July 26, 2012
How to prepare your meeting space
Many times when small-group leaders prepare for a meeting, they focus on looking at the study, praying, and formulating questions—all keys to preparing for a life-changing discussion. But there's something else that needs our attention, too: the meeting environment. Setting the right tone for the meeting has a lot to do with the physical environment. Joel Comiskey offers several considerations when preparing the meeting space in his article "How to Prepare for Small-Group Meetings" from our resource Leading 101:
Seating Arrange the seating so each person can see every other person in the group. A circle is the best choice. As the leader, place your chair on the same level as the rest of those in the group—neither as the focal point nor in the background. If your home is spacious, move the chairs into a close circle, thus occupying only a portion of the room. When people are spread far apart, it's harder to openly share thoughts and feelings.
Some people feel intimidated about opening their homes because they're not as large or luxurious as those of other church members. Don't listen to this argument. Actually, a small apartment or home generates warmth and closeness and reminds the group that they eventually will need to multiply.
Refreshment time isn't something simply tacked onto small-group ministry; it's a vital part. The refreshment time is often the best moment to ask personal questions, get to know one another on a deeper level, or set a fun and relaxed mood.
If the host home is always providing the refreshments, ask the host if it's becoming a burden and whether it would be good to find someone else to provide refreshments. Or, you could assign someone on your planning team to take care of the refreshment schedule. This gets other group members involved, and they begin to feel more ownership for the group.
Turn off telephone ringers and mute the volume on your answering machine. Put pets in another room or outside. Turn off TV sets, radios, and computers during a meeting. Don't let distraction get in the way of community. Make sure each member can concentrate on the other people present.
If someone other than yourself is hosting the group, arrive 10 minutes early to make sure everything is ready to start. If you begin on time regardless of latecomers, you're sending the signal that every part of the meeting is important.
Additionally, make sure you close on time. I like small-group meetings to last about an hour and a half. Members have a lot of responsibilities, and they might think twice about attending the next week if the meeting goes too long.
• Make sure the guest bathroom is clean before the group begins. Is there toilet paper, soap, a towel?
• The temperature in the home increases as more people pack into a room. Members can become agitated and uncomfortable if there is a lack of fresh, cool air. Be sensitive to the needs of those in the room.
• The lighting should be bright enough for everyone to read, but low enough to feel cozy. If it's too dark, people will have a harder time following along in their Bibles or on handouts.
For the rest of Comiskey's article, and for tips on facilitating discussion, see Leading 101.
What do you do to prepare the meeting space? Share your suggestions below.
July 24, 2012
Christine Caine sets the record straight on compassion.
Several years ago, I came across Christine Caine's Stop Acting Like a Christian, Just Be One at a bookstore. It stopped me in my tracks. That title spoke to my heart. And the book spoke loads of truth into my life.
This week I came across a video of Christine in Catalyst Leadership, a quarterly digital magazine put out by Catalyst and Leadership Journal. In this short video, Caine explains why compassion requires that we act. Using the story of the Good Samaritan, she explains that feeling badly for someone simply isn't enough.
Watch the video here.
How are you empowering your group members to be truly compassionate, using their time, talents, and treasures to make a difference?
July 19, 2012
Putting ourselves on the road to spiritual growth
Growth requires that our normal ways are challenged—the way we think, the things we value, the amount of money we spend at Target. Without feeling challenged, we simply continue in our same routines. While most of us would say we want to grow spiritually, how many of us take off running any time we're challenged? We make our lives as comfortable, conflict free, and full of luxuries as we can.
As I've studied spiritual formation, I've learned that we need disequilibrating experiences, things that shake up our norm enough to make space for the Spirit. (That's why spiritual disciplines like fasting are so great—they force us to change up our routines.) The problem is that even when we aren't actively seeking out comfort, American culture throws plenty of comfort and convenience our way. Think about it: How many people in the world can drive 10 miles or less to a grocery store which has produce year-round from around the world, regardless of natural growing seasons? It's easy to take all our conveniences for granted.
If small groups are an excellent place to nurture spiritual formation (and I believe they are), we'll need to continually introduce our group members to challenging statements, people, and situations. In other words, if our small-group meetings are the most comfortable time of our weeks, we're doing something wrong. If we're not experiencing challenging situations together, reading Jesus' controversial statements, or taking steps of faith regularly, we're missing an opportunity to grow. Instead, we're simply gathering for fun, for social reasons.
This is why I believe Jesus' call for us to be on mission is really smart. When you're on mission with clear purpose, you'll continually run into situations that challenge you. You're given the opportunity time and time again to rise to the challenge, growing in your faith. If you serve together at a homeless shelter, you'll run into people, situations, and cultural ills that will challenge you. Do I really believe what God's Word says? Do I really believe God can work through governments for his purposes? Do I really believe I should give grace and mercy to everyone—even those who have made bad decisions?
If you're reading through James and you genuinely talk about the implications of his words, you'll encounter some difficult imperatives. How is my faith shown in the way I respond to my neighbor's needs? Am I actually growing in being slow to anger? Do I really listen to God's Word and let it change me?
To keep your group members from getting too complacent, you should look for opportunities to challenge them. But to make sure these experiences encourage growth instead of fear, here are a few tips:
1. Prepare your group as much as possible ahead of time.
Are you going to the homeless shelter? Explain how things work there as much as you can. Clearly lay out what you'll do while you're there. Discuss any rules they'll need to know.
If you're going to be reading through a difficult passage of Scripture, give a brief synopsis of the text and explain its historical context. Clue group members in to key topics and ideas.
2. Debrief afterward.
Plan for plenty of time for group members to share their feelings about the experience. Let them sit and reflect for a while. Encourage them to think about how it has affected them on an emotional level. Allow group members to share parts of the experience that were difficult, that may have made them especially uncomfortable. Invite them to share their honest questions and comments. Affirm group members' feelings and thoughts. Address unresolved issues if possible. At the same time, recognize that discomfort often makes room for the Spirit to work, for transformation to occur.
By preparing your group ahead of time and allowing them to debrief afterward, you'll create a safe place to explore the challenges you face together. As your group members experience challenge and encourage one another to take steps of faith, you'll all experience spiritual growth.
July 16, 2012
A sneak peek from our new digizine
We're putting on the finishing touches to our yearly digizine, and I'm so excited for you to see it. It will be available on August 7, so keep your eyes open for a blog post announcing its arrival. In the meantime, I thought I'd give you a little sneak peak.
Our digizine, The Meaning of Missional, is all about what it means to live missionally, especially as a small group. And we have articles from people who have been leading the way in missional small groups including Alan Danielson of New Life Bible Church in Norman, Oklahoma, Carter Moss of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, and Scott Nelson of ForgeAmerica.
I also had the privilege of interviewing Scott Boren, author of MissioRelate and Missional Small Groups. He's been part of missional small groups for a long time, and he's passionate about helping churches move their small groups toward missional living. We talked about the many challenges of missional living and what it will take for small groups to catch the vision and begin living missionally.
My favorite part, though, was when Boren explained, in simple terms, what missional living looks like. Among other things, he said we need to ask, "How do we embody the way of Christ in our local neighborhoods right here, right now in a way that is attractive and beautiful and winsome and demonstrates the kingdom? Not so people will come, but because that's who God has called us to be—whether or not people respond."
I've been reflecting on that quotation ever since. I feel too often we try to be missional only with the goal of newcomers in mind; in other words, we're asking, "How do we get people to respond to the Gospel?" When we do that, we forget that God calls us to obey him regardless of the outcome. We serve the needy regardless of whether they begin to follow him. We give generously regardless of whether we receive generosity. We love people and offer grace regardless of whether we're offered grace and love in return. It reminds me that we don't cause people to respond; the Spirit does.
The truth is that God has called us to live out kingdom values regardless of the outcome—just because that's what he's called us to do. The more I reflect on this truth, the more I fall in love with God. He's after our hearts, not what we can produce, and that's a beautiful thing.
The top five so far this year
If you've ever used one of our downloadable Bible studies, you know how valuable they are. They're on pertinent topics, and they're a great value. Download once and you're able to make up to 1,000 copies for use in your ministry—no need to purchase several copies of a book or workbook. Plus, we have a huge variety of topics and studies of different lengths. We also offer many Video Bible Studies with study guides. Looking for suggestions? Here are our most popular resources of 2012 so far.
Most Popular Video Bible Studies
Francis Chan: Sold Out to Jesus (3 session course)
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (10 session course)
John Ortberg on Our Most Important Choice (4 session course)
Facing the Unknown, with Mark Batterson (4 session course)
Let Story Guide You, with Donald Miller (2 session course)
Most Popular (Paper) Bible Studies
Use Your Spiritual Gifts (5 session course)
God: The Great I Am (6 session study)
Philippians: Finding Joy (4 session course)
Men of Integrity: Great Men of the Bible (6 session course)
Drawing the Line (6 session course)
The top five so far this year
If you haven't used our downloadable training resources, you're missing out. These resources are an amazing value. For only $14.95, you get field-tested advice from experts in the small-group field. And we seek to provide resources for your every need in small-group ministry. From the basics of group facilitation to handling conflict to using the Bible well, our resources help you lead your group with excellence. As always, our resources may be downloaded once and copied up to 1,000 times within your ministry context.
This year's top five resources are especially great. The number one resource is our brand-new Small-Group Director Orientation Guide. It provides practical tips, a job description, and even encouragement as you serve in this role. The other top resources will teach you how to birth groups well, empower group members, keep groups connected to your church, and use exegesis and hermeneutics in your Bible study.
In addition, one of our most popular resources year after year is our Small-Group Leader Orientation Guide. Consider using it for yourself as a refresher course, or with your new leaders this fall.
July 12, 2012
Top five articles of the first half of 2012
One of our biggest assets at SmallGroups.com is our numerous articles. We post at least six new articles per month on all sorts of small-group topics. You can use them to train leaders, to consider a new direction for your small-group ministry, to be encouraged, or even to be challenged to grow deeper in your faith. And our most popular articles so far this year show a good mixture of the different types of articles we have.
Learn practical ways to measure spiritual growth from Alan Danielson, read an excerpt from Ruth Haley Barton's Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and hear from Bill Search on the essential elements of small groups. Plus, Carolyn Taketa gives great ideas on keeping your small group connected to your church, and Reid Smith gives a whopping 20 ideas for incorporating prayer in your meetings.
Here are the top five so far this year:
1. Measuring Spiritual Growth
2. Recognizing When We're Dangerously Tired
3. Three Elements of Vibrant Small Groups
4. Connecting Your Small Group with Your Church
5. Laying a Solid Foundation with Prayer
July 10, 2012
Your favorites in 2012 so far
With half of 2012 in the books, I thought it was time to take a look back and see what's been catching your eye on SmallGroups.com. In our next few blog posts, we'll recap our top five blog posts, articles, and resources. Today we're looking at our top blog posts of 2012. The number one blog post, Recognizing a Blind Spot in Church Culture, was first by a landslide. Read my observations on introverts in the church. In our top five, you'll also find a funny account of Rachel and Jacob visiting your small group, a helpful training video from National Community Church, a story of a small group on mission, and some great resources to go along with The Hunger Games.
Here are the top five blog posts so far this year:
1. Recognizing a Blind Spot in Church Culture
2. Guess Who's Coming to Small Group?
3. How Do You Train Your Small-Group Leaders?
4. Leaving the Neat and Tidy Behind
5. Finding God in the 'Hunger Games'
Let us know what you think. What's your favorite blog post of 2012?
July 6, 2012
The perfect resources for you
Whether you're called the small-group director, pastor, champion, or coordinator, you're the one leading the small-group ministry. And if that's you, you know what an amazing and challenging adventure it can be. From organizing the structure of the ministry to meeting with coaches to talking about small groups from the pulpit, the small-group director makes sure that small groups have what they need to be successful. It's no small task, and yet many small-group directors find they're given a small-group ministry with little to no instruction.
That's why we've created the Small-Group Director Orientation Guide. This guide will help lay a solid foundation for small-group point people. With a refresher course on the purpose of small groups, directions on how to choose the right structure for your ministry, and realistic ideas for training leaders, this resource will help small-group directors start, restart, or reexamine their small-group ministries. Plus, if you've inherited your ministry, there's a great article on how to take charge without losing leaders who were loyal to the previous director.
For a sample from this resource, see Three Elements of Vibrant Small Groups.
Looking for other resources made just for you? Try Making a Case for Small Groups, Improving Communication for Effective Small-Group Ministry, and Creative Leader Training.
Are you the small-group point person at your church? What kind of training did you receive?
July 3, 2012
And a study on navigating dual citizenship
As you celebrate freedom this week, consider the ultimate freedom you have in Christ. One of my favorite verses is Galatians 5:1: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." What a great reminder! Christ sets us free so that we can live life fully for him, ushering in his kingdom on earth.
But it can be tricky to understand what our role should be in politics, government, and culture. How much should we influence the governments of the earthly kingdoms we occupy? How involved should we be in politics? What relationship should we have to the culture?
To answer these questions and more, use our new Bible study Dual Citizenship with your small group. It's especially great timing as we head into election season. With 10 sessions, this study can take you through the summer and into the fall.