Posts Tagged 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:
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.
LoveLife features best-selling author, Pastor and International Christian Leader Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. With The Bible, primarily the Old Testament book of Song of Solomon as Pastor Mark’s guide, he will teach us with humor, candidness and grace, God’s design for Love, Dating, Marriage and Sexuality.
Our LoveLife events are designed for anyone 16 years or older, both married and single. God’s direct teaching on this subject will be convicting where needed, full of grace and forgiveness, and filled with tons of practical advice straight from the Giver of Love and Romance, God Himself.
Join Matt Chandler, Teaching Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, TX, as he walks us through this most intimate of all Paul’s letters and paints a beautiful picture of what it is to be a mature Christian.
The story begins in Philippi where Paul introduces three individuals that were all enslaved by the kind of things that we often choose over the gospel: Lydia, the Business Executive, The Little Slave Girl, and The Hard Working Jailer
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.
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).
- 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.)
- 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 funny: http://wp.me/p1qrsD-gv #only144
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.
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?
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.
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?
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 smallgroups.com 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.
Here are the Top 10 posts on allenwhite.org for 2011:
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 who 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.
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 Amazon.com or Christianbookdistributors.com 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.
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.
By Allen White
What is a small group? In my group, the answer would be either “A group that is small” or “Jesus.” But, the group wouldn’t give those answers. The former answer would come from Jeff and the later from Jamie. (I use these names, because these are their names. We’ll talk about confidentiality another time.)
While anyone can join my group, my group is not just made up on anyone. My group is made up of eleven individuals. Eleven men, each with unique challenges and outstanding gifts. I know them, and they know me. We meet for lunch every Wednesday. We eat at deli’s and sushi bars and Southern barbecue joints. But, we’re also there for each other. The most significant conversations that take place aren’t necessarily around the table at lunch. While we have good Bible-based discussions, we share life in the parking lot afterward and throughout the week via email and cellphone, Facebook and Twitter.
If you treat your group like a class, then you become the teacher, and they receive a grade. Too many tardies or absences and soon they get an “Incomplete.” The difference between a group and a class lies in the center of it. A class is centered on a subject. That class will take place whether you’re there or not. A group is centered on the group members. The connection trumps the content.
Listen to actual group leaders talk about the importance of one on one ministry in groups:
Trouble viewing this clip? Go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN4gdT-6NHs
The strength of a small group is built on the level of touch and interaction among the members. If your small group members don’t like each other or don’t know each other, then get ready to do something else in the near future. But, on the other hand, personal touch is more needed and more significant now than it’s ever been.
1. Encourage members who were absent.
Chuck Swindoll said years ago, “Every person you see is a person in need of encouragement.” In group life, our members need encouragement when we see them and when we don’t see them. But, following up after absent group members isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’m probably the only person that does this, but when someone misses the group, I think: “I must be a terrible leader. Our discussion wasn’t very insightful. As their group leader and their pastor, I let them down. Maybe I should just quit and let someone else take over the group. People are falling away because of my ineptitude.” Okay, I would never use “ineptitude” when I worry, but you can see where this is going.
A very popular book starts with this sentence: “It’s not about you.” What if they missed because someone was sick? What if there was something more interesting on TV? What if they’re not confident talking about their faith in public? What if they forgot? What if they had to work overtime? What if you as the leader don’t actually suck at all? Could it be true?!
Leaders are the people who do the things that other people refuse to do. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is picking up the phone, but it’s an important touch. Even if you just leave a personal voice mail, “Hey, we missed you today. I hope everything is alright.” If your group has a Bible study, then the content is stellar, so it must be something else. Their absence could lead to a prayer request, which could lead to another touch.
2. Follow-up on comments and needs brought up in the meeting.
As leaders, we don’t always realize the impact of a statement in the meeting. As much as we put sharing in the group over the study guide, sometimes we’re thinking about the next question instead of the last comment. Then, it dawns on us later that the group member had just disclosed something significant, and we went on to the next question. That’s okay. Pick up the phone and ask the group member what’s going on. Say, “I was just thinking about something you said in the last meeting. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you about it right then, but I just wanted to see what was going on.” It might be nothing, or it might open the door to personal ministry.
If someone is sick or in the hospital, check in on them. Visit them in the hospital. Take a meal to their house. Call them and see how they’re doing and ask what they might need. If you’re not sure whether you should go or not, go! It’s better to show up where you’re not needed than to miss the opportunity to serve.
3. Be normal.
Unfortunately, some of us require a manual on being normal. The Bible tells us to “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NLT). Celebrate with your group members on their happy occasions: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, promotions, new houses, new babies – these things all need celebrating. Then, circle around them when they weep.
We all need our group when we experience significant losses in our lives – deaths and unemployment, struggles and setbacks – this is when we need community, not advice. This is when group members need each other – not to throw down advice or quote Romans 8:28 – but to be there. The more that we can make our group relationships, and discipleship for that matter, a normal part of our lives, the better off we’ll be.
4. What touches are significant to your group member?
Sure, it’s easy to send an email blast to the entire group and “Reply to All” with our responses, but is that actually a touch? One on one ministry isn’t built on convenience.
The Bible tells us to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). How do you do that? If your group member loves to email, then email away. If they’d rather talk in person, then get together for a cup of coffee. If they’d rather text, then text. Offline relationships can be enhanced with online communication. It usually doesn’t work as well in the other direction. (Although I do have a good friend who I helped lead to Christ in an online small group back in 1994 on CompuServe.)
A wise person told me once, “People have more ways to communicate today than never before, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” When email inboxes and twitter direct messages overflow with spam, even personal electronic communication can get lost in the mix. Maybe it’s time to go old school with a pen, a card and a stamp. Personal hand-written snail mail definitely stands out these days.
5. Don’t Lead Alone.
As a leader it’s easy to be overcome with a list like this. Most leaders have a job, a family, a life as well as a group. While the group is pretty high on the list, sometimes it’s all that a leader can do just to make the meeting happen each week. The tension is we all need more than discussions with members living disconnected lives. What’s the answer?
I’ve said this before, but while the leader is responsible for the group, the leader isn’t responsible to do everything. The leader’s job is to make sure everything is done, but not to do everything. Ask for a volunteer in the group to follow up on members who are absent, then follow up with the volunteer. If someone in the group says, “I wonder what happened to,” there’s probably a very good reason why they’re thinking about them. Don’t get in the way. Encourage the person who asked to follow up.
John Maxwell is often credited with saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Group life should engage both our heads and our hearts. Group is not something we do. It’s something we are. We can’t say to a group member, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21-25). “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:16, NIV).
Inevitably, we will have one of those days when we stop and think, “I didn’t sign up for this.” We thought we were getting together with other believers to do a nice, neat Bible study. Then, it got messy when people opened up. It got a little complicated when people took off their masks to reveal that they weren’t as together and freshly scrubbed as they usually appeared on Sunday morning. We certainly didn’t sign up for this, but God signed us up. Over the next 30 days, how can you show each of your group members how much you care about them?
By Allen White
As leaders, we get excited when new people want to join our groups. We roll out the red carpet and give them a warm welcome. New members bring a little excitement and a breath of fresh air to our groups. We might even feel that our group is really starting to turn into something. And then, they don’t show up next time. We feel a little jilted. The first meeting seemed to go well. What happened?
1. It’s not about you. As a leader, it’s easy to feel a little rejection when a new member doesn’t come back. I faced a little of this feeling back when I led one of my first groups. It was a men’s group that met at 6 am every Tuesday morning, and I am not a morning person. Some weeks we would have 8-10 guys. Some weeks we would have two. One week we had 18, but that was the week that my dad was visiting. I suspect that someone made a few calls for that one. What I had to come to realize was the attendance in my group had more to do with 6:00 am than what I was teaching. After all, my lessons came straight from Chuck Swindoll. It wasn’t the lesson, and it wasn’t me. Absences are not a reflection on your leadership. Take a deep breath, and repeat after me, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggonit, people like me” (from Stuart Smalley, a.k.a. Senator Al Franken).
2. Real life can quickly edge out group life. Things happen. Kids get sick. Sometimes people have to work late. Sometimes people are just tired. It’s important to follow up with new group members, and let them know that they are welcome. If they’ve missed a meeting, the conversation might be something like this: “Hey, we missed you last week. Now, I’m not calling as the truant officer. I care about you and wanted to make sure that everything was okay.” Their absence could turn into an opportunity for prayer or for your group to help the new member. It’s hard to put yourself aside, as the leader, and pick up the phone sometimes, but remember this is not about you personally.
3. New habits are hard to create. If your new members have never been a part of a group before, it takes time to develop the new habit of group life. Even after the new members have attended for a few weeks, the busyness of life might start getting in the way again. Remember, that most New Year’s resolutions start fizzling out around mid-February. (I’m looking forward to that at my gym.) Your encouragement is just the thing that might help them to continue.
4. Don’t read them through your lenses. Your new group member is not you. As the leader of a small group, you highly value group life. It would be a pretty drastic thing for you to stop coming to a group. Maybe you can’t even think of a reason why you would ever forsake your group. But, your new group member is not you, so you need to avoid interpreting their actions through your point of view. Think about this, if a melancholy person thought through all of the pros and cons of attending or missing a group meeting, their absence would reflect their careful consideration. Their actions would be deliberate and intentional. If a sanguine heard about a party as they were leaving work, and decided to join their co-workers rather than go to a Bible study, they wouldn’t think twice. People who fly by the seat of their pants don’t understand people who iron their pants, sheets and underwear, and vice versa. Your group member could very well be wired much differently than you are.
5. If the devil can’t make them bad, he’ll make them busy. Satan is an enemy of group life and an advocate of isolation. The less encouragement that believers experience, the greater his chances to win out in their lives. I know that I’m getting all Screwtape Letters on you right now, but this is a very real issue. How do we address this? We pray for our group members. After all, “greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Assume that your new member didn’t stop coming for the same reasons that you would stop coming. It’s not that they are uncommitted. It has more to do with being new to group life and having yet to bond with the group. Rather than worry about the effectiveness of your leadership or the quality of your group discussion, talk to your group member. Maybe they are uncomfortable discussing personal things in a group. Maybe they misunderstood a comment someone made. Maybe they just need a little encouragement. As the leader, put yourself aside, as hard as that is, and follow up with the absent member. It just might be the nudge that they need.
Who do you need to follow up on today?