Developing Spiritual Habits

A good leader is one who can also be led.  A great leader is one led by the Holy Spirit.

This past week I went on a spiritual journey.  I was blessed to have a condo with no TV or internet available to me for a few days in Fort Collins, CO.  I had been wanting to have some solid “Me and God time” to pray and fast, meditate, write and plan.  I’ve learned that if I am going to lead a church or anything for that matter, I must be realistic and acknowledge that I need some hard-core times like this if I am going to stay refreshed and on my game.

 

I will never forget something Lymen Coleman said at my first Serendipity Small Group conference.  You can only lead a group as far as you’ve gone yourself.  How true that is.  Anytime I’ve struggled as a leader, I’ve come to realize that I’m running on empty.  Now I include regular times of major refreshing, coming before God in extended times of prayer and sometimes fasting, listening for what his Holy Spirit may be saying to me.

 

This past week, I wasn’t always impressed with what the Lord showed me about myself.  At other times, I was affirmed in my direction and inspired to write, journaling thoughts and ideas, and even write some music (I always have my guitar).  I went for long walks and enjoyed some friendship.  But the most profound times for me were experienced in hours of silence waiting and listening.  In those times I wrestled with God’s proddings and challenges or rested in his embrace.  I read voraciously devouring and pondering on what God was showing me.  I came away from those three days tired but renewed and refreshed.

Times of refreshing are absolutely necessary for leaders.  If you desire your small group to raise disciples, you need to be a disciple yourself always seeking God’s direction and practicing spiritual habits that will keep you on your game.  And when you are feeling empty, be honest about it and do something.  If you don’t have one find a mentor, at least a peer mentor who can hold you accountable to your own spiritual growth.

I know that not everyone can steal away to a nice condo or cabin somewhere for days when there is work to be done and kids to attend to, but that’s when you especially need to have healthy spiritual habits that keep you sharp.  Most recently I’ve been working at developing my prayer life to include times of listening to God.  It’s always a challenge not to come to God with my list.  Asking the Spirit’s leading during prayer can bring its own lists of what I should be praying for.  Reading many different authors and genres also holds value giving you different perspectives about ministry, scripture and life.  Include secular authors to keep your perspective healthy.

Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to have some sort of “Rule of Life” in line with St. Benedict’s suggestions that helps keep you spiritually sharp and on top of your leadership game; something you share with your mentor and are kept accountable to.

Your family and friends will thank you.  Your small group will thank you.  And you will thank you.

’til next time.

Akd

    By   Allen Kleine Deters

7 Keys to Developing Healthy, Lasting Small Groups

We all want to see our small groups grow and thrive.  But when we don’t have a strategy for that growth and transformative potential in every group, they will fade into being just another program.  Here are some key ingredients to tap into and increase your small group potential.

It seems the my consulting conversations as of late tend to focus around programmatic thinking.  There a more and more churches that are either just now beginning to start and develop small groups or are reassessing them.  Frankly I’m surprised that some churches are just beginning small groups.  I thought everyone by now, would know about the potential of small group ministry in the church.  But surprisingly that is not the case.

Here are what I believe are the core requirements to starting, developing and maintaining healthy small groups in your church.

 

  1. A clear vision, focus, purpose for small groups.  I don’t care what you call it…but if you shoot at nothing you’ll hit it every time.  What is it you believe God desires to do through and in your groups?  What is your church’s vision and how do small groups support it by their focus?  What role will they play in developing disciples?  Hopefully that is the ultimate focus of your church too. Know why you’re developing small groups in your church otherwise it’s just another program of many which may or may not develop disciples.
  2. Know what they are. At times when I ask folks why they have or want to have small groups in the church they will say something along the lines of, “because we feel it’s important to have our people learn more about the Bible.”  So they want a Bible study that meets in a small group format.  When I ask how they believe that Bible Study will transform the lives of the participants, they  begin to struggle to clarify.  What I have discovered in some churches is that they are not certain how a small group is meant to function.  Every group needs a sense of community, purpose and accountability if it is going to develop people as disciples. Most of the resources we’ve included in this Small Group Network will help to clarify these things.
  3. The value of coaching and training.  This is often the most overlooked part of developing small groups in our churches. A programmatic mindset often approaches  new programs via the “if we build it they will come” principle which more than not falls flat perhaps over a few years, leaders burn out and groups become stagnant.  There seems to be the idea that if we just get this new program going it will take care of itself. Not the case.  There needs to be constant encouragement and support for the leaders to help keep them focused and confident that they can accomplish what they have been called to do.  Put $$ toward leadership development in your church budget and keep your leaders trained and focused. You will not regret it.
  4. Never underestimate a group covenant.  When I bring this up to people starting new groups they cringe slightly and sometimes respond wondering if a group covenant is necessary.  I recently posted an article by Allen White called “Why Do We Need a Group Agreement?” which gives a great argument for this point.  The short of it is that you agree to your purpose as a group, the logistics of how the group will function and necessary commitments to one another  for accountability and support.  It takes the guesswork out of the functioning of your group and gives you an avenue by which you can evaluate based on your common agreement.
  5. Do mission together. I’ve said it many times before, a group that loves, prays for and serves others in their local communities — not just in the church — grows and stays together.  Isn’t that what the Gospel transforms us into being and doing?
  6. Disciples make disciples and discipling churches make discipling churches.   I borrowed that from Alan and Deb Hirsch in their book Untamed: Reactivating a Missional a Missional Form of Discipleship. The church’s primary calling is to make disciples who make disciples.  They don’t just grow in their knowledge, but as the gospel of Christ changes their lives they naturally and intentionally reach out to others to share it and pointing them to a relationship with Christ.  If it’s not happening then something needs to change.
  7. Pastor as champion.  Again, I’ve written earlier on this topic “Are Small Groups Just Another Program?”.  If the pastor does not participate and challenge others to participate the true value of  small groups will be missed by the congregation.  They will feel that small groups are not all that important and they can take them or leave them.

While there are other areas I could raise, it has been my experience and the common belief throughout the movers and shakers of the small group movement that these are key areas of focus.  Without them, small groups struggle to survive, stay focused and truly transform lives making disciples.  For many churches, they just become another program of many never really accomplishing the mission of the Church, but rather being programs for programs’ sake.

I’d like to know your thoughts.

akd

Build a Successful Small-Group Ministry

Editor’s Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas‘s new book, Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, (Regal Books, 2008).

Are your frustrated with the way your church’s small groups are working out? Maybe the system is too complicated. Perhaps you’re not seeing enough people signing up, or enough lives transformed by participating.

No matter what issues you’ve been dealing with, you can change your ministry to help it change the lives of the maximum number of people coming through your church’s doors.

Here’s how you can build a successful small-group ministry:

Think from the inside out – not from the outside in. Focus on reaching people who are not yet in your small group system rather than just on serving existing members. Keep your small groups outwardly focused by constantly asking yourself how you can help meet the needs of people who are not already in groups, and considering how you can get new people to sign up.

 

Think larger – not smaller. Contrary to conventional wisdom, larger groups (of 12 to 15 people) allow participants to form deeper connections and grow spiritually more than smaller groups (of less than seven people). People tend to feel more comfortable in larger groups and are more likely to sign up for them and stay plugged into them. Allow up to 20 people to sign up for each of your church’s groups, since that will mean that the number of people who actually show up every week will likely be 12 to 15. If you have any groups that fewer than eight people show up for weekly, evaluate why attendance is low and what changes you can make to encourage more people to come.

Think friends – not intimacy. Most people are hoping to simply form new friendships – not intimate relationships – through small groups. If you promote your small groups as social places where people can make friends casually, you’ll remove the unnecessary pressure of forced familiarity and make them feel more comfortable about participating in the groups. Then, they’ll develop intimacy naturally with the people they relate to best as they get together with them outside the group meetings.

Think short-term – not long-term. Plan a specific starting and ending time for your groups, keeping in mind that the ideal length is 10 to 12 weeks. People grow best over short periods of time, followed by periods of rest, then more growth again. To avoid the stagnation that occurs when people get too comfortable, keep up the growth cycle by offering new groups regularly rather than continuing existing ones indefinitely.


Think promotion months – not ongoing sign-ups.
 Schedule your groups in semesters, around the natural flow of the academic year, with regular, focused sign-up periods to increase excitement and participation.

 

Think of your church as one of small groups – not with small groups. Build your church’s ministry around its small groups, rather than trying to fit small groups in with lots of other types of ministries. Focus your church’s energy on the weekend worship services and small group system, rather than diverting it in too many different directions. Keep in mind that small groups are exponentially more effective when they stand alone, instead of having to compete with other church programs. If you give people too many options for church programs, their involvement will be so spread out that you won’t have their full participating in any one area. But if people aren’t distracted by a plethora of other programs, they’ll be more likely to give their full attention to a small group, where they can grow the most spiritually.

Think easy – not hard. You’ll likely see many more people join your small groups if you offer them opportunities to sign up through just one step. Make it clear to people how they can sign up, such as during a worship service, through the church’s website, or at a table in the lobby. Keep the process as simple as possible.

Think ahead – not behind. Realize that you need to start planning and preparing three to four months in advance of your groups’ start dates for them to be successful.

Think full staff participation – not a staff specialist. Make sure that every person on your church’s staff – especially the lead pastor – plays a part in how the small groups system is run. Don’t delegate the whole system to just one person. Also make sure that every member of your staff is also a member of a small group. Let your congregation see that everyone on staff genuinely cares about your church’s small groups.

Think apprentice – not expert. Raise future small group leaders through apprenticeship instead of heavy training or leadership development programs. Don’t worry about how long people have been Christians or how much expertise they have in a particular subject area. Instead, simply teach your leaders to grow new leaders by learning to replace themselves in four steps: “I do and you watch,” “I do and you help,” “You do and I help,” and “You do and I applaud.”

Think decentralization – not staff control. As long as you have complete control over your system, you’ll only be able to go to a certain level before you plateau. But your groups will multiply faster and be healthier when you trust God with your volunteer leaders and trust your volunteer leaders with your people. Give your leaders freedoms, such as the power to choose their own topics.


Think leader multiplication – not group multiplication.
 Instead of splitting your existing groups to create new ones, let each semester run its course and identify new potential leaders for the next time from those naturally ending groups.

Focus your groups. Determine the philosophy, strategy, goals, and calendar for your upcoming small-group semester. This happens in March, July, and November of each year. Pinpoint the most convenient days and locations for people in your congregation, and plan most of your groups for those days and times. Figure out what kinds of topics will best suit the needs and interests of your people, and make sure that the topics you choose are theologically sound. Create a variety of groups to motivate different types of people to sign up, such as groups for men, women, couples, singles, parents, new believers, professionals, artists, athletes, people interested in community service, people who want to study a specific book of the Bible, etc. When planning for a new semester, look over the feedback you’ve received from people who participated in previous semesters and consider how you can improve your groups. Expect more people to sign up for groups than attend your church’s worship services on any average weekend, because the pool of people who have come through the front doors in the past few months is larger than those who attend every week.  Structure your groups in ways that give group leaders accountability and good communication with staff members.

Form your groups. Recruit leaders, choose curricula, and confirm the day, time, and location of all groups. This happens from mid-March to mid-April, from mid-July to mid-August, and from mid-November to mid-December. Recruit your group leaders and figure out the answers to these key questions: “Who is the group leader? Is there a co-leader? Is there a coordinator?”, “What is the topic/study? Book or video series? What appealing blurb will we use in a catalog and online to promote this topic/study?”, “Where will the group meet?”, “What day will the group meet?” and “What time will the group meet?”.

Fill your groups. Sign up people for groups through directed promotion. Promotion months are from mid-January to mid-February, from mid-May to mid-June, and September. Preach sermons on the biblical basis for small groups, and give some people who have already participated in small groups opportunities to give their testimonies of how their time in the groups changed their lives for the better. Be creative, working to get the same message out – encouraging people to sign up for groups – in different ways. Communicate a sense of urgency that will motivate people to get excited about signing up. Recognize that some people will be going through circumstances that will prevent them from signing up for a group, such as frequent business travel or a new baby. Be sure to check in with them from time to time so they’ll be connected in some way beyond just the weekly worship service. Follow up with every person who does sign up for a group to increase the likelihood that he or she will actually show up once the group starts meeting.

Facilitate your groups. Start and maintain groups while equipping and encouraging leaders. This happens in February, June, and October. Hold a half-day group leaders’ training event before the start of each semester and through timely electronic training every week. Help them learn how to be great managers of the group environment so that maximum life change can occur. Cover a variety of topics, such as building community in the group, being a shepherd to the group, and including everyone in the conversation. Have all group members sign a covenant to keep expectations clear and accountability high. Make sure that everyone receives a group syllabus at the first meeting. Let your group leaders know that you’re there to support them; if you take care of them, they’ll take care of your small groups system.

Adapted from Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, copyright 2008 by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas. Published by Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com.
Nelson Searcy is the founding pastor of The Journey Church of the City in New York City, which he and his wife, Kelley, began from scratch in 2002 and now has more than 1,000 members. He has  personally trained more than 20,000 church planters and church leaders in live events and seminars through ChurchLeader Insights, an Internet resource for pastors. Prior to starting The Journey, he was the founding director of the Purpose Driven Community with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. He is the author of more than 60 bestselling resources on church planting and church growth. 
Kerrick Thomas is a teaching pastor at The Journey Church and regularly co-leads training events with Nelson Searcy. Prior to his move to New York to plant The Journey, he received a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. 

 

What is a Healthy Small Group?

We all want healthy small groups. But without a central focus on God and growing in our faith, we are simply a gathering of people who meet for coffee when it’s convenient. Coffee is great but healthy groups practice spiritual habits that form hearts and lives into being disciples of Jesus.

How do we recognize a healthy group when we see one?

Healthy small groups are an intentional gathering of people who agree to share life together, meeting on a regular basis for the purpose of fulfilling God’s mission for the church and for making disciples of Christ. While every church has its own culture, God gave to us some specific guidelines in the Bible to help us grow healthy groups.

 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.  And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. -Acts 2:42-47 KJV

Koinonia is Key.

Biblical fellowship is more than having cake in the basement of the church.  Koinonia, a Greek word which means “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” The first occurrence of koinonia can be found in the Book of Acts.

Christian fellowship is an important part of the Christian life. Believers in Christ are to come together in love, faith, and encouragement. That is the essence of koinonia.

What are the elements that make up true koinonia that produces healthy small groups?

Bible Study

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine… (Acts 2:42) KJV

The Bible is God’s manual for life.  As Christians, many of us know why we should study the Bible but why should we study the Bible in our groups? First and foremost, our groups must have an upward focus.  A group that is not focused on God and His word are just a bunch of people getting together for fun.  While fun is important, group Bible study offers a safe place to grow, ask questions, and learn. More importantly, studying our Bible in a small group setting also helps us to apply what we learn as we encourage one another in handling life issues. When we are involved in a small group of other believers with varying backgrounds we can come alongside one another teach, encourage, edify, and hold one another accountable.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. –Proverbs 27:17 KJV

Community

Acts 2:42 KJV says the early believers were devoted to …fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 

Groups are a place where people can find help with their spiritual needs. They are a place where members pray for each other, encourage and edify one another and if one is sick, suffering spiritually, or struggling with sin they can be loved and cared for.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Ecclesiastes. 4:10 KJV

Hebrews 10:24-25 KJV says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

Outreach

…And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:47 KJV)

Reaching out to the world around us is a vital part of serving Christ and the mission of the church.

It is of great value for every believer to do something to contribute to the broader ministry and mission of the church.  Serving makes for a wonderful marriage between groups and the centralized church. Serving should be practiced on and off campus on a regular basis.

The Bible says that faith without works is dead. Serving those in need is part of what it means to be a Christian. Performing that service together with your small group can be a life-changing experience.

Multiplication

Healthy things grow and healthy groups reproduce.

There may be one or more people in the group with the potential for leadership.  Keep in mind the best group leaders are those who have a shepherd’s heart, not necessarily those who are gifted in leadership.

Groups should allow members to explore and practice their spiritual gifts. It not only helps us to discover potential future leaders but it affords members to do something to contribute to the broader ministry and mission of the church.

It is not possible for church staff and pastors to personally minister to everyone. Healthy groups help us to equip one another to bear the burden of ministry.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: -Ephesians 4:11-12 KJV

Healthy small groups are a vibrant community of people who connect with one another to deepen their relationship with God, one another, and carry out the mission of the church

By Judy Colegrove

For more information on building healthy, vibrant small groups, here is a link to some Free resources by Steve Gladen on the Small Group Network page.

 

Top 10 Bible Verses for Small Groups

Part of the reason I feel called to small group ministry, and why I’ve made it my life mission to build healthy small group communities where I know life change happens, is because I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen first-hand the work that a healthy community does in a person’s and a family’s life. It’s staggering how many issues in life become manageable when you’re surrounded by people that love you and want God’s best for you.

At one level, I’m a pragmatist. And so are you. If what you believe didn’t work, you’d believe something different. If the Gospel didn’t effectively work to affect change, you’d give up on it. Tell me you’re not a pragmatist when it comes to what you eat for breakfast. Your current breakfast doesn’t fill you up? No matter how healthy you’re trying to be, if you’re not being filled by what you’re consuming, you’ll change it. Your current exercise scheme is producing no results, yet the books tell you it will? You’ll change it to something that gets you the result you want. You’ve got pragmatism in you, too.

But I’m not solely a pragmatist. In fact, I’m not first and foremost a pragmatist. Before “does it work,” I want to know “is it true?” Sure, eating candy for breakfast may “feel” right, and sleeping in every morning may “feel” right, and not disciplining myself in so many other areas of my life may “feel” right, but that doesn’t make them right. 2+2=4 whether I “feel” like it does today or not.

So when it comes to my view of small groups, I want to know they work, but I also want to know “are they true?” and “are they right?” For that, I’ve got to look outside of myself. The Bible is the source for the Church when it comes to authoritative Truth. That’s another post for another day on another site. For now, let’s look at the Scriptures that are replete with Truth that helps us see the value of living life connected in healthy communities. Scriptures that show you you’re better with me…and that I’m better with you.*

Let me share with you my favorite 10 “community” Scriptures.

Top 10 Small Group Verses

  1. Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

  1. Matthew 18:20

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” – Jesus

  1. Acts 2:42-47

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

  1. Ephesians 4:15-16

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

  1. Acts 5:42
    And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
  2. John 13:34-35
    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus
  3. Galatians 6:1-2
    Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  4. Hebrews 3:12-14
    Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
  5. Psalm 133
    Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
    It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
    on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
    It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
    For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.
  6. 1 John 4:11-13

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

Do you have any favorites you’d like to add to the list?

 *Now’s not the time, but 2 overarching truths should guide our theological understanding of and drive towards life in community: God creates and lives in community Himself (a theology of the Trinity); Jesus, though perfect in every way, chose to live in small group life by surrounding himself with 12 men while he was on this earth

By Ben Reed