Moving beyond study

Jesus says in Matthew 5:13-16, You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Most likely you have read or heard these words from Jesus.  They are near the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. In these words, you can hear the urgency that Jesus has for impacting the world around us.

His symbolism is apparent, yet powerful. We should be people of change.  Salt changes food for the better.  Can you imagine having french fries without salt? Or have you ever tried a fresh steamed vegetable without salt?  Salt changes food for the better.  In the same way, light brings hope to the darkness.  When the power goes out at night, you wouldn’t light candles and turn on flashlights, and then put them under a bowl.  Light is only beneficial when it is placed in the dark.

What do these words have to do with your small groups?  I believe that Jesus is urging us beyond the study.  Small groups do a great job in fostering community and relationships that grow our spiritual walk; however, we shouldn’t stop at that.  What is the point in building each other up and growing in our faith if we don’t then try to do the same for others?  That would be like being salt and never touching food or being light and hiding under a bowl.

In your groups, encourage, strengthen, and grow with one another!  But don’t stop there.  Jesus is urging us beyond the study and into the world. As you grow in your group, discuss ways, as a group, that you can help the community.  Discuss ways that you can spread the news of Jesus.  Be the salt and light.

Group Discussions Part 2

Handling the Challenging People

One of the more challenging parts of small group discussion is managing all the different personalities.  No two groups will be the same.  Your group might be full of extroverted people who love to share about life and feelings, or your group might be full of introverts that would rather listen to others.  Whatever your group demographic is, you can have great discussion.  Part of having great discussion is managing the personalities and difficult people in the group.  Here are some examples:

The Over-Talker

This person will always have something to say, and they are often the first person to say it. You can remind the group during discussions the importance of hearing from everyone.  You can verbalize it as everyone giving their equal percentage.  If you have 10 people, then we want everyone to give 10%.  For the Over-Talker, this will be hard for them, but also very valuable for them to practice listening.  If you continue to have problems with this person dominating the discussion, then a 1-on-1 talk might be a good thing.  During this talk, it is important to affirm this person that you value their input.  You can steer the conversation in a way that you want them to help in getting others involved.  Empowering them to help in the group discussion will give them reason to not dominate the discussion.

The Non-Talker

This person will rarely say anything.  They are happy to sit and listen.  Groups are meant to grow people, so you want to encourage their input instead of accepting their silence.  The Non-Talker might need some encouragement to share.  You don’t want to embarrass the Non-Talker, but you can encourage him or her by asking for everyone to answer a question.  Or, you might even call on this person (if you think he or she will be comfortable with that).  You definitely want to affirm his or her answer to help this person become more comfortable.  The Non-Talker will often have great answers as this person has been listening and thinking the whole time.

The Tangent-Starter

This person loves to bring the group off topic.  More often than not, there is no devious reason for this person to bring the group off topic, but it can be discouraging to the group.  For one thing, don’t be afraid of tangents.  The group is meant to be fun, so if you go off topic, it is no big deal.  If it a constant thing, you might have to redirect the conversation back to topic.  Keep in mind that the Tangent-Starter might be trying to find a way to contribute.  While it is not always a helpful contribution, you don’t want to shut this person down from ever saying anything.

Remember that the goal in small groups is spiritual growth.  You won’t always have great discussions, so don’t worry if things aren’t always smooth.  Give it time, and let the Holy Spirit work in the people in your group.  And remember to always have fun.

Group Discussions Part 1

As leaders, you will probably handle some of the responsibilities in promoting discussion. Some groups might flow organically into discussions simply by reading the questions on the sermon discussion guides or Right Now Media guides.  Other groups (probably most groups) will need a bit more practice.  Here is what is important: Leading a good discussion is not about having the answers or knowing the material, it is simply to create discussion.  We all want groups that have healthy active discussion, so here are some thought about getting there.

Asking Good Questions

The Questions are often the key in promoting good discussion.  We try to craft the Sermon Guides in a way to ask good questions, but the Right Now Media guides can be hit or miss. Regardless of what you use, you can still follow up with questions.

  1. Open-ended Questions – Avoid questions with simple answers like “yes” or “no.”  Instead, ask questions that require a long response.
    1. Ex:  Instead of asking, “What happened on the 7th day of creation?,” you can ask, “Why did God rest on the 7th day?”
  2. Follow-up Questions – Follow up an answer with another question if the answer is short.  Don’t let people off with simple surface level answers.  You can say things like, “Why do you feel that way?” or “What makes you say that?” Some people might need encouragement to open up.
  3. Start an argument – This is playing “devil’s advocate.” If everyone is agreeing about a certain topic, it can be helpful to play the other side and debate. Spiritual growth happens with different perspectives.

Create a Safe Enviornment

If you have all close friends in your group, your group will naturally feel safe to share.  It is rare for a small group to be filled with all close friends.  Often, you will have some closer friends and some members you don’t know as well.  Hopefully, you are trying to add members and broaden your context.

In the group setting, it can be helpful to reinforce what your time as a group is about.  It isn’t about studying and memorizing facts, but it is about growing together as group and welcoming all perspectives.  Validating a person’s response will help him or her feel comfortable to share again.  If you feel like someone’s response needs comment or correction, do this outside of the group.  Remember that your group time is not about the lesson or teaching.  That is definitely a part of it, but it is more about the discussion and different perspectives you all have.  People will come back and thrive in your group because of the friendships and discussion not the lesson.



Praying in a Group

Having an active prayer life is essential for any Christian. It gives us constant communication with God and the ability to discern his will in our lives. It is crazy to think that we neglect to pray when we have a direct line to God.

Jesus demonstrates an active prayer life in his ministry. He often retreats to a private area to pray when life becomes crazy. Before his ministry starts, he retreats into the wilderness to pray. Before the crucifixion, he prays on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sees the need to have God as a constant in his life.

Prayer is an important component to every group. Not only are we encouraging each other to have an active private prayer life, but group prayer is incredibly important for Christ followers. Unfortunately, few people feel comfortable and willing to pray in a group. If you don’t believe me, ask the next small group, ministry group, group of friends, ect. to pray together, and you’ll hear the deafening silence. Group prayer is uncomfortable for the majority of people, but why?

There are barriers for group prayer:

  • Group members lack experience with prayer.
  • Group prayers lack authenticity and depth.
  • Group prayer times lack structure and variety.
  • Group members don’t follow up on prayer requests.

The reality is that it will take time to break down some of these barriers if you want to help you group members to become comfortable praying together. It takes time to build trust and that intimate relationship, but there are things you can do to promote group prayer.

  1. One line prayers – As a group, instead of one leader praying, everyone prays one line at random. Don’t set an order, except that the leader starts.  For instance, the leader might pray, “thank you God for your eternal grace.”  Then someone at random would pray another line, and so on, and so on. Members can pray one time or 10 different times. There is no limit. This allows people to pray a quick thought without feeling the need to have long impressive prayer.
  2. Guided prayers – Decide on topics that need prayer. Maybe your group decides that you want to pray about racial divide, the schools, and a time to thank God. Your group prays at random about these topics. This helps the people who “don’t know what to say.” It gives them direction and focus.
  3. T.S.P. prayers – Another great idea I came across is called T.S.P. prayers. It stands for Thanks, Sorry, and Please. Each member gets three note cards and writes down a payer thanking God, asking God for forgiveness, and asking God for something. Then the cards are distributed to each person so that every person has one thank you, one sorry, and one please card (making sure that no one has their own card). Then the group prays with each member taking turns to pray their cards. This idea is great in that it gives someone exactly what to say and allows prayer time to focus on praying the requests of others.

Be creative and allow prayer time to be something fun and interactive. You’ll begin to see the barriers broken down and all members actively participating in prayer.

Am I equipped to lead a group?

Often, the greatest hurdle in leading a small group is feeling inadequate at leading a group. We sometimes have an idea that small group leading requires us to be something first (e.g. scholar, perfect, extroverted, popular, married, ect.). Maybe you saw that at another church or that typically is how the way the world works, but here is the deal. Do you have a desire to lead a group? Good, then you are more than capable. Don’t hear me say that we simply want a beating heart and warm body as a leader. That is clearly the first step; however, the key is understanding how God calls people. If you don’t know it, God works through our imperfections. God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.

In Hebrews 13:21, we are told that God will…“equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

If we are doing things according to God’s will, then God will equip us. If it pleases Him, God will give us the ability. How incredible is that? God gives the abilities that we need when we would fall on our own. I believe that includes leading a small group.

Think about Saul’s conversion. In Acts 9:1, we are given a description of Saul as “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” Then, 5 verse later, Jesus calls Saul to do his work. In Acts 9:6, Jesus says, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Think about that. In the midst of Saul’s anger and violence, God decides it is time for him to be called. I would imagine your hurdles are less than Saul’s hurdles. God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.

If you are on this blog and are either a leader or considering it, be confident that God will equip you. At Grace, as a small group leader, you are becoming or have become one of our core leaders. You have the chance to directly impact the lives of a handful of people in a way that no staff member can. At church on Sundays, you can worship with a crowd, but you can’t fellowship with a crowd. Small groups give people an opportunity to connect and fellowship in a way that Sunday mornings can’t. Being a small group leader is one of the best things you can do in your faith.