August 30, 2012
Is the church capable of this calling?
My guess is that if you're part of small-group ministry in a church, you have high hopes for the church. You believe the church really can change the world and bring Christ's love to people who haven't experienced it yet.
On the other hand, if you're entrenched in church ministry, you may also find yourself wondering how all the programs and schedules and classes really help change the world with Christ's love.
So how can a church determine if it really has the potential to change the world? Boren says it all depends on the way a church relates to mission.
Scott Boren has written extensively about missional living and missional small groups. Recently he wrote on his blog that how churches relate to mission makes all the difference in their potential impact. Is your church a mission in itself? Does it have a mission? Or is it on mission? How the church relates to mission directly impacts how it will affect the world.
Read his blog post here, and let us know how your church relates to mission below.
August 29, 2012
Why death is necessary for new life
In the Summer 2012 issue of Leadership Journal, John Ortberg poses the question: “What happens if we look at death and resurrection not just as events at the center of Holy Week, but as the primary framework for transformation on ordinary lives?”
He continues to flesh out the metaphor by explaining that there is a part of us that is “selfish and greedy and vain and cowardly,” and it needs to die because it’s killing us. He writes that we need to ask ourselves, “What is Jesus calling me to die to if I’m going to live?”
It got me thinking, What in my life needs to die? What’s holding me back from the life God has for me?
Small groups are about transformation and discipleship—about helping people live the lives God has called them to. If that’s our mission, how well are we helping group members identify the areas in their lives that need to die? How are we helping them say goodbye for good to those areas in their lives that are killing them slowly?
There’s a lot to think about in this article. Read it for yourself, and let us know what you think below.
August 23, 2012
How your small group can take advantage of this popular tool
The power of social media to connect people is absolutely amazing! And while many of us discuss how our connections are more shallow than in the past due to social media, I believe there's a way for social media to actually enhance our real-life, face to face interactions. To this end, SmallGroups.com recently released a new resource: Social Media for Small-Group Ministry.
In the resource, Keri Wyatt Kent shares how her group has had success using a private Facebook group to inform, connect, and mobilize group members. She shares why using the feature is helpful for her group, gives step-by-step instructions on setting up a private group, and explains the guidelines your group members should use. Plus, she includes a list of many advantages for leaders:
A Facebook group enables you to reach the whole group with one post, and allows them to interact with one another and respond to you quickly. Suppose the person hosting your next meeting suddenly can't do it. Instead of calling everyone, then calling them back to let them know where the meeting is, you could post: "John has to go out of town unexpectedly on business this week, so he can't host our Thursday meeting. Can someone else have it their house?" Everyone in the group will see this on the page and it will show up in their newsfeed. And if group members' smart phones are linked to Facebook, they'll instantly see that you've posted.
Rather than replying by e-mail, group members can simply comment on whatever you post—and hopefully one of them will volunteer to host. Everyone sees the interactions and is up-to-date on what the group decides. Visually, the string of comments looks like a conversation, which feels more like a group conversation than an e-mail string.
Beyond meeting details, you can use the group page to post prayer requests and answers. For example, you could post, "Don't forget to pray for Jane's upcoming job interview. Let us know how it goes, Jane!" Group members can then post responses saying they're praying. Jane can also respond with a report on the interview. It's nice for group members to hear about it right away from Jane, and it takes the job of disseminating group updates off your to-do list.
If you're studying a book, you could post a quote from the book or a question from the study guide to remind them to be preparing for the group meeting. You could also share information you've found online, such as articles or book reviews. Say you're trying to decide which curriculum or book to study next in your group. You could post a question asking members to weigh in. Group members can give suggestions, or link to books on Amazon to allow others to look more in-depth at resources.
Another idea is for coaches to create private groups for the leaders they shepherd. Coaches could ask how leaders' groups are going, post inspirational thoughts or passages, and share vision and important training dates. It's also a great place to provide links to resources and helpful training.
There's no reason the church—and your small group—can't use social media to its advantage. Read the rest of Keri Wyatt Kent's article and gain lots of tips and examples on using social media successfully for small-group ministry in our training tool.
August 21, 2012
And what holds us back from forming misisonal disciples
In our newest digital magazine, Alan Danielson writes an important note about discipleship: "In Christ's mind, discipleship is successful when followers become missionaries—when they combine discipleship with mission." I've been doing a lot of thinking about discipleship this week and the role small groups play in spiritual formation. I fear that too often we fail to empower group members to live out their mission—to discover who God has made them to be and take steps to live out of that identity, to join in God's story of redemption. Danielson explains several reasons we struggle with this in the excerpt below:
We think talking about mission is enough. This is a good place to start, but it's only the start. Just because we hear it doesn't mean it has fully impacted us.
We're guilty of not living out mission ourselves. As leaders, we often talk a good game, but don't even know our neighbors. We feel guilty telling others to live missional lives when we don’t do it ourselves.
Our discipleship systems don't promote mission. Our systems promote attendance, curriculum, discussion, and food. But they don't promote mission. People base their expectations on what we promote.
We measure the wrong things. We measure attendance, number of groups, and the percentage of our weekend attenders who are in groups, but those aren't the right things to measure. Truthfully, we often don't measure mission because it's hard to measure. It's not as clear cut as a spreadsheet of numbers.
We fail to understand why small groups exist. Too often we leaders think small groups exist to connect people within the church and close the back door. However, those are what I call the "happy side effects" of small groups. Think about it: the church exists for the world, not for itself. So, as the purest form of the church, small groups exist for the world, not for the members of the church.
The good news is that there is a way to overcome these obstacles. There is a way for our small groups to develop disciples who are on mission. To gain tips on overcoming these obstacles (and to learn about other obstacles we face), read Danielson's article in our digital magazine, The Meaning of Missional.
August 16, 2012
How a Jars of Clay song gives a beautiful picture of small groups
At church this weekend, our worship team led us in singing a 2010 Jars of Clay song called "Shelter." As I sang the lyrics, I was reminded of the beauty of small groups. In small groups, we gather in safe places of shelter—places where we can "set aside the names [we've] been given," and "set aside the lies [we've] been living." Small groups are places that we never walk alone.
I was most moved, though, by the following lyrics:
We must all believe
Our lives are not our own
We all belong
God has given us each other
And we will never walk alone
In the shelter of each other
We will live
It's so true: our lives are not our own. I believe this is true in the sense that our lives belong to God, and that we belong to one another. We are responsible to and for one another. This is a high calling and a humbling privilege. In small groups, we gather, believing that we belong to one another, that we can help one another to transform into the people God created us to be.
Small groups give us hope, help us grow, allow us to be who we are, and provide shelter from the storm of life. It's a beautiful picture. Reading these lyrics has reenergized me for small-group ministry this fall. What about you?
August 14, 2012
Free quizzes to use and share
Whether you’re a small-group leader or a leader of small-group leaders, you need to know about our free assessments. These interactive quizzes take a few minutes to take and give instant results—and there's no need to be a member to take them. They even recommend some helpful resources. Use them for your own growth, or e-mail them to other leaders to take. If you're a coach or director, you could have your leaders report their scores to you to help you know what you need to train on.
Use these assessments today and pass them along to other leaders by using the "e-mail assessment" button.
August 9, 2012
How the mess of missional living is blessing me
I've written before that missional living is messy, but I really want to drive home this fact: It's not for the faint of heart. Lately, I've been challenged by several situations that have highlighted the messiness of missional living, and it's caused me to reexamine what I really believe.
Not too long ago I sat behind a young couple at church. Their clothes were dirty and disheveled, yet I could tell they had tried to pick out clothes appropriate for church. They both had unkempt hair that hadn't seen water or a brush for some time. Worst, though, they reeked. The woman smelled like cigarettes, and the man smelled like a dirty diaper. As he shifted uneasily during the sermon, the stench wafted back at me. It made my stomach turn, and I found myself unconsciously leaning back in my seat, trying to put more distance between us.
I'll admit that my mind was screaming, "Get up and move! Get away from these people!" It took a lot of willpower to stay put. But I kept thinking, Aren't these the kind of people you want at church? The people you've prayed God would bring? Isn't it amazing that they had the courage to get up this morning and come here?
I don't remember much of the sermon that day. Instead, I prayed that God would give me courage and the words to make this couple feel welcome. After service, I struck up a brief conversation with the couple, introducing myself and asking their names. Sadly, it took a lot for me to look past the dirt, grime, and smell. I realized that morning that while I say I believe that all people are made in the image of God, my natural instinct definitely didn't align with that. However, I felt that tension and trusted God could fill the gap. And he did. It was an extremely short conversation, but I consider it a win for God. It challenged me to trust in him, trust in his truth—even if my trust was shown in an extremely small act.
Weeks later, my small group had the opportunity to bless an under-resourced mom and her two girls. They are on the cusp of homelessness. They do have a home, but there's not much money left over for anything else—including food. We brought tons of groceries over to their home, filling their cupboards and refrigerator. The mom was overwhelmed by the bags of groceries brought by the eight strangers invading her home.
The biggest blessing, though, had nothing to do with food. Instead, it was the love we gave her daughters—a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old. Her younger daughter was born with a condition that has left her severely deformed. Her body remains the size of a 1-year-old, and she must be carried around like a baby, unable to walk or sit on her own. She also can't speak. Because people aren't sure how to act toward this young girl, many just look away.
I, too, was nervous to interact with this young girl. Would I hurt her? Does she understand what people are saying to her, or should I speak to her like a baby? Could she communicate at all? What should I talk to this young girl about? Would she be scared of me?
Despite these questions, two of us sat holding her while the rest of the group helped the mom put away the groceries. When I said "hello," she smiled so wide. A grin snuck onto my face. We held her, brushing through her hair with our fingers, telling her how beautiful she is. The woman with me had brought her own daughter who promptly asked what was wrong with this little girl. My friend quickly responded, "That's how God made her. Isn't she beautiful?"
What astonished me was this young girl's wit. While she looks like a very young child, even a baby, her brain obviously functions at a higher level. As we talked with her, she warmed up to us and began "bumping us"—touching her fist to our fists—her own way of saying "hello." Pretty soon she started to fake us out. She would put up her fist to "bump us," but when we put our fists up, she would move her hand away and start laughing hysterically. I couldn't help but laugh, too.
I left feeling that I'd made a new friend, very different from how I thought I might feel afterward. I'll admit this was a tough experience for me. I was nervous about what it would be like, and I had questions that made me want to stand back. But God used this situation to stretch me, to remind me that each and every person is made in the image of God.
Twice in a matter of weeks, God put me in situations where he challenged what I believe. In essence, he asked me, "Do you really believe that every person is made in my image?" I'll admit my heart hadn't bought in like my mind had. But these experiences have done a lot to convince my heart.
When we're on mission for God, we live our lives in a way that makes the kingdom present, that makes Jesus present. We live by God's values instead of society's values. We bring the love of God to each person we interact with. (And we experience the love of God in others.)
And all that can get pretty messy.
But that's the way we grow. God meets us in the tension we feel, offering to fill the gap with his strength, grace, and love. And we find that as we seek to bless others, we are blessed beyond our imagination.
For more on missional living, read our free digizine.
How are you helping your group members live on mission? How are you encouraging them to offer up to God the tension they feel so they can grow?
August 7, 2012
Find out how small groups can serve God's redemptive purposes.
I love getting things for free—especially when they're actually valuable. Assuming you do, too, I'm happy to present our brand-new, completely free SmallGroups.com digital magazine! Our current issue is all about what it means to be missional and how to help your group members catch the vision.
In The Meaning of Missional, you'll discover examples of people living missionally, clear explanations of what missional means (especially for your small group) and why it's important, and practical tips on moving into missional living. Plus, use our meeting builders to help your group catch the vision of missional living. And our resource reviews will give you further information.
Our digizine is jam-packed with tons of great information that's perfect for you as you lead a small group, small-group leaders, or a whole small-group ministry. If you do coach or train leaders, use our digizine to help them learn what it means to be missional. It's a great resource for your next training session.
We'd love for you to pass this free resource along to your friends, family, leaders, coworkers, and ministry friends. And let us know what you think below! We'd love to hear your thoughts.
August 2, 2012
What are you doing to prepare?
As churches around the country gear up for the fall ministry launch, we hope you’re excited and well on your way to being prepared to launch your group or small-group ministry. Fall is a great time to launch groups—it's a time when lots of new people come to church, lots of old people return to church, and people are forming their regular schedules for the rest of the school year. And a return to regular schedules means it’s easier for potential group members to commit to a small group because they know when they're available to meet
So what are you doing to prepare for the fall? Do you have any official launch activities planned? Do you spend extra time training leaders? Do you have a fun BBQ planned for your small group?
For lots of resources on launching and relaunching, click here.
Let us know what you’re doing to prepare for the fall below.
August 1, 2012
How to ask questions that facilitate change
Many years ago, a wise woman told me that as a small-group leader I needs to ask lots and lots of good questions. In fact, if I was ever tempted to simply tell something, I should rephrase it as a genuine question, allowing group members to discover the truth on their own.
Sometimes when we formulate our study questions for our meetings, we forget how powerful good questions can be. They invite others to think, to process, and to discover. But asking good questions takes practice. And it takes our full attention, our full presence in the moment.