Leading a small group (or anything else in the church) comes out of an assignment or appointment from God. This is critical and foundational to Christian leadership. When someone recruits you to a job that you are not called to, it’s easy to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.
Are you a small group leader because someone recruited you, because there’s a shortage of leaders, or because you have been called by God?
Let me be clear: You may have been recruited, even out of a sense of need, by someone in your church: a pastor, ministry point leader, coach, or the leader of your group, for instance. That does not mean you have not also been called. God often—actually, usually—uses other people as his ambassadors to call us into his service. You may have been primarily called as a small group host or facilitator, but now I’m talking to you about being a leader, and maybe you’re thinking, Not so fast! I’m not a leader, just a host or facilitator.
Please let me encourage you.
First, don’t underestimate yourself. The best leaders are often, at first, anyway, reluctant leaders. Humility is a vital trait of a godly leader.
Second, and I’ve said this before, it’s not about you anyway! The best leaders are people who are simply willing to let God use them. God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things through them.
Third, simply start where you are, in whatever role God has called you to, and be ready to grow into what God is making you into. Remember what Jesus told some guys who started as fishermen: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”
It comes down to this: You assume the role of a leader “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:2). What’s important is your willingness to let God use you as he wants for his kingdom work.
This simple small group agenda is based on 7 principles from Acts 2:42-47, 5:42 and 6:7. The seven principles are as follows…
These seven principles represent settings, practices and the fruit that is produced as a result. They can be touched upon in a weekly home group through a simple small group agenda known as The Four W’s: Welcome, Word, Worship and Witness. I did not come up with these but I have revised them slightly. Ralph W. Neighbour originally developed the concept of The Four W’s.
The Welcome time helps people get connected to each other as they arrive. A meal or snacks and upbeat Christian music can create an irresistible atmosphere (See also Creating An Irresistible Environment). When we have provided the opportunity for a meal, we offer it as an option 30 minutes before the starting time.
This window as well as the time hanging out after dismissal are the key times for believers to experience the 59 “one another” of the New Testament. For more on this see The 59 One Anothers of the Bible.
The group should be small enough and healthy enough for everyone to fellowship. It should be illegal for a person to show up to a small group and experience isolation.
Before you move into the Word segment, you can begin to transition the Welcome time by starting the meeting with an Ice Breaker. For more on this see Tons of Free Ice Breakers and Why They’re Effective.
(30 – 45 minutes)
The Word time should complement the corporate teaching time in the weekend service (not try to duplicate it). People need to grow in the Word of God through hearing (corporate teaching) and dialogue (small group). See my article Fully Developed Disciples for more on that.
This can be achieved in a small group through a Word-centered conversation. If the Word of God is a seed then an interactive Bible discussion can plow the fallow ground of a person’s heart through deepening, open-ended questions (See Small Group Discussion Questions that Go Deep as well). This process can be remembered with the acronym for SOIL…
S – Scripture reading and focus (this is also the spot for a short video teaching if you’re using video curriculum)
O – Observation questions about the passage.
I – Interpretation questions about the passage.
L – Life application questions about the passage.
Facilitating skills, listening, vulnerability and navigating personalities are keys to an effective Word segment (See Five Facets of Facilitating with Finesse) .
The goal here is for people to grow in their knowledge of the Word and develop their own language for discussing their faith. Transformation occurs through revelation and transparency with the community of believers.
(20 – 25 minutes)
Some prefer to have their worship time before the Word segment and end their meeting with prayer. Whatever works best for your group or that night’s purpose is what you should do. I prefer to lead into the time of intercession with worship.
First I ask for and write down any prayer requests from the group. We then seek God’s face in praise and worship for 5-8 minutes before bringing our prayer requests to His throne. It’s an open time where anyone can lead out.
The worship time releases presence, prayer and power in the midst of the group in a way that builds up each other’s faith and spiritually bonds everyone together.
As you close your gathering you can share vision for the future direction of the group. This is vital to keeping the group looking outward through mission, ministry and multiplication. Serving opportunities and reaching out to unbelievers as a group promotes a balanced discipleship pattern. Multiplication of the group through the cultivation of laborers and launching of a new group should be discussed for the group to continue to grow into a kingdom mindset (See also 5 Ways to Multiply a Small Group).
A typical small group meeting should last between 90 minutes to two hours. We’ve had people at our house for over four hours, but we’ve always dismissed the formal meeting within two hours. After the dismissal, we welcome people to stay as long as they want but that may differ for you.
To dive in deeper on these concepts I highly recommend Joel Comiskey’s book, “How to Lead an Effective Cell Group Meeting.”
In the likeness of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, I have created a Pyramid for a Successful Small Group Gathering below…
This past weekend I had the pleasure and honor of hosting the One Day Groups Gathering event with author and consultant, Scott Boren, as the Keynote Speaker. There was an amazing download of content shared throughout the day and I wanted to share a quick snapshot through a handful of quotes.
We had group leaders come out from four different churches from 9am – 3pm on a Saturday. When American believers are willing to give up their Saturday to grow in discipleship and community, that alone is a testimony!
Here are some thoughts and resources that were shared with us by Scott Boren…
Groups flourish when it’s “OUR” group versus “your” group. – Scott Boren
Be thankful for what God is doing… God is at work even in the ugliest of situations. – Scott Boren
If you’re leading a small group, NEVER lead the ice-breaker yourself. A fourth grader has the ability to lead the ice-breaker. Use the ice-breaker as an opportunity to involve someone else from the group. – Scott Boren
Ask the question, “How do we become a group that matters?” – Scott Boren
Pay attention to your relational networks (friends, family, co-workers) and neighbors. Who are the neighbors and people in your networks who need an experience of God’s love? Identify four or five people and take time regularly in group meetings to pray for those people. -Scott Boren
Scott also shared with everybody the free download that is available on his website of “Cultivating Community in the Way of Jesus.” It’s a free e-book copy of the 100-page study guide for Missional Small Groups.
Last but not least, we were joined by Real Life Church’s new Lead Pastor and SGC Contributor, Dean Deguara. This is the first time we’ve had three SGC Contributors under one roof…
“… if I do not have love, I am nothing.” (Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth)
A person can love another to the extent that they have been loved. No. That’s not quite right. I think this is better stated as: A person can love another to the extend that they are being loved. Not past tense. Love is not something that can be known as a past reality. It’s a present perfect, and ongoing emanation of God toward us, like a river that never dries up. The degree to which someone knows love is the degree to which they can love. Or to personalize Paul’s point, “If I do not possess love in my inner being as an ongoing knowledge that I am loved and am living in love alongside others, I am nothing.”
Victor Hugo stated, “The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved.” The giving and receiving of love lies at the core of what it means to be human. We search for it. We yearn for it. We hope for it. Just turn on the radio and listen to the top 40 hits. While in most cases, we are “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the old country song confesses, the reality is that we are all “looking for love.”
One of the things that I find interesting about the typical way that we commonly talk about spiritual growth and discipleship in the church is that the topic of love, that “touchy feely” experience of God’s emanation toward us, is something that we teach to children, “emotional” twenty-somethings, and new Christians. However, Christian maturity means that we outgrow the need for such basic things as God’s love. We assume that the experience of God’s love is like spiritual milk, but as one grows in Christ spiritual meat means that we grow out of the need to talk about God’s love, acceptance, and grace.
On my journey with God over the last three decades, I have found myself being led back to reconsider God’s love for me. The first few times this happened I got frustrated with myself because I assumed that I should have moved beyond such basics. After all, I had dealt with God’s love and grace in my early stages of Christian discipleship. But every time I came back to a fresh touch of God’s love, I realized how much I was shocked by the unexpected unveiling of God’s touch. I began to see that I’m only loved to the extend that God’s love astonishes and astounds me. Otherwise, my thoughts about God are merely a compilation of my best and most godly facts about God.
This means that a disciple of Christ cannot outgrow the need to live in God’s love. There is no higher plane of discipleship than receiving the hug of God.
If God is love (1 John 4:8), then everything about our walk with the Father-Son-Spirit is rooted in and flows out of a knowledge and experience of that love. To try to move beyond it is like telling a basketball player that his development will move him to the point that he will no longer need to do anything with a basketball. He will develop the ability to dribble, pass, and shoot the ball without actually having to touch a physical ball because the game will be so deeply woven into his mind. The actual experience of the ball is no longer required. As a result, the game becomes excarnate, a gnostic experience that leads one to a higher level of disembodied reality.
Too often, we imagine Christian growth that is more excarnate than incarnate. Christian maturity is a mental, disembodied thought process that does not have much to do with our senses, our feelings, or our experiences. God’s love becomes a fact that we can state and talk about in our Bible studies, but we don’t actually know it in a participatory way.
Just as playing basketball means doing something with an actual ball, so too following Christ means living in the actual experience of God’s love for us. If there is no ball, there is no game. If there is no love, then we are not actually following Christ.
CC Image • Courtesy of of Farid Iqbal Ibrahim on Flickr
Update: Camille and I (and our two boys) will be moving across the country in the near future. I have accepted a new position as Executive Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Emmanuel Christian Center. We will be providing leadership to their Connect Groups, Equip Courses as well as being a part of the teaching team. Emmanuel is an influential, 3,000 member, multi-site church in Minneapolis, Minnesota pastored by Jodie and Nate Ruch. They have a tremendous team of pastors and leaders that we are honored and humbled to lock arms with and work alongside.
Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity we’ve had to serve at Real Life Church during this season of our lives. This was not an easy decision and it involved much prayer and reflection before deciding to start a new chapter of our lives. We will take all of our Sacramento friends and family with us in our hearts to keep us warm.
Before we dive too deep into 2018, I want to make sure to highlight some of the kingdom content released through SGC in 2017. Below is a list of the top ten articles of 2017.
We published 30 blog posts this past year. The content consists of videos, product reviews and articles. This list is comprised solely of articles and is ranked purely by web traffic.
Congrats to our SGC Contributor Mike Mack for having the most viewed and most popular article in 2017! Here is your Top 10 Articles of 2017:
Insightful info from teaching a seminary class of millennials…
Yes, Mark Zuckerberg actually talked about church small groups…
Need we say more?
Creativity, resourcefulness and innovation will mark the next generation of effective disciple-makers…
Make sure you have a discipleship plan that doesn’t suck…
Discovering a kingdom pathway to develop growing disciples…
Make it easier for your Lead Pastor to lead the groups ministry…
Do you have a strategy for equipping future small group leaders?
Turbo-charge your next church wide campaign with this ninja move…
Take advantage of the opportunities God has given you to learn from others and grow your small group ministry…
“You’re always doing curls for the girls.” When I was a high school football player, that is something we would say to a teammate in the weight room in jest. The comment was for a guy who was consistent with his arm curl weightlifting routine but not-so consistent with his lower body and legs exercises. The result would be impressive vein-popping biceps, but little-to-no-development in the calves and thighs. They would have huge arms and pencil-thin legs. Their bodies and muscle were disproportioned and uneven.
There can be a similar dynamic that occurs as disciples when it comes to our spiritual development with the Word of God.
Being whole-hearted learners of scripture is a calling-card of a healthy disciple. Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” Again, he says in John 15:7-8, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
The first discipleship communities of the early church were also branded with this attribute in Acts 2:42 as they met from house-to-house, “…they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” The apostles’ doctrine is now our modern-day New Testament.
When we see the Jerusalem church in Acts eating together from house-to-house (Acts 2:46), we must remember that among Jewish people, the standard topic of discussion at a meal was Torah. Early Christians did more to grow in the Word of God than just listen to good preaching (although they did a lot of that too). Early Christians also did not have the benefit of the printing press and access to multiple print-versions of scripture at their fingertips. They spent more time discussing scripture than we do reading scripture and they were bearing exponentially more fruit than we do (Acts 2:47).
How do we make sure we are fully-developed through the Word of God? How do we avoid disproportionate results?
In Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith, there are Four Learning Styles that are outlined…
In American church ministry, we are very effective at creating settings for Cognitive Learning and Action Learning. Through preaching and serving activities we help people intentionally grow in the Word. We leave the Social and Observational Learning up to chance however, when we have little or no emphasis on gathering in circles for further empowerment. In small groups, believers are afforded the opportunity to discuss the Word of God and observe the quality of other believers’ lives in close-quarters.
Unfortunately, we have many Christians today that are disproportionately growing in the Word of God. They can read their Bible on their own but they cannot talk about their faith to others. They can take notes and listen to a sermon but they can’t sit down and listen to a brother or sister in Christ share their own thoughts and discoveries.
This is why it’s so important that a Group Host see themselves as a Facilitator, not a Sunday School Teacher. There is a different dimension to growing in the Word of God when it comes to group study and discussion. Compared to weekend services, classes and outreach; it’s not an issue of “either/or”, it’s an exhortation towards “Both/And.” We need both great teaching, serving opportunities AND relational settings for biblical discussion in order to be well-rounded disciples of Christ in the Word of truth.
Don’t just have your ears tickled with great preaching or have your head full of more info through reading. Don’t do the spiritual equivalent of “curls for the girls.” Allow your heart to be cultivated, enlarged and expressed through discussion of scripture and you’ll be on your way to becoming a full-developed disciple of Christ.
Dear Church Leader,
If discipleship is boring to you it will be boring to those following your leadership. While nobody would openly confess this to be the case in their own context, it is an all too common occurrence in our modern church era. This is an unfortunate outcome given Jesus’ charge in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples.”
The church needs to re-imagine discipleship. We have done this in other dimensions and reaped a bumper crop of fruit as a result. Decades back, we re-imagined worship and created new music, new styles and new expressions that have ignited a global passion for seeking God across the body of Christ. As our culture has changed, we have always adapted our strategies when it comes to outreach and evangelism in order to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who need it the most. We have even re-imagined weekend services in recent times with unconventional meeting times, multi-site paradigms, video-venues and online services as well.
We need to take the same type of bold thinking when it comes to building kingdom circles of spiritual formation. Not only do we need to be more flexible to experiment with new methods ourselves, we need to be inspiring and empowering God’s people to do the same.
Wikipedia shares the following description of an entrepreneur: A person who starts, organizes and manages any enterprise… usually with considerable initiative and risk. Too many times discipleship programs fall into management modes of maintenance with high levels of predictability that impact that same group of people over and over again. From a secular perspective, entrepreneurs are filled with enthusiasm about creating something new that unleashes fresh opportunities for profitability. I believe the church should be hungrier for the harvest than the world is for money.
Here are Four Attributes of a Discipleship Entrepreneur…
1. Hunger to launch new locations. A discipleship entrepreneur is always looking to the horizon for new opportunities to expand the kingdom into new territory. When Jesus sent out the twelve in Luke 9 and the seventy in Luke 10, one of the first things He commanded them to do was to find a home that would receive His kingdom message. He wasn’t just sending the apostles on a preaching circuit, He was launching new home-based discipleship communities that would sustain the spiritual renewal that was about to be released in the region.
Discipleship becomes stale in churches when there’s no hunger to launch new discipleship settings. As I mentioned already, we have tapped into this mindset with our weekend worship services and it’s time to do the same for disciple-making as well.
2. Resourcefulness and Creativity. Discipleship settings need to be fellowship-friendly to foster healthy relationships. While I believe they work best in a home, we need to keep thinking outside of the box. I have seen discipleship entrepreneurs start groups in grocery stores, break rooms, military bases, government offices, libraries and more.
I recently started an early morning men’s group at a Starbucks and have been able to access new relationships that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
I had a close friend ask his Jewish boss if he could lead a Bible study in the staff conference room during lunch. Not only did he get approval, that group grew and multiplied and he got approval to have a second one in the same room on a different day of the week. People were getting saved, healed and transformed at their place of work.
3. Innovating through Technology. Advances in web-based platforms and digital video have given more options than we’ve ever had before and yet the majority of the churches today are still approaching discipleship with old, traditional methods.
I can send video-content to group members’ phones before we meet for Bible study and prayer. I can meet with them via video in front of my laptop from anywhere in the world if I want to as well. I can resource my groups hosts and directors on multiple channels of communication in very affordable ways.
Remember, Jesus was the most unconventional spiritual leader the Jews had ever seen. Modern advancements present us with untapped alternatives as well. The opportunity before us is epic…
4. Infectious Kingdom Vision. Jesus was constantly speaking vision and pushing His disciples out of their comfort zone. He majored on the words “go”, “sent”, “arise”, “call”, “new”, and “increase.” Successful entrepreneurs are similar. People are inspired to enlist themselves and join the movement. We need discipleship entrepreneurs who are intentional about attracting new leaders with a kingdom-mindset for growth and advancement.
Tommy Barnett said, “The message is sacred, not the method.” The message hasn’t changed. Jesus continues to call us to be hungry to become more like Him and embark on an adventure of transformation and mission together. The methods on how we do that though, can be re-imagined into new wineskins for a new day.
Are you a discipleship entrepreneur?
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below…
Having a specific strategy when it comes to networking can immediately add value to our kingdom assignment. Without a strategy, though, you could find yourself wandering around aimlessly.
First off, I want to say that I personally believe that I can learn something from anybody. Anyone can sharpen me and help me grow. I try to maintain a diversity of backgrounds in my networking to keep my perspective well-rounded and balance.
With that in mind, I also use some guidelines when I’m trying to network for ministry growth. Here are few attributes I keep in mind when I’m trying to see my small group ministry breakthrough to another level…
Church and Groups Ministry Size. I look for churches and small group ministries that are one step ahead of me in numerical size. As I said before, I believe I can learn from smaller ministries and larger ministries, but I find it really helpful to glean from a ministry that has broken through to next level that I’m currently reaching for.
Sometimes there can be a tendency to only look to the largest churches for answers to our ministry questions. However, if I’m a groups pastor of 100 groups in a church of 1000 people, I believe I can learn more from a church of 1500-2000 people with 150-200 groups than I can from a church of 10,000 people with a 1000 groups. Why do I believe that? The church of 1500-2000 people is at the next level of numerical growth that I am specifically reaching for. If I can compare their leadership infrastructure, their equipping tactics and their level of excellence to our own ministry at my church, hopefully I can find some practical ideas that will help us increase our own kingdom potential.
Small Group Ministry Model. There about 10 different small group ministry models that churches use. Understanding the certain groups model a church has chosen in comparison to the groups model my church is using is a very important piece of information. It doesn’t need to be an identical model to our own necessarily, but I need to understand the similarities and differences. In some cases, it can be helpful to learn from a similar model in order to refine our current approach. In other situations, I might need to consider different models that would allow me to consider making necessary changes to what we’re doing.
Cultural Context. I also look for church leaders to network with that are working in a similar cultural context as I am. I work in a large city and highly populated region where people are busy. A lot of my church members commute to work 1-2 hours every day. Keeping that in mind, there are some ministry strategies that might work in a different cultural context that might not work in my own.
Church and small group size, ministry models and cultural context are dynamics I keep in mind when I do strategic kingdom networking.
Your network could be the key to your next harvest. Do you have a barrier that your groups ministry keeps hitting? Is there a specific problem that you’re having trouble solving? Have you leveraged your network in response to the resistance you’re experiencing?
In Luke 5:1-6, Peter and his fellow fishermen had been working hard all day and hadn’t caught any fish. Their efforts were fruitless and they had given up. Jesus said to Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” As soon as Peter threw out his nets the Bible says they caught such a great number of fish that they had to signal to their partners in the other boat to help them with the massive haul.
The first step Peter had to make could be the first step you need to take in order to see a greater harvest in your ministry: Throw out your nets.
Take your obstacle, difficulty or barrenness and throw your network at it. Have a list of small group pastors’ emails and phone numbers that you can unleash on your problem.
This will require some humility and vulnerability on your part. Don’t be afraid to share with others what ministry struggles you are facing. Don’t be too prideful to admit you can use some help.
You will also need to ask a handful of direct questions. Be specific and ask a lot of them. The right question or questions can unlock the value of your network that you wouldn’t discover otherwise.
Lastly, you will need to be a generous contributor to your network as well. Before Peter’s epic catch the Bible says the fishermen were washing their nets. They didn’t neglect their nets but maintained them with attention and care. If you want to be a benefactor of your network, you will need to have a willing heart to add value to it and help others when you can. Don’t withhold your best ideas from your network in competition or in fear of someone else getting credit for “your” idea. Have a kingdom heart and an abundance mindset. Every time I share one of my best ideas with someone I believe I am sowing a seed that God will return to me with 5 or 10 better ideas in the future.
Have you begun to build a kingdom network? What is the quality of your kingdom network? What are the are questions you need to ask your network? How can you care for your network and add value to it?
Remember, Peter’s business trial turned into a classic Fish Tale because he threw his nets at his problem.