April 28, 2009
We want to hear your story, and we want to reward you for telling us.
Okay, if you have been paying attention to this blog for any amount of time, you have heard me talk about our YouTube channel. This was designed to be a way for people to share their stories about small-group life with others in a new and interesting way. This was also supposed to be a way for us to give away a few free memberships to SmallGroups.com.
Well, there has not been much sharing so far. In fact, there has been none outside of my co-workers. And there have been no free memberships given away—not yet.
But we are not giving up! Below you will see the video that introduces our "question of the month" for April. The original idea was to select five people at random who participated and give them free memberships to SmallGroups.com. But since no-one has participated, and the deadline of May 2 is drawing close, I'll change things up a bit.
The first five people to upload a video and send us a link will get a free membership to SmallGroups.com. Here's the question you'll be answering:
To be one of the first five, all you have to do is record yourself answering that question. You can use an expensive video camera or your cell phone—it doesn't matter. Then, you just need to upload that video to YouTube. Once it's there, click the "send video" button and send it to us at "inspiringcommunity." Or you can just e-mail the link to me at "smallgroups at christianitytoday.com".
It's easy, and the first five videos will receive a free membership. Let's see what you can do!
April 27, 2009
Small group attendance can be measured and used to identify groups that are in trouble
While at the NEXT 2009 Saddleback Small Groups Conference in Atlanta, I had the chance to talk to Boyd Pelley of ChurchTeams.com about measurements that help predict small group health. If you would like to hear my conversation with Boyd, click below:
According to Boyd, the "Aha" in all of this is the simple but often overlooked fact that group attendance, and the consistency of group attendance, is a big deal as it relates to group health. Groups that experience sporadic attendance, particularly when most of your group members attend 50% of the time or less, are groups that may be in trouble when it comes to spiritual health.
What potentially makes this very relevant is, of all things you can measure in group life, group attendance is one of the more easily obtained pieces of small group information.
My own experience would be consistent with Boyd's statements. Groups that have very inconsistent commitment are groups typically on the lower end of the spiritual health continuum. While that's my experience, I'm not familiar with any formal group life research that focuses specifically on the analysis of group consistency as a health factor.
What do you think? Are any of you using group commitment as a primary group health indicator?
April 24, 2009
Reporting LIVE from Victory Church in Norcross, GA
Here are some images from the NEXT 2009 Conference (Atlanta). I just took these pictures of the main session, workshop, and even the SmallGroups.com booth that I skipped out of for a few minutes to give you an update.
While I'm no where to be found in these shots, there are a several hundred folks here taking in a variety of training and round table discussion opportunities. Last hour I sat around a table with fellow small group ministry practitioners as we discussed what was working and what was not working well in the area of small group outreach and small group coaching, among other things.
Here's one thing I'm hearing more often all the time, particularly in medium to larger church settings; hiring part-time paid small group leader coaches to coach 25-100 group leaders each is a coaching model that is working. Not that there isn't volunteer coaching system that are working, but part-time paid coaches have been filling the gap for many churches where volunteer coaching systems were not. Part-time paid coaches have more accountability, more enthusiasm, and more impact on their volunteer small group leaders according to churches who have tried both.
How about you? What have been your results with small group leader coaching?
Also, if you happen to be reading this and were in attendance at this conference, feel free to post a comment of your thoughts about anything you experienced at the conference.
April 22, 2009
Even talk about nothing can be something
I haven't talked to a small-group leader yet who hasn't experienced the issue of time pressure during small-group gatherings. There so much to get done (food, fellowship, prayer, study, curriculum, service, planning, outreach, etc.) and so little time. And, if we're only working with an hour or two each week (or every other week!); there's precious little time for what we at our church call "hanging out."
But part of the power of biblical community comes as we have relationships that include time for "small talk." Small talk is the sometimes superficial conversation that happens when we are just hanging out together.
I was reminded of the power of small talk from an unusual source recently. I was reading an old transcript of the "Meet the Press" TV news show and here's a quote from Jay McGraw that caught my attention:
"If you don't talk to your children about the things that don't matter, they'll never talk to you about the things that do. You've got to talk to them about what somebody wore to school today and this silly movie or this sitcom or just what might be going on in their day that's not of any particular gravity but you're opening the channel, you're opening it for flow. And then when it comes time that they really need to talk to you about something, they don't feel awkward about it because you talk with them all the time." -Jay McGraw, "Meet the Press," Sunday, December 26, 2004
This quote was obviously about parent-child relationships. But it is just as true about relationships in general. Deep things rarely come out if you don't start in shallower water first. Obviously, some small talk can happen spontaneously during group time, but since group time is limited, you have to be intentional about making time for small talk. This, by the way, is why you should always start your small-group gatherings with a safe, open ice breaker question. Get people warmed up to sharing safe or even superficial things first and they will be more open to receiving deeper life changing things later.
So, beyond ice breakers, how can you help people with small talk? Here's some ideas:
- Have all or some of your group members over to eat with you before group starts. That extra 30-60 minutes is a great time to have conversation.
- Be intentional about talking to your group members at a weekly worship service.
- Plan get-togethers and conversations with group members in-between small group gatherings.
- Be spontaneous: send an occasional email, make an excuse to go to their house and borrow something from them, invite them to go with you to the store or coffee shop, or just show up at their doorstep sometime to say hi.
April 21, 2009
Try something new, if you dare!
Note: In the next few weeks, we'll be introducing some "blogging all stars" from the world of small-groups ministry. One such person is Randall Neighbour. He is the president of TOUCH Outreach Ministries in Houston, and he regularly blogs at www.randallneighbour.com.
I travel all over the world for my ministry work, training small-group leaders and members in far flung places such as Curitiba, Brazil, Seoul, South Korea, and Lilongwe, Malawi. In all of these places, as well as many others around the world, the believers don't pray the way we do. When it's time to pray—and it's always time to pray, by the way—everyone prays out loud and at the same time.
My conclusion? If anyone is weird, it's us Americans. "Concert" prayer is the norm among people of all races and denominational backgrounds outside of North America.
When I asked a pastor from Malawi if they ever use conversational prayer where one person prays aloud while others listen, he said, "There is far more power when everyone is praying instead of listening to one person. When we pray with many voices, it builds faith and removes fear that others will be critical of the words the person is using to speak to God. You should try it and you will see that it is much more efficient and powerful."
Let me challenge you today. Print this page and read it to your small group when you next meet. Challenge them to take a walk on the wild side of prayer and see if it's more powerful and more effective than listening to one person voice a prayer. Then, return here and report on what happened. I'd love to know how they responded and how God moved in your midst.
We're answering the question: How can I deal with depression and discouragement?
Okay, this is the last week of Dot Com(unity)'s inaugural journey. It's been fun for me, and I hope worthwhile for all of you!
The big question we are addressing this week is: "How can I deal with depression and discouragement?" That's a tough one, obviously. But the study provides an interesting answer right off the bat in the form of a story about pychiatrist Carl Meninger:
Dr. Carl Meninger, a world-renowned psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health and was answering questions from the audience. Someone said, "What would you advise a person to do if they felt a nervous breakdown coming on?" Most people thought he would say, "Go see a psychiatrist immediately," but he didn’t. To their astonishment, Dr. Meninger replied, "Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find somebody in need, and help that person."
That kind of piqued my curiosity, and I'm wondering if it did the same for you? What do you think about that advice? Is that something you could say in your small group? How?
And to help out with getting a conversation started on this difficult topic, here are some icebreakers and other activities that may help:
1. Cheering Someone On (Outreach Option). These are some practical ways to encourage the downhearted in your small group.
2. All Emotional (Icebreaker). Give group members a chance to role play different emotions.
3. One or the Other (Icebreaker). A creative way to find out how group members are feeling.
April 18, 2009
An embarassing memory from my formative years...
I just read Reid Smith's post again on The Perfect Welcome, and I had a weird flashback. (If you haven't read Reid's post, you'll want to do that before continuing here).
Anyway, I was thinking about greeting people and I remembered that, back in high school, I went through a phrase where I constantly used "the wink and the gun" to say hello to people.
If you aren't familiar with "the wink and the gun," this guy does a pretty good demonstration:
I usually went with the "single hand" version, but you get the idea. Whenever I saw someone coming down the hall at school or church, or even at home, I always broke out the wink and the gun. It was some kind of weird, juvenile instinct. And now I look back and I think people must have busted out laughing as soon as I walked away. Oh well.
What about you? What are some other gestures or habits that might not work very well when it comes to greeting people in your small group?
April 14, 2009
Painting the picture of what is and what could be
One of the best "hands-on" conferences I attend regularly is the Xenos Summer Institute. In one breakout session, Dennis McCallum (co-lead pastor of Xenos Christian Fellowship) talked about a leadership tool known as "leading by discrepancy."
Let's say you or your church has a vision for what group life should be, but your small group doesn't resemble that vision. What do you do? One of the things you can do is help your group clearly see the discrepancy between their current situation and what could be. The process goes like this:
First, cast a vision or describe a "picture" to your group of a different life, a better life, a higher standard of performance, or healthier relationships. Be specific. You may need some resources from church leadership to help you paint this "word picture."
Then, have the group honestly evaluate and truthfully discuss how the group is doing at living out that vision. As the leader, model the honesty and tone you are looking for in other's responses. Make the discussion safe by re-emphasizing confidentiality and your group covenant so your group members are tempted to "sugarcoat" their evaluations of the current situation.
And without a condemning or judgmental tone, summarize the discussion and state: "Here's where we want to go, and here's where we are." When you paint these two pictures well, you create a discrepancy in your group's mind.
Provided your communication doesn't leave your people in despair or in anger, this can be a powerful motivator for your group.
That's leading by creating discrepancy. It's not demanding "this is where we are going" and it's not accusing your group of failing. It's casting a vision and accurately evaluating and naming where you are at, and allowing people to clearly see the difference. Once people see the two pictures clearly and compellingly, they are more likely to be self-motivated to grow and transform. As you lead your group to the next level, try leading by discrepancy.
April 13, 2009
Why does God allow people to suffer?
Just a quick reminder: If you are just discovering our Dot Com(unity) experience, you can still participate. Just click here for instructions on how to download the "Answering Difficult Questions" Bible study for free. And click here to get an overview of what we've studied so far.
This week's question is a doozy. It's one of the first things that always comes up when people are debating the existence of God—if God exists and has the power to prevent human suffering, why doesn't he do it? Fortunately, the Bible study material has some very helpful explanatory material, illustrations, and discussion questions that bring this huge topic down to something digestable for all types of group members.
In recent weeks I've suggested several icebreakers and activities from SmallGroups.com that match the topics being discussed in our Dot Com(unity) learning experience. But I want to switch it up this week. I want to hear from you!
Have you had a flash of genius about an activity that will help your group members get their minds around this mountain of a question? Have you used an icebreaker or worship activity in the past that applies well to this week's study? If so, do us all a favor and type it up in the Comments section of this post. It can only help the rest of us!
And stay tuned tomorrow for some recommendations on watching for teachable moments during this week's discussion time.
April 8, 2009
Team ministry can make unnecessary failure, um...not necessary
Is failure an option in ministry? That's an interesting question. For instance, some would point out Biblical examples of prophets who were called to proclaim God's message to people who would never listen or yield. Imagine a whole ministry career spent doing something that had minimal impact on the people of their time.
Others would say God wastes nothing, including failure. He redeems it for His purposes. Even prophets, whose messages were never received in their day are still speaking today, and lives today are being changed as a result.
So, it could be said, God doesn't distinguish between success and failure. He uses both for His glory and purpose.
But then the question becomes: Is there unnecessary failure in ministry today? Certainly any failure, regardless of the cause, can be redeemed by God. But do we make failure more of an option than we should? Do we excuse poor ministry performance with too much ease?
That's an interesting question and one that was tackled by Elwin Ahu at the "Doing Church as a Team Conference" (DCAT '09). His topic was team ministry. When it comes to ministry, teams make it possible to have success when lone individuals may have failed unnecessarily at the same endeavor.
While individual failure may be a great growing experience, we should not use failure as an excuse for personal growth. Instead, put the priority on ministry success by using the giftedness of the Body of Christ as the means by which we successfully fulfill our mission. This applies to leadership teams and small groups. Beyond the non-negotiable of prayer, Elwin suggested six things that provide the context for successful ministry using teams:
1. Establish a center point or core values that all team members embrace.
2. Invest deeply in relationships among team members so that trust is established and conflicts can be resolved.
3. Aim for the heart; keep people's heart as the highest priority.
4. Find the "fuse" and light it. Build people up. Be a dream releaser.
5. Create community identity. Help the team to see themselves as an entity on a mission.
6. Celebrate and have fun!
These are Elwin's ingredients for ministry success through teams and groups! Are there any other ingredients you would add?
April 7, 2009
How do I know what I was born to do?
I'm pretty sure that this week's "big question" is something that your group members have asked themselves at one time or another—maybe even recently. But it's probably not something that has come up in your group discussions. So this is a great opportunity!
To get started, here are some icebreakers and other activities that you may find useful:
- Happy Times. Group members divide their lives into quarters and reflect on each section.
- The Hand You Are Dealt. Group members talk about their dreams for the future.
- Our Mission. Encourage your group members to develop individual mission statements.
Last week I suggested some difficult quesitons that might pop up during group discussions, but I'm going to put that responsibility on your shoulders this week. When it comes to identifying our God-given purpose in life, what are the sticking points? What tough questions are you anticipating, and how do you hope to handle them?
April 6, 2009
And I need you to send it to me!
Week one of our Dot Com(unity) co-learning experience has come and gone. How did it go for you?
We've received a few comments on the blog from people who answered some of the burning questions I mentioned last week. But I haven't heard back from anyone on how the study went during the actual group time.
Were there some good moments? Did anyone use an icebreaker that worked especially well, or that flopped? Did any questions come up that helped people think deeper about the issue of communicating with God? Did any tough questions pop up that were tough to answer?
I'd love to hear from some of you about the experience. You can post a comment below, or click here to send me an e-mail.
Stay tuned for some recommendations and discussion starters for week 2 of our study. I'll be posting later this afternoon.
April 3, 2009
Here are two ways to measure the depth of community in your church.
"Is there any way to measure the depth of community in your church?"
People seemed stumped. How do you create a social metric?
1. Ask each person, "How many '2 a.m. friends' do you have?" These are the people whom you could call at 2 a.m., and it would be okay.
2. Ask each person, "How many friends do you have who have 'refrigerator rights'?" These are people who could come into your house and open your fridge and help themselves, and it wouldn't bother you.
Make these questions part of an annual churchwide survey, and you'll be able to see if your people are truly in community.
What other ways can you think of to measure the depth of community in your church?
April 1, 2009
Here's a practical way to build a teachable moment into this week's discussion.
I was re-reading the material for week 1 of the Answers to Difficult Questions study, and I was reminded about Ebenezers. No, not Scrooge. There are a couple common references that might help you get an idea of what I'm talking about.
The first a line from the second stanza of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." It goes: "Here I raise my Ebenezer / Here by Thy great help I've come / And I hope, by Thy good pleasure / Safely to arrive at home."
The second is from 1 Samuel 7:12-14: "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, 'Thus far the LORD has helped us.' So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites" (1 Samuel 7:12-14 NRSV).
So, an Ebenezer is some kind of physical monument that it set up in remembrance of something meaningful that God has done. The word literally means "stone of help." Think of a wedding ring with a diamond, for example—it's a permanent reminder of a covenant set up in the presence of God, but also a permanent reminder of God's goodness and direction.
Now what in the world does that have to do with Dot Com(unity?) I'm glad you asked.
The big question we're grappling with this week is, "How do I know if God is speaking to me?" And it struck me that there might be some people in your group gatherings that have a pretty cool testimony regarding that subject. Maybe they felt nudged by God about a certain job, or about a spouse or child. Maybe they were warned away from something harmful.
Whatever happened, if someone shares an experience of being spoken to by God, that is a huge teachable moment for your group. Please don't miss it!
One of the ways you can be sure to maximize the moment is by establishing some kind of Ebenezer. This can be done personally, between you and the person who shared how God directed them. In that case, give the person a little gift sometime after they share—something that matches the way in which that person heard God's voice. For example, if a man mentions that God lead him toward his current job, you could frame one of his business cards with the word "Ebenezer" written on it, then encourage him to keep it in his office as a reminder of God's faithfulness.
Creating an Ebenezer can also be a group activity. You could by a bit of clay and bring it to the group meeting in anticipation of someone sharing a time when God directed them. Then have the group fashion a little Ebenezer out of the clay and present it to the person who shared. Or just bring little polished stones and have group members write on them with permanent markers.
Got any other creative ideas? Post them as a comment below.
But whatever you decide to do, please take advantage of this great opportunity for a teachable moment.