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February 26, 2010

Poor Meeting Agendas

Why people don't like meetings (and maybe small groups!)

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I have sat through countless meetings: church board meetings, committee meetings, work-place meetings, and civic organization meetings. Most of these meetings had one thing in common—agendas or lack there of. Agendas are those lists of topics, activities, ideas, or information that needed to be known, talked about, approved, disapproved, or tabled for later discussion.

I mostly don’t look forward to meetings because many meetings seem to easily get off track, involve the wrong people, or misuse people’s time. Apparently, I’m not alone. In an MSNBC article about work-place meetings this dilemma shows itself to be common in most meetings. Here’s a quote from this article about a typical staff meeting: “First, around 25 people attend, of which about half are (the bosses); the rest are the support staff, who don't all need to be there. Second, there's no agenda or specific purpose. Instead, the facilitator asks everyone what they've done throughout the week. The ‘bosses’ dominate the meeting, competing about who worked harder. Finally, the meeting tends to go over its allotted time.”

That’s pretty typical of church meetings also in my experience.

In a past blog entry, I talked about how decisions made during meetings are also prone to problems. I don’t know about you, but I can get to the point where I could be convinced that meetings don’t serve a very productive purpose much of the time.

However, being a small group guy, I always had the tendency to think small groups aren’t nearly as susceptible to all these types of problems. Since groups aren’t committees, and we don’t have to obey “Robert’s Rules of Order,” small groups can cut through to the heart issues the group faces.

Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple. Small groups are, in fact, susceptible to the same problems that plague any smaller group of people who are gathered for an intentional purpose. Regardless if you call it a small group, a committee, a board meeting or whatever, the gathering can waste people’s time and not help anyone grow or move forward with mission and purpose. So, what do we do? Not have any smaller gatherings of people?

No, we are called to practice Biblical community and that involves smaller relational groups of people. So, to move forward together we definitely need to give the purpose of our gathering some serious thought when planning the group agenda. Discussion needs to be facilitated with skill to avoid some dominating while others are silent. Obedience, good decision making, action and passion will not be produced unless a sense of community and mission is developed in the group both during the gathering and in-between the gatherings. Finally, this all reinforces the importance of a trained leader or facilitator, particularly one who is relying on the Master Leader (Jesus) to guide the group process.

So, my question to you is how is the agenda process going in your small group? And, could your agendas be improved in some of the other smaller “meetings” that are happening around your church. What have you done that’s been helpful?

posted by Dan Lentz at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

February 12, 2010

Friday Flashback: Bad Apple Effect

Your group may be more susceptible to it than you think

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You have heard it said, "One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel." There was an interesting study recently published by the University of Washington in the journal "Research in Organizational Behavior." Here’s a quote from the study: "One 'bad apple' can spread negative behavior like a virus to bring down officemates or destroy a good team. Negative behavior outweighs positive behavior, so a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, but one or two good workers can't 'unspoil' it. Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly." That comes from co-author Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization.

The study defines negative workers as those who do not do their fair share of the work, are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or bully or attack others. The same "bad apple" effect can also have a significant impact a small group or church. Of course, the Lord knew about the dangers of the "bad apple" effect inside the church long before research confirmed it.

The New Testament gives strong guidelines on dealing with divisive believers. But before a divisive bad apple emerges, a trail of seemingly smaller sins and offenses typically precedes it.
Matthew 18:15-17 describes a process for dealing with sin and offense, first at the immediate relational level, and then involving an increasing scope of people and leadership as necessary. According to the progression of events, the first place bad apple behavior should be dealt with and resolved is in the personal relationships where the offense happened in the first place. This can stop the "bad apple effect" before it even gets started.

The importance of working hard to resolve the offense early is critical because the more people who need to become involved to resolve the issue, the more potential there is for side-taking divisive behavior.

A few years ago, SmallGroups.com surveyed group leaders and found that 22 percent of them had a situation with a relational offense in their group "right now." So, from this information, we might assume that at any given time, 1 in 5 groups may have a relational offense situation ongoing. That means the likelihood of your group facing just such a situation is pretty high. I pray these situations are being resolved with truth and grace so that group members do not develop bitter roots and become potentially divisive to the small group or the broader church.

Small-group relationships are the first place that potential bad apples can be kept healthy and free from relational decay. The question is: How well are our groups doing at working through these situations in a biblical manner, so as to avoid the “bad apple effect”? That’s a question I don’t have a good answer to, but I think it’s worth evaluating in your group. Otherwise, a bad apple can spoil your small group -- and even an entire congregation.

posted by Dan Lentz at 12:54 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

February 11, 2010

Video of the Week: Did You Know?

How much do you know about the world around you?

This is a pretty crazy video, but I figure there's got to be a way to use it as an icebreaker or learning activity. Right?

Any ideas?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 6:53 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

February 10, 2010

Catch the Conversation: Why Small Groups Don't Work

You've got a chance to explore and respond to an interesting article series by Geoff Surratt.

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I just wanted to let everyone know that there is a very interesting conversation happening on Geoff Surratt's blog this week. The subject under discussion is: Why Small Groups Don't Work.

Geoff's overall argument seems to be that: 1) He is a big fan of small groups, and 2) He is havign some doubts about the way small groups have been running in his church (and the rest of America, by extension) for the past several years. Geoff has posted three entries on the topic so far this week, and he has promised a couple more items for Thursday and Friday. I've added some comments with my own opinions, and there is an overall interesting discussion going on.

Oh, and if you're not familiar with Geoff Surratt, he is the Pastor of Ministries at SeaCoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina. SeaCoast has been a pioneer in the multi-site movement and several other projects along the cutting edge of ministry.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:50 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

February 9, 2010

Words, Triggers, and Trampolines

If you use words that trigger genuine emotions and honest comments you, need to be able to bounce back.

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I tweeted nine words: "Silent small-group members are conversational parasites devouring synergy."

That triggered genuine emotions, which triggered honest words:
I think it's easy in our church culture of "small groups being the end-all be-all" to place the Group above the Individuals in the group. Even as much as some churches focus on small groups, it's even more important to see the individuals for what they are; not as just parts of a group. It reminds me of what Amy Grant said about her marriage to Gary Chapman years ago: "God did not create individuals for marriage; but marriage for individuals." I think, in the same way, God created the church body for people; he did not create people just to have a Church body.

I hope this comes from a poster and not from your head or heart, and still I wonder why you would post it as yours without comment on it's ungodliness.

"Rick, I've been thinking about your conversation all day, regarding "parasites" in small group. And I thought, "Well, what else would an obstinate person contribute to a group relationship?" Would they really be parasitical to a group? So I wikipediaed "symbiotic" relationships to research the other ecological types of relationships other than parasitical. Out of all the options, I think parasites best describes the obstinate group member. "A parasitic relationship is one in which one member of the association benefits while the other is harmed."

These came flooding in like a tsunami on Twitter and Facebook.

These were just a few of the comments. Obviously, my nine words triggered a plethora of wonderful opinions and emotions. (Evidently it's not wise to infer that people are parasites.) This can happen during a small-group meeting or in any conversation. When it does, you need to bounce back.

How to bounce back
Apologize for the terminology you used, tell the group what you were trying to say, then reword your statement. Realize this: It may take some people a while to get over it, some will wonder why you said anything at all, some will tell you you didn't need to apologize, some will sulk with a brazen stare, and others will remind you of our mishap often.

But the bottom line is that once you've apologized, you've done all you can do. If you let this rest in your heart it will make you a less effective leader.

What are some other ways to diffuse tension in a room when you've created it?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 6:08 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

February 8, 2010

Dot Com(unity) Week Five: Stand with Christ

Christ is with us even in our worst trials.

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When you're studying a well-known story from the Bible, it can be hard to break through the connections and lessons that your group members were originally taught about it. With the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, for example, the lesson of the story almost always focuses on the importance of resisting idolatry.

But if we take the time to dig a bit deeper, we can see another element of the story that is truly wonderful: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had their most vivid encounter with God during their most difficult trial.

And that's the subject of John Ortberg's study for this week.

Teaching Points
The first teaching point focuses on the idea that "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego chose death over worshipping idols," which is the usual focus for this passage. If you're group has not explored the idea of idolatry before, or if they seem interested in the discussion questions as you start out, by all means pursue this route for a while.

But if you're getting a "been there, done that" vibe, feel free to spend most of your time in the second teaching point: "God delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, not from it." That, I think, is more of a new thought when it comes to this Scripture passage, and every bit as powerful.

I also like the Optional Activity in this section.

Other Activities
Here are a few more icebreakes and other activities from SmallGroups.com that could work well with this study:

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

Stones of Worship
An object lesson that reminds us to focus on the character of God to strengthen our faith when we have trials or temptations

posted by Sam O'Neal at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

February 6, 2010

Doing Church as a Team - part 2

Continued thoughts from the conference in Hawaii

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At the final evening session, Wayne Cordeiro spoke on the very relevant topic of “Doing Ministry While Facing Relational Tension.” Small group relationships and ministry relationships in general are a difficult balancing act of giving grace while expecting progress and growth. Doing ministry together in the midst of relational offenses can be challenging and limit ministry effectiveness. Wayne provided several helpful ideas to help deal with a relational offenses in groups:

  1. Remember that we ALL need forgiveness! All relational dynamics with God and with man hinge on forgiveness. Don’t look at another’s need for forgiveness without looking at your own need for forgiveness.
  2. God’s workings in and around us are related to the health of our relationships. Jesus could do no great miracles in His hometown because of the relational dysfunction among His family and friends (Mark 6:3-6). So, it is better to refuse to be offended and let it go, or if you can’t, resolve it quickly so we don’t hinder the Lord’s work.
  3. Our relational encounters are demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s activity. For that reason, when we greet and interact with one another, our greetings and conversations should be demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s love, joy, peace, patience, etc.

There are more great resources to explore from this conference. See more about the conference at www.enewhope.org

posted by Dan Lentz at 2:47 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

February 5, 2010

Doing Church as a Team

A special report from the DCAT 2010 conference in Hawaii

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I'm on "special" assignment this weekend as I have the privilege to attend DCAT 2010 in warm and wonderful Honolulu, Hawaii. DCAT stands for “Doing Church as a Team” and it is the annual conference sponsored by New Hope Christian Fellowship Oahu (recognized as one of the top 5 churches to watch in America).

I’ve been “watching” New Hope Oahu for a few years now, and today I had the opportunity to watch and hear Senior Pastor Wayne Cordeiro speak about “Passing the Baton.”

A little background first…New Hope’s “Doing Church as a Team” philosophy centers around a couple of key ideas:
-It is vital that we team up with the Lord in a daily devotional relationship with Him.
-And, ministry is done in teams through smaller reproducible groups where relationships are highly valued.

One of the group terms used around New Hope is “fractal.” Fractal is a math term that simply means making something infinitely reproducible. For instance look at any tree leaf and in various magnifications, and you see a network of veins and cells that mimic the entire leaf. The pattern is reproduced at the smallest as well as the largest levels.

A key to making the pattern reproducible (and groups reproducible) is effectively passing the baton. That brings us back to Wayne’s talk.

He noted there were two keys to making effective leadership and group multiplication sustainable.

The first—don’t loose the 2nd generation. It only takes the loss of one generation of leaders for the system to completely break down. Put your focus on the generation of leaders immediately under you.

The second—don’t wait too long to pass the baton. Obviously, this ties into the first idea, but the temptation is to work with the next generation of leaders, but wait too long to pull the trigger and let them lead. Wayne said it takes roughly 10 years to pass the heart of the baton and you rarely get the heart until you start leading. So pass early and keep working to develop the heart of the next generation.

More later…

posted by Dan Lentz at 1:48 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

February 4, 2010

Steve Jobs and Small Groups

Help build an iPhone App that would be helpful to small-group leaders.

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I do not own an iPhone and I am jealous of those that do—let's get that out of the way. But my wife and I did take the plunge a couple of years ago to purchase an iPod Touch, so I know what Apple means when they say "There's an app for that." (My favorite, and the only one I've actually paid for, is a creative little game called "Crayon Physics.")

But what about small-group leaders? Are there any applications out there that would support, encourage, equip, or otherwise benefit group leaders? I am not aware of any. (And if you are, please let us all know about it in the Comments section below.)

That's why I was intrigued when my friend Randall Neighbour told me he is looking into developing an iPhone App that would be specifically designed for small-group leaders. The only problem is that Randall is not exactly sure about what kind of app would be most helpful. In fact, he asked for my help in figuring that out.

So let's help! What kinds of problems or annoying situations do you frequently encounter as a small-group leader that could be solved through technology? Have you ever thought, I wish there was an app that could...? Is there an app that you really enjoy that could be tweaked or adapted to benefit group leaders?

You can add your thoughts to the conversation happening over at Randall's blog, The Naked Truth About Small-Groups Ministry, or you can post in the Comments section below.

By the way, if you're not familiar with Randall, he is an Editorial Advisor for SmallGroups.com (which automatically makes him a stand-up kind of guy). He is also the President of TOUCH Outreach Ministries, which is a great resource provider for churches and small groups. Check them out!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:41 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

February 3, 2010

Video of the Week: Francis Chan

A "crazy good" excerpt on taking risks in the Christian life

I thought this was a great example of experiential learning, even in the middle of a lecture. Yes, that can be done! :)

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:41 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

February 1, 2010

Dot Com(unity Week Four: Waiting on God

It's not fun, but it's a fundamental practice of our faith.

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The study material for this week correctly points out that nobody likes waiting. So let's get right to it for our this week's session of Dot Com(unity).

Getting Started
The opening section of this week's study contains a lot of valuable material. For example, if you've got some time on your hands, you could turn the mock "Waiting Quiz" into a pretty fun experience for your group.

And the Lewis Smedes quote is very, very cool: "Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light. We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a 'not yet' that feels like a 'not ever.'"

But I would especially take the time to cover the first two Discussion Questions: 1) What are you currently waiting for, or have waited for in the past? 2) What about that wait is (or was) difficult? This is a great way for your group members to share a little more of their stories, and even to open up about current struggles and challenges.

Teaching Points
Just a few observations on this week's Teaching Points:

  1. The "Tour of Waiting" that Ortberg goes through in the first paragraphs of Teaching Point One is very interesting, and would probably make a fruitful discussion session all by itself.

  2. Ditto for the "Three requirements to waiting on the Lord" at the beginning of Teaching Point Two.

  3. In other words, don't try to cover both of those items in one night.

Icebreakers and Activities
Here are some icebreakers and other activities from SmallGroups.com that will fit well with this study:

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

Happy Times
Each person reviews their lives in quarters

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)