April 27, 2012
Get helpful resources from Christianity Today
Ever since e-readers came out, I've stuck my nose up at them. I couldn't imagine reading something on a screen instead of holding soft paper pages, smelling the ink and mustiness of an old book, and placing a crazy amount of tiny flags on the pages with the best quotations.
For Christmas, though, I got a Kindle Touch, and everything has changed. While I still enjoy holding a paper book from time to time, there is nothing like having numerous books with you—in a light, easy-on-the-eyes device. I'm actually reading more now, and I'm reading a wider variety of things, too.
Do you own a Kindle or NOOK? If so, browse the selection of e-books from our sister ministries Christianity Today magazine, Kyria, and Christian Bible Studies. Currently we offer over 90 e-books from "How to Pick a President" to "Sabbath Rest in a World of Stress" to a Bible study on "Dealing with Sexual Temptation."
One of SmallGroup.com's most popular resources, Leading a Life-Changing Bible Study, is also available in e-book form. Check them out, and let us know what you think.
What other SmallGroups.com resources would you like to see in e-book format?
April 25, 2012
Celebrating a transformed life
On Saturday, April 21, Charles Colson died at the age of 80. Evangelicals have lost an influential voice.
Ever heard or used the term “born again”? You owe it to Charles Colson. But in the 1970’s, he seemed an unlikely person to popularize the phrase. He gained fame as President Nixon’s advisor and through his involvement in Watergate. After his conversion, though, he became one of the best known American evangelical voices of all time.
Interested in learning from him? Be sure to use our study Charles Colson on Social Responsibility with your group.
April 20, 2012
What should you do when there's real conflict between group members?
Our most recent digizine, Troubleshooting, includes a helpful article from Les Parrott on what to do when we learn two of our group members are at odds. If you're in small-group ministry long enough, you're bound to run into this scenario, and it's difficult to know how to walk with the group members through the situation. Les offers some great tips, including understanding why conflict occurs, deciding whether it's something that should be worked out during a group meeting or outside the group context, and rebuilding respect. He also tells group leaders to focus on forgiveness. Here's what he has to say:
When someone slights you, offends you, or deeply hurts you, the urge to respond in kind is natural: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The problem with this urge is that we don't know when to step. If we lose an eye, we want more than an eye in return. We don't want to balance the scales; we want them tipped in our favor. And once we feel the compensation is satisfactory, the other person takes his turn at punishing us again. The cycle repeats itself over and over.
Forgiveness puts an end to all that. Our primal urge for "balancing the score" comes to a screeching halt when we set our pride aside and begin to forgive. It's for our own advantage, too. Because getting even takes its toll on the one seeking revenge. When Jesus tells us to "turn the other cheek" or "go the extra mile," he is not telling us to give our enemy some advantage over us. He is not telling us to be cowards. Cheek-turning is for your own protection. Once you free yourself from a desire to hurt back, you put an end to your vindictive spirit and save yourself from further harm.
But let's get real. How do we help this happen when two group members are at odds? How do we help them forgive? It begins by gently asking if either one is willing to set their pride aside and try their best to see the situation from the other person's perspective. If neither party is willing to take this crucial step, press the pause button. They need more time to cool down. The problems that plague relationships are rarely 100 percent one person's fault. In time, one of them is likely to set their foolish pride aside. And that's when an apology and genuine forgiveness can occur.
This is critical because, in truth, the proverbial scales can never be balanced. "Do not repay anyone evil for evil," says the apostle Paul, instead "live at peace." That's the result of forgiveness: peace. And it sets the tone for the next step in repairing the relationship.
When have you experienced true forgiveness? When have you helped group members forgive one another? Share with us below.
For the rest of the article, check it out in our Troubleshooting digizine.
April 17, 2012
Being a missional small group is messy
My husband and I have greatly enjoyed being part of our current small group. We joined only five months ago, and already we've fallen in love with this group's missional mindset. The group members always have their eyes open for opportunities to bless others. It's been a growing experience for us. We've been stretched out of our comfort zones, and we're compelled to look for other opportunities to care and serve.
If there's one thing I've learned about being missional, though, it's that it's messy. It doesn't fall in neat boxes. It doesn’t stick to normal lines. It doesn't even have a clear cause and effect. Regardless, though, there's a definite sense that you're doing what God calls his followers to do—show the love of Jesus to others.
A few months ago, our group decided to throw a housewarming party for a woman who was recently homeless. Now in an apartment with a young son, she had nothing—no silverware, no plates, no pans. She didn't even know how to cook. We showed up at her apartment on a rainy night. More than 15 of us stood in her small living room, giving her our gifts, helping her put things away. One couple brought a slow cooker with several recipes, offering to show her how to prepare them. The woman was overwhelmed and quietly put the items away. We didn't know the right things to do or say, yet we stayed for over an hour just loving on her, laughing at jokes, sharing stories, and listening to music. We didn't know what our gifts would mean to the woman, but we tried to be Jesus' hands and feet . . . and that's all we could do.
More recently our group attended a baby shower for a refugee woman from Kenya. We were surprised by the differences in the culture—from how they celebrated to the music they listened to. As we worked our way through the buffet line, we didn't recognize any of the food. But we were lucky to try spicy gizzards, bananas and beans, and sweet bread. It was definitely out of our comfort zone: we were with people we didn't know, surrounded by cultural nuances we didn't understand. Yet it was beautiful to celebrate this baby with them. And we learned a lot that night about their culture. Now we can't wait to party with them again. They definitely taught us a thing or two about celebrating.
In five months, we've had more experiences like this than I've had in any other small group. And I think it's because this small group is doing something right—they're willing to be uncomfortable in order to reach people far from God, to better understand our Christian brothers and sisters from other backgrounds and cultures, and to provide for the least of these. I've wondered aloud to my husband why our past isn't filled with these kinds of experiences. But we know the answer—it's just too messy. How do you program something like this? How do you keep group members from getting frustrated when things are uncomfortable? How do you teach group members the value in simply being present with others? How do you help people understand that we should obey Jesus regardless of the outcome?
I'm reminded, though, of how often Jesus was willing to step out of the norm, including when he ate with Matthew's friends in Matthew 9. Why does ministry have to be neat and tidy? Life isn't. If we're going to meet people where they're at, we're going to have to leave the neat and tidy behind.
For more information on being a missional small group check out: Eliminating the Walls Between Insider and Outsider Activities, Resource Review: Missional Small Groups, and Instill the Vision in Your Small-Group Leaders.
April 12, 2012
Why our communication about small groups may be hurting us
When I've heard pastors and church leaders talk, I get the feeling that we may have shot ourselves in the foot. That is, by communicating that small groups are all about meeting my needs for community, friendship, and spiritual growth, we've created a culture of consumerism. And when a group member doesn't feel his or her needs are being met, leaders hear about it.
But is the main goal of small groups to cater to the needs of group members—to provide a safe place where they can gain friends and have fun? Or is the purpose of small groups a bit deeper?
This video from difted.com explains that sharing what we've been given is our true purpose. It states that "pouring them out onto the world around us might leave us with more than we thought." Instead of trying to fill up my bucket more and more, it's about sharing what I've got with others. And I want to ask you: how can we emphasize this in the way we market small groups?
How do we emphasize that small groups are a place to serve and give of ourselves so that we all experience more abundant growth? Share with us below.
April 10, 2012
What will it take to reach a new generation?
Did you know that the largest generation today is the Millennials—those born between 1980 and 2000? It's a hopeful generation that believes in helping people and accomplishing things for the greater good. It's a generation seeking roots of meaning and careers of purpose. It's a generation deciding what they want their lives to be about.
And only 25 percent attend church weekly. Almost two-thirds never attend. (So if you're thinking you haven't seen these hopeful, helpful people in your church, you're probably right.)
What will it take to reach this generation with the compelling mission of Christ? Sam S. Rainer III says it will take a new type of authority. Check out his intriguing article from our sister resource Leadership Journal.
Then let us know below: what can small groups do to reach Millennials?
April 5, 2012
A free tool from Michael Mack and TOUCH Publications
I recently finished reading Small Group Vital Signs by Michael Mack. The author explains seven signs of a healthy small group: Christ-centered, healthy leader, shared leadership, proactive leadership, authentic community, ministry to others, and discipleship. He breaks down each area in its own chapter, giving a clear understanding of why the area is crucial to small-group health and offering great ideas for improving in the area.
Whether or not you've read the book, though, you can benefit by taking the free online assessment. This assessment asks 42 questions and creates a graph showing how your group is doing in each of the seven areas. In a matter of minutes you can have a clear idea of the areas in which your group is doing well, and which areas could use some improvement. Take the assessment today for your own group, or pass it along to your leaders.
April 3, 2012
A displaced couple finds true friendship through a small group
We have more ways to communicate than ever before, but how deep are our relationships? In our newest download, Physical Presence Matters, Seth Widner shares his own story about why physical presence--through small-group meetings--grew to mean so much to him.
After moving from Tennessee to Florida to plant a church, he and his wife were pretty homesick. They were able to stay in touch with friends and family, but they began to lean on their physically present small group. Here's what Seth writes:
About five months into our church plant, we decided to launch our small-group ministry. From our beginning, we planned to be a church of small groups. The time had come to gather potential leaders and start training. Although I had little experience in adult small groups, I believed the ministry would be a good one. As I trained future small-group leaders, I became more enthusiastic about the concept of small groups. My passion for helping people connect in small groups was growing.
Melissa and I agreed to lead a small group, too. We were looking forward to meeting new faces and making some new friendships. Our target would be young married couples without children. Honestly, it was for selfish reasons. We didn't have kids, and I didn't want screaming babies or diapers in our home. Thankfully, we found three couples to invite to our small group, and we decided to meet at a local restaurant for our first meeting.
That first evening was a breath of fresh air. The only thing on the agenda was to enjoy good food and conversations. We had some great talks. We learned that most of the small-group members had moved from other states. So we shared about our old homes, what brought us to Florida, and how the transition was going. It was such a relief to be able to talk to people who felt homesick from time to time! These couples understood what Melissa and I were going through.
Since that first meeting, our small group has been doing life together. We gather regularly for food, fun, fellowship, Bible study, and prayer. No matter what kind of day I'm having, I know that my small group will be there for me. We have laughed, cried, and prayed together. We have discussed God's Word and voiced our questions about life. We have each experienced spiritual growth. And I finally got over my fear of diapers! At this point, most of us have become parents.
Over the years, I've found an interesting connection between my small group and homesickness. As my small-group friendships have grown, my homesickness has diminished. I still miss my family and friends in Tennessee, and I still communicate through technology. From time to time I will enjoy a phone call, send a quick text message, or touch base through Facebook. But my intense homesickness has gone away. Melissa and I have transitioned into our new home in Fernandina Beach.
To read the rest of his article, and to read more on why physical presence matters, check out our newest download.