July 28, 2009
Do we focus on the wrong one?
Iâ€™ve been thinking lately about the topic of motivation. Consider the difference between internal and external motivation when it comes to getting people into small groups. Internal motivation is when people realize the value of Christian community and are self-motivated to participate in small groups as a result. On the other hand, external motivation is when we use outside stimulus to get people to consider groups. The outside stimulus can range from gentle invitations to nearly forcing people into groups.
If we had to be honest, I think we would have to admit that most of our efforts to get people into community revolve around external motivations. This is the path we most often take because it is much easier and quicker to develop external motivation systems than internal ones. Changing internal motivation takes much time, prayer and relational effort. And, truthfully, itâ€™s harder to measure and see the results of internal motivation. But, while it is easier for leaders to stimulate external motivation than internal motivation, that doesnâ€™t mean external motivation results in the best disciple-making environment.
Neil Cole says it like this in â€œCultivating a Life for Godâ€: â€œThe key to effective disciple making and multiplying is to tap internal motivation. Many discipleship methods, however, resort to external motivation, which is much weaker. We have people sign a â€œcontractâ€ (or we spiritualize it and call it a â€œcovenantâ€) stating that they will fulfill the obligation of the method. Or, as many encourage today, we keep an empty chair in the meeting to remind us to reach out to others. If empty chairs ever did win people to Christ, most of our churches would be experiencing revival. How many of us really share the gospel so that a chair will be filled?
"Far better that our motive be to have heaven filled. Pardon my expression, but I really mean it when I say—to hell with the empty chairs! If disciples donâ€™t want to move forward, but do so only out of guilt and obligation, then as soon as the pressure is removed the process will end. Even while the external compulsion is present, the process will lack quality because the disciples will lack enthusiasmâ€ (pp. 31-32).
While I would disagree with the notion that external motivations, like filling empty chairs, are always worthless (sometimes internal motivations are seeded by the discipline of external motivations), I do agree and believe the underlying message of this quote is why many small groups stop growing or become stagnant. We can prime the pump with external motivations for outreach, knowledge, and fellowship, but if we canâ€™t eventually get people to be self-motivated at pumping their own water, we will find little ongoing success at discipleship.
At some point in our journey with the folks in our small group we need to ask some questions:
--Are the people Iâ€™m in small group with passionately moved by the love of Christ?
--Are they demonstrating a compassion for the lost of the world?
--Are they driven by a desire to draw closer to Christ and sacrificially giving themselves to Christâ€™s mission?
If the answer to these questions is â€œno,â€ then you may need to evaluate how your group is being motivated.
July 27, 2009
Be sure you're prepared to help your group tackle this vital topic.
My three-year-old son says the same prayer every night before he goes to bed: "Thank you, God, as this day ends, for my family and my friends. Taking time to sit and pray, thank you, God, for this great day." He learned it from a Christian DVD he used to watch every day, and it stuck.
On the one hand, it's exciting that my son is already getting into the practice of regular communication with God. On the other hand, the danger exists that prayer is already becoming "just words" to him—just something he says every night before he goes to bed.
That tension is at the heart of the Christian experience with prayer. It's a huge and holy thing, but also an everyday thing. And that means it's a great topic for this week's group discussion. Let's dig in.
This discussion question listed in the study material could really get things going: "Have you ever heard a miraculous story and questioned its credibility?" That's sure to get some people talking, but be sure as the leader to make sure the conversation stays positive.
If you don't want to risk group members beginning to bash other people, you might want to just stick with a good icebreaker. (We recommended a couple in the recent Dot Com(unity) newsletter.)
I'm a big fan of all three teaching points this week, and I can't think of one that seems more important than the others. As you go through this study, what area do you think your group will be most interested in: prayer advancing God's glory, hearing God's voice, or testing what we hear?
July 23, 2009
Write a quick caption for this photo and you could win a free SmallGroups.com membership.
If you noticed that blog updates were a little light last week, that's because I was on vacation with my family in St. Augustine, Floriday. And as you can see, we paid a visit to the local Alligator Farm.
Yes, that's really me with a 14-foot gator named Goose—no Photoshop editing or dubious enhancements. And this photo presents you with an opportunity to win a free membership to SmallGroups.com.
All you have to do is think of a caption to go with the picture. It can be funny, sublime, snarky, deep, or pensive—whatever floats your particular boat. Just post the caption as a comment below, and in two weeks my crack team will vote to determine a winner.
July 20, 2009
A plan for a whole year and beyond
Ever caught yourself in that dilemma where your group members are looking at each other and asking, "What is our group going to do next?" Truthfully, I get a little embarrassed when my group gets into that situation. I feel like, as a leader, I should have done a better job helping my group chart a course based on members' growth and our mission. But sometimes I have to admit that I just don't know what we should do next. For that reason, it's nice to have something to fall back on that I don't have to figure out ahead of time.
I recently looked at a resource that I think will be helpful. It's called Adult Edification Topics for Small Groups. Each notebook contains 52 relevant small-group agendas on a variety of topics, and material to conduct an entire small-group meeting. Also included with every session are: icebreakers, Scripture references, some leader teaching helps and discussion questions, as well as a tool to help review your group's unique vision, goals, and guidelines. The printed notebook also comes with a CD that contains a digital version of the printed notebook so you can get on your computer and tweak or modify each group session to fit your needs and then print it out.
The lesson/scripture topics vary, but are designed to give you a broad and balanced approach to spiritual growth over the course of a year. So, if your group meets every week, the notebook contains a year's worth of small group agendas that's part of an overall coordinated plan for your group's growth. And, if you get all the way through the first year's worth of topics, there are currently 9 volumes of notebooks available. That's 9 years worth of small group agendas already laid out and ready to go!
I will tell you there is nothing fancy about this notebook. It's not packaged in a slick-looking cover and it doesn't have many extra bells and whistles, but the content is solid and it's been field tested in many groups. And besides, if you are so inclined, you can "pretty up" each agenda a bit on your computer and print a copy out for your group.
The current price of $50 per notebook, at first, seemed a little steep to me. But when I considered I'm getting a year's worth of small-group agendas for my whole group, it is a bargain compared to buying a year's worth of six-week study guides.
July 19, 2009
Explore the cause and effects of this heavy topic.
Do you understand what I mean when I say that "guilt" is a heavy word? It's kind of like sin—it can just weigh down a conversation. So, as a small-group leader, it can be a bit daunting to say you are going to lead an entire group discussion on the subject of guilt.
Fortunately, there are a couple weighs to lighten things up a bit.
The biggest thing I would recommend for this week's group session is that you intentionally have some fun up front. Use an icebreaker that gets people talking or moving—something that has a high probability of producing some laughs. (I've listed two of them in this week's newsletter, so be sure to check that out.)
Then, be open about the topic of your discussion this week. Say something like, "I wanted to help us have a little fun at the beginning of our gathering tonight because our discussion is going to focus on a topic that can be kind of heavy for many people." Then move on into the lesson.
I think the question posed in Teaching Point One is a great place for your group to camp out for a while: Why do we feel guilty? What causes our guilt, and what maintains it?
After letting people talk for a little while, you could then steer the conversation toward Scripture by asking what the Bible has to say about our guilt. Have people look for specific verses that address the topic. Then, if no one else mentions it, move into the Hebrews passage discussed in this week's study material.
The second and third teaching points deal with the idea of forgetting our sin—does God really forget, and should we? I think the Philip Yancey quote near the end of the study has a lot of potential for discussion: "What is forgotten can never be healed." Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
I'll admit that I'm a bit stumped when it comes to teachable moments from this week's material. Certainly the Holy Spirit can move whenever he likes, but do you see any elements of the study that strike you as particularly powerful? Or after you go through the study, were there any questions or topics that really struck a chord with your group?
If so, please let us know!
July 10, 2009
A church’s goal to get groups into the world
As I described in my last blog post, our local church is re-purposing our Sunday worship and small group gatherings over the summer and taking "church to the people" through a series of missional activities.
The process of turning an individual, small group, or entire church from being internally focused to externally focused is a matter of changing values, casting vision, and doing lots of training.
As far as resources we've used in developing values, vision casting and training, here are a variety of things we have found helpful:
New Hope Oahu â€“ This church in Hawaii has been a great resource and inspiration for taking church to the people. See a clip from pastor Wayne Cordeiro recent conference below:
Shapevine - A gathering place of missional (church to the people) resources including online training, networking, and resources. We've cherry picked several different helpful resources from this site.
Irresistible Evangelism â€“ This is a training course built around a relational evangelism strategy. We brought in the folks from Equipping Ministries International to do this training for us as a retreat-style experience. "Irresistible Evangelism" progresses through 4 active processes:
1) Active Kindness: show the message, don't tell the message.
2) Active Friendship: listen and learn, not turn or burn.
3) Active Wondering: dialogue, not monologue. Questions, not answers.
4) Active Sharing: Persist, not insist. Be available and involved.
All these resources (and more) have been helpful, although we have found that missional resources will fall short unless the lifestyle of "church to the people" is continually modeled. If we can begin with the end in mind, then we can establish the culture of our small groups and the church as a whole that emphasizes: being the church rather than going to church, serving people with no strings attached, being a friend who listen and learns and cares about others, engaging people in wondering questions about their life and spiritual story, and honestly sharing our life and God-stories with one another.
July 9, 2009
It's time for your group to talk about letting go.
What images come to mind when you think about forgiveness? I mentioned in the newsletter that I think of water rolling off a duck's back. Others might think of releasing a heavy burden, or of erasing something from a blackboard.
But what about you? What image captures your views and emotions in relation to forgiveness? I would love to hear some creative thoughts, and I could even post some other images if you sent them my way.
I actually used this idea as an icebreaker for a group discussion/devotional here at work. But instead of asking people to verbalize their images, I gave everyone a paper towel and asked them to "sculpt" their thoughts by tearing, folding, or even crumpling. And the exercise turned out pretty well, believe it or not!
Let's dive into the material for this week.
Talk Is Good
Dealing with a potentially sensitive subject like forgiveness, it's usually good to get people talking and interacting right from the beginning—and it's especially good if everyone can have a little fun. That's why an icebreaker like the one described above would be a good start to this week's lesson.
The study material contains three additional options for an opening activity. I like "Ad Campaign" the best, because it seems like it has a little more potential for fun. I also recommended Tough to Say in the newsletter.
There's an interesting doctrinal debate mentioned in Teaching Point One of the lesson material. Namely, is God's forgiveness of us contingent upon our forgiveness of other people? Some people view this as a very strong yes: if we don't forgive others, God actively refuses to forgive us. Others say that is limiting God, and that the emphasis is really on us: we should forgive other people because of how much God has forgiven us.
I'll admit that the Scripture verses relating to this topic are a little scary. Matthew 18:34-35 says, "In anger his master turned him [the unforgiving servant] over to the jailers, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
And Matthew 6:15 (right after the Lord's Prayer) says, "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
So I'd recommend you think on this topic a little bit before the night of your small group. Maybe check your church's doctrinal statement (if it's available online), or even call up your pastor for some thoughts.
If you've been reviewing these Dot Com(unity) posts each week, you know that I'm a big fan of teachable moments, and this week is no different. Simply put, there may be some lingering issues between members of your small group that require forgiveness. Or, there could be group members who have an issue with another person outside of the group. This is an opportunity for forgiveness to happen in both cases.
But here's what you do not want to say: "Is there anyone in this group that you need to forgive right now?" That can get pretty tricky if Sheila says, "I want to forgive Larry for what he said to me last week," if Larry has no idea what's going on—or doesn't believe that what he said requires forgiveness.
Instead, you should say, "Is there anyone here who needs to request forgiveness from another member of the group?" And then, "Is there anyone here who needs to request forgiveness from someone outside of the group?" Allow a few minutes of silence after each question.
If nobody responds, that's okay. And it's important not to attempting forcing anything. You are simply providing an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to nudge your group members towards a healthy decision regarding forgiveness.
July 7, 2009
What to do about four common distractions
Small group meetings are notorious for disruption. The most prominent disruptions occur when someone chases the rabbit, cracks a joke, breaks down in tears, or a child escapes the clutches of the babysitter and demands a tete-a-tete with mommy or daddy.
Interruptions of this nature can flabbergast, anger, even cause a small-group leader to believe the evening was a bust. But almost any disruption either unveils important information about an individual the group leader is shepherding or opens the door for a special group life moment.
Here are the four most common disruptions and how to either interpret them and/or utilize them:
The Rabbit Chase
The rabbit chase may be a group member's bridge to a present situation or debilitating past experience. It's your job as a leader to interpret, then respond. If you think the group member needs to delve into her/his personal journey, say something like, "I'm intrigued that our discussion is taking a turn in this direction. What were you thinking about when you started your comments?"
If you find it is simply a useless rabbit, hunt it down, blow it to bits, and dispose of it as quickly as possible.
The Joke Grenade
It may well be that the joke-cracker is uncomfortable with the conversation because the topic hits close to home. The joke is a deterrent keeping the person from dealing with the true emotions he/she is feeling. Laugh with everyone else, then respectfully ask the jokester a significant and serious question.
By the way, if the person is one of those people that hurls joke grenades into the middle of great discussions just for the fun of it, using this technique often is a great deterrant to that behavior. You'll find that, in time, they seldom interrupt the group meeting with what they believe to be "comic relief."
Tears flow from the heart, not they eye sockets. In almost every instance, tears reveal a personal issue to be dealt with, or show that God is at work in very special ways. Always make room for the Holy Spirit to do His work through the group when someone is emotional enough to weep.
The only exception is when you have a "crier"—someone whose tear ducts open wide and often without meaningful reason.
The Escaped Child
It is always awkward when someone's son or daughter runs into the room needing mom or dad. A smooth bridge from this disruption back into the conversation is vital. Say something like: "Sometimes the purest and simplest hearts are able to comprehend the most complex truths more easily than those of us who have been around a while. What do you think (the child's name) would say if they were part of our conversation right now?"
Remember: disruptions may be the avenue the Holy Spirit takes your group down so that life-change can take place.
July 6, 2009
For your group's sake, consider this seldom-considered practice.
This is a new experience for me when it comes to Dot Com(unity). As I've written posts for other weeks of study, I've been at least fairly confident in my grasp of and experience with the material.
But not this week. I have a grand total of one experience with confession/repentance in a small-group setting. That experience went well, but it was several years ago, and I have yet to build up enough courage to try again with a new group. This is one of those things where intellectually I know the practice of confession is beneficial to all Christians, and would be of help in my group. But practically I just can't think of a good way to bring it up!
Do I say, "Hey, tonight feels like a good night to confess some sins. Steve, would you like to start?" Or maybe, "I've been struggling with pride in the last week. Steve, what about you?"
So, if you've got a good idea on how to initiate the practice of confession in a small group, please do me a favor and let us know about. Please!
All that being said, here are a few observations that I do feel confident about concerning this week's study material:
Whining Spiritual Babies
That was one of the headlines from Frederica Matthewes-Greene's article, and it really caught my attention. So did this quote:
Weâ€™re confirmed in this expectation by a ceaseless stream of advertising messages. These messages tell us who we are: special, precious people with no faults, who deserve to feel better than we do. Ads tell us, "Your wife (boss, teenager, classmate) doesnâ€™t understand you, but we do. Here, buy this, and youâ€™ll feel better." Advertising invites us to be big babies—an invitation that fallen human nature has always found hard to resist.
Do you agree? Disagree? I think this would be a great discussion to have with your group, either as an icebreaker or in the middle of your teaching.
If you have a small group of committed Christians, chances are they really enjoy learning something new and deep about the Bible. Especially when they are given the chance to see a familiar Scripture passage and in a new way.
You have that opportunity in Teaching Point 2 of this week's study material. It focuses on Psalm 51, which David wrote after his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. The author of the study identifies this psalm as a "chiasm," and takes great pains to dissect the structure and motives behind David's words.
This is deep stuff, and I am betting your group will love it. Whether you teach this yourself or allow your group to work through the written material, be sure to camp out on this section for a good period of time.
And don't forget to let us know how it goes...