January 27, 2009
That "Great Commission" thing still applies, right?
It's always good to "reboot" your computer from time to time in order to set everything straight and clear out the "digital cobwebs" from the operating system. I thought I'd do the same with my current thinking and practices about sharing my faith with my unchurched/non-believing friends.
I encourage you to pass these ideas along to your leaders and group members so they, too, can "reboot" for 2009 and be far more successful in helping friends find a genuine relationship with God through Christ, our Lord!
1. Create a true friendship. The goal is to show God's unconditional love and be a true friend. Show them you love them regardless of their current or future beliefs and let the Holy Spirit do his work. They're not a "project."
2. Be real. Real friends show their weaknesses and are not too proud to ask others for help. Show the person that you want a genuine friendship that is characterized by "bi-directional" servanthood.
3. Cross-pollinate. Involve other believers in your friendship with your unchurched friend. It may be just what the person needs to see what following Christ looks like from different perspectives.
4. Treat them like a Christian if they claim to believe. Many Americans think they are Christians because they believe in God's existence. If that's the case, don't hesitate to ask them to pray for you like you would a fellow group member. In other words, call their spiritual bluff and see what happens! This builds contrast for the unchurched person.
5. Give AND take refrigerator rights. Many Christians claim to have friendships with the lost, but they rarely have the person in their home or are a guest in the home of an unchurched person. If you want to make a huge impact on a lost person, simply invite them to your house frequently and give them refrigerator rights. When they do the same for you in their home, you have reached a level of relationship that few people have in America—and God will use it powerfully to bring them to the cross. Trust me on this one.
6. Pray for yourself as much as you pray for them. Ask Christ to shine through you in powerful ways and give you his love and vision for your friend (vs. just asking God to convict your friend of their sins!)
Two tough questions for churches using small-group campaigns
I continue to be amazed at how many churches are using "campaigns" to launch new small groups in their churches. I'm not talking about political campaigns, which are so prominent in the news right now. I'm talking about Campaigns like "40 Days of Purpose," the "50 Day Spiritual Adventure," and the like.
The idea behind a Campaign is to create church-wide unity, enthusiasm, and momentum. This is done through prayer, teaching, evangelism, special events, and personal devotions that are all aligned with the campaign themes. Many new small groups have been successfully launched using these Campaigns as a way to get unconnected people into new or existing small groups.
Once the campaign period ends, however, there is normally a slow fade-out of the energy that was created. And once the energy fades, churches are faced with several new questions. How do we maintain support for new groups? How do we keep training new leaders?
In other words, churches must wrestle with that dreaded question: What do we do now?
In one way, this is a good thing, because it's difficult to sustain the intensity that exists during a campaign period. So, slowing down may help existing groups and leaders develop a sustainable spiritual pace.
However, as I interacted with folks at the recent Willow Creek Small Groups Conference, I kept hearing about an interesting phenomenon: in the weeks and months after the campaign, far fewer new leaders and groups are developing, and fewer unconnected people are getting connected than during the campaign period. This reduction is natural, of course, and so the natural response is often: "We need to do another campaign."
And many churches do just that. Most don't do the same campaign over and over; instead, churches choose another campaign or develop their own campaigns based around a theme or teaching series. I have talked to some churches that are now doing campaigns three times per year to match their ministry seasons.
And yet, almost all of them say the same thing: "The more we do campaigns, the less effective they become." It's like taking a prescription drug with a half-life. The first time you take it, you receive the maximum healing benefit. But the next time you take it, the benefit is good, but far less than the first time you took it. The third time is even less beneficial, and so on.
I think that's why so many church leaders I have talked to are desperately looking for something "new" that will put the energy back into their system. Simply put, their system has become dependent on campaign strategies as the method for starting new groups and assimilating members. (The phrase "dependent on" can be changed to "addicted to" without much fuss.)
So what's the deal? The problem is not with the campaigns themselves. They are only a tool, like a group agenda or study guide. Rather, what makes the campaign momentum sustainable is the relationship-intensive process of building discipleship systems and values in your church that continually foster leader development and new groups. In other words, your church needs to have a sustainable way to start and support new groups that is separate from campaigns, but that can complemented by campaigns.
So here's my takeaway. Before doing your next campaign, take a serious look at the discipleship systems and values that are in place in your church prior to launching the campaign. Then ask yourself another tough question: Are these values and systems sustainable and reproducible over time?
January 26, 2009
Say hello to one of our Small-Group Dynamics Editorial Advisors.
Sam has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church - especially in the context of small-group communities. He has been married to a wonderful woman named Jessica for over five years, and he thoroughly enjoys their young son, Daniel.
Sam is also a rabid fan of the Chicago Bears.
You can contact Sam by clicking here.
Say hello to one of our Small-Group Dynamics Editorial Advisors.
JoHannah Reardon is the associate editor for ChristianBibleStudies.com, an online Bible study site where over 125,000 leaders, students, and teachers come to learn and apply God's Word. JoHannah says, "I receive hundreds of e-mails from Bible students from around the world, giving me a good idea of the global spiritual climate. Christians everywhere feel a need to connect over God's Word, and our site helps their spiritual formation."
Besides writing, editing, and assigning Bible studies, JoHannah has ghostwritten two books, written content for the Couples' Devotional Bible, and has been published in several magazines. She also speaks at writer's conferences across the nation.
JoHannah is a pastor's wife, the mother of three, and a grandmother of two.