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May 26, 2009

Something Bigger!

Getting to the root of our small-group ministry calling


Through all the hype and trendiness associated with various small-group philosophies, it's critical that we not lose perspective on what God is doing behind it all. I was reading a recent article by Scott Boren who was taking a fresh look at the writings of some of the early pioneers of the modern small-group movement.

Scott noted these earlier writings focused on something bigger than just getting people into small groups. Click on the link above or below to read the entire article, but here's a summary of what Scott gleaned from his research:

1. Their primary concern was not on church growth, number of groups, or what percentage of the church was in groups. They realized that group participation was not the end goal, but a means for accomplishing God's greater mission. They had a vision for the redemption of creation and for empowering people to have a role in this redemption. Groups helped them do this and groups would often grow as a result. But there is little talk about how many groups, how people join groups, or other technical questions.

2. The pioneers had a keen focus on the quality of life within the groups. They were looking for the kind of life that reflected the Kingdom of God as represented by Jesus. These were not simply study groups that met once a week or twice a month. They were groups that knew they had a call to be salt and light in the midst of the world.

3. These prophets were not afraid to "draw a line in the sand" and be ready to let go of those who were not going to enter this radical call. They did not water down the vision in order to keep people. They let other churches take care of them.

4. They trained. And then they trained again. And then they trained some more. They realized that such vision for the church was radically different than the common experience in the American church. They knew that if it was to be practiced that training was crucial. They did not "lower the bar" to get people through classes. Instead they raised the expectations and then mentored people in the practical means of putting this training into practice.

5. They experimented. They did not write about the need to find a structure or model for the next church—one that could be packaged and sold to others. They believed the church should not go from one static form to the next static form called "small groups." These pioneers were using small groups to experiment with different ideas of being God's people out in front of a watching world.

This excerpt was taken from Fresh Insight for Holistic Small Group Ministries, TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc. May, 2009—Volume 5, Number 2

posted by Dan Lentz at 9:32 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

May 22, 2009

Why We Do It

Our truest motivation for small-group ministry is the life-giving community of the church.


Why are you a small-group leader? Why are you involved in the community of your church (and the Church)? I've been thinking about those questions recently.

Sometimes I get the impression that people view "community" as just another one of those things we do as Christians. Good Christians read their Bible, pray, and (along with several other spiritual disciplines) participate in a small group. Because that's what we're suppose do as Christians, right? If I were new to the community of God and his people, I'm not sure how thrilled I would be with this expectation—especially if I didn't think I'd enjoy being with the people in it.

Now don't get me wrong: I love small groups. But it's not small groups themselves that get me fired up. It's what can happen in small groups.

Jesus has told us he will be in the midst of two or three who come together in his name (Matthew 18:20). If we assume community begins with two or more people, then what Jesus is saying is revolutionary! Here's why: The presence of God has the power to transform things. When believers gather in Jesus' name, a life-changing environment is created that affects all who come within its radiating sphere of influence.

When God's grace is flowing, the Church is being the Church in all the fullness God intended. And the most beautiful part of it to me is the fruit of real community: God saving more people each day! This is precisely what we see happening in Acts 2:42–47. What a picture of the life-giving flow of God's grace. It is a timeless blueprint for doing what Jesus has commanded every believer to do in The Great Commandment and The Great Commission.

The life-giving community of the Church is the one thing in the whole universe that encompasses what every believer is to do (make disciples) and how they're to do it (love God and one another). It is how God transforms our lives, and it is how he desires to use us to reveal himself to the world. People see God when believers love one another (John 13:34–35; 1 John 4:12). And I can't think of a better presentation of the Gospel that kind of LIFE.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:23 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

May 19, 2009

Volunteerism or Ownership?

Why you need other people to take charge of your group.


Small-group leaders often leverage friendships with group members to get things done for the group or do something in a meeting now and then. Recruiting volunteers is a great way to draw in a regular visitor or disconnected group member. But when it's the only type of help a group leader has in his or her group, the future is looking dim, whether the leader realizes it or not.

Constantly asking people in your group to help in one way or another will eventually wear you out. It also may be considered a favor by the person volunteering to help you (instead of the group). If you are unable to reciprocate in a personal and possibly a sacrificial way, the member may feel abused or simply be unwilling to volunteer in the future.

Adding group ownership to the volunteerism you probably already do is great for your group—and you as well. Invite everyone in your group to join a core team that decides "who will do what by when" for the group meetings and members between meetings. By meeting monthly for an hour or so to make plans for the next six weeks of group life, it will remove any burden of leadership you may be experiencing and give others a strong sense of ownership for the group's success.

Here's a few thoughts and tips about leading with a team vs. leading a group with just volunteerism:

  • When others make plans and do things for the group, expect them to do it differently. If you have any control issues, you'll discover them quickly when you allow others to do things for the group instead of doing what you ask them to as a favor.

  • In your planning meetings, become the quiet person. Briefly share things that need to be done, then invite others to take responsibility for making that thing happen. If the plans made by the team are fraught with potential failure, share your concerns and ask the team to overcome them or put in checks and balances so it will be more successful.

  • As the planning facilitator, ensure that the group members have nailed down who will do what by when. Make careful notes of this and call the various people to ask them how their planning of that responsibility is going instead of expecting them to do what they agreed to do without another word from you. (A long time ago, I learned the word "delegate" should never be separated from the word "inspection." When you inspect what you've delegated ahead of time, everything turns out much better!)

The benefits of leading your group with a team vs. just volunteers are worth the effort! The team members are all training for group leadership in the future, the level of ownership in your group will go through the roof, and you will be in charge of a small group of people who are building God's kingdom together.

• Meeting monthly and planning for the next six weeks gives your team a few weeks' overlap for course corrections or to make mid-course corrections or changes.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:22 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

May 7, 2009

Keep It Simple

Three basic patterns that can help your group avoid over-complication.

I'm finall getting to crunch through some of the video I recorded at the recent Saddleback Small Groups Conference, which I attended back in February.

Here's part of a little chat I had with Bill Search about the way small groups have become more complicated in recent years, and what we can do about it. I'll have more from the same chat a little later.

Oh, and if you don't know Bill, he is an up-and-comer in the world of small-group thought, having led groups at Southeast Christian Church for several years and recently authored Simple Small Groups.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

May 5, 2009

Questioning Discipleship

Why group leaders should be less information-dumpers and more question-askers.

Note: In the next few weeks, we'll be introducing some "blogging all stars" from the world of small-groups ministry. Heather Zempel fits that description. She is Pastor of Discipleship at National Community Church, and she has been training group leaders for a long time on her own blog: Wineskins for Discipleship.


Henri Nouwen said, "We have to keep looking for the spiritual questions if we want spiritual answers." I used to think that my job as a small-group leader was to gather and dispense information. I thought small-group leadership was about controlling the message and making sure everyone knew the right answers to questions. However, the longer I plow the ground of spiritual growth, the more I'm convinced that discipleship boils down to the questions we ask more than the answers we give.

I've never researched it, but I'd love to know the percentage of Scripture devoted to Jesus' questions vs. Jesus' teaching. I bet the percentage looks a lot different from the amount of time the typical pastor engages in both of those activities. Consider the following:

  • Who you say that I am?

  • What do you want me to do?

  • What are you thinking in your hearts?

  • Do you believe I can do this?

  • Why are you terrified?

Those are some of the questions Jesus asked, and they transformed the lives of the people that he asked them to. He asked questions that are confusing, disturbing, realigning, and transforming.

Discipleship is often seen as giving people spiritual answers. It's downloading information. It's teaching. It's cramming in. But is it possible that discipleship has less to do with cramming in and more to do with drawing out? In the four Gospels, Jesus asked 307 questions. And He only answered 3 of the 183 questions that were asked of him.

The more I lead small groups and disciple people, the less I consider my job portfolio as dispenser of information. Rather, I view it as question asker. I'm beginning to use questions as the primary vehicle for disciple-making. They presuppose relationship, build trust, and invite us to explore deeper places of the mind and heart.

This isn't a new approach. Jewish rabbinical training was built on the exchange of questions. John Wesley's "classes" of the Methodist movement used a list of questions to give structure to their small group meetings.

Here are some of the questions I'm asking:

  • Where do you see God most at work in your life?

  • What is something you are excited about in your life right now?

  • What is a big challenge you are facing right now?

  • What fruit of the Spirit is most abundant in your life? What fruit of the Spirit is least abundant in your life?

  • What is stopping you from doing what you know God has called you to do?

My hope is that asking great questions will move discipleship outside the classroom context and into our every day conversations.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 10:57 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

May 4, 2009

What Fires Your Jets About Leading a Small Group?

Reminding ourselves of what's great about leading a small group can give us new energy.


I love leading a small group. I really do! But let's face it - we all get a little weary of our responsibilities by this time of year. If we've been leading a group since September, there are days when we wish it would hurry up and end for the summer. It gets tiring to be in charge of a group of people.

So I like to remind myself of why I took on this responsibility in the first place. Some of the reasons I love to lead a group are:

  • Getting to know a group of people beyond surface level

  • Having the joy of seeing Christ change my life as I depend on him

  • Being astounded when God gives me just the right thing to say at the right time

  • Learning to really pray for others, since I feel responsible for them

  • Seeing God increase my sensitivity to others

  • Experiencing joy as I learn to put others' needs before my own for at least one night a week

All of these are red-banner reasons to celebrate. But the one thing that motivates me most to lead a small group is the privilege of seeing Christ change others' lives. That reason alone can keep me going when everything else gets tough.

I think of Sarah*, who was separated from her husband. They are now back together, raising their kids in a godly manner. Donna struggled from a low view of herself and God because she was abused as a child. She's now leading a group of her own. Shanna didn't know the Bible at all, but now she's learning to apply it to her life and to reach out to others.

By the way, each of these persons was in a different group from each other. Altogether they've spanned almost 20 years of my life. I've never seen a lot of dramatic, instant results. So that's why sticking with it, even when it gets tough, is worth it in the long run. You truly do get to see lives change.

What is your favorite thing about leading a small group? Share it with us so that you can be reminded of why you do this every week, and so that we can be encouraged through you.

*Names changed

posted by Sam O'Neal at 10:43 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)