Benefits of Small Group Attendance

Last week and this week are closely linked together because we’re talking about attendance or gathering at church being one of the essentials in the Christian life. Ken talked about Hebrews 10:19-25, the LETTUCE passages regarding this New and Living Way:

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Life groups and Sunday School classes are an essential part of church. In a broad sense, these groups and classes are a way to share life together as we travel together on this journey toward Christian maturity. Baptists have discovered that if you want the church to grow, and the gospel to spread, a small groups ministry is the key.

So, this begs the question: what should be the purpose of a small group ministry? Believe it or not, the purpose of a small groups ministry is the same as the church—to make and develop disciples of Christ by reflecting and living out the Great Commandment. Here is Luke 10:27: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” These two greatest commandments emphasize three areas that make a strong foundation to any church, small group, or individual Christian: spiritual growth, learning, and serving.

For these three things to happen, it is essential that you show up. Growth, learning, and serving don’t just happen by reading a book, or by accident, or by individual resolve and determination. These happen, and are carried out, in the context of Christian community.

From the very beginning, God called to himself a people; starting with one man and his family that God blessed into a great nation. Ever since Abraham, God has emphasized the community. God doesn’t want rouge individualism, that’s more of an American characteristic. God wants his people gathered as a community of faith; to worship, to live life, to share with and support, to encourage and lift up, to admonish and correct, all in the context of community. For a community to be a community, it is essential that we show up.

Consider the challenge of Hebrew 10:24, “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” THAT will not happen by accident. We need others to guide us on this journey. Left to ourselves, we will drift away, and eventually crash and burn. We cannot be an obedient Christian on our own.

Consider this homework assignment: do a word study on all the “one another” passages in the New Testament and see if any of them can be accomplished by staying at home, or even by sitting in a place like this, looking at the back of someone else’s head. It is said that Christianity is best living in circles, not rows. Rows will separate us and allow us to hide from one another, while circles invite everyone into participation.

Let’s get back to the Great Commandment and how small groups attendance is essential:

To love God with all our heart and soul is to love Him with passion, with priority, and with trust. We can’t go out into the world and work at our jobs, and deal with the family, and at the same time keep our passion for God without help.

Think about it, we can’t be bombarded by media, and ads, and strange noises in our car, and keep God first in our priorities. We can’t listen to the news, and to the politicians, and worry about paying our bills, while naturally keeping our trust in God.

We need to see the example of others and receive their encouragement. We need others who know us who can remind us how God has taken care of our needs in the past, so he will take care of us in the future. A small group can provide all of this in a way a large congregation can’t.

To love God with all our mind is to learn about Him through his Word, and to see the world from His perspective. The best preacher in the world is still limited by the fact that sermons have NO interaction.

With a small group, people can ask questions, give illustrations, even express doubts, and know that other people are listening. Loving God with our mind is taking biblical truths and applying them to our lives. While good preachers add application to their sermons, it’s also important to have a fellow believer who can look at our particular situation on a personal level and speak directly into our lives.

To love Him with all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves are related. Small groups should be a place where we can freely “love our neighbor,” whether through prayer or meeting a physical need. Small groups also provide encouragement and a place of rest so members can love God with all their strength OUTSIDE the group. When members serve God as a group or as individuals, the small group can be a place to recharge and share how God is working in their lives.

God knows we are fragile and fallen creatures who need constant reminders of what we are supposed to do. Obedience tends to leak out of our buckets.

A small group is a key tool to help us stay focused. Regularly meeting with a committed group of believers allows us to reinforce the core of what we believe so we can live it out, learn more about God, and maintain the strength to serve others. Small groups are the best and most effective way to make and develop disciples of Christ.

King’s Grant Baptist is about building the Kingdom through making disciples, which means helping you to become a devoted follower of Jesus. Small groups are the key in your spiritual growth process. Here, I am going to share some positive benefits in becoming involved in a small group; yep, you actually get something out of being in a small group.

I am going to finish this message by helping us to better understand GROUPS…

G – Gain knowledge and Growth toward maturity.

Gain Knowledge – You will understand the Bible better in a community of faith.

Have you ever listened to a message from the Bible at a worship service and wanted to stop the speaker and say, “But what about?” or “I don’t understand!” If so, then a small group is for you. The message that is taught in our worship service is one-way communication. You listen while the speaker speaks. It’s fine for imparting knowledge, but not as effective for personal application as a small group. In a small group setting, you can ask questions, participate in a discussion of the text, and hear others share their insights and illustrations of the truth you are trying to grasp. The Bible must be applied to your own personal situations and that happens best in small groups.

Growth Toward Maturity – You will grow spiritually faster in a group than when you are alone.

We have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). Spiritual growth involves life change. Life change is optimized in the context of a small group. 2 Timothy 2:22 teaches that we are to “run after” godly character and “run away” from the passions of youth. This verse instructs us not to do this alone but “with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.” God wants us to stop “trying” and start “training.” It’s always easier to exercise physically or spiritually in a group than alone (1 Timothy 4:7b).

R – Relationships

Experiences – You will begin to really feel like part of God’s family.
We believe it is imperative that as a church grows larger, it should also grow smaller at the same time. It should be the desire of growing churches to provide a small group for everyone that wants to get connected. In a society that is increasingly mobile and where families are fragmented, small groups can provide a family atmosphere where no one needs to stand alone.

Encouragement – You will receive customized care.

Each member of a small group provides care for the other members of the group (1 Corinthians 12:25). The group leader oversees the pastoral care of the group through the sub-group leaders. The group, rather than church staff, becomes the first line of resources. This is accomplished as believers in the group see themselves as contributors and not just consumers, givers and not just attenders.

O – Opportunities.

Example – You will be a New Testament Christian.

The early church met as a large group for corporate worship at the temple and then as small groups from house to house (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). The New Testament is very clear about how God intended for His people to meet in small groups so they could experience authentic biblical community. The New Testament is also very clear to point out that these were communities with a purpose. They used these small groups to fulfill the Great Commission in a Great Commandment way. They weren’t an end in themselves.

Evangelism – You will have a natural way to share Christ with friends, neighbors, classmates, relatives, and co-workers.

It may be that some of your friends who don’t know the Lord wouldn’t be caught dead in a church. They have a preconceived idea and just the thought makes them defensive. But those same people may be open to an invitation to a casual Bible discussion in a home or office setting. In a small group, your unbelieving friend can ask questions and express honest doubts without feeling “put on the spot”. When your friend sees the love and warmth and honesty of your group, it will make him more receptive to the good news (John 13:35; Acts 5:42).

U – I’ll come back to this one at the end…

P – Prayer will become more meaningful to you.

Many people are hesitant to pray in front of others, especially in a large church. In a small group of 6-12, you will learn to participate in prayer by having a conversation together with God. No one is pressured to pray, but as you become comfortable, you’ll be able to pray sentence prayers and join in. There are many promises in the Bible related to group prayer. In praying together with a few others, we are drawn together, and we find answers to the needs in our lives (Matthew 18:19).

S – Support, Skills, and Service.

Support – You don’t have to go through struggles alone.

It’s not only possible but also probable that you could walk into and out of a large group event with hurts, heartaches, and soul-searching questions but never connect with someone that will show an interest in you or identify with your difficulty. In a small group setting the principle of “commonality” is often experienced. Many of us think our struggles are unique to us, but in a small group we find out that personal problems are universal. It’s exciting to find out that the members of your group have not only struggled with common problems but have found common solutions in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Skills – You will develop leadership skills in a small group.

Many people are scared of the word “leadership.” John Maxwell says, “Leadership is just influence.” Most believers would say without reservation that they want to influence their world for Christ. They would love to be used by God to lead someone to Christ and see that person grow up spiritually and reproduce himself. Acts 4:13 says “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” These men had obtained the confidence they needed to lead others to the Savior because they had been discipled in Jesus’ group. Discipleship ultimately produces leadership skills in you. One day you will be discipling a small group of believers.

Service – You’ll have a place to discover and use your spiritual gifts.

When people are born into their physical family, they are given natural talents, but when they are born into the family of God they are given spiritual gifts. These gifts are God-given abilities that enable believers to effectively serve one another. Attending a spiritual gift workshop and taking a gift assessment is a vital step in discovering your gift mix, but it is the members of your group that provide confirmation of your gift after watching you in action. People that have no arena in which to exercise their gifts struggle to identify them. A neighborhood group is a wonderful place to steward the gifts God has sovereignly given you (1 Peter 4:10, 11).

So, these past two weeks at King’s Grant have been about the importance of attendance @ Church. After all this time and teaching, perhaps you now see that your attendance in corporate worship (and some sort of small group) is way more than numbers on a spreadsheet. We are talking about the God’s people moving closer toward conforming to the image of Christ, growing into full maturity.

So, what is missing in the outline? Look at your notes. What blank is left out? U = YOU.

I suppose, there may be really just one question left to ask regarding attendance in a small group: “How are you doing with that?” Are you doing all you can to take advantage of spiritual growth opportunities? Or are you just happy to be where you are? Your staff can’t make you desire spiritual growth or maturity. We can’t make you practice hospitality. We can’t make you invite others into our community, faith, and love here at King’s Grant. I suppose it all comes back to another question, “Are you here because of what you get out of the community, or what you can give back to others?” THIS is the difference between being a consumer and being a contributor.

Are you ready to move toward something greater than where you find yourself right now? What will it take to get you out of a row and into a group? What are the barriers that prevent you from getting into a small group? What is holding you back? Are there fears? Issues of time? Not enough Bible knowledge to get into a group with those long-time believers?

Think of it this way, you don’t refuse to go to college because other people know more than you. That’s the whole point of college. You go there to learn new things, experience community, and grow toward proficiency in your profession. Is not your salvation the most important thing ever? Then why do we accept the lie that ignorance is bliss? The more you get involved, the more you realize you have a lifetime of learning ahead of you.

I see a barrier that one day, King’s Grant will have to address: space. We can’t get everyone into a Sunday School class, so, who in our classes is willing to say that space and seats will no longer limit the growth of King’s Grant Baptist Church? Would there ever be a time when half of the people in your class will say, “We are going to meet in homes, to free up space for our classes here on campus to reach people not yet connected”?

Who is ready to start something in your home, using the Life Group model, asking questions about the preacher’s message and text, then seeking to apply the Scripture to real life? THAT is community life. THAT is what Life Groups are about. Not a teacher, then don’t try to be one; allow the Holy Spirit to guide your group. When you run across something you don’t know how to answer, just say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Then come talk to me about it.

Attendance @Church – one of the Essentials in the Christian life. If you need to talk about how to get this part of your life straightened out, I’d love to talk with you about it.

May the Spirit of God move in your soul to take seriously the command to Love God and Love People in a community of faith.

Free Market Small Groups

Here’s an Insightful Idea:

Most churches only have pre-set kinds of groups which come from the leadership. But when you’re dealing with tens of thousands, how do you find enough niches to fit each individual? Breaking the large church into effective small groups is a constant challenge.

They developed the concept of Free Market Small Groups to deal with the challenges inherent in small group formation, emphasizing trust in God’s working, mentorship, and empowering their members. In the Free Market system of small groups, the members who host small groups choose the topic of study, when and where to meet, and what their group does. The Church does not dictate what the small groups will be and doesn’t create a complicated structure and meeting agenda for these groups.

The Free Market idea works because the group members are more passionate about their group. The group leaders are interested and experienced in the focus of the group, and are enthusiastic about inviting others to join their group. The group members and leaders may naturally have more contacts in the areas of their interest and have more success in asking new people to come. Additionally, when members are interested and engaged in the group, they are less likely to become burned out.

This Free Market structure for small groups also allows for the ebb and flow of the seasons, life schedules, and individual interests. The small groups can take breaks that coincide with school calendars, for instance. The sessions run much like school semesters, taking December off, and then restarting again in January. Rather than running small groups the entire summer, the session is shorter, just about a month long.

[ From Rich Birch, Unreasonable Churches ]

Take a look at some questions that will help small groups dig into a passage, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and direct the conversation – The Bible App Initiative www.kgbc.us/questions

Hosting a Small Group

If you are familiar with Saddleback Church, you’ve probably heard of “hosting” a group, but what does it mean to be a host? Is there a difference between a host and a leader? Is it just another name for a leader? If I’m a host, will you provide the teacher? These are questions that are asked all the time. ALL the time. You may have your own answers, but let me give you some of the defining ideas of the host strategy (and what it means to host a group).

The HOST Concept: The first thing you need to know is that the idea of H.O.S.T. makes it possible for ordinary people to lead a small group. By that I mean that we’re almost always talking about using a DVD or video-based small group study, bringing the teaching into the group via the television, and allowing the Host to do just that. In fact, the HOST acrostic stands for:

Heart for your community (or your church)
Willing to Open your home for six weeks (or the length of the study)
Serve a few simple refreshments
Tell a few of your friends (in the beginning the T stood for “Turn on your VCR”)

This is very important to the idea. You’re not recruiting teachers or leaders. You really are simply inviting people to open up their homes, serve some coffee and dessert, and tell (invite) a few of their friends. That is a ground-breaking concept and allows many more people, ordinary people, the chance to include friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.

1. Will a “leader” or “teacher” be provided? No. Using a DVD-driven curriculum allows a group to begin without a teacher. In addition to a warm invitation and spirit of hospitality, only very basic facilitation skills are needed. Sometimes you will have the opportunity to match someone with an interest in leading with someone who has an open home, but that is not normally how the concept works.

2. When is HOST strategy used? The HOST strategy can be very effective when used as part of a church-wide campaign (an alignment of weekend message series and small group curriculum). As part of the build-up to the campaign, HOSTs can be recruited who will commit to opening up their home for the six weeks of the series/study and invite a few friends.

3. Who can be a HOST? Every church makes this decision based on a number of factors: the culture of the individual congregation, available coaching for new hosts, even the topic of study are all relevant. Some churches may decide that only members may host a group. Other churches may decide that you must attend an orientation to qualify, but will only allow members to advertise their group on the web or in the lobby. Still others will simply require that you use the provided materials and invite your own group members.

4. What kind of training is required? Again, this varies from one church to the next. The most effective strategy seems to be to require attendance at a brief orientation (1 to 2 hours max) combined with connection to a coach who will serve as a liaison for at least the period of the campaign. Many churches are also finding that a decentralized mid-series huddle in the home of the coach is a very effective additional opportunity to encourage the host.

5. What happens when the six-week commitment ends? With a good experience, many of the new groups will decide to continue. Hosts are reminded in the orientation that they’ve made a six-week commitment and that their commitment is making it possible to launch many new small groups. They’re often encouraged to be open to the possibility that the group may be such a good experience that they would choose to continue, but there’s no pressure to do that.

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Evaluating Small Groups

Everyone knows that before you take your car on a road trip, you really should do more than fill up the gas tank. You might check the tire pressure and take it in for an oil change. You might decide it’s time for new windshield wipers or even a new set of tires.

Getting ready for the next leg in your small group ministry adventure? Maybe it’s time you took your ministry through my signature 10 point checklist!

  1. Review your small group ministry’s present state.  There are a number of ways you can think about the way things are right now.  An accurate understanding of where you are right now is essential no matter where you want to go.  See also, Diagnosing a Small Group Ministry and The Four Helpful Lists by Tom Paterson.
  2. Review (or create) your end in mind for your ideal small group.  What kinds of groups do you want for every member of a group?  Are there certain activities and habits?  Are there certain experiences?  What do you want it to feel like to be part of a small group in your system?  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  3. Review (or create) your preferred future for the kind of small group leader you dream of producing.  Spend some time thinking about the kind of leaders you will need to have in order to create the micro-environments that actually encourage life-change.  See also, From Here to There: The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders.
  4. Review (or create) your annual group life calendar.  Have you planned to take advantage of the best opportunities to connect unconnected people?  Have you built in the steps that will allow you to maximize impact?  Or have you compromised and compressed timelines in a way that will lessen impact?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  5. Evaluate your current coaching team.  Do you have high-capacity, hundred and sixty-fold players on the team?  Or have you compromised and added thirty-fold players who struggle to accomplish their mission?  Have you settled for warm-and-willing when hot-and-qualified is needed?  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  6. Evaluate your current plan to develop the coaches on your team.  Remember, whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of your small group leaders.  If that’s true, then whatever you want to happen in the lives of your leaders must happen first in the lives of your coaches.  Can you see where this is going?  Assuming that your coaches will develop themselves is short sighted and compromises the integrity of your system.  See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Coaches.
  7. Evaluate (or create) your plan to develop your existing small group leaders.  I am a fan of a very low entry bar of leadership…but the word “entry” is a very important word.  I also know that lowering the bar and recruiting HOSTs won’t often put shepherds into the system, but people who are willing to open up their home.  If you want to make it easy to begin as a host, you’ve got to make it nearly automatic that new hosts step onto a leader development conveyor belt that moves them in the direction you want them to go.  Don’t have the conveyor belt?  Now’s the time to build it!  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.
  8. Evaluate your existing leaders in search of potential coaches.  Look over your list for high capacity leaders who may be able to put their toe in the water of caring for another new leader or two.  Your best coaching candidates are almost always leading their own group and doing a great job.  Inviting them to test-drive the coaching role by helping mentor a new leader or two is a great way to let them put a toe-in-the-water.  See also, What If Your Coaching Structure Looked Like This?
  9. Take a careful look at the next connecting event you’ve got planned.  Will you take advantage of the next optimum time to connect people?  Do you have several weeks of promotion built in?  Have you designed the event to appeal to unconnected people?  Have you chosen a study that will peak the interest of unconnected people?  Have you already chosen a great follow-up study?  See also, 6 Essential Components of a Small Group Launch.
  10. Evaluate (or create) your recommended study list.  One of the most helpful tools you can provide for small group leaders is a recommended study list.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate.  It can begin as simply as a top 10 list.  It can exist as a page on your website or a simple handout that you keep updated.

What do you think?

From: Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with This 10 Point Checklist
By Mark Howell

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Summer Small Groups

It is TOUGH to keep small groups going in the summer. So what are we to do since the small group experience is vital to the life of Christians desiring to continue toward spiritual maturity? The momentum has grown only to be confronted with the beach, the mountains, baseball and weekend getaways.

No matter what your group is up to this summer you may need some ideas, things a group can do together and invite others to join you. So, I’m inspired by our young adult group and am offering these suggestions.

  • Spend the day at a theme park like Busch Gardens.
  • Canoeing trip.
  • Paintball.
  • Hiking at Seashore State Park.
  • Water skiing.
  • Cookout in the neighborhood.
  • Homemade Ice Cream competition (ask the small group pastor to come be the judge). Each household in the small group makes a gallon of ice cream. Invite the neighbors over to eat what has been prepared.
  • Camping.
  • Cornhole tournament (perfect competition for men and women together).
  • Go to a drive-in movie together. Take lawn chairs, snacks, and coolers. Sit in front of your parked cars and enjoy a fun evening together.
  • Get a PowerPoint projector and show a movie outside on someone’s white garage door. Invite the neighbors.

Then there are the rainy days… spontaneously call up group members and…

  • Invite group members to your place to watch a movie. Pop popcorn, have drinks.
  • Host a game day at the house (play cards or board games but don’t drag out the Bible Trivia game).
  • Play Nintendo Wii games (this is a grand slam home run every time).
  • Play laser tag together.
  • Go to an auto show at the convention center.
  • Ask someone to be the photographer for the group this summer. Invite those who are not part of the group but who joined you in some of these summer experiences to the first meeting in the Fall.

What ideas might you add to this list?

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