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April 28, 2011

Friday Flashback: Take the Awareness Test

Watch the video to see how well you see what's going on in a group.

I just came across a very cool video that speaks well into what happens during our small-group gatherings. And it's hilarious.

Take a look, and take the awareness test:

Pretty sweet, huh? It's a great reminder that we can often be so focused on something in our groups—getting the food ready, helping everyone participate in the discussion, starting and ending on time, making it through the discussion material—that we miss something important. Or fun. Or both.

In your experience, what kinds of things are commonly missed in group meetings because we as leaders get too focused on the details?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:36 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

April 27, 2011

We Need Your Ideas!

In other words: help us help you.


Here is an email I recently received from a reader:

I'm looking for a small group resource about the process of birthing/multiplying a group. You have a lot of articles on about this topic. However, I'm looking for a study that a group leader could use to engage his members in the process of launching a new group(s) from an existing one. Preferably 3 to 4 sessions. Can you help?

It's an excellent idea—a small-group Bible study that helps people understand the importance of multiplication, then walks them through the process of casting vision, identifying potential leaders and apprentices, celebrating the accomplishments of the original group, and finally making the transition from one group to two (or more). Brilliant!

Unfortunately, I was not able to help this reader because such a resource does not currently exist on (It will soon, though.) But the email was a great reminder to me that I need to be in better communication with the men and women I am trying to serve—namely, you.

So, will you help me? What are the holes that currently exist when it comes to equipping and serving small-group leaders in your church? And what resources can put together that would help you fill those holes? What obstacles are you encountering in your small group, and how can we help you move past them?

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them. You can send me an email (soneal at, or post your thoughts as a Comment below. And thanks!

posted by Sam O'Neal at 3:36 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

April 19, 2011

Poll Results: We Need More Fun!

We don't need anymore clowns, though...


I was reviewing the results of some of the polls that have been featured on this blog in recent months, and one of them surprised me. The original question was: Do you have fun when you participate in small-group meetings?

Here were the results:

  • Yes, our group meetings are always fun: 29 percent
  • Yes, most of our group meetings are fun: 41 percent
  • We sometimes have fun: 21 percent
  • No, I rarely have fun at a group meeting: 8 percent

We had about 50 people respond, which is a pretty good sample size for a non-scientific poll of this type.

On the one hand, the results look good. Right at 70 percent of the people responding said they had fun in their small groups most of the time or all of the time. And I'm certainly glad to see that.

But what about the 30 percent of people who have fun in their groups only sometimes or rarely? That's almost one-third of the total responses—a big chunk! Too big, in my opinion. Even if a group is meeting for accountability or to focus on prayer, there should be elements of fun in most situations.

Right? Am I off on this?

If you have a moment, let's post some ideas in the Comments section below about what you enjoy in your small group. What does your group do for fun? What are some great ideas you can share with other group leaders and members?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 9:16 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

April 13, 2011

Excerpt: Overcoming the Head Culture

A few quick thoughts about the importance of application


Editor's note: I am finishing up the edits on our next downloadable training resource: "Meaningful Application in Small Groups." Dave Treat is one of the authors in that resoruce, and I thought his article was especially hip and groovy. You'll see what I mean in the excerpt below. :)

Back in the 60's a new retail niche called Head Shops emerged. Amid psychedelic posters, macrame, and incense you could find all the paraphernalia you would need to care for your joints, deal with roaches, and cultivate your grass (so I've been told.) In fact, most Head Shops had everything you needed to get high—except the key ingredient.

Excuse this bizarre metaphor, but I believe that many of our churches are glorified Head Shops. We cater to the head (knowledge) and we create a culture—an expectant atmosphere, a specialized language, and even paraphernalia—without the key ingredient: application.

I grew up in a religious tradition that functioned as if knowledge alone would transform people. Truly serious believers immersed themselves in the Head culture: Sunday morning teaching of the Word, Sunday school (age-graded instruction), Sunday Night and Midweek Service (more teaching). Any gathering—a youth event, choir practice, or deacon's meeting—was invariably marked by a devotional mini-sermon. Small groups were called "Bible Studies" for good reason. The radio provided a steady stream of world-class Bible teachers who systematically added content to our overflowing skulls.

We operated on the premise: "If we just teach people the right things, they will change." If we are going to move past the surface, the first thing we will need to do is change a culture that believes knowledge alone is enough.

The Head culture manifests itself in our small groups in a couple of ways:

  • It forces us to be curriculum-centric. We often define our groups solely on what they intend to study, and devote the bulk (if not all) of the group meeting to a study. I love Bill Donahue's line: "Jesus did not command us to go into the world and complete the curriculum." We ensure that all the blanks are filled in our workbooks without taking sufficient time to ponder how each truth should impact our daily lives.
  • We recruit believers with teaching gifts as our primary group leaders. And then we seem surprised when they lean into their gift and just teach! Even if we train our group leaders to facilitate interactive discussion around application, the teaching gift has been so valued in the past that our leaders tend to default back to the role of teacher. Particularly when under stress or time constraints, our leaders find it a lot easier to simply lecture.

Our first goal, then, is to shift from a knowledge-only delivery model of small groups to one in which less content is delivered and more truth is applied. Minimize the value of getting through all 12 discussion questions and maximize the value of getting through 2 questions designed to change behavior. If you have to, put a post-it note in your Bible with the words: "It's application, stupid."

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:49 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

April 12, 2011

Video of the Week: Lifeway's Summit 2010

Watch well-known leaders and the next generation’s rising stars come together to discuss small groups.

I remember watching an online event last year called "The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts."

The title intrigued me, obviously, but so did the list of people who were participating in the discussion: Reid Smith, Lyman Coleman, Bill Donahue, Steve Gladen, Carl George, Eddie Mosely, Rick Howerton, Randall Neighbour, Greg Bowman, and Bill Search. Now, that is definitely a convergence of small-group experts if I have ever seen one. I was edified greatly by the experience.

So imagine how pleased I was this morning when I came across an embed-able version of the Summit video posted by LifewayTV. (It's just a couple inches below these words, in case you haven't seen it yet.)

If you are a small-group leader, pastor, coach, or have any interest in small groups and community ministry, I suggest you carve out some time to watch this and learn.

The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts from LifeWay Productions on Vimeo.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 1:04 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

You're Looking at a Top-200 Blog!

But we'll try to keep our heads from overinflating just yet...

As I was wrangling with Google Feedburner this morning, I stumbled across an exciting blog post from Kent Schaffer on As he does every year, Shaffer has put together a list of the "Top 200 Church Blogs"—and we made it!

That's right, is good ol' #164 on the list, just behind somebody named Bruce Reyes-Chow (and just ahead of Anne Jackson's blog, if you believe that).

In all seriousness, this is a great reminder for me to stop and say thanks to all of you who spend a little bit of time during your week actually reading what myself and the other authors of this blog have to say. We appreciate it.

And if you want to see the rest of the Top 200 Church Blogs, just click here.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 8:47 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

April 5, 2011

Sailing with the Dawn Treader

There are some free resources on that may benefit your group


I didn't get the chance to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the theaters, unfornately. (That's what happens when you have an infant in the family.) But I am looking forward to hitting up my local RedBox for the DVD when it becomes available this week.

If you plan on doing the same thing, I came across some interesting resources at that can help you make the experience beneficial for your small group. Specifically, you can download some free Bible studies, plus a whole bunch of multimedia material.

I recommend the study called "Lessons on Beauty and Bravery," and I also think the "Educator's Guide" would be a great resource for kids.

posted by Sam O'Neal at 12:12 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

April 4, 2011

Is Curriculum Unnecessary?

Could it even be harmful?


I recently received a question from one of our readers that I thought was worth thinking about. I have thought about it for a few days, and I have formulated what I consider to be a reasonable and somewhat-interesting response (which I will post later).

But I also think think this question is big enough to merit some discussion within our community, so I would like to present it to all of you. Here's what the emailer wrote originally:

The Small Group study setting is perhaps the only opportunity we have left as followers of Christ today to just lay aside everything that would distract and beset us and simply read and share with one another from the Holy Scriptures, much as the 1st century Christians would have done. Whether Bible study is a text study or a topic study, I believe that either can be approached very effectively with the aid of the Scriptures and its author, the Holy Spirit.
Why do so many folks think that is not enough? Even, so-called leaders? Why is an absentee "leader" (author of the curriculum) needed to replace the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit and the observations of those studying together? Why are the people who are meeting viewed as being so inept and so clueless that they cannot, even with God's help, read and share with one another from the Bible without a curriculum?

Like I said, it's an interesting question: is it possible that the modern proliferation of pre-written Bible studies and discussion guides has distracted Christians from focusing on the text of Scripture and interacting with the Holy Spirit? Has curriculum done more harm than good?


posted by Sam O'Neal at 2:03 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

April 1, 2011

Friday Flashback: A Dynamic Quotation from Eugene Peterson

When it comes to applying Scripture, this changes everything.


I had an "Aha!" moment yesterday as I was editing a batch of devotional material for Men of Integrity magazine. (Yes, every now and then I work on something that isn't directly related to small groups.) The devotion was an excerpt from Eat This Book, by Eugene Peterson, and one line in particular made my mouth drop open.

Here's the paragraph:

If I'm not living in active response to the living God revealed in the Bible, reading about his creation/salvation/holiness won't interest me—at least not for long. The most important question we ask of any text isn't "What does this mean?" but "What can I obey?" Simple obedience will open up our lives to a text more than any number of Bible studies, dictionaries, and concordances.

Wow. Not "What does it mean," but "What can I obey?"

That's revolutionary, isn't it?

posted by Sam O'Neal at 11:16 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)