:
Tuesday, October 17 at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT/ 1pm MT/ Noon PT
Wednesday, October 19 at 11am ET/ 10am CT/ 9am MT/ 8am PT
Take the Survey and Register Here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YGW6WZ7
One Participant from Each Webinar will receive a free copy of Exponential Groups by Allen White. You must be on the webinar to win.
This last year, I had the privilege of coaching Dr. Tony Evans and his team at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. When we started the partnership, they had a solid small groups system producing strong incremental growth, but a few adjustments netted a huge dividend.
1. Dr. Evans Produced Curriculum for His Sermon Series
Partnering with The Urban Alternative, Lifetogether helped to produce the first video-based curriculum based on his Destiny book, which was actually shot in Dr. Evans’ home. I am firmly convinced that other than Jesus Christ, the reason anyone joins any church is because of the senior pastor, especially if they are not connected to others in the church through a group, Bible study or class. (Don’t tell the worship pastor. This news will break his heart.)
People are there because they like the senior pastor’s personality and style. They glean from his wisdom and laugh at his jokes. When the senior pastor offers a curriculum featuring his teaching, it’s difficult for the pastor, but it’s a no brainer for his people. They want in!
2. Dr. Evans Invited His Members to Start Groups
On Sunday, September 1, 2013 (Labor Day weekend), Dr. Evans preached a message called The Connection Commandment.
“Even though it depresses me to know you forget my sermons week by week, I do have issues with that, the good news I have for you today is if you just remember two Jesus says everything else hangs on them. You are to love [God] with everything that you got and you are to transfer that to others and when you do you got the whole Bible starting to live inside you because He said the whole scripture depends on just these two,” said Dr. Evans.
He went on to invite people to open their homes and gather groups to grow together. On Labor Day Sunday, 260 people at OCBF said “yes” and turned in a card committing to launch a group. By the time the Destiny series started three weeks later, 500 people offered to start groups.
3. Dr. Evans’ Team Rearranged the Requirements
Intially, small group leaders at OCBF went through extensive training prior leading a small group. In fact, their leadership process is a year long. But, for this series, they reframed what they were asking for. This wasn’t a call to “leadership” per se. This was a call to obedience, because everyone is called to go and make disciples.
After people said they would start a group, the staff made sure everyone was a member at OCBF, which was a requirement. Now, I’ll be honest, I was nervous about this requirement until I discovered the church had 7,000 members. That’s a number I can work with. The staff invited the people starting groups to a one hour orientation to cover the basics, then let them get started with the series. Following the series the church offered additional training to these new leaders. The end result is including all of their small group leaders, new and established, in the same small group system.
What did Dr. Evans and his team do that you haven’t tried yet? What’s holding you back? Leave your comments below.
By Allen White
In my travels I’ve learned to automate certain things. By automate, I mean repeating the same patterns, not in an OCD fashion, but just so I don’t have to think about things over and over. For instance, I always park on the same level of the same parking garage. When I arrive home after several days on the road, I don’t have to think about where I parked. I parked in the same place I always park.
I do the same with the rental car companies. For years, I’ve used Avis. Why Avis? Someone way back when booked a couple of cars with Avis for me, so I just stuck with it for the same reasons as above. I never have to think about which rental car company I have.
I’ve also learned with Avis to use “Preferred” so I can skip the counter, go directly to the garage, see my name up in lights, find my car and get out of dodge. No lines. No conversations. I’m on my way.
The other day I received a new card from Avis in the mail. I had qualified for “Avis First.” I had no idea what Avis First even was. While airlines often change on trips, Avis is a constant. It’s automated. Now, for my “loyalty,” I received a new status. This qualifies me for free upgrades, but I’m guessing not free drinks, since they are a rental car company…and I don’t drink.
My next step with Avis First was activating my new status online. I went to the website, typed in my information, and received the following message:
“We’re sorry. You may not qualify for Avis First. Please contact customer service, blah, blah, blah.”
I felt almost special. Here this surprise came out of the blue only for me to discover this might have been a fluke. I would have happily stayed “Preferred.” I didn’t need to be “First.” But, Avis led me on. Avis promised me something, then quickly took it back. Then, I began to wonder how I’ve ever done that to other people myself.
How many times have I asked people to sign up for something, then not followed up with them? Did they feel “almost special”? The pastor invited them to host a group or teach a class or lead in some way. They said, “Yes,” then they never heard from anybody.
How many times on a whim had I tossed out an offer that I wasn’t prepared to follow through on? Now, from the size of the churches I’ve worked with, I could probably make some excuse about the sheer numbers of responses. But, to the person who took me up on the invitation, the only response they were thinking about was theirs. If I gave them a bad experience, how likely would they be to stick their necks out again?
An invitation without a next step in place is a disaster. If you invite someone to lead a small group, what’s the next step? Often I’ve offered the next step immediately after a weekend service rather than asking them to come back during the week. If people are open to joining a group, do we make them wait for us to process a card or send them to a website? What if the card gets lost or if I get lazy, do they feel “almost special”? What did it take for them to say “yes,” and will I ever get that “yes” from them again?
A good idea without a next step is a bad idea. So is a good idea with two or three or five next steps. What does this look like?
Step 1: If you’d like to join us, please fill out a card.
Step 2: If you’re patient, we will reply to your card at some point after we’ve entered it into the database and figured out what we’re going to do for you.
Step 3: Now that you’ve patiently waited, we are going to invite you to a meeting to come back to, so we can give you more information about what you’re interested in.
Step 4: Thanks for coming to the meeting, if you’re really serious about this, we’d like you to join us for training so you’ll be qualified to do what you want to do. We’ll send you some information on when the next training is coming up.
Step 5: Thanks for joining us for training. You are now qualified, provided that your a member of the church, complete an application, and set up a time to be interviewed.
Step 6: Thanks for submitting your application, we will contact you about a time for your interview.
Step 7: Welcome to your interview. Let’s take some time to get to know each other and see where you can serve in our church (or can’t).
None of these steps are bad, but every additional step increases your margin for error. Either someone on your team will drop the ball by not following up with the person, not getting an email on time, or is just too busy to pick up the phone, or the person who was interested lacks the gift of perseverance and gave up somewhere around Step 3.
The next step should be both clear, accessible and somewhat automated. If you want to gather some friends and do the small group study, give us 10 minutes after the service, and we’ll give you enough to be dangerous and an experienced leader to help you. No cards. No waiting. No endless communication loop. Briefing, boom, you’re good to go.
Avis finally got their act together. After I emailed customer service, I received a reply the following day saying I was indeed special and qualified for Avis First. Granted, I wanted to feel special sooner via their website, but now I am special nonetheless.
In a couple of hours, I will pick up my first special car with Avis First. If “special” means Crown Victoria, I’m not going to feel so special…unless it’s equipped with lights and siren.
By Allen White
Church-wide campaigns are a powerful vehicle for connecting congregations into community and impacting spiritual growth. 40 Days of Purpose from Rick Warren, One Month to Live by Kerry Shook, and a number of other church-wide experiences prove the catalytic impact of a small group study aligned with a sermon series. Churches and their members will never be the same.
One size never fits all, especially in a church-wide campaign. When you invite all of your groups to do the same study that aligns to the weekend service, you might have just set yourself up for trouble. Your groups are made up of new Christians and non-Christians, “mature” Christians and critical ones. How do you meet the needs of all of your different groups with one curriculum?
Over-Promising + Under-Delivering = Great Frustration
1. State Up Front What the Curriculum Is and What It Isn’t
Managing expectations is key to focusing your groups on the right track. If your curriculum is designed for the broadest appeal, you will soon be hearing from your “mature” folks that the study is “light weight.” For the critics I know well, my usually is “I can see how you could think that if you were only talking about the material….”
Recently in helping a church full of nuclear engineers and rocket scientists develop a curriculum on the One Anothers of Scripture, we concluded that if the group members simple memorized all of the One Anothers, then we had failed. Practicing the One Anothers was the key, and it isn’t rocket science.
Let your groups know up front how the curriculum is designed and why. “We have created this curriculum for any person to use in doing this study with their friends.” It’s not that you avoided creating a “deeper” study – boy, that’s a loaded word – but, you have intentionally designed or chosen a study to include as many people as possible. After six weeks, they can choose something that’s maybe more to their liking.
2. Mayday, Mayday — If a Study Does Work, Throw It Out.
The worst thing that can happen to a group is to feel obligated to complete a study because they spent $10 on the book. Some studies just don’t work in every group. It’s better to lose the study rather than to lose your group.
Problems with ill-fitting studies can range from outright complacency to lack of participation to high absenteeism. This is not the time to just tough it out or put your head in the sand. State the obvious: “Is it just me or is this study not going very well?” Then, get feedback from the group. If the feeling is mutual, then it’s time to move on. If your members didn’t use the books (and they didn’t), there’s always Ebay.
The problem may not be the whole study, but just part of the study. A few years back, a group of 20-somethings were participating in a church-wide study. They were enjoying the study guide, but felt the DVD-teaching wasn’t scratching them where they itched. I recommend that they do the study without the DVD. Their response, “Oh, we’re way ahead of you on that one, Pastor Allen.” Some groups will never do a study without a DVD. Others will never do a study with one. And, that’s okay.
The bottom line is to do what makes sense for each group. Even if other groups raved about the study, it has to fit each group in order to work.
3. Design Your Curriculum to Meet a Variety of Needs
In designing your own curriculum, you can meet a variety of needs with one study. As my friend, Brett Eastman at Lifetogether.com says, “You need to double clutch the study.” At the beginning of the study offer two different ice breaker questions. For new groups and new believers, maybe the question is light-hearted and offers a way for folks to get to know each other. This is something that everyone will feel comfortable talking about. “Who is your favorite super hero and why?” “What was the source of warmth in your home?” “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” (That last one’s a joke.) For more mature believers, the question should go something like, “How did you apply what you learned in last week’s study?” Deeper involves doing.
For the rest of the study, you can offer a variety of questions at different levels. For newer folks, you want to start with questions that are easy to answer right out of Scripture. For more mature members, it’s good to include a “Going Deeper” section that offers more personal questions as well as Scripture cross-references to the core text. The aim in the “Going Deeper” section is to meet a need for knowledge along with a greater need for application.
The point here is to create different questions for different types of people, then articulate the study design to the group members. Some groups will use the first half of the study only. Other groups will skip the first section and dive into the deeper questions. Giving group members the full picture of the design will help them to understand and appreciate what you have developed.
You can’t please everybody all of the time. But, by taking the time to develop your own study with different group members in mind, you go a long way in meeting a variety of needs. Hearing and addressing their expectations up front will go a long way in leading a unified campaign.
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.
These are the Most Read Posts for allenwhite.org in August 2011:
By Allen White
3. Why Bother? (Smallgroups.com article)
4. The Power and Potential of Small Groups By Brett Eastman
9. Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Engaging Introverts (3-Part Series)
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.