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January 29, 2010

Video of the Week: John Piper

John Piper pleads for his church members to experience small groups.

Got a little behind yesterday, so I'll post this now. "Friday Flashback" to come this afternoon.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 7:43 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

January 27, 2010

SmallGroups.com Sweepstakes -- Official Rules

Read 'em if you want to.

Warning: The following post contains legalese and jargon. Continue reading at your own risk. Click here to see the Contest Page.

SmallGroups.com Digizine iPad Giveaway
Sweepstakes Official Rules

THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS INTENDED FOR RESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES ONLY (EXCLUDING PUERTO RICO) WHO ARE LOCATED IN THE UNITED STATES (EXCEPT PUERTO RICO) AT TIME OF ENTRY.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE DOES NOT IMPROVE YOUR CHANCE OF WINNING. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.

  1. Sponsors: This Sweepstakes is sponsored by SmallGroups.com, a web service of Christianity Today International, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188. (“Sponsor").
  2. Eligibility: Entrant must be at least eighteen (18) years of age as of August 1, 2010, and a legal resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia. Employees of Sponsors, the Sponsors' parents, subsidiaries, affiliated companies, and agents and the immediate family (defined as parents, spouse, children, siblings, grandparents) and household members of each such employee are NOT eligible. Subject to all United States federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Void in Puerto Rico and where prohibited or restricted by law.
  3. Timing: The Sweepstakes begins at 8:00 am Central Time on August 1, 2010, and ends at 5:00 pm Central Time on August 31, 2010 (the “Sweepstakes Period”). Entries received prior to or after the Sweepstakes Period will be disqualified.
  4. Agreement to Official Rules: Participation in the Sweepstakes constitutes entrant's full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules. Winning a prize is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.

  5. How to Enter: There are four separate ways to enter to win an iPad through this sweepstakes.
    a. Become a fan of the SmallGroups.com Facebook Page.
    b. Follow SmallGroupscom on Twitter and use the hashtag #SGDigizine to re-tweet one of our posts (limit one entry per day).
    c. Mention/review a SmallGroups.com article or download on your personal or church blog, then post the link in the Comments section below. (Note: you've got to post a comment below with a link to your blog, or we'll never find it.) Again, this is limited to one entry per day.
    d. Click here to sign up for the SmallGroups.com newsletter. (Every person that signs up for the newsletter during the month of August will automatically be entered to win.)

  6. Drawing: On or about September 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm Central Time, Sponsors will select one (1) Potential Winner in a random drawing from among all entries. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries. Decisions of Sponsors are final and binding.

  7. Notification of Potential Winner: Entrant who is notified that his/her entry was selected in the random drawing is a Potential Winner. Potential Winner is not a winner until he/she has returned all required documentation and his/her eligibility has been verified by Sponsors. Potential Winner must comply with all terms and conditions of these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements. Potential Winner will be notified by e-mail, Direct Message on Twitter, or Facebook, depending on how the winning entry was submitted. ("Prize Notification") on or about September 1, 2010. If a Potential Winner cannot be contacted within ten (10) days after the first attempt to contact him/her, an alternate entrant will be selected in his/her place at random from among all entries received. Except where prohibited, the Potential Winner or, if the Potential Winner is a minor, his/her parent or guardian, may be required to sign and return to Sponsors, within fourteen (14) days of being notified, an affidavit of eligibility and liability release (collectively, the "Release") in order to claim his/her prize. If the Potential Winner (or his/her parent or guardian) fails to sign and return the Release within the required time period, an alternate entrant will be selected in his/her place at random from among all entries received. Return of any Prize Notification or Release will result in disqualification and selection of an alternate winner. All entries become the property of Sponsors and will not be returned.

  8. Prizes and Tax Information: One (1) Winner will receive the 16GB iPad http://www.apple.com/ipad/. Approximate retail value is $499.00. No substitution, transfer or assignment of prize permitted, except at Sponsors' sole discretion. All applicable taxes on a prize are the sole responsibility of the winner or winner's parent or legal guardian.
    Other prizes include:
    --First Prize: Five entrants will receive a one-year Church Membership to SmallGroups.com. (Any winners that are already SmallGroups.com members will have their subscriptions extended by one year).
    --Second Prize: Ten entrants will receive a one-year subscription to their choice of Christianity Today magazine, Books and Culture, or Leadership Journal.
    --Third Prize: Twenty entrants will receive a free downloadable Training Pack or Bible Study from SmallGroups.com or BuildingChurchLeaders.com.
  9. >
  10. Use of Entrant's Contact Information: Any contact information collected from Sweepstakes Entrants will be used by Sponsors only for the purpose of Prize Notification to Potential Winners and delivery of any prize. This information will not be shared with a third party for any reason.

  11. Miscellaneous: In the event of a dispute, entries made by Internet will be deemed made by the authorized account holder of the e-mail address submitted at the time of entry. The "authorized account holder" is deemed the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet access provider, service provider or other online organization that is responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address. A potential winner may be requested to provide Sponsors with proof that the potential winner is the authorized account holder of the e-mail address associated with the winning entry. If, in Sponsors' sole opinion, there is any suspected or actual evidence of electronic or non-electronic tampering with any portion of this Sweepstakes, any violation of these Official Rules, or if technical difficulties compromise the integrity of the Sweepstakes, Sponsors reserve the right to modify, suspend, or terminate the Sweepstakes and conduct a random drawing to award the prizes or none of them, using all entries received as of the End Date. Any attempt to damage the content or operation of this Sweepstakes may be unlawful and subject to legal action by Sponsors or its agents. Failure to enforce any provision of these Official Rules shall not be deemed a waiver of that, or any other, provision.

  12. Release: By participation in the Sweepstakes and receipt of a prize, winner agrees to release and hold harmless Sponsors and their respective officers, directors, employees and agents from and against any cause of action, claims, demands, damages, losses or liabilities of any nature whatsoever including, but not limited to, any harm or loss of any nature whatsoever, caused by, contributed to, arising out of or related to participation in the Sweepstakes, the winning or receipt or use of any prize and each winner, or each winner's parent and/or legal guardian, assumes all liabilities for the same.

  13. Limitations of Liability: Sponsors are not responsible for any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by entrants, printing errors or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Sweepstakes or by any technical or human error which may occur in the processing of submissions in the Sweepstakes. Sponsors do not assume responsibility for any error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or transmission, communications line failure, theft or destruction or unauthorized access to, or alteration of, entries. Sponsors are not responsible for any problems or technical malfunction of any telephone network or lines, computer on-line-systems, servers or providers, computer equipment, software or failure of email on account of technical problems or traffic congestion on the Internet or at any website or combination thereof, including injury or damage to entrant's or to any other person's computer related to or resulting from participating in the Sweepstakes.

  14. Winners List: For notification of the giveaway winner, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188 with Attn: SmallGroups.com Digizine/iPad Giveaway, between September 1, 2010, and September 30, 2010. Vermont residents may omit return postage.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 2:46 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

January 26, 2010

Question of the Week: Do Something (part 2)

What's stopping us from taking action?

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All righty, today we're going to talk about a question I've been asking myself recently when it comes to ministry opportunities. And that question is related to the one we asked last week (hence the "part 2" in the title of this post): If you were given $1,000 and told to use that money to advance the Kingdom of God in some way, what would you do?

We had several good responses in the Comments section and on Twitter, including:


  • Approach a local fast food shop and try to turn that $1,000 into $2,600 worth of gift cards.

  • Pay a family's past-due bills.

  • Use the money to set up house gatherings where people could worship and learn together, plus pitch in to serve the community.

But Josh Hunt's comment cut to the heart of what I've been thinking through recently. He said: "An equally valid question is, lWhat are you going to do with the $20 that is in your wallet?'"

So that's the Question of the Week I want to throw in front of everyone today: What's stopping us?

There are any number of wonderful things that we as small-group communities could do with a large chunk of money. So what is preventing us from gathering up that chunk and doing something with it?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:28 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

January 25, 2010

Dot Com(unity) Week 3: Testing

God tests us in order to teach us.

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The Big Idea
The central idea behind this study is pretty clear: Jesus tests those who choose to follow Him as disciples.

That means you as a group leader don't have to worry about building the discussion toward a point of climax or revelation where everyone learns something new or exciting. You can just get it out of the way right at the beginning: "Tonight we're going to be talking about how Jesus tests those who choose to follow Him as disciples."

That also means you can get into the meat of the discussion from the very beginning. The study recommends that you ask this as a Discussion Starter: "When have you felt that you were being tested? Why did you feel that way?"

I would prefer to start with a different question: "In what ways are you being tested now as a follower of Jesus?" This is a powerful question, and it has the potential to get your group members talking about their lives in a meaningful way. In fact, if you spent the whole gathering working through this one question, I think that would be more than profitable.

Although I would like to add at least one more question before things finished up: "If you are not being tested right now, and you are following Jesus, what does that mean?"

Teaching Points
First of all, the Teaching Points in this study are sequential, meaning they build off each other. So you won't want to pick and choose what to focus on (as I have recommended for other studies). That being said, Ortberg is a great communicator, and each of his three points comes across very clearly and can be worked through in a group discussion without a lot of complexity.

Still, you will want to pick and choose from among the individual discussion questions. If you try to get through all of them, you will run out of time and the discussion will seem very rushed. So select the questions that are the best fit for your group members based on what will be most interesting to them and what they may already know.

For example, I like the question in Teaching Point Two that says, "How can we show God's love to the following groups?" I would focus on that for a little bit.

Icebreaker and Activities
Here are some icebreakers and other activities from SmallGroups.com that would fit well with this particular lesson:

A Real "Ice" Breaker
Use this object lesson to remind group members they don't have to hold onto their pain.
By Linda McCullough-Moore

Facing Adversity
How do you respond when facing a difficult situation?
By Tami Rudkin

Time to Stretch
Use a rubber band to help group members talk about what stretches them.
By Tami Rudkin

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:35 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

January 21, 2010

LiveBooking! Taking a Look at Torah

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus has been found!

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Okay, I have finally found my copy of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus! So now we can resume LiveBooking, and I do apologize for the delay.

Today we're going to take a look at chapter 10, which is titled "Touching the Rabbi's Fringe."

The Purpose of Torah
I enjoyed this chapter a lot because it addresses a question that a lot of Christians wrestle with during their faith journeys—including me. And that question is, "Why are there so many rules and regulations?" If that rankles you as an Evangelical Protestant, please accept my apologies. But there is no denying that the Bible (both the Old and New Testament) is filled with commands, instructions, regulations, and suggestions.

So, why?

According to Spangler and Tverberg, those rules and regulations have always been part of God's plan to teach us and help us move closer to Him. They write:

Perhaps the best way to understand the Torah is to see it as something more than an inflexible set of laws. Similar to an archer aiming an arrow toward a target, the Torah offers guidance for how God wants us to live. God began by leading his people out of Egypt physically. Then he led them away from Egypt morally. The Bible speaks about "the path of righteousness" or "the path of life," bidding us to follow God's "way." And it is no coincidence that the early Christians also spoke of their own faith as "the Way."

In this view, the rules and restrictions found in the Bible serve as boundaries and guidelines along this "path of righteousness." They show us where to go.

I really liked this example from the chapter: "If anything, this 'go slow' approach shows God's patience and grace. If a violent felon who was also an inveterate liar were to become a believer, perhaps God would begin by getting him to stop behaving violently. Weeks or months later he might say, 'Okay, now it's time to work on the lying.' Do we show that same patience with others?"

Your Group
The chapter ends with several good suggestions and principles for how the movement of the Torah still influences Christians today, but I won't do the authors a disservice by listing them all.

What I will do is conclude with a few questions:


  1. Does your small group address the reality that the Bible does outline quite a few guidelines and restrictions for those who follow it?

  2. As a community of believers trying to follow "the path of righteousness," do your group members feel comfortable being accountable to one another?

  3. How should modern Christians approach the commands and restrictions given in the Torah? What can we learn from them?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:44 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

January 19, 2010

Question of the Week: Doing Something

Let's talk about advancing the Kingdom of God.

Cash.jpg

The Question of the Week is the same question I asked my small group last night:

If you were given $1,000 and told to use that money to advance the Kingdom of God in some way, what would you do?

I'm really curious to see your answers, so please post in the Comments section below. I'll excerpt several of your answers for Part 2 of this post, which will be coming soon.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 2:42 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

January 18, 2010

Dot Com(unity) Week 2: Grow in Faith

Faith can be a terrifying choice, but it brings big rewards.

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Just a reminder, we're on week 2 of our Dot Com(unity) co-learning experience studying John Ortberg on Understanding God. If you don't know what Dot Com(unity) is, click here.

Okay, let's get to it.

The Big Idea
Okay, after reading through the study, here's my take on the Big Idea that Ortberg is working to get across through the three teaching points: Faith is hard, but the results are worth it. (What do you think? Agree with that assessment? Disagree?)

As you read through the study, try to think about which of the three teaching points would be most applicable to your group members. That's the one you should probably focus your energy on in preparation, and that's the idea you should try to spend most of your time on during the actual study.

For me and my group, that would be Teaching Point Two: "Faith means choosing to follow Jesus." I have always thought that Peter gets a bum wrap from the whole walking-on-water story, and I love the way Ortberg approaches his decision as a "successful failure," for lack of a better term. This is where I would spend the bulk of my time with my group.

And just for fun, here are a few thoughts regarding the other teaching points:


  • If your group members will not be reading the study material on their own, you might have some success summarizing Orberg's story about the hot-air balloon. Especially the quotes about the pilot. And the story does make a good transition into a discussion about faith.

  • The last question in teaching point two has the potential to get your group members opening up about sin areas.

  • I wouldn't recommend re-reading the story at the beginning of teaching point three. That's a long one.

  • I really like the Optional Activity at the end of the study. That would be a great exercise for any group, I think.


Icebreakers and Activities
Here are a couple Icebreakers and other activities from SmallGroups.com that would fit well into this discussion:

A Seed of Faith
Briefly describe someone who planted a seed of faith in your life, and how it happened.

I Will Follow You
This is a responsive reading about the heroes of faith in the Bible. It could make a nice worship experience for your group.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:45 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

January 15, 2010

Friday Flashback: BBQ, Cole Slaw, and the Difference Between Right and Wrong

A good lesson from a horrible side dish

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Whenever I order a barbeque sandwich in North Carolina, I'm asked if I want cole slaw on it. The first time this was asked of me, I was a little grossed out. "Do people really like that?!" I asked. The response was, "Sure Howerton, a lot of people prefer cole slaw on their barbeque sandwich. It's a North Carolina thing."

I thought to myself, That's just wrong!

But it's not wrong to slap one of the most despised conglomerations on the planet on a sandwich—it's just a preference. These confused connoisseurs of fine cuisine probably grew up eating their sandwiches covered with cole slaw. So they prefer it with the stuff, rather than without it. The practice may make me cringe when they eat it in my presence, but there's nothing wrong with them having it.

In a similar way, there are a lot of things that cause some followers of Jesus to cringe—things that are simply preferences, not things that are wrong. These preferences have been established in many ways:

• Families instill customs
• Denominations create different sets of belief
• Peers can steer people a certain way
• A person's history may cause them to think differently.

Small-group leader and small-group member: be careful that you don't question a fellow follower of Jesus when they involve themselves in various activities. That is, unless the Bible specifically points out the wrongness of those activities.

Labeling preference as "wrong" or "right" damages us. It ties, gags, and jails those who have journeyed to the source of freedom. If you feel you have a weakness in this area, read Romans 14 to get a grip on God's view of "preference" and "wrong."

And by the way—I have recently learned to relish cole slaw on my barbeque sandwiches!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:44 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

January 13, 2010

LiveBooking?

No post this week because of, um, technical difficulties...

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For those of you who have been waiting for the "LiveBooking" coverage of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus this week, I'll have to apologize. I took the book home over the holiday so I could keep reading it consistently, and then—it got a little lost. I'm guessing that my young son "filed" it somewhere (he loves putting things in drawers), and I have yet to come across it.

But, I know the book is in the house, and so I have full confidence that our LiveBooking tour will continue next week. Thanks for your patience!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:26 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

January 12, 2010

Question of the Week: Cell Groups and Small Groups

Is there really a difference between different ways of "doing" small groups?

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We created a bit of buzz on Twitter today with our recent Q & A column, so I figured I would try to transfer that energy to the blog with our newest Question of the Week: What is the difference between a small group and a cell group?

Here's a little background to get started. Randall Neighbour is the newest Q & A expert on SmallGroups.com, and this week we posted the first question he answered for us, which was the same one I asked above. Click here to see his response, which does not pull any punches (and that is pretty consistent with Randall's character, if you've read his blog).

I "tweeted" a little blurb about Randall's article on Twitter, and pretty soon afterward I saw an email about a response from Mark Howell, which you can see here. If you don't know Mark, he spends the better part of his days teaching churches the value of small groups and training leaders on maximizing their group ministries.

So, you can get some good information from the links above from men who have been involved with small groups for a long time. But I'm also curious about your opinions and ideas. So what you do think? Is there really a difference between the different methods of "doing" small groups—whether you call them small groups, cell groups, home groups, life groups, journey groups, or whatever. Or is it all semantics?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 4:37 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

January 11, 2010

Week 1: Partner with God

Sanctification involves a mysterious partnership with God.

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Hello to all of you, and welcome to our next session of Dot Com(unity)! We will spend the next five weeks exploring a great Bible study called John Ortberg on Understanding God, and I am excited to get started. So let's do just that.

As a quick review, we are studying this material together as leaders in order to get the best handle on it possible in order to teach it to our groups. This is a place where you can share great ideas regarding this material, ask questions, and get anything else you need from a community of people in your same situation.

And if you haven't got a copy of the Ortberg study yet, you can use the coupon code DotComOrtberg to receive a 50 percent discount.

The Big Question
One of the things I like about John Ortberg as a teacher is that he keeps things very focused, and this study is no different. He asks a Big Question right off the bat: "Whose job is spiritual growth?" And we'll spend the rest of the study finding an answer.

(As an aside, I would recommend asking this question of your group before you get into any of the teaching points. Get their opinions and let them talk about it before you all see what Scripture has to say.)

There are a lot of Teaching Points in this study, and it's unlikely that your group will be able to get through all of them. So you will need to set priorities ahead of time on which material will be most helpful to your group members. Here are a couple recommendations from me:


  • If your group members came to a consensus at the beginning of the study that God and us both have a stake in our spiritual growth, than you can probably skip the first Teaching Point.

  • The second Teaching Point ("Spiritual formation is normative, not optional") would be an important point for new Christians to understand. It also contains an optional activity.

  • The fourth Teaching Point ("Sanctification is empowered by God, not man") provides a great opportunity for confession.


The study ends with the following Action Point: "If you feel comfortable, ask those in your small group what they see in you that needs to change. Discuss the spiritual practices that are especially important for your growth and ask for prayer in the areas they mentioned." Obviously, this has the potential to be a transformational moment for your group, but only if you as the group leader have thick skin and are willing to hear what your group has to say. So tread carefully, and if you're not comfortable with the idea, don't do it.

Icebreakers and Activities
Here are a couple extra activities from SmallGroups.com that would fit well with this study:

Growing Up
Group members discuss how they've changed since junior high

Extreme MakeoverWhat part of your life needs a radical change?

A Recipe for Living
Here's a creative way to develop a plan for spiritual growth.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:25 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

January 5, 2010

Dot Com(unity) starts January 11

We're back after a week's delay.

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Okay, I had a bit of an emergency vacation over the week after Christmas, and so I've had to push the start of Dot Com(unity) back another week. So we'll be starting on Monday, January 11. If you had planned on using the John Ortberg study this week with your group, I do apologize for the delay. As a stop-gap solution, you may want to consider a single-session study from our sister website ChristianBibleStudies.com.

As a reminder, we will be studying John Ortberg on Understanding God. This will be a great resource for your group, and you can access it for a 50 percent discount when you use the coupon code DotComOrtberg.

If you're not familiar with Dot Com(unity), you can get a good education on what it is and how it works by looking at our original explanation from last year. Basically, the idea is to get several small groups from around the country studying the same material at the same time. Then, we provide a place on our blog for the leaders of those groups to come together and share their insights, questions, comments, and suggestions.

In other words, Dot Com(unity) is a place where small-group leaders can collaboratively engage a topic of study in order to provide the best environment for the spiritual formation of their group members. Pretty cool, huh?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:51 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)