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Small Groups3

image credit: CreationSwap user George Webster

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.

You need healthy, authentic community as much as anyone does. You’re never above it, because God’s created you to live dependent on others.

2. They need to hear this.

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.

9. Evangelism? Nope.

Stop it. Quit thinking too narrowly about the Gospel. Too weakly about it. Too shallowly about the power of the Gospel to change lives. Stop it.

What other statements would you include that would destroy a small group?

 

My Judea

Ben Reed —  July 10, 2013 — 2 Comments

Our church is doing a church-wide initiative where we are serving in our “Judea.”

Taken from Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Judea would’ve been within a 20-mile range of Jerusalem. So Jesus was commanding them to bear witness not just in their own hometown (Jerusalem), and not forget about the surrounding community.

We’re taking Jesus up on that.

Here’s a video that our team at Long Hollow put together. It happens to be my personal small group. I love these guys!

 

What is your small group doing to serve your “Judea”?

 

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.

 

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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.

Just be sure to build flexibility in.

* this post was originally published at Lifeway’s Bible Study Insider blog.

 

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I love Sunday morning corporate worship. It energizes me to worship with other believers, and be challenged by good, solid preaching.

But corporate gatherings alone will dry me up, spiritually. I need small group life.

You do, too.

Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Spiritual Growth

1. It’s too easy to hide in a large gathering.

It’s tougher to hide in a small group. 

2. It’s too easy to be passive during a sermon.

Wallflowers don’t last long in a small group.

3. There is little to no accountability.

Follow-through is much easier in a small group.

4. We’re prone to think we matter too little.

Small groups remind us that we are loved.

5. We’re prone to think we matter too much.

Small groups remind us that others have problems, too.

6. We’re prone to think, “they need to hear this.”

Small groups challenge us to personally apply Truth.

7. We’re prone to think, “this is only for me…”

Small groups keep us from cycling into destructive self-pity and loathing.

8. When we cry, there’s nobody to ask us, “What’s going on?”

Small groups don’t let tears go unchecked.

9. No food is allowed in most worship gatherings. #Lame.

We eat well in our small group.

10. “Be quiet while the pastor is preaching!”

Small group gives you time to have deep, life-stirring conversations with people.

11. Convictions go unchecked.

When the Spirit moves in small group, you’ve got time to slow down.

12. Specific needs go un-prayed for.

Small groups pray for the specific needs of their group members.

13. There’s no time for questions.

Small groups ask hard questions and allow for discovery.

Are you in a small group? Has it helped you grow spiritually?

 

Craveable

Ben Reed —  February 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

Is your life as a follower of Jesus ‘Craveable’?

How about your small group?

How about your church? Is it craveable?

Watch this video, then pick up the new book by my friend Artie Davis.

 

Pick up your copy HERE!

 

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

 

 

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?

 

 

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.