After hearing an encouraging account this past week of a small group leader boldly asking a member of their group if they were ready to invite Jesus to be their Lord and Savior and then reading Mark 8:34-38 in my quiet time this morning, I was reminded of the challenge to be willing to ask those who have been put in our sphere of influence the TOUGH questions. TOUGH questions that may change someone’s eternal destiny, TOUGH questions that might save a marriage, TOUGH questions that might keep someone from making a terrible choice. In the passage I referenced above, Jesus made it very clear: If you want to follow me, you have to lay down your life. No sugar coating just the plain hard truth. As a small group leader, you have been given the privilege to challenge the people in your group. Remember too, that your group members are also looking to be stretched and challenged or they wouldn’t be there. So don’t back down if you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to ask the TOUGH question! And remember it’s ok if you are rejected. Far more people rejected Jesus and his teaching than received it and the same will be true in our lives. Bottom line: as followers of Jesus we have ALL been called to make disciples. Asking TOUGH questions is a key aspect of discipleship so keep asking (in love) despite the response that you get. Oh, and if you are wondering how the person responded to making God their Lord & Savior, they said YES!
Just throwing out a thumbs up to Saddleback Church’s 40 Days in the Word spiritual growth campaign. We are in Week 3 and are thrilled about the launch of 30 new groups and the addition of 220 new people into groups adding to the 40 groups and 400 people in groups we had before this series! For the first time in our 25+ year history as a church we have a small group participation at or near 75% of weekend attendance. Last weekend several people gave their lives to Jesus and we have heard many encouraging stories from small groups as people engage God’s Word. Thank you Saddleback for all of your efforts to share this great study with the rest of us.
Who wants to be in an ‘ok’ small group. Not me……been in far too many of those already. I want to be in a group that nourishes and feeds my soul.
In the previous post, 5 essentials of small groups were mentioned that are required for a group to be great: leadership, vision, community, discipleship, & mission. Without any of these, a group will struggle to reach its redemptive potential and exist in varying levels of mediocrity. The next 5 posts will journey into each of these 5 essentials.
The greatness of any organization is always dependent upon leadership. Same goes for small groups. While I believe it’s possible for a small group to have a great leader and not be great, I don’t believe it’s possible for a group to be great without a great leader. Leadership sets the tone: leaders provide vision…an excitement for what is to come; a leader’s level of honesty, openness, and transparency establishes the relational temperature and dna of every group; a leader’s example & facilitation creates an atmosphere of spiritual growth; a leader’s intentionality prevents a group from turning inward and faces them outward.
If you lead a group ask yourself:
Are you leading yourself well? If not, how do you expect to lead others well? Are you growing spiritually? If not, how do you expect God to use you to grow others spiritually? Are you a transparent, come as you are leader? If not, how will your group ever get to that place where members freely share their lives with each other so that transformation can take place? Are you a servant leader? If not, how will your group ever move from a focus on itself to a focus on what God can do through them?
As the saying goes, “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.” GREAT groups become great because of leaders who lead them to greatness.
After 6+ years of trying to help develop a healthy small group ministry at our church, I think I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of what small groups can be. I have also been right in the center of life change and life drain in my own personal group experiences. While I have many thoughts to share about the value of grouplife, my recent thoughts have been steered in this direction: Group health seems to be like a bell curve with test scores. Some groups bomb, some groups are off the charts the other way, but most groups are just good or average. So what then are the defining characteristics of groups that are great?
Here is what I have stumbled upon. 5 defining essentials. All 5 are needed or a group will never reach its full redemptive potential. All 5 were present in Jesus’ small group which was about one thing: making disciples (becoming fishers of men). At Oakbrook, small groups reflect this same mission: friends spurring one another on to become like Jesus so the world may come to know Him. Here are the 5:
1. GREAT Leadership
2. GREAT Vision
3. GREAT Community
4. GREAT Discipleship
5. GREAT Mission
Challenging to pull ALL of these off? Extremely. It rarely happens. But unless you do, your group will never be great. Good, yes, but not great. Jesus’ group was great and we are called to strive for the same greatness so the world will come to know Him!
I will unpack these 5 essentials in a series of short posts in the days ahead.
Our church, Oakbrook, participated in the Advent Conspiracy (watch this video if you have never seen it!)this year. We collected a year end offering to support global & local compassion efforts and encouraged our small groups to also come up with creative ways to serve others during the Christmas season. I am always so proud of our church in times like this. Despite the fact that we live in one of the most economically depressed cities in the United States (~20% unemployment), our people continue to grow in the area of generosity because of their love for Jesus and others. Here is just a snapshot of some great stories that came out of Oakbrook’s 2009 Advent Conspiracy:
-Offering exceeding $25000 to go towards global (Haiti) & local missions!
-“Our group assisted 2 families: One family has not had a full-time job for 3 years and another family who has sent their teenage son to work to help pay the bills. We paid up the teenage son’s lunch account for the remainder of the year.”
-“Our group gave a $275 gift certificate to a family who lost their job and health insurance.”
-“Our group served meals at a local mission. It impacted us greatly and we are planning to go back and serve every few months.”
-“Our group wrapped gifts for the Rescue Mission and then helped deliver the gifts during Christmas week.”
-“Our group bought presents, grocery gift cards, paper goods, and toiletries for 2 families. We are also serving every other month by serving meals at Kokomo Urban Outreach the second Sunday of each month.”
-“Our group helped a family who had lost their dad in an accident earlier in the year. We were able to provide some clothing, shoes, toys, and gift cards so they could have a somewhat ‘normal’ Christmas.”
-“Our group collected $600 to sponsor the needs of someone we know who was going to Haiti. We also committed to contributing a minimum of $100/month toward his expenses for as long as he is there. We also provided gifts for ‘Angel Outreach’, bought diapers & wipes for Healthy Families, wrapped gifts for the Rescue Mission, rang bells for the Salvation army, supported a group member’s trip to Haiti right before Christmas, and made dinner for a group member whose mother passed away.”
“Our group helped 2 families by buying presents for their children. We gave another family $75 for groceries. We also paid for the repair of a windshield for a girl who could not afford this repair. Finally, we visited a retirement home and sang Christmas carols and gave gifts to the residents.”
-I had one group hand me a backpack full of cash ($300) to be given towards a local backpack program that provides food to needy students every weekend.
-“Our group gave about $200 to buy gifts for some children that had just lost their father unexpectedly and because of finances would not be receiving any gifts this year.”
-6 groups in our Young Married Community and many others in our church joined together to provide Christmas to about 75 ‘angels’ at The Community Youth Outreach Center. Every child received a gift (for many this would be their only gift!) and a whole lot of pizza to fill their bellies! These 6 groups also spent a night before Thanksgiving sorting over 800 pairs of socks that would be delivered to needy families by Kokomo Urban Outreach.
Does it get any better than this? Don’t just talk about it, be about it!
Looking for the best idea I’ve experienced in a long time to bring mission into grouplife? Check out The Power of 10. It’s revolutionary!
You’ve heard it before but I’ll say it again: people that PRAY together STAY together. When 2 or more people pray regularly together, a powerful sense of community happens. When my wife and I pray together, we are stronger. When my kids and I pray together, we are stronger. When I pray with my friends, we are stronger. I just got back from a trip to Haiti where we teamed up with a Haitian church to put on a weeklong series of evening services in the middle of a bean field. Yes, that’s what I said, a bean field. Amazingly, 2000+ people were attending by week’s end and 150+ people accepted Christ, but the most powerful element of the week for me was joining my Haitian brothers and sisters for 2 hours of prayer every morning. By week’s end, simply by praying together, our team was deeply connected to a group of people that we previously did not know and that didn’t even speak our language! The power of prayer cannot be put into words. Even my couple’s small group’s best experience this fall happened right before I left for Haiti and my group circled up and prayed over me. Does one ever feel more loved and cared for than when the people they love take the time to pray for them? I don’t think so. Are you remembering to pray with those you love? Is prayer central to your small group experience? Don’t forget where we started this post: people that PRAY together STAY together!
It seems like every small group has its challenges…..it’s always messy at some level. Was Jesus’ small group challenging? I would say yes. The disciples argued over power, they said he didn’t care, they doubted him, they questioned him ….. messy. The ‘messy’ part of relationships is usually due to the fact that none of us are the same (which is a reason to celebrate!), but how do we deal with the person that seem to always create a negative tension whenever they are present? You know who I mean…the loose cannon, the conversation monopolizer, the “I speak for my spouse’ person, the ‘Yeah, but..’ guy, the constant ‘go against the flow’ gal, or the infamous ‘conversation buster’.
Here are a few steps to deal with the challenging people in your groups:
ENCOURAGE– Sometimes all it takes is to help someone gain awareness and sensitivity to how they may be negatively affecting the group dynamic. Once they have an ‘aha’ moment, ask them for their help. For example, if they are a conversation monopolizer let them know how great a contributor they are and ask them if they recognize that not many others engage in group conversation. Ask them to help you get others involved by talking less and inviting others into the conversation. Here is the key, whatever it is you invite them to help you with, make sure you affirm them when you observe them helping!
DISCUSSION – If the ‘Encouragement’ level is not working, sit down and discuss how you can help someone grow in the area they are struggling with. This form of personalized leadership will convey an authentic sense of caring. When feeling cared for, most people will be willing to deal with the issues at hand with an open mindset.
ADMONISH – This is the ‘warning’ approach. There are instances when a leader needs to step in and get an issue resolved or the group may not survive. Don’t forget that its very probable that the unruly person is not just unruly in small group. They are likely this way at home, at work etc. and the sandpaper effect that they have will never change unless they are challenged. True friends stab each other in the front!
Encourage, Discuss, Admonish. A 3-step approach that will help with your challenging relationships. Lead strong.