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April 29, 2010

Video of the Week: Funny Promo

Here's another low-cost, high-impact promo video for small-groups ministry.

Your church could do this to promote small groups, right? Or something like this?

Small Group Promo 1 from Journey Church on Vimeo.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 4:02 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 28, 2010

Small Group Members as Corporate Chaplains

Why you are already on the Lord’s payroll.


"As fewer Americans attend houses of worship on a regular basis, more people are receiving the compassionate help one might expect of a minister from corporate chaplains—professionals hired by companies to be a listening ear, a quick responder in crises, an arm to lean on through difficult challenges.” So notes an article in a Business Reform News and Commentary e-newsletter.

It goes on to say: “It's not that businesses are trying to take on a religious role. Corporate chaplains serve people of any or no faith, and the use of their services is voluntary. But business leaders increasingly recognize that employees who face crises often can't help bringing their personal difficulties to work, and job performance can suffer. Making provision to care for their workforce becomes a part of good business practice. As a result, many employees are getting support that can make a significant difference in their lives, while companies say they're seeing a more satisfied, even more productive workforce.”

This is an interesting development. I know of a few companies near my home on the North side of Indianapolis which also have a “chaplain” on the company pay role. But overall, very few companies have management that would hire such a person. Even in Christian managed companies, few have hired chaplains. And while the trend is increasing, from my perspective it is unlikely to become a very wide-spread business practice.

However, I would argue that there are many more “corporate chaplains” than one might expect. Take my small group for instance. When we meet tomorrow night, my living room will have the following people in it: a nurse who oversees a clinic at a mental hospital, a camera/video technician who travels to various corporate and academic clients to train them how to use camera equipment, a draftsman for an engineering firm, a stay-at-home mom who home schools her children, and a truck driver who makes daily deliveries to retail customers.

What do these people have in common? They are all ministers to the people they work for and serve. Of course, that’s not really their job title or why they get a pay check. But I know from their stories that each one of them is performing the role of “corporate chaplain” in their vocational setting. At that is how it should be.

I am hopeful the position of “paid corporate chaplain” is created in many more companies, but the one thing I know is that Christians who are embedded in every vocational setting have the greatest opportunity to impact others for Jesus.

As the article concludes: "...there are millions of people the institutional church will never touch." Your small-group members who are working with other employees can build relationships that make it easier for people to come to them for help and ultimately find a relationship with Jesus as a result.

Next time your group meets remind them they are on God’s payroll to minister in whatever vocation He is placed them!

posted by Dan Lentz at 10:24 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 26, 2010

I'm Back!

My wife and I welcomed our second son into the family, but now I'm back to work.


I hope that some of you noticed a bit of a content gap on this blog last week. And if you did, I have a good reason for it—the birth of my second son. Hooray!

My wife (Jess) and I welcomed Jackson Thomas O'Neal into our home on Wednesday, April 14. He is a healthy and happy little guy, and everyone in the family is adjusting nicely. So, that means I'm back at work today, and will be back to writing blog posts.

But I can't resist sharing a picture of my new buddy for anyone who cares to see!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:52 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

April 21, 2010

Small Groups as Mission Centers (Part 2)

Your small group is already in a culturally diverse mission field!


In part 1 of this blog, I talked about how changing people’s attitude and perspective is step one in small groups becoming mission centers. Not only should small groups be the most strategic place to reach micro-cultures on their relational “turf,” but small groups have the potential to open up new local mission fields to churches in rapidly changing neighborhoods. Consider the following data from a MSNBC news story:

“The majority of residents in Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., are some ethnicity other than non-Hispanic whites, according to Census Bureau population estimates released last week. Five other states, including New York and Georgia, could make that shift this year. Soon, more than one-third of Americans will live in states where Latinos, blacks, Asians, American Indians and other ethnic groups outnumber whites.”

Churches that have limited budgets or lack of vision for supporting overseas missions, or the inability to send short-term mission teams into other countries, may be able to support and send members “down the street” to reach out to other cultural groups that are within easy reach of the church’s “footprint.” They may be able to do this by simply offering a small group community to those of a different ethnic culture in their region, or who are far from biological family and yearn for relationships.

The good news about this approach is that it doesn’t require a resource-intensive bi-lingual worship service to be planned and scheduled. On the other hand, it does require a leader or facilitator who is able to communicate potentially in a different language, but those barriers aren’t as daunting as perhaps they once were with the increased availability of multi-lingual folks in our local congregations.

In any case, with the shift happening in this country, the opportunities for small groups to be mission centers are quite amazing. Have any of you tried starting small groups to reach out to other ethnicities?

posted by Dan Lentz at 8:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 15, 2010

Small Groups as Mission Centers (Part 1)

Reaching out to the Micro-Cultures in your back yard!


There’s been a lot of talk about how fragmented Western Culture is, even within small geographical areas. Not only does the Local Church need to consider how to reach their neighborhood, they need to consider how to reach micro-cultures within that neighborhood. In some ways the local church has been doing that for years through generational programming (youth, young singles, family, seniors, etc.), but now in many areas diversity has increased beyond generational micro-cultures to include ethnic, religious background, heritage micro-cultures and much more.

Can small groups reach out to all these micro-cultures? I think so. In fact, many small groups are a micro-culture themselves that can reach others in the same or similar micro-culture. I was reading a quote from Ken Davis recently that reminded me of this:

“After one of my comedy concerts, I was accosted by a scowling woman who looked like she just swallowed a profusely sweating toad. “Why don’t you just present the gospel like it is in the Bible?” she screeched. “The Gospel doesn’t need any of your silly entertainment. It stands on its own.” She is right. “The word of God is more powerful than a two edged sword.” But the people who need to hear it are not reading that Word. And they will only listen if the presentation of that Word holds their attention. I asked this woman, who obviously had been sleeping when the gift of encouragement was passed out, “Does your church have missionaries?” Yes, she answered. "Do they go away to train to be missionaries?" Yes! “What kind of training do they get?”

Her answer was quick and defensive. “They are trained to present the Gospel in the context of the culture.” The words were barely out of her mouth when she realized she had just buried herself. We live in a postmodern culture that is saturated with entertainment and humor. If we are to reach that culture with the message of the Gospel, our presentation has to be delivered in an engaging and attractive manner.”

It’s not that we have to use entertainment or humor or clever programs in small groups to be effective, because the power of small groups lies in the relationships of the group—with Christ and with each other. But we do have to speak the relational language of the people we are trying to reach, and for that reason small groups may be the most effective way to reach the micro-cultures all around us.

What do you think? Are there any micro-cultures represented in your group? Your neighborhood and/or church?

posted by Dan Lentz at 6:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 13, 2010

Just a Few Thoughts on Heresy

My initial reactions and questions to some great points raised by Neil Cole.

I recently finished up a resource called "Starting a House Church" (which will be available next week, if that piques your interest). One of the articles I edited for that download is written by Neil Cole, and the title is: "Addressing the Threat of Heresy in House Churches and Small Groups."

For as long as I have been aware of small groups and their potential for good in the Kingdom of God, I have also heard whispers about their connection to heresy. For some, it seems like a near guarantee that non-seminary trained laypeople will lead others into dubious and dangerous doctrinal distinctions. For others, the threat of heresy trails behind a positive view of small groups like a long shadow on a sunny day.

That's why I was excited to hear Neil Cole's thoughts on the issue of heresy, and I was not disappointed. Some of what he had to say made me excited, and other parts of the article made me scratch my head a bit. But it all made me think through an issue that has loomed over my head for years now. Maybe it's the same for you?

Here are a couple of Neil's points that I found to be most interesting:

Who Are the Gatekeepers of Truth?
Cole's article has a lot to say about the gatekeepers of truth and doctrine within a church family—including this paragraph:

The best solution to heresy in the church is not to have better-trained leaders in the pulpits, but better-trained people in the pews. While many will say that the key to better-trained people are leaders who equip them, this unfortunately is most often not the reality. It is true that we need better leaders who empower and equip common Christians to know the truth, spread the Word, and do the work of ministry (Eph 4:11 ff.), but that is very different than the sort of leaders who screen all beliefs and are the gatekeepers of God's Word.

As long as our leaders are considered the gatekeepers of truth we leave the majority of God's people in the dark, and they are susceptible to leaders who do the thinking for them—because that is what they have been trained to do. It is ironic that the very thing we think will prevent heresy actually feeds the problem.

I agree with that assessment wholeheartedly. I'm aware of some pastors who view the Word of God as a sliver of weapons-grade plutonium—they fear that if they let the Bible get into the hands of "ordinary people," all sorts of chaos and destruction will inevitably follow. But I have not found that to be the case.

Quite the opposite. When regular men and women are encouraged and equipped to explore the Bible for themselves, the most immediate results are insight, understanding, and spiritual growth. The words of Colossians 3 were written to all of "God's chosen people," not just to seminary-trained gatekeepers who can handle the truth: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (v. 16).

Room to Grow
Here's another thought from Neil's article (one that I both agree with and disagree with):

People will ask me, "Then are not the disciples going to misunderstand Scripture?" Yes, of course they are. And so did I when I was a young disciple. Maybe we need to realize that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand an infinite book that has no end to its depth of understanding. Perhaps we should allow people the freedom to make a few mistakes, leave with a few questions, and learn as they grow. I remember my first Bible study that I ever taught—it was heresy! And I managed to utter a four-letter word in it as well. I am glad someone gave me a chance to do better the next time.

On the one hand, yes, we certainly need to give people room to grow. That includes room to grow as disciples and room to grow as leaders and teachers.

On the other hand, it seems to me that churches could set up some kind of screening system or process that prevents (or at least limits) new group leaders from advocating heresy in their first months as teachers. Right? Or would that just be instituting another kind of gatekeeper?

This is getting a bit long, so I'll wrap things up. But I would love to hear thoughts from all of you on the topic of heresy within small groups. Have you found it to be a big danger in your groups? In your church? Is there a way to limit the spread of heresy without attempting to take the Word of God out of the hands of those it was intended for?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 10:52 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

April 9, 2010

Friday Flashback: The Perfect Welcome

Greet visitors and guests with warmth and a little common sense.


When people visit your small group for the first time they come with all sorts of questions: Will we like it? Will we connect with the people there? Will this be helpful for us? It can be intimidating for people entering a new group because they don't know how they'll be received, if they'll feel like they fit, and if they'll want to return.

Fortunately, there are things you can do as a group leader to help ease any tension that guests may be feeling, and instead help them feel more "at home." Here are some tips to help guests feel more comfortable, received, and accepted in your group.

1. Greet guests as soon as they come in. Introduce yourself and let them know it's great to have them at your group.

2. Learn a little about them as they're coming in (this will help you with introducing them to others later).

  • Learn their names, and if they live nearby or have attended your church before.

  • If they have kids, ask names and ages of children - this helps the whole family feel welcomed.

  • Find out how they heard about your group (member, website, friend, etc.).

3. Limit your first questions to between three and six so they don't feel like they're being interviewed or interrogated.

4. Introduce them to at least two other group members using the information you just learned.

5. Before you return to greeting other group members:

  • Ignite a conversation between the guests and other group members.

  • Offer to get them something to drink.

6. When everyone has gathered in one room, try to acknowledge the presence of new guests without making them feel awkward. This can happen if they feel like too much attention is being placed on them for too long. To avoid this faux pas, introduce your new guests to the whole group immediately. Don't leave it up to them to introduce themselves—get the process started for them based on details you learned as they entered the host home.

For example, "Hey everyone, I'd like to introduce a couple who is visiting our group for the first time. This is John and Jane and they live in Wilsonville. They learned about our group from our church's website and have two kids, Jack and Jill. It's great to have you here with us tonight. [looking at guests] Is there anything else you'd like to add?"

Notice several things that were done in this introduction:

  • You got everyone's attention and immediately introduced your guests, which extinguishes feelings of intrusiveness they might have felt if they hadn't been recognized early on.

  • You said they were "visiting" versus "joining," which relieves any pressure of commitment they might have.

  • You broke the ice for them by providing just enough background, but not too much.

  • You used their names and their kids' names, which makes the introduction more personal and warm.

  • You left it up to them on if and how they'd like to respond so that they wouldn't feel put on the spot with specific questions like, "Why did you choose to come to our group tonight?" By providing a basic introduction yourself, they could pass on adding anything to what you said and not come across as being overly-reserved.

7. Keep it brief. This is important because if you focus too much or too long on your new guests they might feel like a spotlight is on them and become uncomfortable.

8. Thank your guests for being with you at the end of your group's study and discussion time. Let them know it was great having them. If they participated in the conversation, tell them you appreciated their input and insights.

9. Try to introduce your new guests to two more group members before they leave, unless you sense they are eager to make an exit. Make it a goal to encourage face-to-face conversations with at least half of your group by the end of their first visit. This will make their reflections on their group experience more personable and warm, which will encourage their return.

10. As your guests are leaving after your gathering, give them your contact info versus asking for theirs and include specifics of your next meeting. Let them know you'd love to have them come back, and that they can contact you if they have any questions.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:39 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 8, 2010

Video of the Week: Beyond Intergenerational

The E-Trade baby makes a pitch for small groups! Very well done.

All right, I came across this on YouTube, and I have to give some props to the folks over at Evangel Community Church. Well done!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 7, 2010

Sabbath or Stagnation?

Which one is happening in your group right now?


After Easter, spring quickly unwinds into summer, and in many churches/small groups there is a collective exhale as some volunteer intensive programs surrounding Easter and the Winter/Spring season wrap up.

In times like these, the need for a little “Sabbath” is natural and even healthy. But sometimes I sense that what we might label as Sabbath is really more about stagnation.

Perhaps you’ve had that feeling in the past, or maybe, like me, you are feeling it now. It’s not a unique problem; almost every group will encounter it eventually. In my own group, I have found it difficult to put my finger on the source of the stagnation. What is it that causes us to grind to a halt in our growth and in our community development this time of year?

Tom Bandy wrote an article that I think gets at the heart of problem for many of us at times. The article is written about stagnation in the larger church, but can just as easily be applied to small groups. I want to share an excerpt with you, so every place you read the word “church,” think small groups:

The problem is that this flow of experience continually breaks down. Churches lose momentum. They get stuck. The church starts out like a rave, with everybody dancing and the beat thumping, but after awhile you look out to see a nearly empty dance floor. The people are all huddled at tables with their friendship circles; newcomers are leaning against a wall hoping somebody will invite them to dance; the chaperones are drinking punch; and the band keeps playing the same tunes, oblivious to the room. The few people who are dancing applaud wildly, self-consciously wondering if all the watchers are criticizing their technique. What happened?

Most disciple-making processes break down because the staff, board, and core volunteers focus more on programs than on people. They are thinking more about getting tasks done than on growing people up. They are thinking more about mission results than missionary processes. They assume that the flow of experience in which people change dancing partners, learn new dance steps, and throw themselves onto the dance floor will happen automatically (or that the Holy Spirit will just do it).

I believe there is a lot of truth in this analysis for small-group leaders. Even in groups, we can get sidetracked with getting the group tasks done or the curriculum selected and finished (the program), rather than on growing the people. I definitely feel this drift in my own group experience right now.

Rather than trying to think about what is not happening in the mechanics of my group right now, I’m going to try and think and pray about the people in my group more through the rest of the spring. How about you?

posted by Dan Lentz at 9:24 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 5, 2010

Internet Evangelism Day?

An intriguing way for your small group to serve others


Did you know that April 25th is Internet Evangelism Day? I didn't, either. But it sounds like an intriguing idea, no? And I'm even more intrigued after I read a tweet from Alan Danielson and followed it to an article about using Craigslist as a way to serve others.

You can read the whole article here, including some cool video, but it's a pretty basic idea:

1. Go to CraigsList.
2. Click into the listings for your specific location.
3. Under the “for sale” heading click the “Wanted” category.
4. Find a listing for someone in need.
5. Meet their need.

I think I could do that. Better yet, I think our small group could do that together. What about you? Any other ideas come to mind that would be a good fit for Internet Evangelism Day?

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