January 31, 2012
National Community Church has taken its training online.
Heather Zempel from National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and writer for SmallGroups.com, recently blogged about NCC's new way of training small-group leaders.
In her blog post, she shares that they have started doing online training so that leaders can train at their own pace in their own timing. When finished, their answers to the questions in the training are sent to the staff at NCC and a face-to-face interview is scheduled. So far, they're very happy with the results.
Read the blog post to get the full picture, and check out this training module on choosing a study, part of their online training.
Then let us know: how do you train your small-group leaders? Are you happy with your results or do you wish it were going better?
January 26, 2012
Sam O'Neal shares why he changed his mind
In our most recent digizine, Troubleshooting, Sam O'Neal wrote an article on his new view of EGR group members. In "The Blessing of Problem People," Sam shares how he's changed his mind on this popular acronym. Check out what he says below.
Everybody loves acronyms—from TGIF to LOL to BLT and beyond. In the world of small-group ministry, the most common acronym I've come across has to be EGR. As in "extra grace required."
The idea is that most people within a small group are "normal" and able to function well within the life of the group. But then there are other people—EGR people—who behave abnormally, and are even potentially dangerous to the community. Therefore the group can only function well if the normal folks use a little extra grace in order to tolerate the "problem people."
I used to be on board with that kind of thinking. I used to laugh whenever I heard someone say, "Every small group has an EGR person—and if you can't figure out who that person is in your group, it's probably you!" Har har.
But I have repented of that notion in recent years because of an important realization: every small group in the world is made up entirely of imperfect human beings. We are all sinful. We are all emotional. We are all unpredictable and perplexing and just a bit unstable.
In other words, we are all "problem people." We all require enormous amounts of grace.
So what do you think? Should we get rid of the term, or does it hold some value?
To read the rest of the article, click here.
January 25, 2012
Using questions to minister
During a graduate class I’m taking, my professor held a discussion around Galatians 6:1–2. He asked the class what Paul meant by saying we "fulfill the law of Christ" when we carry others' burdens. Further, he asked us if we considered carrying others' burdens central to the Gospel or more of a peripheral duty.
His questions got me thinking. What does it mean if a central part of kingdom living is carrying others' burdens? What does it say about evangelical Christianity's emphasis on personal prayer and Bible study? And what about corporate worship? How often do we attend in order to hear from God or experience him for ourselves instead of connecting with others there?
Carrying others' burdens was central to the early church. We read in Acts 2 that early Christians "had everything in common" and provided for one another so no one would be in need. Paul also wrote often about not being a burden unnecessarily (see 2 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, and Hebrews 13:17). And he had plenty to say about bearing with one another by putting on compassion and patience (Colossians 3:12–13, Ephesians 4:2).
We also have God's example in carrying other's burdens—namely, our own. Psalm 68:19 says, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." And in Matthew 11 and Galatians 5, Christ is painted as the one who frees us from heavy burdens.
So, it appears that carrying others' burdens truly is central to following Christ. But what does that look like? And how can small groups help fulfill this?
Last week I sat in a coffee shop near my home reading, when a man who seemed fresh out of high school asked to sit at the table with me. I was surprised by his request, and a bit irritated as I wanted to sit by myself silently enjoying some coffee and a book. A couple of times he tried awkwardly to start a conversation as I read my book. I gave him quick answers before returning to my reading.
Then I realized this was an opportunity, to get to know this person who is created in the image of God. So I tried awkwardly to start a conversation. I asked him questions about his day, his job, and his drink. It turns out, he was lonely. He wanted some human contact. He just wanted to have a normal human conversation with someone. And for whatever reason, I seemed safe. We talked for nearly an hour that day about aquariums and schools and movies, and I realized in my heart what I'd known in my head for a long time: questions can minister to others. They can show that we care, that we see them as real, living, breathing humans who deserve love and respect, and who have something to offer the world.
So, my first thought on carrying others' burdens is this: perhaps a great place to start is simply to be with the person, asking questions, getting to know them as another human being, helping to carry their loneliness, fear, or doubt.
What do you think? Can questions in themselves minister? How have questions ministered to you? How have you ministered to others by asking questions? Share with us below.
Check back over the next few months as I continue to flesh out the idea of carrying others' burdens.
January 19, 2012
Imagine what might happen if Jacob and Rachel showed up to your group
You're getting ready for your couples' small group, and you're excited: you have a new couple joining you tonight. In his e-mail, Jacob was very happy to have found a group that both he and his wife could attend. They're a new couple to the church, and you're excited that they've decided to get plugged in.
When Jacob and his wife, Rachel, arrive, you can tell there's something a little off. Rachel seems very uncomfortable, and she quietly says hello only when others initiate conversation. Nevertheless, you decide to proceed with group as usual so they can get an accurate taste of what happens at each meeting.
You start the group with check-in time, where couples share a high moment and a low or learning moment from the week. As the couples share, you can't help but notice Jacob and Rachel whispering and getting into a bit of an argument. When it's their turn to share, you find out why.
"Well, the high moment," Jacob starts," was our anniversary dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant this weekend. We're celebrating nine years together."
"I was able to get chicken limone—my favorite," Rachel chimes in with a slight smile.
"The low moment, though," Jacob continues," is up for debate. I believe it was when Rachel's father, Laban, called repeatedly asking me to help out with some projects around the house. He calls all the time and demands I do free work for him—even though I told him I couldn't help him anymore after we finished the patio last summer."
Rachel looks irritated. "And I believe the low point was when Jacob left the dinner dishes in the sink all night. They were really difficult to clean the next day. I mean, who cares if my dad wants your help? He's my father after all."
One of the women in the group gently asks, "Have these requests for help been a pattern in your married life?"
"Oh, long before we were ever married. He has always wanted me to do his work for him. And even when he says he'll compensate me, he never gives me exactly what he promised. I've been working for years for Laban, and I'm beginning to think he's taking advantage of me."
How would you respond to Jacob and Rachel?
Who knew one of the Bible's greatest couples would have so much in-law drama to share at small group? Find their full story in Genesis, beginning in chapter 25.
January 17, 2012
Mark Ingmire points out ten factors
Mark Ingmire recently wrote an article called "Evaluating Trust in Your Group" for our training resource Are We Building Trust? Mark points out ten key factors that indicate a trustworthy group including authenticity, confidentiality, and listening. Two other factors, though, particularly caught my eye. Mark points to confession—sharing our shortcomings and a desire to change—and serving others in the group as key indicators of trustworthy groups.
We often think that confession in small groups only applies to the strongest, most trusting groups. However, any group that has an appropriate amount of trust should be a safe place that invites members to share their shortcomings. Even if members don't share with the whole group, sharing with even just one other member is a sign that trust is present.
Serving one another, on the other hand, may not seem like such a big issue. Some might believe the group should be focusing on serving others rather than themselves. But Mark has a good point: "The age old adage is still true, 'People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.'" Serving group members can show them just how much you care. And that can go a long way in building trust.
Here's one of the evaluations Mark created. Be sure to check out Are We Building Trust? to read the full article and learn what your score means. You'll also get seven other assessments to evaluate the level of trust in your group.
Group Evaluation of Trust
For each category, circle the number that best describes your small group in most situations. Values for 1 and 5 are indicated below.
1 2 3 4 5
1=No one expects anything from me
5=Our group could be titled “Great Expectations”
1 2 3 4 5
1=It’s like being at a Masquerade
5=Group members reveal their real selves
1 2 3 4 5
1=Our group is like a room full of strangers
5=Our group feels like we are peas in a pod
1 2 3 4 5
1=“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” 5=No secrets here
1 2 3 4 5
1=Loose lips prevail
5=Lips are sealed
1 2 3 4 5
1=I might as well be talking to the wall
5=My group understands me
1 2 3 4 5
1=I feel invisible
5=I feel like part of the team
1 2 3 4 5
1=It’s every man and woman for him/herself!
5=We’re constantly serving others
1 2 3 4 5
1=It feels like our group has been given a gag order
5=It feels like a family reunion every week
1 2 3 4 5
1=I might as well be aboard the Titanic 5=My group is my lifeboat
January 12, 2012
A forty-day journey exploring big questions about God and faith
Imagine a book that answers big theological questions in easy-to-understand terms while still giving satisfying answers—questions like these: Is God real? Do all roads lead to heaven? and How can a good God allow suffering? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
But when a co-worker recently gave me The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, I was pleasantly surprised. It consists of 40 daily readings and six small-group sessions. The idea is to do the study over six weeks. Each week has a theme question and each day discusses subsequent questions. And they really are big questions: Is God real? Is the Bible true? Do all roads lead to heaven? Each daily reading discusses a major question in about three pages and includes a fourth page that allows the reader to respond, including a main idea to chew on, a verse to remember, a point to ponder, and space to reflect on personal feelings about the question.
My initial thought after seeing the questions is that the authors would inevitably make one of two mistakes. They’d either explain these huge questions in theological terms that no normal person knows, or talk in terms so simple and fluffy that they don’t actually answer the questions. Luckily, this book does neither. While safe for seekers (it uses accessible language and explains things concisely), this book makes clear its position: God is real, can be trusted, and desires a relationship with each of us. The authors use easy-to-understand language and simple—but not simplistic—intellectual arguments that don’t require a degree in theology (or physics, for that matter) and provide satisfying answers to real questions.
While we might believe these questions are those of only non-believers, these questions also surface in the lives of many Christians. One week’s question struck me in particular: If Christianity is true, why is the church full of hypocrites? Even more practical, one week discusses discovering our purpose and another discusses how we can change our behaviors.
Additionally, we can get a lot to support our faith from the book. One daily reading discusses the books of the Bible, categorizing them, and explaining how we got the Bible we read today. Another week discusses what Muslims believe, including a brief history of the religion, its view of God and the afterlife, its main teachings, and a description of Qu'ran. (There are similar sections on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity as well.)
At the back of the book, you’ll find a six-session small-group plan. It includes icebreaker questions that go along with the week’s questions, Bible readings, seven discussion questions, and a challenge for the week. The discussion questions include both knowledge-based questions to go along with the daily readings and questions that get to the heart and help readers apply what they’re learning. I think the questions would be beneficial in any adult small group, and could easily be adapted to fit the group's needs.
In the introduction, the authors state that knowledge can give us confidence in God, ourselves, and our faith. And I believe that confidence can help us submit to God, trusting him to rule our lives and guide our steps. Consider The God Questions for your next small-group study.
January 9, 2012
Check out the nine-month parenting study from ChristianBibleStudies.com
Our sister ministry ChristianBibleStudies.com just released a new nine-month parenting study. The study includes 38 sessions to do with your small group and covers topics like boundaries, materialism, types of schooling, teens and sex, fights, and more. If you lead a small group of parents, this could be the perfect study for you. And you won't have to pick out another study until the fall!
Plus, right now get more than half off and pay only $99.95. That's less than $11 per month! As always, you can make up to 1000 copies within your local church.
January 6, 2012
What's your small-group resoluton?
Well, it's officially 2012, and everyone's talking about new year's resolutions. While the usual ones--lose weight, work out more, get organized--seem to be talked about most, it has me thinking about small-group resolutions. What is your resolution as a small-group leader, host, coach, or director? What do you hope to work on this year to improve your ministry?
Maybe you want to prepare more thoroughly, spend more time with group members outside of meetings, encourage group members more, or commit to meeting with your coach or another leader.
Share your resolution below so we can be encouraged and encourage one another.
January 4, 2012
We've got you covered.
Have I got a deal for you! Each year we compile a list of our ten most popular resources, and the list for 2011 is now available. The varied list shows that you've been interested in a lot of things this year. From our always popular Small-Group Leader Orientation Guide to a study on using your spiritual gifts to studies from John Ortberg, Tim Keller, and N.T. Wright, there are lots of resources to take a look at.
For a limited time, you can purchase these resources for 25 percent off! Buy them now and use them throughout the year to grow and strengthen your ministry.
Did we get the list right? What are your favorite downloadable resources from SmallGroups.com?
January 3, 2012
Why our understanding of potential makes a difference
Ben Reed, a contributor to SmallGroups.com, made an excellent point on his blog recently, and I had to share it with you. Many of our articles talk about the importance of looking for potential small-group leaders in your group, looking for someone to replace you, and finding an apprentice. Depending on your idea of potential, though, you might be looking for the wrong person. Looking for a potential leader means you aren't looking for the person who has already proven he or she could lead. Instead, it may be the person who seems uncommitted and unmotivated. With practice, you'll learn to see something in people that even they don't see yet. And, most likely, they'll need a little nudge to dive into leadership.
Check out Ben's blog post here, and let us know what you think. How do you identify potential small-group leaders? How have you nudged them along in the past? What was the outcome?
Bonus: For those of you who enjoy physics, you'll get a special joy from Ben's analogy.