March 29, 2010
Is just meeting together enough, or do we need the right kind of meetings?
I was reviewing some conference content from www.midsizegroups.com, which sponsors the Biannual ABF Conference. At one recent ABF Conference, church consultant Bob Gilliam spoke about his research that shows there is little correlation between the amount of spiritual growth (based on stages Jesus’ disciples went through) and the length of time a person has been attending church worship services.
His point was that if our “main” church activity is not producing changed disciples of Jesus Christ, then we better start putting more emphasis on activities that do produce changed lives. His encouragement to church leaders was to see mid-sized groups and small groups as both being integral to church health and spiritual growth. He defined mid-sized groups (ABF’s, Sunday Schools, Community Groups, etc.) as groups of less than 70 people, and small groups as less than 17 people.
An insight for churches significantly larger than 70-100 adults was to include opportunities for regular mid-size groupings with people of similar affinities (age, life-stage, geography, etc.). In their spiritual journey, people crave the close relational intimacy that small groups can provide, but they also desire to have an identity with a unified group of people that fellowship together regularly. In smaller churches, that affinity group may be the worship service itself (which is why some smaller churches don’t instinctively seem to want to grow beyond their existing affinity—they naturally feel comfortable in their current circle of fellowship).
In medium-sized to large churches, where large, diverse worship services exist, small groups are often seen as the missing component. But it may also be important to recognize that adding a strategy of affinity-based mid-size groups along with small groups (even diverse or intergenerational small groups) may also create a better overall environment for spiritual growth. All these grouping factors in concert with strong leadership and a clear vision seem to have impact on the amount of spiritual growth evidenced in churches.
I’m curious if anyone else has come to a similar conclusion in their situation??
March 26, 2010
One is good for groups, while the other is a community killer.
Networking and Neighboring are not the same.
Networking has my agenda in mind.
Neighboring has the agenda of the other person in mind.
Networking is motivated by getting something from someone.
Neighboring has the goal doing something for someone.
Networking stems from selfishness.
Neighboring flows from selflessness.
Networking is a business term.
Neighboring is a Jesus expression.
Someone you network with can become a neighbor and someone who is your neighbor can become part of your network.
The people you are being the church with should always be neighbors.
Small-Group Leader: guard your heart from turning your neighbors into another member of your network. You might get more work out of them, but in the process vast amounts of love, grace, and mercy will escape and you'll be left with a heart occupied by aloneness.
March 24, 2010
Developing life in the Spirit is a customized process.
Note: This is a preview of an article written by John Ortberg for Leadership Journal. It has very real application for small groups, so we encourage you to give the full article a read by clicking the link below.
A man I'll call Paul (because that's actually his name) told me he recently started going to church. In his mid-seventies, with no faith background, he woke up one morning with a sudden urge to hear the pope, and that launched him on a journey that led a few months later to a Presbyterian church and then to a commitment to follow Jesus. Every week he comes to church and marvels at all he gets to learn about prayer and worship and faith.
A man I'll call Ralph (not his real name) told me recently how he stopped going to church. I have known him for decades. He is a well-known pastor and speaker. He still believes in God. He meets with some like-minded friends on Sunday evening to talk and pray together. But he got burned out on the local church—it came to feel to him like a relentless drive for numbers and success and program and hype. He told me that the people in his little house group are long-time church people, most of them former church staff members.
Paul and Ralph exemplify a dynamic just beneath the surface in many churches. People who are new to the church often grow the quickest and appreciate it the most. But people who have been around a while, those who know the church best and have served the longest, often feel the least helped and the most used.
This was confirmed by the Reveal study. It found that at a certain point of spiritual development, increased involvement in church activities ceases to correlate to perceived spiritual growth.
So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore became a best-seller and launched a national conversation. David Kinnaman released a study from the Barna Group that found that most people believed spiritual growth consists of trying hard to follow the rules in the Bible, which meant that people said (not surprisingly) they don't grow because they lack motivation.
Those of us who work in churches do it because we believe in the power of God to change lives: "we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ" (Eph. 3:15).
When that does not happen, we begin to die a little, even if the church is increasing numerically. Of course, we can't make growth happen. But just as doctors do with children when their growth is stunted, we can look for the conditions that lead best to growth, and ask if they're present in our churches. I'm thinking a lot these days about why many churches aren't growth-nurturing communities. Often it's the wrong message, the wrong measure, and the wrong means.
March 22, 2010
Two problems that plague movements and small groups
I’m still processing through the information that came out of New Hope Fellowship’s DCAT Conference I attended last month. From a workshop with Wayne and Aaron Cordeiro, came this nugget:
There are two problems that continually plague and stall small groups:
Problem #1 - Losing the 2nd Generation
If done with the right Biblical community values and Spirit-empowered leadership, small groups can start off fast and energized. The problem then becomes failing to get the next generation, the next wave of leaders and group members to embrace the vision and values of the first generation.
More relational energy and time needs to be spent intentionally passing on the DNA of Biblical community to all the members of your small group. If you focus on perfecting the leadership of the current leaders, or you only focus on instilling DNA to your current and perhaps apprentice leaders, you will quickly lose the next generation. You must start emphasizing the right values and vision to all group members the first day they are in the group and never stop. (By the way, these same principles also apply to parenting as demonstrated by Wayne and Aaron Cordeiro who were father and son workshop presenters.)
Problem #2- Passing the Baton of Leadership off Too Late.
Current leadership needs to let the next people up lead earlier rather than later. Even once you hand off the tasks of leadership, it can take years to pass the heart of the baton. Meaning, it takes years for the heart and experience of leading to catch up with the tasks of leading.
That puts more urgency on getting the baton passed sooner rather than later. Even if you don’t think someone is quite ready to lead, start taking small steps to give them leadership experience—leading an ice breaker, leading a prayer time, following up on a member who was missing from a group gathering, etc.
Even if you occasionally experience dropped batons when passed early, the experience of failure can be a valuable learning tool in the hands of a loving and nurturing senior leader or coach.
March 15, 2010
The Basic Human Longings
I have been thinking about my own small group currently gathering on Wednesday evenings in our home. As I think about the core people in our group now, and the people we are trying to reach out to as well, I wonder: What do these folks really need? How can we best help people in their spiritual journey?
Stephen Ministries in St. Louis, has done a good bit of research into this question. Based on surveys and conversations with thousands of individuals, both inside and outside the church, four primary longings have been identified that people look to have fulfilled. In the context of churches/small groups, these four needs are:
- Spirituality -- helping people experience Jesus and His saving power in their lives
- Community -- helping people experience Jesus in one other, giving them the sense that they are connected to a “body,” a loving community, as well as to the Creator and Sustainer of all things
- Care -- helping people experience Jesus in their pain and suffering. When many people are most clearly in need of the gospel and most open to God’s presence and the healing, saving power of Jesus
- Service -- helping people experience meaning, purpose, and significance by participating in Jesus’ mission in the world and being involved in something that is not only bigger than themselves, but also life-transforming and enduring
These longings make sense Biblically, as well. How well a congregation or small group meets these four longings can be a significant indicator of its overall health and ability to be in mission with Jesus.
March 10, 2010
A very interesting video clip from the recent "Doing Church as a Team" conference
Here's a question that needs to be asked in light of this video (but more importantly, in light of what has been said through Scripture): How involved is the Holy Spirit in the development and sustenance of the relationships in your small group?
Note: This video was excerpted with permission from the Doing Church as a Team Conference, sponsored by New Hope Church in Oahu, Hawaii.
March 8, 2010
Is there a right way to get people into small groups?
Over time, I’ve been monitoring the discussion around whether it is better to have centralized placement of people in small groups, or have group leaders recruit their own group members. The other option is a hybrid model where people are placed in a medium-size group setting and then recruited into small groups (i.e. connection events, etc). Regardless, it’s interesting to consider the various strategies and their outcomes.
Several things have brought this issue to increased relevance in recent years. In particular, small-group campaigns and geographical strategies have caused us to evaluate small-group growth and outreach all over again.
As I think about the recent history of the small group movement, I believe that in the past, many small group ministries leaned toward a decentralized model of getting people into groups—where groups primarily recruited there own members. The result, particularly in growing churches, was that small groups’ numerical involvement could not keep pace with weekend worship growth. Having group members recruit their own, organically, just couldn't keep pace. Granted, small groups in these churches tended to be more stable and long-term, although many of these groups experienced growth stagnation because they lost the vision and mission to reach new people and to multiply new groups.
This stimulated a whole new movement toward small-group campaigns that could bring many people into groups over a very short time frame. To accomplish that, centralized group placement became much more important in order to achieve the goal of getting lots of people into groups fast. Also, several other group functions were centralized through the use of common curriculum,which lowered the requirements for group leadership.
The result has been that amazing numbers of small groups have been started. However, these groups tend to be more short-term, and churches find it difficult to maintain momentum and spiritual growth—particularly when the support structure for leaders doesn’t keep pace with the number of new group leaders.
Finally, we now see an emergence of geographical-based groups where drawing the geographical boundaries for group populations is a centralized function, and recruiting members out of a set geographical boundary tends to be more of a group function. The jury is still out on how this strategy is doing.
So, what is the best way to get people into small groups?! It depends on your situation. A lot of the strategies are driven by larger, growing churches—and those strategies don’t always transfer to smaller churches very well. I like what Don Cousins said about picking a strategy:
“We want our small groups to succeed. That is why we are so careful about the placement procedure. We believe disciples will not be made unless the leader wants to spend time with the group members. When leaders are allowed to choose their own members, they will do a better job, feel more positive about the experience, and be more motivated to serve again.”
Ultimately, regardless of the recruitment strategy, the success of our placement or recruitment is largely determined by the leaders heart and their connection to Jesus!
March 5, 2010
Try something new, if you dare!
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.
March 4, 2010
Reading through chapter 1 of The Cost of Discipleship
Today we'll look at Chapter 1 of The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonheoffer. As a reminder, you can get a free audio download of the book this month at ChristianAudio.com. The coupon code is MAR2010.
Cheap Grace, Costly Grace
One of my favorite themes from this book comes out right at the beginning—it's the idea of cheap grace versus costly grace. The first line of the book says, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church. We are fighting today for costly grace.".
Here's what Bonheofffer says about the first type of grace: "Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like Cheap Jack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands—without asking questions or fixing limits. It is grace without price; grace without cost."
Man, that hits home. I know that kind of grace fits very well with the type of casual Christianity that is prevalent in the church of our culture. But I wish it didn't also describe the way I so often try to wheedle my way into feeling spiritual or "close to God."
On the other side of the coin, here is how Bonheoffer describes costly grace: "Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field. For the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ, at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his son. "Ye were born at a price."
And what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us."
Now that's the kind of relationship with God that we are all called to!
Grace and Small Groups
So as we think about the idea of costly grace versus cheap grace, I wonder where small groups come in? Below are a series of questions that I've been thinking for the past day or so, and unfortunately I don't have many answers. But maybe we can help each other figure some out?
1. Are there ways in which small groups contribute to the notion of cheap grace? How?
2. What role can small groups play in helping people make the sacrifice for costly grace?
3. How does the struggle between cheap and costly grace play into the process of discipleship?
March 2, 2010
Take advantage of a free audio download so we can explore Bonheoffer's classic book together.
I'm very excited to begin our next session of LiveBooking, but first I need to apologize to all of you for the inactivity on this blog over the past several days. I got pretty swamped here at work, but things have evened out a bit now and there will be regular content updates here in the weeks and months to come.
Starting with our newest LiveBooking tour, which will be exploring The Cost of Discipleship, by Deitrich Bonheoffer. (By the way, if you're confused about what I mean by "LiveBooking," think of the Liveblogging sessions you've seen people do at conferences and other big events. But for books.)
Here's the coolest news in this post: you can download a free audio version of The Cost of Discipleship right now through Christianaudio.com. Just click here to see the book's page, add it to your shopping cart, and use the coupon code Mar2010.
The download occurs as seven separate files, and so I will be blogging about each section over the next seven weeks, starting tomorrow. So stay tuned!