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A note from your pastor

Ben Reed —  January 16, 2013 — 10 Comments
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image credit: sandstormdigital.com

I just got this note from your pastor. You weren’t aware that we knew each other, were you?

He said he’s not comfortable sharing this with you. But I’m not scared, so here goes.

Dear church member,

I’ve been flipping through the rolodex of names in my mind, and yours keeps coming up. Could be that God’s placing you on my mind for a reason. Maybe it’s accidental. But I’m betting it has something to do with the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe.

See, our church is growing. Like crazy. You know that. You see the new faces every week just like I do. You hear the stories of brokenness, the depth of shame, and the need for grace. Since you’ve spent more than 1 week with us, you see needs all around you every week.

So I started praying for you. That God would prepare your heart for serving others. That you’d be willing to use your gifts, talents, passions, relationships, and energy to lead more and more people to Jesus.

I just recently asked you to ______ (lead a small group, join the student ministry team, go to camp, help us set up on Sundays, be a greeter, join our worship team, etc.), and you told me no. “I’m just too busy right now. Maybe next season I’ll jump in.”

Can I be honest with you? Yes, since this is my letter? Ok. Here goes.

You won’t jump in next season. You’ll be busier then than you are now. Life never slows down, it only ramps up. You won’t have more time next season…you’ll have less time. Life doesn’t carve itself out for what’s most important…it carves itself out of a well-worn rut of the most urgent. Life doesn’t slide towards what’s best for you…it slides towards what you want.

You’re not too busy. You’re too selfish.

News flash: We don’t create environments just for you to sit and soak.

You’ve been doing that so long you’re shriveling up. You’ve gotten spiritually fat here in our church. It’s time to get off the couch and start serving. Start giving. Start going. You’ve learned enough, grown enough, and been served enough for 10 lifetimes.

Since you’ve been invested in, start investing. Since you’ve grown, help others grow. Since you’ve seen God working in others, it’s time for Him to work in you and through you.

Lead that small group. Join the worship team. Get out of the country on mission. Give sacrificially of your time until it hurts. The Gospel is worth it, isn’t it? The people you sit beside on Sunday morning are worth it. Our community is worth it. Your neighbors are worth it. The next generation is worth it. The current generation is worth it.

Your spiritual growth is worth it. Because I guarantee you you’ll grow as much in this process as those you’re leading will.

And this is just as much a commission to me, your pastor, as it is to you:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20)

Don’t sacrifice your family. Don’t burn yourself out.

But get in the game and quit being selfish.

Church isn’t all about you.

Signed with love,

–Your pastor

 

 

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I have said a lot of stupid things in my life. Many of which I’ve said right here on this blog. Things that have gotten me in hot water, cold water, and dry with no water.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the trajectory of my life, how I’m spending my time, and where I want to point. As I’ve thought back over the years, there are things I realize I’ve never said that have significantly shaped who I am. God’s changed me through generosity, community, laughter, my son, my church(es), and my own leadership journey.

Sometimes what’s not said is more important than what is said. And there are things you’ll never say, either.

I’m not a gambling man, but I’d put good money on the line that you’ll never say any of these things. And if you find yourself saying them, stop it.

10 things you’ll never say

I wish I hadn’t been so generous.

Nobody regrets being generous. Even when your generosity isn’t well received, isn’t thanked, or isn’t noticed, the act of generosity changes you as much as it changes others.

Truth: You’ll never regret generosity.

Life would’ve been better if I hadn’t joined that small group.

You will have less “free” time in your life, more heartache, more burdens to bear, more mess to wade through, and more people to pray for. Life will be tougher. But you won’t regret joining a small group, because you’ll have people to journey through life with.

Truth: You’ll never regret investing in people’s lives.

My best friends? They’re the ones I never laugh with.

Get off the boring train, and start recognizing that laughter is a gift from God. You’ll grow more spiritually with a group of people that you enjoy being around than ones you dread meeting with.

Truth: If you don’t enjoy being around you, neither will others.

I wish I had spent less time with my kids.

And your kids will never say they wish that you’d spent less time with them, either.

Truth: Time with your kids is not time wasted.

I love to drink mediocre coffee.

No you don’t. Nobody does. Which is why when I have people over to my house, I serve the best stuff that I’ve got. Or I go get my hands on the best stuff I can find. All coffee is not created equal.

Truth: 1 cup of my coffee just might change your life. :)

I wish I had been less regular at church.

Your church isn’t perfect. Neither is mine. But being where God’s people gather to worship and celebrate the work of God is healing and life-giving.

Truth: Getting plugged into a local church will change the trajectory of your life.

“Leadership” doesn’t really have any relevance in my life.

No matter where you find yourself, leadership is playing a significant role. Sometimes it’s affecting you positively. Other times, negatively. Sometimes by its presence. Other times by its absence.

Truth: Focusing on your own leadership development isn’t a waste of time.

My life is much more lovely because of my cat.

Nope. It’s not.

Truth: I hate cats. So do you.

I wish I had not gone on that mission trip.

I wrote about it here, but my life was shifted when I traveled to Costa Rica. Others’ lives were shifted because I was sick for part of the week, too. Whether you go on a trip out of your country or across state lines, you won’t regret the time away from work or the money it cost you to get there.

Truth: Going on a mission trip will mess you up in the best way possible.

Children’s ministry? That’s a waste of time.

If you say this, expect to not be a pastor very long. Or expect your church numbers to dwindle quickly.

Truth: When you invest in children, you are investing in the life of the Church. For today and tomorrow.

Anything you’d add? 

 

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image credit: CreationSwap user Tim Mossholder. Edits mine

I’ve been a small groups pastor now for 5 years. Most of my tenure coming at Grace Community Church, and I’m now at Long Hollow.

I love group life. I love recruiting, training, equipping, challenging, scheming, planning, dreaming, and writing. I believe that groups are the heartbeat of a local church, and one of the most beautiful expressions of the authentic Christian life.

But being a groups pastor isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Or if that’s not your thing…it’s not all coffee and bagels. Turns out, this is hard work. but it’s hard work worth every ounce of sweat, every drop of creativity, and every inch of effort you can give.

I’ve had lots of folks tell me that they’d love to get in the small groups space. Some have been high school students ready to jump in to ministry. Others have been guys who are currently in a ministry that they don’t love. Each person has experienced life change through small groups, and would love to invest their lives making that happen. Here are some of the things I’ve told them as a “heads up” before they dabble their toe in the water.

10 Things Nobody Told me about Being a Small Groups Pastor

1. Not everybody will like you.

Especially when you tell them, “I don’t have a small group for you right now.” Or “No, we don’t have that kind of group.” Or, “I’m sorry that small group life is difficult.” Or, “Ouch…she said that in your small group?” because no perfect people are allowed. Or, “No, we won’t have a small group where you teach for 2 hours every week about the coming rapture…about the evils of smoking cigarettes…about how our society is going to Hell because we watch rated R movies…about how all single moms are dirty rotten sinners.” Small group pastors must have tough skin.

2. Small groups are messy. 

If you enjoy coloring in the lines, and having everything neat, pretty, and always on schedule, find another ministry. Small groups are messy and difficult because people are messy and difficult. Small group pastors have to find the beauty in the mess. It’s there, like a diamond hidden among the rough. God’s at work right in the midst of the nastiest junk in people’s lives, and that junk comes out in small groups. Get ready for it.

3. Not all of the staff will be fully supportive.

I naively thought that every staff member would wholly embrace small groups with no explanation, no push-back, no confusion, and with arms wide open. Turns out they’ve got thoughts, questions, and legitimate concerns, too. This isn’t all bad, because it pushes you to answer some hard questions. Just a heads up. Knowing is half the battle, right?

4. Getting life change stories from small groups will be tough.

Mining stories is unbelievable valuable in shifting people’s hearts towards group life. Figuring out the best way to mine those is tough, though. And there’s no one “right” way to do it. Sometimes it’s best to shoot videos, other times to simply send out emails. Other times interviewing on stage is best. But capturing those stories is tough. Get ready for a challenge.

5. If you don’t do anything, nothing will happen.

Small groups ministry doesn’t run on a weekly cycle like student ministry (with Wednesday night programming), children’s ministry, or the worship team (with Sunday morning programming). So if you’re not a self-motivated, self-driven starter, you’ll languish. There are certain times every year where groups are launching, but in between those times, you’ve got to keep the wheels moving. If you don’t, things don’t naturally happen. Community doesn’t bubble up from the ground. Structures don’t naturally form. Schedules and timelines don’t magically happen. Know that if you don’t do anything in the down times, nobody else will.

6. You’d better be awesome at recruiting.

A big chunk of the role of the small groups pastor is in recruiting. Whether you’re recruiting a group leader, a coach, a potential hire, a current staff member, or a small group leadership board, the small groups pastor never gets a day off. Recruiting can and does happen anywhere, anytime. You’d better be good at it. Or learn to be.

7. You’ll have to constantly teach people what small groups are.

You may not be teaching from stage every week, but “teaching” is a key function of the groups pastor. No matter what your culture is, you’ll have to be teaching people the value of healthy community. Teaching people your process for assimilation, your process for discipleship, and your groups structure. You’ll teach new members, existing ones, staff members, and new recruits. Always be on your toes.

8. Small group coaches are vital.

The group leader that’s not coached will not be all he or she coud be. And you, the groups pastor, can’t coach every leader. Unless, of course, you just have 1 or 2 other leaders. If you have more than 2 leaders, recruit a coach. They’ll help you invest time in leaders, give them a support structure, let them have a voice, and ensure they’re being encouraged, corrected, and cared for. Every small group structure has to involve coaches. Or assimilators. Or champions. Or directors. Or advocates. Or whatever you call them.

9. Get a team of supporters. Now.

Build a base of people who understand and support your vision. They don’t have to be small group leaders themselves, but they need to be strong leaders who buy what you’re selling. Vision leaks, and you want others leaking your vision across the landscape of your local church. Know who your friends are. And give them insider information.

10. This is the most fun job in the whole church.

It’s messy. It’s difficult. It’s frustrating. But at the end of the day, your role exists to help people find God’s beautiful gift of community. You get the chance to create environments where people are free to explore faith, and experience church in a transparently safe way. It’s an amazing ride.

Are you a small groups pastor? Know one?

What did I leave out?

 

 

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27 things I’m thankful for

Ben Reed —  November 22, 2012 — 2 Comments
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image credit: CreationSwap user Rich Aguilar

This has been a tough year for us. Transitioning churches, cities, and completely overhauling our relationships has been a tough row to hoe. And we wouldn’t have made it but for the grace of God. We’ve found that God’s grace often comes packaged as friends. And occasionally coffee. :)

27 Things I’m Thankful for

1. God’s not done with me yet.

2. God’s grace is still for me, not just for everyone else.

3. My wife loves me, and still puts up with me. :)

4. My son’s an adventurer. I don’t have to teach him to live dangerously and take risks. I don’t have to push him be a boy. He does it naturally.

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Rex & the crab

5. I’m in a healthy, growing, vibrant church that’s open to change.

6. My job is challenging. Nothing worse than being in a mundane job where you coast and aren’t needed.

7. Our house will be done soon. We’re living with my in-laws. It’s awesome, but I’m excited about our the project coming together. Here’s what we’ve got now:

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our lot

 

8. My coffee station. It’s the little things, right?

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my office coffee station

9. That I don’t have to put up with cats. But you already knew that. Again, the little things. :)

10. To be in a job that I enjoy.

11. To serve on staff with a leader that I enjoy. Thanks Derek.

12. The burgeoning small groups team. We’re small, but scrappy. :) thanks Micha!

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13. The staff that has supported us in great ways. Especially Nick and Parker. And Calvin and Erica. Oh yeah, and Eric. Tony. Cyndi. Jason. Nate. Bill. The Dybas. Rog. Angie. Jeff. J Lo. Jeff. LT. Robyn. Lynne. Shannon. Brian. Shane. The Lamberths. Amanda. Todd. Henry. Julie. Andrew. Heck, you can see them all here.

14. The work I get to do with Steve Gladen and the Small Group Network. It’s awesome.

15. Being in a job where my gifts are maximized and my heart and mind are challenged. I know I kind of said that already, but I’m super thankful. So it bears repeating.

16. The countless small group leaders that have made it a point to encourage me in this transition.

17. Our family, that we’re living with. They’re so gracious.

18. My family, who has been so supportive of the craziness that has been our life over the past few months.

19. Grace, with whom we spent 5 amazing years.

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20. Chad & the rest of the staff team at Grace, that were incredibly gracious and supportive of us as we made the hardest move of our lives.

2!. Good friends like David and Tony and the Anthonys and the Wolfes that have come to see us in Hendersonville.

22. Guys in my life that mentor me from far off. Thanks Ron.

23. My buddies that helped me move. Thanks John, Tony, Brad, Brandon, and Byron.

24. Friends that have still stayed in touch, even though I’ve moved. Thanks Jesse, Michael, and Peter.

25. Chocolate chip pecan pie. With a piping hot cup of good coffee.

26. Our Clarksville realtor, who helped us sell our house in 3 days. Thanks Jackie.

27. Our Hendersonville realtor, who showed us that it’s possible to be patient with a young couple as they look through 50+listings…only to end up buliding something new. Thanks Jeff.

What are you thankful for? Anybody you can thank, and tag here?

 

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Introduction

How do we know if our ministries are working? Is it stories or is it statistics? Yes. Stories and statistics are not mutually exclusive. The measurements that we track help us tell the story of our ministry…about what has happened, what is happening, or what will happen. They help us know if we are “winning.” Measurements matter, so we measure what matters.

I. Where stories and statistics intersect

A. “Story” people and “statistics” people

  1. Stories engage the heart
  2. Statistics engage the head.
B. As a church, we are both organism and organization.
  1. Organism without organization is chaos
  2. Organization without organism is lifeless

II. Involve the right people

A. Establishing measurements must be a collaborative effort.

B. Establishing measurements requires diverse perspectives.

  1. Ministry involvement offers the perspective of ownership.
  2. Manager involvement offers the perspective of oversight.

III. Leverage best practices

A. Tie to the strategic

  1. Vision (life is better connected, which is why they measure “connection”), mission (to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ, which is why they send out a survey 2x/year to people in groups), and strategy (to create environments where people can grow, which is why they track the number of groups and the number of people in groups) must drive all measurements
  2. For each area of the organization, measurements must be developed around a clear win and critical factors of success. They measure 4 things: group participation, leader apprentice (for future growth), leader retention, and leader training
B. Tips on the tactical
  1. If you can’t or won’t change something, then don’t ask for feedback
  2. When relevant, use rations 100% of the time. This makes it easy to compare over time.
  3. Track over time to establish targets. You have got to have trends.
  4. Don’t marry your metrics.

IV. Follow up the right way

A. We don’t make decisions based on measurements alone.
B. We do…
  1. Open conversations. We believe the best, and don’t assume the worst.
  2. Start explorations
  3. Plan ahead…use numbers to look forward
  4. Benchmark standards
  5. Celebrate success. Don’t just focus on gaps.

Conclusion

The church is people and every one of them has a story. Our measurements must always be complemented with the stories of the people they represent. But stories, like numbers, can be manipulated. Therefore, it is not one or the other. We must walk the path between the ditches of the lifeless, organization-only mentality and the chaotic, organism-only approach. This is wise and skillful leadership; this is where sustainable growth is found. What you manage shows what you value.

 

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Screen Shot 2012-11-19 at 10.13.39 AM

I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Introduction

There is a road map you can follow when developing your small group ministry. In this breakout, we’ll talk about the key principles that form the framework of our small group strategy. And we’ll discuss how you can contextualize them to your adult ministry, regardless of the size.

I. Some contextual thoughts for developing a small groups strategy

A. Leading a small group is to developing a groups strategy as driving a car is to building a car. A car and a groups’ strategy are both systems. 

B. Every system is built of essential components.

  1. If you leave out an essential component, your system won’t work.
  2. If you don’t know what the essential components are, you won’t know why your system down’t work.
  3. For every essential component, there is a steering question to ask and a guiding principle to consider.
  • When you have better questions, you get better ideas.
  • When you have better ideas, you get better solutions.

C. The goal for today is to further your ability to develop and implement an effective groups strategy. 

D. We will achieve the goal through two tactics:

  1. Introduce the five essential components of a small groups strategy.
  2. Illustrate an expression of these components using the example of our model

II. The Five components of an effective small group strategy

A. Point leadership

  1.  Steering question: Who is empowered, responsible, and accountable for the success of our groups system?
  2. Our answer:
  3. Guiding principle: “First who, then what.” – Jim Collins, Good to Great

B. Establish clear wins

  1. Steering question: How is our groups’ strategy helping us accomplish our vision?
  2. Our answer: intimacy with God, community with insiders, influence with outsiders. Closeness and intimacy (closed model), vs connecting people quickly (open model)
  3. Guiding principle: Life change happens best in the context of a small group. People love to win!

C. Coaching structure

  1. Steering question: How are we providing real-time, tactical support to group leaders?
  2. Our answer: coaching provides vision, orientation, direction, and support.
  3. Guiding principle: coached leaders go further, faster

D. Leader development

  1. Steering question: How are we equipping leaders with the knowledge they need?
  2. Our answer: community group leader orientation, coaches meetings, early gathering, theopraxis
  3. Guiding principle: Teach less for more.

E. Assimilation Solution

  1. Steering question: How are we forming groups?
  2. Our answer: Group Link in January and August. At Athens church, they appoint people to small groups
  3. Guiding principle: Think steps, now programs.

Conclusion:

  1.  There is no such thing as “the thing,” that silver bullet that solves all small group problems.
  2. The strategy will only be as strong as the weakest component.
  3. The expressions may not be infinitely scalable; the questions are.
  4. Ask and answer these questions continuously.

 

 

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I was in a small group my junior and senior years of high school that was absolutely monumental in my spiritual journey. That group helped me more than years and years of sermons I heard. More than years and years of sitting under a Sunday school teacher. More than years and years of individual study.Even though I didn’t talk much.

You know why I didn’t talk much during group time?

I was afraid.

I was afraid that I’d say something and be wrong.

Afraid I’d misquote a Scripture.

Afraid I’d say something and be disproven.

Afraid I’d say something dumb.

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image credit: Matt Gruber, Creation Swap, edits mine

There were a handful of times when I’d share something, only for someone to immediately respond with, “Well, why would you say this if ______ is true? What about the verse that says, “______.”

I’m sure that the guys saying these things weren’t trying to strike fear in me. Surely they weren’t intentionally trying to undercut every little step of faith I took to kick my fear in the teeth. They couldn’t be backhanding slamming my little serve across the net, like the guy that toys with you in ping pong, only to make you look silly with a flick of his wrist.

But every time I put myself out there, and they gave a quick retort, I retreated into my shell.

It’s a fear of man issue, I know. I’ve worked through it. I’ve dealt with my issues. I’m still dealing with them. I’m more and more comfortable being harshly corrected and chastised in a small group. My skin has toughened, and I’m more and more confident in who God has created me to be, rooting my identity in Christ. But here’s a word of wisdom to every small group leader:

Be careful how you respond to the quiet guy.

It’s easy to break people. Inadvertently, you squelch courage, winning the battle you didn’t even know existed. Winning the battle for the wrong team.

Instead of jumping all over the guy that says something you don’t agree with, let me offer a few responses you could give:

Helpful discussion engagers from a small group leader:

1. Hmm…that’s interesting. Can you explain that a little more?

2. Hmm…that’s interesting. Anybody else have a different take?

3. Thanks a ton for sharing that. We so value your perspective.

4. Good thought. Sounds like you’re pretty passionate about that. Where did you first hear that?

5. Thanks for that. I love the diversity of thought here.

6. Thanks for sharing. Let’s bounce that thought around the group.

7. But the Bible says, “_____,” so you’re wrong… (trust me, even if the person stands in stark contrast with the Bible, this is never, ever the best response right out of the gate)

8. I’ve not heard that angle before. Help me understand where you’re coming from.

9. So, let me try to repeat what you said so we can all be sure to understand your point…

There is a time for correction. A time for pointing out the Truth, and letting people choose to fall into the arms of Truth or run from them. There is a time for brutally honest feedback. But that time isn’t from you, the group leader, the “expert,” right after that person shares. Please don’t stomp out courage. Don’t cut off safety. Don’t snuff out curiosity.

And don’t kick the quiet guy.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. – Proverbs 18:21

 

 

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Disruption: the king of community

Ben Reed —  September 19, 2012 — 2 Comments

I met the king of community last night. He was in my small group, just waiting to reveal himself at the right time.

I’ve seen him before. He’s popped his head in a few times to small group or to random conversations with friends. I’ve seen him at the gym, in the coffee shop, and waiting in line at Wal Mart.

It’s hard to plan for him, because he comes and goes as he pleases. The best thing you can do is to be ready for him, because when he shows up he could destroy a relationship. He could so distract you that you think he’s an annoyance, something you need to move past to get to something else that’s more important. In the moment, nobody really likes him.

The king of community’s name is not “food,” though that helps. His name is not “coffee,” though in my small group coffee is vital. His name is not “funny joke” or “comfortable couch” or “a great Bible study” or “common interests.”

His name is disruption.

image credit: CreationSwap user Jeremy Binns, edits mine

He shows up in a number of different ways. He shows up often in small groups, but if you’re not ready for him, he’ll come and go unnoticed as the king. He’ll frustrate, distract, and derail. In fact, when he shows up, he’ll make people want to leave.

But if you’re ready for him, he’ll build a stronger sense of community than you could ever imagine. Small group leader: be ready.

Unplanned disruption

Pain.

Sometimes this pain is caused outside of your group (losing a loved one, losing a job, etc.). Other times it’s a pain that’s shared together by the group. Either way, pain and difficulty disrupt the “normal” and build community. Neither of these painful experiences can you plan, and neither of these painful experiences would you long for. But either can cause your relationship with that person to go really deep really quickly, knitting your stories together.

The prayer request.

Look out for this one, because it’ll sucker-punch you in a small group. You’re ready to shut the group down for the night when someone brings up the request, “Dave’s not here tonight because we decided to separate.” Or, “Every week I just sit here and listen, but I need to tell you that I’m addicted to _____.” In these moments, slow down and let community happen.

The random question.

You’ll be tempted to dismiss this one as a distraction. And though it may be distracting you from the topic at hand, it can be a great community builder. These questions disarm people, giving them a chance to rally around their doubts, confusions, and curiosities. Chances are good that one person’s curiosities will reveal another’s.

Planned disruption

Meeting to serve.

Try putting your Bible study aside for the night and serving at a local soup kitchen. Or going shopping for your neighbor with 3 kids whose husband just left. Or going on a full-fledged mission trip together.

Game night.

Nothing reveals the depravity of the human heart quite like game night. Gloves come off, ribbing begins, and friends turn on each other. All is fair in love and war…but not in a game of “Cranium.”

The tough saying/hard question.

“What’s God calling you to do with this?” “How are you going to obey Jesus with this today?” “Why does God ask us to ____?” Wrestling through difficult questions and hard sayings builds community. Plan these question-bombs wisely.

Watch for disruptions. They’ll either rip the fabric of your group apart…or weave it together into beautiful community.

Question: 

Have you experienced authentic community? What helped build that?

 

 

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Measuring new small group health

Ben Reed —  September 12, 2012 — 7 Comments

When a group leader launches a new small group, they’re curious. They want to know if they’re going to have a successful group. They don’t know if their group is going to stick, if people will come back, or if they’ll take steps of faith together.

How do you know if your new small group is going to “work”? How do you know if they’re going to stick together and grow and have dynamic stories of life change?

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image credit: iStockPhoto user Daft_Lion_Studio

Is it that you have solid biblical discussions right off the bat?

Is it that for the first few weeks everybody shows up?

Is it that they’ve already started talking about the group serving together?

Is it just that sense of “peace,” that fluffy feeling in your stomach, that you sometimes get?

I submit something different. I saw the #1 marker of success in the small group that my wife and I lead, and I saw it last night. How do I know we’re going to have a successful group?

They stayed at our house until almost 11:00.

And we started at 6:30.

Relationally, we’ve already made deep connections. When we say, “Amen,” we’re not done. Our group isn’t defined by our study alone. Our group isn’t defined by the fact that we meet on Tuesday nights. Our group isn’t defined by our life stage or our kids’ ages. Our group is defined by significant relationships, built around the stories God has written with our lives and the story He’s writing with us together as a group.

We’ve built authentic community quickly. It just took us a few weeks, but God’s woven us together beautifully. We’ve made a priority out of getting to know each other at a level deeper than the surface. And it’s working. Late into the night every Tuesday night.

If your group hangs around after you say, “Amen,” you’re doing something right.

Without significant relationships, your group won’t last. Mark my word.

 

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If you’re going to be a good small group leader, master the art of small talk.

smallgroup1

image credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

Mastering small talk is an underrated strength of the best small group leaders.

Even though you might tell me that small talk:

  • Is pointless
  • Is too surfac-y
  • Is difficult
  • is a waste of time

My wife and I just launched a new group, and were quickly reminded how awkward the first few weeks are. It’s like a really weird blind date with a group of people you don’t know and don’t care to know.

Nobody knows each other. Everybody is on edge. Nobody knows what’s safe. Nobody knows what to say or when to say it. And everyone wonders what to expect.

So they shut down. Especially when you have a group full of introverts, which we do.

Everyone plays the wallflower.

Enter “small talk.” Talking about the weather, work, or your favorite football team tends to dominate small group time on the front end of a group’s life. It’s surface-level communication, and for some of you it’s frustrating.

But small talk is more important than you could imagine. Why?

If group members don’t feel connected in the first 8 weeks, you’ll lose them.

Why small talk is vital in group

1. Connects common interests
You’re a football fan, too?!? You like to run?!? You just started coming to our church?!?

2. Gives people something to talk about
This food is good, right? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?
3. Breaks the tension
Everybody feels it, and nobody knows what to do. And this tension is awkward. It’s looking for a release.
4. Keeps it on the surface
I don’t want to share my deepest, darkest secret to you right now, so…how ’bout that rain? Your group can and will get around to deeper issues in life. Until then, lots has to happen: trust has to develop, relationships must grow, and steps of faith must be taken together.
5. Keeps me from thinking you don’t care.
You could sit off in the corner, but if you do, I’ll think you don’t want to be a part of my life. Small talk engages people and gets them chatting.
6. Keeps my mind from wandering to ‘I do not want to be here.’
Early on, excuses like ‘I don’t want to be here anyway’ or ‘this is too difficult’ or ‘these people don’t like us’ or ‘I have more important things to do’ can win in the battle over whether someone leaves the comfort of their home or not.
7. Makes me feel welcomed. 
When you make it a point to Talk with another group member, they feel valued. They feel like you care about who they are. They feel included in your new, awkward family.
8. Helps encourage me to come back.
Mark my words: though the Bible study may be great, though you may choose just the right curriculum, though you are a brilliant discussion leader, people will return to your group for one reason: relationships. Build them and build them quickly.
9. Opens the door for deeper conversations. 
deeper conversations happen because we have taken steps towards that. They rarely happen spontaneously.
Obviously, small talk can’t dominate group communication forever. But on the front end, it will.
That is, if you want your group to have long-term success. If you want your group to feel a sense of connection with other group members early. If you want to open the door to deeper connections.
So…how ’bout them Cubbies?
 

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