Sunday morning is our sign-up time. Sunday night is our “meet your small group” time. It’s an experiment, like much of what we do in groups ministry at Long Hollow…until we find what works most effectively.
Thought I’d share the video with you that we’ll be showing. The goal is to get people to understand our process of moving them from being unconnected to connected.
Here you go.
And while you’re at it, if you’re in a small group at Long Hollow, why don’t you sign up for a group? 🙂
The simple truth of the gospel does not change. And while this truth is timeless, we must always evaluate the presentation of that truth to make sure it’s connecting in a culturally relevant way. Engage is a practical study examining the act of sharing your faith. Engage: A Practical Guide to Evangelism answers questions like, How do you begin a conversation about Jesus? What if they have questions you’re not sure how to answer? What do you say if they respond positively or if they reject God’s message?
Engage is a small group study that helps you:
Discern the full meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ
Understand why all Christians are called to share the good news
Prepare for spiritual attacks against the gospel
Have tangible ideas for how to share your faith with those who don’t believe in Jesus.
Here are a few quotes from the book…written in a way that’s easily shareable on Twitter or Facebook, if you’d like.
Sharing our faith requires reminders of the beauty and depth of the gospel. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
Jesus lived the perfect life I should’ve lived and died the death I had been condemned to die. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
We can approach God with boldness because He sees us according to the accomplishments of Christ #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
You can never earn the title “Christian”—Jesus earned it in our place & gave it to us as a gift #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
We’re accepted before God not because of what we do but because of what Jesus has done. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
What’s inside of our hearts gushes out and compels us to action. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
Evangelism is seeing Jesus as our greatest delight and the ultimate lover of our souls. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
Loving God & loving others is the fuel that propels gospel proclamation & disciple making. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
Sharing your faith is much less complicated than we often make it. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA (via @BenReed)
Unbelievers are looking for real answers not easy ones. They’re wanting to see that men and women of faith struggle with questions, too. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
The gospel of Jesus is the announcement that Jesus is Lord and has won a great victory on our behalf. The gospel is not a command that we should do better so that God will accept us, but the announcement that Jesus has paid the full penalty for our sin. No longer do we need to live in fear. The battle has been won on our behalf—we need only to believe and receive it. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
The gospel isn’t just the “beginning point” of Christianity, a prayer you pray to begin your Christian life, or the diving board off of which you jump into the pool of Christianity. The gospel is the pool in which you swim, day by day. Once you’ve believe the gospel, the way you grow in Christ is by going deeper into the gospel. You become more aware of how gracious He is and how incredible is the gift He has given you in Christ. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
The world needs to know who Jesus really is and what the benefits are of putting faith in Him. Jesus gave us the responsibility to make those truths known. The potential impact of obedience to that calling is world-changing. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
We not only need the gospel to cover our sinfulness and to guarantee a glorious eternity; we need the gospel for everything! From the most mundane activities of our day-to-day lives to the “big ticket item” decisions that pivot the trajectory of our lives—the gospel should infuse all of it. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
For an unbeliever, we can’t support the legitimacy of the Bible solely on its own word. We have to look at history, at the present day, and even within ourselves to see that God’s Word is true and can be trusted. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
Your story is compelling. Riveting. Life-changing (assuming you actually have been changed). And sharing your faith involves sharing your story. Be honest, transparent, and vulnerable. People will connect with your brokenness more quickly and fully than they ever will your “awesomeness.” Share the mistakes God’s redeeming you from, the sin you’re done with, the bigger picture He’s inviting you into, and the ways His grace is sufficient and His love is captivating. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
Sharing your faith is much less complicated than we often make it. But it’s also much more difficult. Much more engaging. Much more demanding of your time and effort. Much more challenging of your life. #engage @threadsmedia http://lfwy.co/19OYiFA
You don’t want your small group to fail. That’s not why you got into this. You want your group to succeed. You want people to grow and thrive in your group.
You want your group to be the one that people can’t wait to show up to. The one they talk to their friends about. The one that, in 10 years, they look back on and say, “That group changed my life.”
You don’t want people to dread your small group every week. To feel like they just have to come. To view it as a waste of time. To be the group of which they say, “Don’t join a small group. Mine is terrible.”
There’s a certain amount of your group’s success that you can’t control. God’s going to choose to bless or not. He’s going to sovereignly inspire group members to engage…or not. His hand of favor will be there…or not.
But there are statements you can make, personally, that will inevitably tank your group. That will guarantee you’ll get nothing out of it, and that you’ll create a terrible experience for the rest of your group. Statements that will destroy community rather than foster it.
9 Statements that will destroy your group
1. They need community more than I do. I’m just doing this for them.
Be careful that as you’re preparing for your small group that you don’t work your way through the material making notes about who in your group needs to hear a given truth…an not including your own name. Pride comes before the fall, my friend. (Proverbs 16:18)
3. I don’t have anything to give.
There may be weeks occasionally that you are empty and dry. But God’s given you gifts that are perfectly suited to lead your group. Don’t spit on God’s grace in your life by feigning a false, self-deprecating humility.
4. I don’t have time for this.
You are busy. So am I. You and I don’t have time to avoid community. The busier we are, the more we need others speaking truth and hope into our lives. When you say this, you place yourself over and above your group members, pridefully believing your life is more important than theirs.
5. Someone else will call them.
Don’t assume that someone else is going to call and encourage your group members. Or visit them in the hospital. Or call them after a new job interview. Or text them after a test. They’re not going to. You need to do the work of shepherding that’s vital for a group leader.
6. What they need is a ‘perfect’ leader. I probably shouldn’t confess my sins here.
Perfection in a small group leader isn’t what’s needed. And in fact, group members will connect with you more over your struggles and difficult times than they ever will with you through your victories. Be open and honest when you mess up.
7. Because I’m the leader I should probably talk more.
No. No. No. The best group leaders listen way more than they talk. Listening, and giving an appropriate (rather than a forced, canned, expected) response is much more honoring, respectful, and helpful. “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” – Proverbs 18:13
8. Curriculum? Pssht! I got this!
Don’t think that curriculum is evil. It’s not. It provides a backdrop for your group to have a conversation about truth. It’s not the end-all-be-all for your group. But it helps keep you on track and moving forward. Don’t think you’re “too good” for a focused study.
Those were the words I heard over the phone from a pastor. “Because of the town where we’re at, and with it being pretty rural, our church isn’t ever really going to grow.”
It felt like the punchline to a joke that wasn’t funny. I unintentionally let an awkward silence hang over the airways while I caught my breath, hoping he’d fill the silence with, “Oh, you know I’m kidding.” He didn’t.
We were in the middle of a conversation about small groups, and how small groups can be a growth engine for your church as they help connect people into life-giving, discipleship-making relationships. I was trying to help him see how small groups can be an environment for people not just inside of the church building to connect and grow, but for those still on the outside. A chance for skeptics to “kick the tires,” if you will, not in an argumentative you-better-convince-me-intellectually kind of way, but in a way where they see the church in action. Where they watch love. Watch grace. Watch forgiveness. Watch confession. Watch growth.
Small groups are ideal environments to invite your friends.
But he wasn’t buying it. And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Our church will never grow.
Basically I was being told, “Evangelism won’t work for us. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is for everyone else. Because of where we live, we’re off the hook. Jesus couldn’t have meant us when he commanded us them to make disciples of all nations. No way. No how.” (Tweet that)
If you get to the point where you feel like the Gospel isn’t
to shape your community and grow your congregation, get out of the ministry. (Tweet that) Do something else. Anything else. The Gospel is too important to waste. Too powerful to keep confined to a small box.
Pastors, your community needs you. (Tweet that) It needs you to believe that there’s hope in the Gospel. There’s healing to be found in surrender. That marriages can be reconciled. That change is possible.
Then it’s time to start getting prepped now. Nothing can substitute for doing the work of ministry. But picking up and working through a handful (or two) of good books will help you more than you could ever know.
These are some of my favorites. Some I read in seminary. Others I’ve read since I’ve been working full-time in the local church.
I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.
At Long Hollow, we primarily plug people into small groups in two different ways:
We ust finished with our latest sermon alignment, where we launched short-term small groups around our Sunday morning sermon series. We chose a series, and crafted it in such a way that it was accessible for a wide variety of spiritual maturities. It was incredibly effective for us, as we launched groups across our campuses, connecting bucketfuls of folks who hadn’t previously been connected.
If you’ve ever tried to line up a sermon series with your small groups in a way that was productive, though, and plan this all out far enough in advance to get the whole series printed and produced before you start the series, you know how much of a logistical challenge this is. From working with the teaching team to get the sermon series info, to crafting content that’s engaging, to producing videos that go along with the series, it’s a lot of work.
I’ve got a way to help one of the biggest steps for you.
We used Lifeway’s Discipleship in Context to help us produce the content. And they were incredibly easy to work with.
I sat down with their team, and laid out the whole series for him. I told them conceptually where the series was going, where each individual week would go, Scriptures that our team was wrestling through, and the general flow (introduction questions, sermon recap, application questions) we were looking for. They produced exactly what we were looking for. They hit it perfectly on the head.
I also told him how we needed a “leader’s guide” so that our leaders could be one step ahead of the folks in their group. They went over and above, including an easy-to-follow Bible commentary for leaders.
On top of it all, it was incredibly cost-effective.
I talked with a company recently that wanted to do everything for us…branding, printing, and video production. And they wanted to charge us tens of thousands of dollars.
I chuckled when they told me that, knowing that we could never afford that.
Thankfully, the Discipleship in Context guys know that churches can’t afford prices like that. And though they don’t do the videos, they’ll produce content that’s crafted in your church’s language, tailored to your exact sermon series.
We were thrilled with the product we got from them (you can click HERE to see it all). Absolutely thrilled. And I guarantee you we’ll use them in the future to help us craft the content for our groups and the alignment series we launch.
I think you should use them, too.
Here’s a video further explaining the Discipleship in Context team’s work:
Welp, here it is. Summer. The time for vacations, baseball tournaments, camps, and fireworks. Time for the pools to open and the schools to close. Crank up the lawnmower, fire up the grill, and…
…prepare for everyone’s normal schedule to be completely jacked up.
And if you’re a small group leader, you know exactly how difficult this can be. Tuesday nights were wonderful, until little Johnny started baseball. Thursday mornings were perfect, until Laura’s two kids weren’t in school throughout the summer. Thursday evenings worked for everybody…until, for 6 weeks straight, someone was on vacation.
Before the summer hits, you and your small group need to have a plan. Be ready for the chaos that is June and July so that when it drops, your group survives.
To help you out, I thought I’d give you some tips. Depending on whether you want to destroy your group or not, choose which list fits you best.
Photo courtesy, iStockPhoto
6 easy ways to destroy community over the summer
1. Meet every week at the same time.
A rule’s a rule, am I right? These people signed the small group covenant. If they can’t abide by it now, then kick ‘em out.
2. Just stop meeting.
After all, if you can’t meet every week, what’s the point? These people should be more committed.
3. Send angry tweets at the people who don’t show up every week.
Because nothing’s better than a good ole public defamation.
4. Assume that the people in your group that don’t show up every week have no commitment to the group.
Also, assume that they don’t really love Jesus. Be sure to include them in your “they really must need our prayer” list.
5. Petition your church council to remove them as members if they don’t show up every week.
6. Since your schedule is out of the norm, bar anyone else from meeting.
And if they decide to meet, let your pastor know that they’re probably conspiring against him.
1 easy way to flourish this summer
1. Be flexible.
Schedule’s are going to be crazy in June and July. So be flexible. If someone can’t show up, let them off the hook. Even before they ask. Don’t make people feel guilty for missing small group in the summer. Help them find time to value their family, and to value the vacation time they’re going to take from work.
Here are some practical ideas for your group.
5 practical ideas to help you be flexible:
Vary your meetings times: Meet 3 times in June and once in July. Or have a June party and a July party. Or meet the first 2 weeks in June and the first 2 weeks in July.
Include the kids: Choose activities where kids could be welcome.
Throw two parties: Have a party in June and a party in July.
Travel somewhere together: Go get ice cream. Or go on a hike. Or eat ice cream while you’re hiking.
Connect regularly: As a leader, be sure to individually connect multiple times with each of your group members, so they know you haven’t given up on them amidst the chaos of summer.
Don’t give up meeting together completely, and lose the sense of community that you’ve built as a small group. 2 months is a long time to go without connecting.
I read books outside the scope of my niche. I hope you do, too.
Reading books that speak in to areas where you’re not zoned in help stretch you in new ways, applying new truths to your well-worn paths. Not everything in these books will be applicable to you. Not everything will even be relevant. But at the end of the day, truth is truth. And truth is applicable across disciplines.
Business books help me think critically about the “system” of church. About how to spur on growth and change. About how to create systems that maintain growth over time.
John talks a lot about “branding,” much outside of the context of ministry. So let me give you 3 ways to process this book.
1. Brand = your local church.
What helps your “brand” of church stand out from other “good” things a person could be doing on a Sunday morning? What is it that motivates them to consistently worship with you, instead of skipping out? YES, if someone doesn’t consistently show up for worship (or small group) it’s a spiritual growth issue. But let’s craft our message in such a way that the image (or “brand”) of our churches doesn’t get in the way of the Gospel.
John consistently makes the connection between “trust” and “sales.” If you trust a brand, you’re more likely to buy from that brand. We in churches aren’t in a completely different field. We just happen to have the best product in the world: Jesus! The more trust we develop with our congregations, the more likely we are to close a sale.*
2. Brand = the ministry you’re a part of.
What is it that helps your ministry stand out from everything else? What helps your “brand” of small groups stand out from the noises of life that distract on a weeknight, like going to a movie or watching TV? What helps your “brand” of student ministry encourage students to forego other activities in favor of linking arms with other students on Wednesday nights.
3. Brand = professional.
Feel free to read the book as it was originally intended, and think through your life in the marketplace. Process it through the lens of your company. Or even your personal “brand” online and in your community.
I spoke with John, and he’s generously chosen to give a personally signed copy away. Just enter the contest here, and I’ll choose a winner on Friday, May 3, by 5:00 pm central time. Just fill in your information below and you’ll be officially entered. I’ll ship the book out next week.
Below each quote, I’ve included the question I’m personally wrestling with.
15 quotes from Brand Against the Machine
1. “Branding is about emotion, and emotion turns prospects into buyers.”
How am I stirring people’s emotions to help them “buy” into the idea I’m selling?
2. “People are willing to spend more money on a brand they trust. Do I want to drink a nice cold Kountry Mist or a Mountain Dew? Kountry Mist is a generic brand of Mountain Dew, and I have zero trust in that brand. Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean I’m gonna have a sip. Plus, it’s annoying when brands get too cute with the spelling of their name. Spelling country with a K makes me worry about their education. It isn’t kool.”
Am I developing trust and innovating? Or just stealing from pop culture?
3. “Branding is not just about being seen as better than the competition. It’s about being seen as the only solution to your audience’s problem.”
What problem in people’s lives am I helping them solve through this idea? Am I communicating that through my pitch?
4. “You are your brand.”
Am I representing the church, and the ministry I lead, well in every avenue of life in-person and online?
5. “You may have an incredible product or service, and I truly hope that you do. But having a great product or service isn’t going to be enough. If no one knows you exist, the best product in the world isn’t going to save you. It’s estimated that 1 to 5 percent of people who come in contact with your brand will become clients. Are you coming in contact with enough people?”
Am I getting my message in front of enough eyes? Am I prepared for the vast amount of people I come in contact with to say, “No” to my pitch (to lead a small group, join a small group, or take the next step of faith?)
6. “When your message is focused and directed toward a certain group of people, those people respond. They respond because they realize it’s for them. That’s the kind of attention you want. With the attention of the right people and by taking care of those people, you can start to build trust and a loyal audience. You’ll never be all things to everyone, so don’t even try.”
Who is my “target audience” and are all of our communication pushes directed towards helping them move forward in faith? Or am I trying to be “all things to everyone?”
7. “Offer prospects a better product or service than everyone else. The most important element of branding is positioning.”
How am I positioning the ministry I lead as something that’s better than what culture promises them is best for their life? I.e., why is joining a small group worth bending your life around?
8. “Branding is all about emotion. Most marketing campaigns are lacking both emotion and passion. There’s nothing for people to get attached to. In fact, people rarely if ever feel an attachment to an individual marketing campaign, but they do feel an attachment with certain brands.”
How are we “branding” small groups? Are we using emotion (stories of life change) to drive our campaigns? Do people feel an attachment with groups?
9. “Fans are very attracted to a strong stance on something.”
Is our ministry positioned as something you “can’t live without?” What is it in their lives that’s missing without the element of healthy community?
10. “No one wants your product. They want their problem solved.”
What problem are we solving in people’s lives? Are we leading our promotions with that?
11. “The better you know your customers, the better you can create valuable content and products for them. There is no point in guessing, and making assumptions about your audience is extremely dangerous.”
How am I getting to know the people I lead at an even deeper level?
12. “You are your bigest advantage in business. What you sell may not be one of a kind, but you are. You create the value for people, not your business name or fancy logo.”
Every church in town has the same Gospel message. Every small group at our church has the same end-goal in mind. What separates one from the other is our beautiful uniqueness…are we embracing that?
13. “One of the main reasons people don’t visit a new church is because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know which doors to go in. They don’t know how to dress. People are always afraid of looking stupid. A church could ease these fears by posting a simple video on their website with a tour of the church and what to do and where to go, starting from when they pull into the parking lot. Video can take the unknown element out of the equation for prospects.”
Are we overcoming fears through how we promote small group life?
14. “Price often gets the blame when a product fails. Although price could certainly be the culprit, most of the time it is not. The problem is that consumers failed to see the value in it. When selling your product or service, focus on value, not price.”
Are we selling the value of small groups well? So that people understand that the price (giving up a night of the week, finding childcare, forming new relationships) is worth the value?
15. “Your fans want to be a part of something that is fun, exciting, and has a real sense of community.”
Are we having fun? Or just doing a job?
The book is full of even more nuggets, but this blog post is already too long. Honestly, if you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed. 🙂
You can pick up a copy of the book for yourself HERE.
*In no way am I discounting the work of the Holy Spirit to awaken the heart. I just want to posture myself, and our ministry, to be most ready for His work.
This is a guest post by my good friend, Steve Gladen, in prep for the upcoming Twelve Conference for small group point people. Don’t miss this event!
In 2007 we held our first small group conference. Each year we rolled with the methodology to get the best training to those that needed it the best way possible. Three years ago, due to economic strain that was impacting churches, we delivered our first virtual conference. The results were huge. Our big learning was what we thought individuals would flock to for this conference experience. In actuality, they proved to be the minority. 80% of those attending actually watch the conference in community—at their church…no surprise for those who thrive and live community! Three years later our latest tweek on the theTwelve.com is here and this is my top 12 reasons for not missing theTwelve.com:
We typically choose training (especially as it relates to small groups) based on where our church is developmentally and what our church is. A typical concern in any conference is:
Will it meet my needs? Because my church isn’t a mega church…
What if my church isn’t a pure small group church?
12 Reasons You Have to Watch the Twelve
1. Do your own conference!
The Twelve is designed for churches of any size. The principles can be used by a church of 100, because that’s exactly what I did before I was part of a mega church! Also it doesn’t matter if you are Sunday school driven, small group driven, cell church driven, house church driven, etc. The concepts work! Why? Because they are biblical!
2. Ten incredible plenary speakers and 70 leading small group and Sunday school voices give their best tips and tactics to build a healthy church!
Here are the plenary speakers who happen to be Senior Pastors and community driven.
Plenary speakers at The Twelve Conference:
Joni Eareckson Tada
Have you heard of any of these people? You might just want to join in, not even to mention the 70+ small group and Sunday school voices!
3. One week, two conferences.
In this powerful week your Small Group Point Person and/or Sunday School Coordinator can get trained Tuesday through Thursday AND THEN the following Saturday your small group leaders and Sunday school teachers can get trained. All this happens April 9 to 11 and April 13, 2013.
4. No travel and hotel.
The beauty about this training event is that there is no travel expenses! No airplane flights to get and no gasoline costs….we come to you! The same goes for hotel costs. Why sleep in a strange room when you can stay in the comfort of your bed! Matter of fact, watch it in your pajamas!
5. Low cost!
We have gone out of our way to make this the most affordable experience for you and your church. To further make that point, go to http://bit.ly/prdiscount and pick the code that serves your church the best!
6. 60 Days of on-demand!
Now you can not only go back and see the track you purchased, you can go back and review it again if you missed anything. Add the that if you are watching the 12, you get 30 additional trainings. If you are watch the 12+, you get 40 ten minute trainings that your leaders can benefit from. It’s like getting another conference…just because!
7. Train either Small Group Types and/or Sunday School types!
This conference has opportunities for both mutual teaching times and specialized training for the type of leader you have coming. Be sure to check out the 12+ experience!
8. We start at 8:30 your time!
No matter where you are on the planet, theTwelve experience starts at 8:30 for worship and 9 for the conference time! So no more figuring out based on PST (Pacific Standard Time or Pastor Steve Time), it’s all on your time, making the experience best for your people!
9. Give it forward!
Share your Twelve experience with those in your community! We offer a license so you can give to those who couldn’t do what you do! Join the over 300 churches already hosting theTwelve in their area to bless others! Don’t be selfish, give to those in your area and build a greater community! Host this Twelve conference at your church!
10. 10,000 just like you can’t be wrong!
Around the planet we are excited to reach so many from the benefit of technology. What so many are using for harm, we embrace technology to serve the Kingdom. Join in on the fun!
Meet others like you in your area or online. Discover what others have found out—we are better together! Why do ministry alone? Network at this conference and through the Small Group Network!
12. If they think it’s great, shouldn’t you?!?
These ministries are joining theTwelve to support you: Harper Collins Publishing-Zondervan, World Vison, NavPress, Churchteams, smallgroups.com (Christianity Today), smallgroups.net, Small Group Network, LifeWay Bible Study Tools for Life, LifeWay Ministry Grid, Church Community Builder, Love One Another Book, Awaken Movement and Elexio. If they think it’s worthwhile, shouldn’t you?
Hope to see you at The Twelve. Don’t forget to see the special discount just for you!