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The political landscape is more polarized than it’s ever been (and it’s never been great). You don’t have to look too far before you find memes or yard signs that either strongly agree or strongly disagree with your own political position. But, how can you love your neighbor/enemy in this day and age? How do you reach people who are far from God and post an oppositional meme? What if they show up in your small group?
The challenge is to reach people with the truth of God’s word by putting politics aside. If your politics get in the way of your witness, then your politics are more important than they should be. Your concerned about political causes should be the same as Jesus’ concern. In my read of the Gospels, Jesus didn’t have much concerned for political causes. He stayed on mission regardless of the political situation.
You have a right to vote your conscience. You have a right to hold a political opinion. But, when does politics cloud the church’s mission? Here are some ideas about how groups can draw in people with opposing views and make disciples amid a hostile political environment.
Choose Relevant Study Topics.
Your study choices should connect with people’s felt needs. What are people experiencing right now? Many are facing stress and anxiety at unprecedented levels. Between the coming recession, rapid societal and cultural change, and the stress of life, many people are at their brink. Bible studies like Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at the Table by Louie Giglio, Rhythms of Renewal by Rebecca Lyons, and so many others to help people overcome their stress and anxiety. People are dealing with many relevant issues these days like improving their marriages, becoming better parents, find their purpose in life, and discerning what’s ahead.
By inviting friends and neighbors to a Bible study based on a relevant topic, every person in your church can reach people who are far from God and point them to the Truth. They don’t have to agree on everything. Besides, what small group actually agrees on everything anyway? By connecting with people and supporting them in overcoming practical issues in their lives, groups can break through some of the barriers that politics creates.
Stick to Jesus and What the Bible has to Say.
Over the centuries, the Church has faced a lot. Whether the church thrived with a favorable government or thrived with a hostile government, the Church has continued to thrive. But, all along the way the truth of God’s Word has held true. Jesus remains on the throne. God is a big boy. He can take care of Himself.
Once you’ve chosen a relevant study for your groups or have allowed them to choose the study based on the needs of their friends, then groups should stick to what the Bible says and avoid controversial issues. The goal is to win souls for eternity not to win the next election.
By creating an environment to accept people where they are, the group can show the newcomers the love of Christ. Jesus is very attractive. Political agendas are not. By breaking down barriers to invite others in, the Holy Spirit will do His work in their hearts just like He does in yours. This doesn’t mean that people will change overnight. This also doesn’t mean that you have to be in agreement with their political views or lifestyle choices. As the saying goes, “You catch them. God will clean them.”
Show God’s Love in Practical Ways.
What are the needs you see around you? How can your group help your neighbors? After all, Jesus boiled down all 613 commandments in Scripture to just two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). How can you love your neighbor as yourself?
First, get to know your neighbors. I’ve made it a personal challenge over the years to find something in common with everyone I meet. Now with some folks that’s more challenging than others. Sometimes though I’m surprised that I have a lot in common with someone I thought I would have nothing in common with.
Start with your neighbors’ names. If they’re just moving in, walk over and unload something from the moving truck, introduce yourself, and either continue helping or move on if you need to. Now, if you’ve lived in your neighborhood for a while and there’s a neighbor you haven’t met, then walk next door with some cookies, knock on the door, and say, “I’m a little embarrassed that we’ve lived here for so long, yet you and I have never met.” They’re probably embarrassed too.
Pray for Your Neighbors.
If you’ve met your neighbors, then pray for them by name. Pray for their lives to be blessed. Pray for openness to hear about Jesus. Pray for any needs that you are aware of. If you haven’t met your neighbors, then pray for an opportunity to meet them. The power of prayer is much greater than the power of Facebook.
Help Your Neighbors.
Do your neighbors have a practical need? Make yourself available. If it’s a big job, then invite your whole small group. Whether your neighbor needs some work done around their house or needs a night of fun, include them. People are lonely. As my wife once said, “People have more ways to connect than they’ve had, yet they are more disconnected than they’ve ever been.” Facebook and other social media provide pseudo-relationships, but lack the real personal connections that people need. By opening up and including others, you and your group are taking the first step in helping people find Jesus.
Think About This
Pastor Jonathan Hansen from Hills Church in El Dorado Hills, California recently told me, “Most Christians are only one yard sign away from destroying their witness.” How can you introduced people to Jesus when your politics keep getting in the way? Winning somebody to your political point of view is not nearly as important as winning someone to Christ. The change of a nation starts with the change of the hearts of individuals. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). This should still be our mission. When it comes to politics, as Larry Osborne said recently on the Exponential Groups Podcast: “Your church (or your group) should be Switzerland.”
Listen to this Blog Post instead on the Healthy Groups Podcast.
Some churches practice a simple church model. They offer just a few options to their congregations. These are churches like North Coast Church, Vista, CA led by Larry Osborne or Mariners Church led by Eric Geiger, who wrote the book Simple Church. They promote their weekend worship services, small groups, serving, local and global missions, but little else beyond that. Life seems simpler in a simple church. But your church might be more complicated, especially in a legacy church.
Once I served a church that was the polar opposite of a simple church. They prided themselves on being a complicated church that hoped to offer something for everybody. Promoting small groups was complex to say the least. If you promote everything equally, then nothing is a priority. (More here in my post: The Unfairness of Being Fair). After all, if everything is important, then nothing is important. But, we grew the groups in that church from 30% of 5,000 adults connected to 78% in the four years I served there. Here’s how we did it:
What is a Group at Your Church?
First, look at what you are calling a small group in your church. What is the group’s purpose? How often do they meet? What do they do? What is the group’s size? Things like that. (For a complete exercise on defining your groups, go to here).
Let’s say your groups meet a minimum of twice per month for the purpose of Bible application, community, and occasional serving projects. By defining a group in your church, you are also stating what a small group is not in your church. Think about all of the things you are offering your adults to see what might be competing with groups.
For instance, let’s say you have a men’s prayer breakfast that meets once per month. Is this a group? Having been to quite a few men’s prayer breakfasts over the years, I’ve discovered there is usually more breakfast than prayer. (The prayer is typically for the food). You might discover that the men who attend this breakfast regard this as their small group, yet by your definition this men’s breakfast doesn’t qualify as a group. It doesn’t have Bible application or occasional serving, but it has plenty of community. Also, it doesn’t meet often enough by your definition. In fact, once a month groups really don’t meet frequently enough to provide deep community. I call these groups a small group placebo. They give the feeling of being in a group but lack the benefits of being in a group.
But with your definition of groups, you are also opening up the possibilities for how many groups you actually have. Maybe you just don’t call them groups.
What Groups, Classes, Serve Teams, or Bible Studies Might Qualify as Groups?
Compare your definition with all of the “groups” in your church. Think of serving teams, Bible studies, small groups, classes, and whatever else you’ve got. Which qualify as a group by your definition? Which do not? Which could become a little more “groupish”?
Can on-campus groups, classes, Sunday school classes, or Bible studies be categorized as “groups”? This is not just an exercise in semantics. You need to consider all of the things in your church that help make disciples. Even the old fashioned options could be good options.
Avoid Competing with Yourself
I am working with a church that’s made a goal of connecting half of their adults into a certain type of off-campus groups. Upon further examination, we discovered that they have a lot of other options for their adults that would also fit the criteria for a group: women’s Bible studies, men’s Bible studies, in-depth Bible classes, and several others. In the current thinking, these other “groups” are competing with their goal of getting half of their people into off-campus groups.
In this situation, you can do one of two things: either cancel all of these other groups leading to a revolt or broaden your definition of groups. Stick with me here. This isn’t just for the sake of numbers and bragging rights. Years ago a friend of mine proudly announced, “Suddenly, we have 92% of our adults in groups.” He was at a traditional Baptist church with a very large, well established adult Sunday school. The vast majority of the adults were in Sunday school classes. He reconfigured his definition of groups and overnight went from nobody in groups to 92% in groups. So what?
My friend knew that an alignment series or a church-wide campaign wasn’t necessary to connect people into groups in his church. Sunday school was meeting that need. He would have preferred everyone to choose off-campus small groups, but he also wanted to keep his job. He left Sunday school alone, because it was working. But, he also discovered an opportunity: 8% of their adults were not in a Sunday school class. How could he help them grow spiritually?
Now, Who at Your Church is Not in Group?
Rather than focusing on draining your women’s ministry to get more people into “groups,” focus on connecting people who are only attending the worship service. (Besides that Beth Moore addiction is very hard to break). You don’t need to regroup people who are already in groups.
Who is not in a group of any type in your church? The bigger question is “Why did they say ‘No’ to what you are currently offering and what might they say, ‘Yes’ to.” They are not being disloyal or unfaithful in not taking you up on their offer. You’re just not offering what they want or need. Offer something different.
If you are the only one recruiting all of your group leaders, invite people to volunteer to host a group in their homes. If you’ve been using the host strategy since 40 Days of Purpose launched 20 years ago, then the gig is up. People know that host really means “leader.” Instead encourage people to get together with their friends and do a study. Provide an easy entry point to LEAD a group. Pastors talk about easy entry points to join a group, but that misses the mark. Your leading metric should be leading a group instead of joining a group.
How Do You Pull This Off?
You have a few options here.
A good option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you purchase. There is a lot of great video-based curriculum out there. Go to topbiblestudies.com for a curated list.
A better option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you create based on your senior pastor’s teaching. This does not need to be aligned with the sermon series. Your pastor on the teaching video will greatly increase your group participation.
The best option is for your senior pastor to invite your members to lead a group with an easy-to-use curriculum that you create based on your senior pastor’s teaching that aligns with the sermon series. The senior pastor asks. The senior pastor teaches. The senior pastor aligns. The key to all three of these options is your senior pastor.
What if my senior pastor isn’t interested? Pay attention to where your senior pastor is headed in the fall, in the new year, or after Easter, then link your small group launch with where your pastor is going. For more, read here.
Think About This
You don’t need to compete with yourself. Your people might already be engaging in the very things you want to see them do in groups. Getting people to shift from classes to groups is a losing battle, and you’re the loser. You don’t even need to relabel classes as groups. Just regard them as groups. If a person receives care, community, and Bible application in a class, they’re not going to join a group anyway. This is their group!
You don’t need to compete with your people either. They’re already in groups! They have friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and others in their lives that they already enjoy spending time with. You don’t need to unnaturally place them into a group of strangers. Give them an easy-to-use curriculum and a coach to guide them, and then let them do what groups do in your church.
For those who don’t fit in either of those categories, there are ways to connect them into groups without resorting to sign up cards or websites. Passive recruiting methods don’t work anyway.
What is a group in your church? What groups do you already have? Where is your pastor headed around the time of your next major group launch? Do this work now and you will have a great opportunity to make more disciples than ever before.
Admittedly, I am not very handy. Some people can very intuitively tackle home projects and do a brilliant job. I fall more into the category of the guy who takes a partially disassembled object to a professional only to hear, “You tried to fix this yourself.” I just hang my head in shame. But, Youtube has changed all of that for me.
A few years ago my dad gave me a car. It was a Cadillac. It was fast. Shortly after my father gifted this car to me, the windshield wipers began to turn on involuntarily. Rain or shine, they would just start going. Screech, screech, screech, screech! I had to run the washer just to give them something to do. So, I searched Youtube.
The problem was that the windshield wiper motor cap had corroded. This was a common problem for older Caddies. I ordered the part. When the part arrived, I followed the step-by-step instructions created by a gentleman in Alabama. It was a little work, but I fixed it myself and saved some significant money. But, I couldn’t fix all of that car’s problems.
One day the engine started making a noise…a very loud noise. I took it into the shop. The recommended fix was a new engine at the low, low price of $10,000, which would have doubled the value of the car. Youtube was not the solution to this problem. Carmax was the solution to this problem. The Cadillac went to the junk yard. I bought a new-to-me car. My DIY efforts even with the best Youtube videos could only go so far.
If you are building your small group ministry by yourself, there are a lot of great resources available that will help you achieve a significant level of success. If you work hard with the right ideas, models, and tools, you can reach 30% in groups pretty easily. That’s not a bad spot, except it’s a common place to get stuck. DIY small group ministry will only get you so far. Here is the downside of the DIY model:
You don’t have time.
You probably wear multiple hats in your church. If your sole role is small groups and discipleship, you are blessed. I never had that singular focus in either of the churches I served on staff. Growing churches have growing needs, so you’ve got to do a lot of things. The problem is you can’t give enough of your attention to any one area for very long. It leaves you feeling that you’re not good at anything. I’ve lived that.
Going back to the home DIY analogy, an old joke goes that a husband says to his wife, “It’s on my list. You don’t have to remind me every six months!” You need more group leaders to have more groups. You need coaches to support your group leaders. You need training to equip your coaches and leaders. You need to create a self-produced church-wide campaign to recruit more leaders and get more people into groups. But, you also need to take the youth group to camp. You need to lead a mission trip. You need to meet with the copier salesman (real one for me). And, and, and… you don’t have time to focus on groups in the way you want. Frustrating.
You face too many choices.
The enemy of one good solution is two or more equally good solutions. Should I clean the oil stain on the driveway with baking soda or Dawn dishwashing detergent? (It works on those baby birds). Do I buy a product to clean it, and if so, which one? Youtube has too many solutions to my problem. I know, I should just try one. But, what if it doesn’t work? What if I make it worse? Can I just paint the driveway? Should I hire someone?
When it comes to DIY Small Group Ministry, you face a more substantial dilemma – there are so many good and effective models out there. Do you go with Free Market Groups like Church of the Highlands? Or should it be Sermon-based like Larry Osborne or Semester-based like Nelson Searcy? Should your church do a church-wide campaign like Saddleback? With so many people still worshipping at home, maybe a house church is more appropriate right now. Or, do we go deep into discipleship? But, which one – Dgroups with Robby Gallaty, Real Life Ministries, Rooted, 3DM, DisciplesMade? Where do you start? What do you do? And, when will you find time to research all of that?
Your church isn’t the expert’s church.
Of course, the problem with most models is that they work amazingly well at the author’s church, but you don’t work at that church. Every church is unique. Your church has a unique history, culture, geography, ethnicity, denomination, size, vision, etc. Churches in the same denomination are different. Churches in the same region are different. Imposing another church’s small group model on your church will give you a partial result, but it is not the custom solution that you need. There’s nothing wrong with the model per se. It’s what you do with the model.
What I’ve learned over the last 17 years in working with over 1,500 churches across North America is that no two churches are exactly alike. In fact, in each of the small group ministry coaching groups I lead, we end up with eight different versions of the best practices we explore together. And, that’s about right.
You don’t know what to do next.
There are more than a few tasks around my house that are undone (and on my list) simply because I don’t know how to start. I’ll be honest. I doubt my ability to pull it off. I haven’t found the right Youtube video to lead the way. I’m busy. When I get to the end of the day, I’m tired. It’s hard to think about it. And, a little more honesty, we’ve lived with the problem this way for a while, so we’re kind of used to it. The answer often is to avoid the issue.
You know that you need to do something different, yet if you’re like me, you’d also like to avoid making a mistake. Let me share something that helped me.
Sometimes you need a guide.
After working very hard at DIY Small Group Ministry for seven years, our church connected 30% of our adults into groups. Then, our groups got stuck. I had read all of the books that you’ve read. I attended as many conferences as I could. I interviewed other pastors to see what worked in their churches. But, our groups were stuck.
Then, I joined a coaching group. The coach gave me new ideas, but more than that it gave our church new focus. It was expensive — $5,000 for a year. My church didn’t spend $5,000 on anything. But, when my pastor gave the green light for me to join the group, not only did I know that I was going to get some much needed help, but I also knew that my pastor was serious about groups. What would it look like if your pastor was serious about groups?
After only three weeks in the coaching group, we doubled our groups. It had taken seven years to get 30% into groups, then in one day we had 60% in groups. And, six months later, we doubled our groups again and ended by with 125% in groups! With a seasoned guide to walk alongside us as we built groups, we achieved results unlike anything we ever dreamed.
Now you have a choice.
You can continue the DIY approach to small group ministry and dabble in different small group models until you find what works. It’s a lot of hard work, but you’ll make progress eventually. Or, you can engage an experienced guide to help you.
Now, you probably know that I coach churches on their small groups in both coaching groups and individual coaching. But, there are other coaches out there like my friends, Chris Surratt and Mark Howell. The Small Group Network offers different strategy sessions. Pick something that is right for you. Find the help you need. Invest in yourself and in the future of your small group ministry.
As Home Depot says, “You can do it. We can help.”
Small Group Ministry Coaching Group
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