January 31, 2013
Who do you know that is hurting?
January and February are known to be some of the most difficult months emotionally. After the craziness of the holiday season, these months can be lonely, cold, and hard to cope with.
How do you minister to group members who are hurting? And what can your small group do to reach out to those who are hurting—or even those who have been hurt by the church?
I came across this video today from Community Christian Church. It's a moving display of the hurt people experience. Watch it for yourself and consider how you and your small group can minister to these people whom God loves.
January 29, 2013
Why your leadership matters
Do you know how important your role is, small-group leader? Without you, your group will not run as smoothly, and group members won't get as much out of discussions. It's easy to believe that if you have a mature group your presence doesn't matter. But that's simply not true.
Consider how easily your group members go off on tangents during your discussion. Do you gently bring them back? Or observe what happens when someone shares something that makes them vulnerable. How do others react? Do they attempt to lighten the mood through humor? Just sit silently waiting for you to make the next move?
Sure, many meetings—the "normal" meetings—may make you feel like you're not all that necessary. Group members share great insights, are open in their prayer requests, and enjoy themselves. But what happens when there's an awkward moment? Or when there's a disagreement? Or when two group members are on opposite ends theologically?
Leaders who are able to facilitate group discussion well will recognize these moments and take steps to validate group members and help move the discussion along appropriately—not too fast to neglect and gloss over what's happening, but not too slow to dwell on the situation for too long.
Facilitating discussion is really an art, something you can continue to improve on as you gain more leading experience. But if you want to grow in your facilitation skills, you'll need to be intentional. Read about how to facilitate, especially in unique situations. Start with The Basics of Facilitating and Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion. Then learn how to deal with specific group dynamics issues in our digizine Troubleshooting, including four of the most common small-group issues.
Another great idea is to reflect on your facilitation skills. After each meeting spend five minutes reflecting on the discussion, answering the questions below. If you co-lead, work through these questions together.
What went well? Did the group go off on any tangents? Was I able to bring the group back? If so, how?
Did the mood change at any time? For what reason?
How did the group members handle the change? How did I handle it?
Did I encourage multiple members to share their thoughts, or did one or two dominate the meeting?
Did we start and end on time? Why or why not?
How deeply did group members share? Or did they stay at surface level?
What can I do differently next time to facilitate better?
How have you grown in your facilitating skills? What has helped the most?
January 28, 2013
Check out our reviews of four great resources.
As you begin looking at your small-group ministry and making plans for 2013, it's helpful to invest in resources that will help you better articulate your goals. But before you invest, don't you want to know if the resources will meet your needs?
Check out my reviews of four excellent resources on being a small group that impacts your community in our most recent digizine, including Missional Small Groups, MissioRelate, Untamed, and This Is Our City. You'll find resources to help you better imagine what missional living through small groups could look like, and you'll find practical resources to help you make missional living a reality.
Share with us: What books or resources are you using right now to plan for small-group ministry?
January 22, 2013
Remembering that life isn't black and white
The women's group I lead consists of several women who are fairly new to the faith. As we read through our book, talk through the weekend's sermon, or discuss a passage of Scripture, it's inevitable that questions arise. And their questions seem to center on application: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for the lifestyle I'm used to?
For those of us who have been in the church for some time—or have been part of the Christian subculture for some time—these questions may bubble up well-rehearsed answers:
Of course it means you shouldn't live with your boyfriend—you're just going to have to move out immediately.
Of course it means that line of work isn't okay—you're just going to have to quit your job.
Of course it means you shouldn't be friends with her—you're just going to have to distance yourself.
It can be easy to forget that life isn't simply black and white. And while we might be able to identify the ideal, that doesn't mean it's immediately possible.
A recent blog post from Out of Ur reminded me of this ever-present dynamic in my group. The post discusses a new trend of "insider Christians" in other parts of the world—people who are following Christ yet are not willing to leave the cultural and religious communities, especially in Hindu and Muslim communities where the religion is enmeshed in the culture.
The story of these insider Christians forces us to ask the same thing that the women in my group are asking: "What does it look like to be a Christian?" As Christians further down the road, we need to carefully consider our answer. We can't sell the gospel short, but we also can't underestimate the difficulties of their situations—and the potential for God to work within it.
So I'm curious, how would you define, in a nutshell, what it looks like to be a Christian? And is that picture for all Christians everywhere and at all times? Share with us below.
January 17, 2013
The pros and cons of this old standby
Chances are, you've heard of the "empty chair." You may even regularly have an empty chair in your small-group meetings.
The idea is that it reminds group members that there is always room for more—and that they're supposed to be inviting others to join. While this can be a helpful visual reminder, there may be some negative consequences to using the empty chair.
January 15, 2013
And get out of your rut.
January can be a difficult month. The holiday haze has lifted, we're failing at our resolutions, colder weather keeps us indoors, and the financial strain of the holidays keeps us from many fun activities. Without a holiday in sight, January can feel gloomy and routine—it's the same ol' same ol'.
So if your group has started to feel a little mundane, it might be time to mix things up and bring some fun to the lives of your group members. Our newest Practical Ministry Skills resource gives tons of ideas for leading outside the box. From changing up your meeting schedule to planning more group prayer to starting a Facebook page to stay connected through the week, you'll walk away with practical, doable ideas you can implement right away.
Included in the pack is a list of prayer stations from Keri Wyatt Kent. Set up one or several and have group members work through them on their own. Or do one as a group—it could be a great lead into your lesson or a practical next step afterward. Here's one of Kent's ideas.
Paper with Psalm 103:8–14 and Romans 3:21–24 printed on it
Large clear vase filled with water (you may want to put a washcloth or layer of small stones in the bottom to cushion)
Smooth river rocks, as flat as possible
Spend some time asking God to meet you in this station. This is not about guilt or shame, but the truth that sets us free.
The Bible tells us that we have all sinned, yet God offers us the free gift of forgiveness.
What sin do you need to confess to God? What have you done, or left undone? Where have you been less than loving and kind? Are there situations where you were selfish or untruthful? Ask God to show you these, knowing that all the while, he is looking at you in love.
Pick one sin that has been a burden to you, one you truly wish to be free of (because the truth is, sometimes we hang on to sins). Write a word or two on one of the stones, to represent this burden.
Gently slip the stone into the vase of water and watch it sink. Imagine this stone is your sin, which God has removed, and thrown to the bottom of the sea. Notice how the word fades as the water washes the stone.
End your time at this station by thanking God for his forgiveness, rejoicing in the truth that he cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
If you like this idea, see Kent's other seven ideas included in the resource.
What do you do to mix up your small-group meetings?
January 11, 2013
Ministry to people with mental illness
When someone in our small group falls and breaks a hip, we know how to respond. We visit the hospital, send encouraging cards, and deliver meals.
But do we know what to do when someone is diagnosed with mental illness?
Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds, a book on mental illness and the church coming out in April, has first-hand experience with mental illness in the church. Amy's mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Amy has learned a lot about living with, loving, and ministering to people with mental illness.
In a radio appearance today on "This Is the Day" on Moody Radio, Amy gave several tips for ministering to people with mental illness—and they're tips for all of us. Statistically, we will all encounter people with mental illness. There are 12 million people in the U.S. alone with a serious mental illness (1 in 17 adults) and 25% of all Americans have some form of diagnosable mental illness.
Simpson reminded listeners that it is a great first step to refer people with mental illness to appropriate doctors and therapists. But that isn't enough. We must commit to walk with them through the process, helping to deliver holistic care. Simpson said to remember to smile, make eye contact, and say "hi." Help remove the stigma by regularly mentioning mental illness in group discussions, studies, and prayers. Ask how treatment is going. And remember that there is hope for all in Christ.
For a full-length article on this topic, read Amy's article "Through a Glass, Darkly" from our sister ministry Leadership Journal. And stay tuned for more from her book later this year.
And if you're struggling with this now, use our Bible study Ministering to Those with a Mental Illness to work through some of your questions.
January 9, 2013
What exactly is our role?
SmallGroups.com offered a lot of resources and articles on missional living in 2012. I’ll admit that it’s a topic close to my heart, and I truly believe small groups have a huge opportunity—and responsibility—to develop Christ-followers who are engaged in the mission of God.
But not long after you begin to look for opportunities to love on and serve others in your community, you’ll run into the realities of living in a broken world. There are systemic injustices that keep unfortunate situations perpetuating. There are long-term prejudices that make people afraid to step out in faith. And there are sin patterns that are so ingrained that it’s hard to truly make a difference.
And yet, God still calls us to participate in his mission of restoring the world to what it was meant to be by ushering in his kingdom.
In an excellent excerpt from The Cost of Community, Jamie Arpin-Ricci discusses this tension and helps Christ-followers understand their role.
When it comes to missional living, Arpin-Ricci is the real deal. For another excerpt from his book, read Rich and Poor Find Solidarity in Christ.
January 4, 2013
10 back-to-basics articles
I’m always interested to see what our top articles are on SmallGroups.com. And with so many great ones, I couldn’t just limit it to the top five. Instead, here are the top 10 from 2012. There’s quite a mix: everything from the ever-popular “Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion” from Carter Moss to tips from Margaret Feinberg on reclaiming your group from hijackers. But there’s one thing that’s clear: you like the articles that get back to basics. Check out the list below and read them all.
1. Writing Questions that Spark Discussion
Eight helpful tips for those who write their own studies
By Rick Lowry
2. Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion
Practical advice for working toward life-change, not spectacular meetings
By Carter Moss
3. How to Start a House Church
Five ideas to keep in mind when you’re planting something new
By Larry Kreider and Floyd McClung
4. No More Mr. Nice Group
Five practices that take small groups beyond polite sharing to the disciplines that change lives
By John Ortberg
5. What You Should Not Share with Your Small Group
Three things you should keep to yourself
By Seth Widner
6. The Basics of Facilitating
What every small-group leader needs to know
By Amy Jackson
7. Measuring Spiritual Growth
Using objectives and doorposts
By Alan Danielson
8. Help! My Small Group Has Been Hijacked!
Four common hijackers and ways to respond
By Margaret Feinberg
9. Three Ways to Kill a Small Group
Avoid these sure-thing saboteurs.
By Nicole Unice
10. Laying a Solid Foundation with Prayer
20 Ideas for incorporating prayer in our small-group meeting
January 2, 2013
What you've been reading
Here are the top 5 blog posts of 2012. Covering topics from The Hunger Games to introversion, you'll find them all interesting. If you haven’t read them yet, take a moment to read them now.
What’s your favorite post? Share with us below.