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May 31, 2010

Video of the Week: Small Groups and Disney

Here are some hilarious edited videos to promote small groups.

I don't know any of the folks at the Wooster Grace Student Ministry, but I like their creativity. Here's a little sampler of small-group-promotional-video-fun to enjoy on your day off.

Small Groups from Wooster Grace Students on Vimeo.


posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

May 28, 2010

Friday Flashback: On Time

Quick words of wisdom on starting and stopping each gathering

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Start group meetings on time or you’re punishing those who did right.
Start group meetings on time or the majority of group members will start showing up late.
Start group meetings on time or you won’t be able to end them on time.

End group meetings on time or some group members will have to deal with angry baby sitters.
End group meetings on time or some group members will walk out before the meeting ends.
End group meetings on time or some group members will leave the group for good.

When the Holy Spirit is doing something special… stay as long necessary.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 6:09 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

May 25, 2010

Growing or Dying Revisited

Moving from a self-focused to an others-focused ministry mentality

I want to follow-up a bit from the discussion on my last post, “You are Either Growing or Dying” The premise of this blog entry is that if a small group is continually focused internally, and never actively reaching out beyond themselves to serve and invite new participants, then that group is on a course toward death. With that said, I also believe the central issue in the group health vs. group outreach discussion revolves more around values than results.

For instance, my current small group has remained nearly static for over a year. We basically have the same people we had a year ago at this time. I constantly ask myself the questions: Are we healthy? Or are we on a death spiral? Should we just blow the thing up and do something new?

While I’m not quite ready to state that our current condition is one of complete health, I do know that our values run both internal and external. Over the course of this past year, as we’ve met for the benefit and growth of one another, we’ve also maintained a prayer list specifically for people we are reaching out to. We’ve had a few “outreach parties” where we’ve invited unchurched friends to enjoy game nights and movie nights with our small-group members. We’ve done service projects for folks with special needs outside our church, and we’ve maintained relational contact with many of these folks.

So the question is, over the past year, have any of these activities resulted in a new committed member of our small group? The honest answer is NO. But, the love of Christ continues to spill out of the group onto other people. And our value is that we will continue to keep our group vessel tipped enough to keep Christ’s love flowing out from ourselves to others.

I will close with another analogy: Our small groups are like airport runways—necessary for takeoff, but in order to fly you have to go beyond the runway at some point. Otherwise people start thinking they are airport baggage carts when in reality they are airplanes. It's a tragic loss of identity. Others-focused ministry has a unique power to remind us of our identity as disciples of Christ, not consumers of religious goods and services.

posted by Dan Lentz at 11:41 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Contest Time! Superman's Small Group

Tells us what happens "When Superman leads a small group..."

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"Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman! And it looks like he's heading to small group!"

Yes, that is the scenario we would like you to consider for our next SmallGroups.com caption contest. Although it doesn't really involve captions. All you have to do is finish this phrase: "When Superman leads a small group...."

You can add a sentence that is funny or poignant or deeply moving, but you'll probably do best if you stick with funny. How would the Man of Steel handle the task of leading a small group? What would the experience be like for his group members? For his church?

Just add a comment to the end of this blog post to enter. The top 10 entries will receive a free download from SmallGroups.com (or from our sister resources, if you're already a SmallGroups.com member). And the top entry will receive a free SmallGroups.com membership.

Best of all, we'll be posting all of the winning entries in the new SmallGroups.com Digital Magazine, which is coming your way at the beginning of August.

So: "When Superman leads a small group..."

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:24 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

May 17, 2010

A Little Help with Learning Styles

What do you know about learning styles, and what would you like to know?

I'm going to have the pleasure of attending the upcoming Community U conference this Friday and Saturday at Parkway Apostolic Church in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This will be one of a series of conferences put on by Saddleback Church this year, and you can click here to learn more about them.

What I'm most excited about, however, is that I get a chance to lead one of the conference breakout sessions this year! I've been wanting to do this for a while, and I'm super excited to have the opportunity.

But I need your help. Yes, yours. I am going to be leading a discussion on the topic of Learning Styles, and I'd like to get some opinions from our SmallGroups.com readers to help me polish up the session. Specifically, I'd like to know two things:

1. What do you already know/believe concerning the application of learning styles in a small-group environment? Are you familiar with the different learning styles present within your group members? Have you found it easy or difficult to adapt learning experiences to connect with different learning styles? Do you think worrying about learning styles within a small group is completely unnecessary? Things like that.

2. What do you wish you knew about learning styles? What are some areas that are unclear to you? Are there any questions that you would really like answered pertaining to learning styles? Or have you come across specific situations where you could use some practical tips and/or advice?

Any help you can give me with be...well, helpful. So thanks in advance!

And by the way: I believe the registration period for the Parkside conference has expired. But if you're in the Milwaukee area and want to stop by, you might want to contact Saddleback and ask really, really nicely if they'll let you sign up.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:59 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

You are Either Growing or Dying

Can your group stay healthy if it is not regularly adding new people?

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I was reviewing an online forum on the topic of churches transitioning to small-group ministry being led by Steve Cordle.

One of the most insightful quotes from the forum was:
“Many leaders speak about groups as a way to build community. However, groups which are focused on fellowship, sharing, and community generally will have a hard time attracting more than a minority of believers, will lose vitality, and fade away. Groups must have an outward focus in order to stay healthy.”

Carl George has also been quoted as saying: "Show me a nurturing group not regularly open to new life, and I will guarantee it's dying."

These are sobering ideas from people who have been in the trenches of small-group ministry for decades. From my experience, I believe they are correct. After all, Biblical community isn’t really community if it is not impacting the world outside the group (John 17). Successful group outreach is a fruit of that outward impact and a sign of group health.

Does your experience confirm or contradict that? What do you think?

posted by Dan Lentz at 11:50 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

May 13, 2010

What a Small-Group Leader Should Be

I'm all for continuing an important discussion.

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We had some good conversation generated from my last post about What a Small-Group Leader Is Not. So I figured: why stop there? Here are a few more thoughts from the same article, this time about how small-group leaders should view themselves (and what they should do because of it).

So, what is the primary focus that small-group leaders should adopt? The answer is that of a spiritual safari guide. That will need some explaining, I know, but first give some thought to the following two principles of small-group leadership:

Principle 1: Small-group leaders are to be most concerned about the spiritual transformation of their group members. Everything else involved with leading a small group—recruiting new members, choosing Bible studies, resolving conflict—are secondary issues and should be subordinate to the spiritual growth of the people involved. If people gather together to enjoy each other's company, eat good food, sing songs, maybe do a service project, but don't grow closer to Jesus Christ as a result, they have only created a Christianized version of a Kiwanis Club. Not a small group.

Principle 2: Small-group leaders are never able to manufacture spiritual transformation within their group members. This is something that small-group leaders must understand. We cannot force our group members to grow spiritually any more than we could force them to grow taller. No matter how good we become at facilitating discussion questions, resolving conflict, and making nachos, our people will not become more like Jesus unless they are carried there by the Holy Spirit.

These two principles seem contradictory, at first. If small-group leaders are primarily tasked with a job that only the Holy Spirit can fulfill, how can they lead well? The answer is relatively simple: group leaders need to create environments and experiences that allow group members to connect with the Holy Spirit.

And that's what I mean when I talk about small-group leaders as spiritual safari guides.
Can you imagine a safari where the guide spent all of your time talking about flora and fauna instead of actually taking you into the jungle? Or encouraged the tour members to discuss what they felt a rhinoceros might look and sound like, rather than leading everyone to an actual specimen? Or took off his binoculars and said, "Don't ask me where to go; I'm as lost as the rest of you."

Such is the folly of a small-group leader who does not lead—who does not bring his or her group members into the presence of the Holy Spirit by directing expeditions into the mysteries of God's Word, the elements of Truth in this world, and the life stories of other people.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 10:31 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

May 11, 2010

What a Small-Group Leader Is Not

I have a feeling I may take some heat for this post...

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As part of a download I'm working on called "Leading a Life-Changing Bible Study," I'm writing up an article on the topic of what it means to be a small-group leader. And for part of that article I try to define what a small-group leader is not.

Here's the list I came up with. A small-group leader is not:

  • A teacher. We all understand that small-group leaders should not be lecturers who monopolize the group's time by spewing out facts and opinions. But I use the word teacher here intentionally in order to highlight an important misconception: many group leaders believe that the focus of their group's study time should be the transfer of information. They feel that a study is successful if their group members have learned something. But that is not the case, as we will see later in the article.
  • Just another group member. This is the opposite of the "group leader as professor" approach, but it's just as harmful. Many churches like to teach that their group leaders are no different than group members because they want to communicate that group members are just as important and valuable as group leaders—which is true. But being equal in terms of worth and value does not mean that people have to adopt the same roles and functions. The reality is that a small group with no leader will rarely move forward.
  • A host. This has become a popular re-definition of what it means to be a small-group leader in recent years, primarily due to the influence of video curriculum. The idea is that a person or couple can host a small group in their home, pop in a DVD, and let a "professional" handle the task of leading the group into meaningful experiences with truth. But there is one major flaw inherent in this method of "leading" a small group: a DVD cannot respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit. What happens when a group members is convicted of sin during the discussion and begins weeping? Who calls the group to prayer when group members confess to being in danger of losing their house or their marriage? These situations require a leader who can take control and help the group follow the Spirit.
  • A facilitator. Many churches want their group leaders to think of themselves as facilitators, rather than leaders. This is done to combat the "small-group leader as professor" problem referred to earlier, but it creates several problems of its own. Just as viewing group leaders primarily as teachers elevates learning over transformation, viewing them as facilitators elevates discussion over transformation. A study session is deemed successful if the group had a good conversation and a high level of participation, rather than basing the criteria for success on interaction with the Holy Spirit and seeing lives changed.

Obviously, I'm not saying that small-group leaders should not demonstrate these qualities. Quite the opposite—group leaders should be able to facilitate discussion, host a gathering, and teach when necessary. But I think that churches go wrong when they make any of these skills the primary focus of a group leader's role.

What do you think? Am I wrong about any of these? Can you think of other misconceptions when it comes to the primary role and focus of small-group leaders?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:52 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

May 5, 2010

Foundational Questions for Your Group

What would Christ be asking your group?

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I was recently exchanging email with a friend of mine at Xenos Christian Fellowship which hosts one of my favorite conferences every summer in Columbus, OH. (I would encourage you to check out the 2010 version of the Xenos Summer Institute.)

The conversation with my friend brought back to mind a session at a previous Xenos Summer Institute where Larry Crabb suggested that one of our main goals in Christian community is not to find answers to the questions we have about God, but rather to find answers to the questions God has been asking throughout time. He proposed seven questions that God has continued to think are important (and some partial answers to explore further in your community):

1. Who is God? (He is community)
2. What is God up to? (teaching me to live in community like Jesus)
3. Who are we? (gendered image bearers)
4. What’s gone wrong? (I have)
5. What’s God done about it? (the Cross)
6. What’s the Spirit doing today? (living in us as He lives in Trinitarian community)
7. How do we tag along with the Spirit? (seek the new way of the Spirit)

Interesting, huh? You many want to try reviewing these questions as a framework for your next discussion about small-group purpose, or just as a great way for your group members to reflect on their recent spiritual progress.

posted by Dan Lentz at 1:58 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

How Do We Assess Spiritual Growth?

A great excerpt from noted author and speaker Dallas Willard

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Dallas Willard recently conducted by our sister magazine Leadership Journal. You can read the whole interview here, which I highly recommend.


How can churches know if they are being effective at making disciples?
Many churches are measuring the wrong things. We measure things like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings.

Why don't more churches gauge these qualities among their people?
First of all, many leaders don't want to measure these qualities because what they usually discover is not worth bragging about. We'd rather focus on institutional measures of success. Secondly, we must have people who are willing to be assessed in these ways. And finally, we need the right tools to measure spiritual formation. There are some good tools available like Randy Frazee's Christian Life Profile and Monvee.com, which John Ortberg likes.

In the past people grew through relationships with spiritual mentors and by engaging the church community. Is there a danger that these individual assessment tools will remove the role of community in formation?
Any of these devices must be used in a community setting. Assessment tools that work best are a combination of self-assessment and the assessment of a significant other who knows you well. They don't work with people who don't want to be assessed, and they should not be administered like individual personality tests that some employers use.

If you have a group of people come together around a vision for real discipleship, people who are committed to grow, committed to change, committed to learn, then a spiritual assessment tool can work. But there must be a deep fellowship of trust to support that work. I don't think any group should go into an assessment without that. I wouldn't advise a pastor to use one of these tools on his or her congregation without first establishing a clear commitment to discipleship. You can't take your average congregation and just lay one of these assessments on them.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 6:00 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

May 4, 2010

Putting a Bow on the Heresy Discussion

Let's get some empirical data before we move on from this topic.

We've had some great discussion about heresy in recent weeks. Specifically, Neil Cole wrote an article called Addressing the Threat of Heresy in House Churches and Small Groups which had a lot of interesting things to say, and then I wrote a blog post responding to some of Neil's points.

I thought it might be cool to finish up this discussion with a little empirical data. So, I have cued up a couple poll questions that I hope you will take a moment to answer.

First, I'm wondering how many of you have been in a church where heresy actually attacked and poisoned a small group? I'm not talking about a group member who thinks that good deeds will get him into heaven and is then corrected. I'm talking about a situation where the group actively explored and adopted a heretical belief that ultimately caused damage—group members left the church, significant conflict ensued, etc.

So, let's start with that question:

Next, I'm wondering if we can compare the danger of heresy to another danger that often affects churches and small groups: moral failure.

Obviously, the goal here is not to determine whether moral failure or heresy are more damaging to churches and small groups. Both are deadly, and both need to be combatted. However, for as long as I've been involved with small groups, I've heard people imply that heresy is THE major stumbling block connected to community ministry. And that's something I'd like to explore.


posted by Sam O'Neal at 10:39 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)