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.

From Mark Howell Live [print_link] [email_link]

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?

Why We Avoid Small Groups

Before you read this short list, know that it is not my goal to create internal tension or to be judgmental. Do know this… a believer who is unwilling to spend time with other believers in a small group will not…

  1. Experience a meaningful relationship with Christ: Christianity is lived out in community.
  2. Become a mature follower of Christ: without other believers holding you accountable, you will drift.
  3. Have the knowledge or passion necessary to lead their children toward Christ and His church: since the example is set, the children will follow a poor example.
  4. Be unable to speak wisdom to other believers: wisdom is gained through knowledge and experience, so if there is no experience of community, one cannot speak to the needs to others apart from the small group.
  5. Be a witnesses for Christ on an ongoing basis: one’s walk speaks louder than one’s talk, believing at a distance tells others that you are not “all in” to this Christianity stuff.

And so… I share the following five reasons that believers don’t join a small group:

  1. They don’t want to have an intimate relationship with Christ: most will prefer just enough of Jesus to get by rather than be totally committed.
  2. They don’t want to become a mature disciple: they prefer to just believe the right stuff and pay their dues by showing up to church, but don’t want to be a fanatic disciple of Jesus… that might be uncomfortable.
  3. They don’t care if their children become Christians: or attend church when they’re adults, or if their grandchildren are separated from them and Christ for eternity: if you are not excited about your relationship with Jesus, I guarantee that your kids have less of a chance to experience him in any real way. What we hand down to the next generation is caught more than taught.
  4. They don’t care about the other group members: it’s more than just going to a group in order to get something out of it, it’s about being there to help others be all they can be in the Lord. The group is designed to encourage, lift up and bear the burdens of ONE ANOTHER.
  5. They don’t care if Christianity in the west dies with their generation: Christianity is always just one generation from extinction, so what are we passing on to the next group of believers? The American church is stunted if we pass on a comfortable, me-centered, uncommitted and casual faith in a set of theological propositions.

Sermon-Based Small Groups

I’ve been thinking about how we can get more people involved in smaller communities without loading down already busy families. I also sense there are only so many truth units that a person can absorb each week… Sunday School, the pastoral message, Wednesday night meeting, any devotional book someone may be reading, and perhaps a Christian living book from your local Lifeway store.

All that spiritual activity is likely pretty optimistic on MY part, but the reality is, a Sunday class and the Sunday sermon may be all that people are taking in each week (or twice a month, or once a month). So, what do you think about designing groups that meet during the week, NOT for additional truth units, but to focus on application and clarification of something already heard last Sunday… like the pastor’s message? I thought of a few questions on the topic:

1. How can sermon-based groups be used for God’s glory, for the good of the local church, and for the good of the community?

Anything that brings glory to God is used by God to glorify Himself, and any time He is glorified the local church is better for it. Anytime the local church is known as being focused on bringing glory to God, the community is enhanced.

I like that! These groups can help our church to be “a city on a hill,” (Matthew 5:14) and a light shining brightly for Christ on the street or cul-de-sac where believers live. They can function as a mission of our church which they represent, in the community where God has placed them for his own glory.

2. How can sermon-based groups “remember” their leaders (Hebrews 13:7) rather than forget what their leaders spoke?

One of the most positive aspects of sermon-based groups or Bible studies is that group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon. Imagine how God will be glorified in the lives of the participants! These groups would study the passage more fully and strive for clarification, questions and application. After reviewing the main points of the sermon, group members should then process what they heard in the sermon then make commitments to live out what was preached.

3. How can I lift up the name of Jesus above all names and respect my pastor?

Humankind will instinctively worship that which they can seen and touch, so there is potential for the pastor to become the focus of attention rather than Jesus. In order to overcome this, small group leaders should be trained to elevate the words found in the Bible above the teaching, clichés and phrases spoken by the pastor in the sermon. Then, consistently during the Bible study time, leaders should point people to Jesus and his word rather than focusing on the teaching pastor and his words.

4. How can people move beyond the after-service surface-level comments like  “Great sermon” to significant conversations?

A very short answer ought to do it… GREAT discussion questions that are placed in the right order. When this happens a transformational conversation will be experienced. Our need is to develop capable of creating these kinds of experiences. This is where most sermon-based groups fall very, very short.

5. What are some upsides of sermon-based small group studies?

  • The pastor is happy with the small group pastor knowing he or she is working in tandem to establish the principles and practices that were unearthed during the sermon.
  • Small group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon which helps establish the truths that were taught.
  • Sermon based Bible studies make more time to discuss application. Since the principles and practices that would normally be unveiled as group members discussed the passage are already established, (since the pastor took care of this when preaching) the group can climb immediately into discussing how these principles and practices are to be lived out.

While God’s Word is sufficient, we must caution that group discussion and attempting to determine what God is saying is vital as group members learn how to interpret Scripture without an official “teacher.” Many people may never learn to think on their own or use their Bibles or interpret Scripture apart from someone telling them what it means.

The Downside of Sermon-Based Groups:

I am a proponent of any small group experience that lifts the name of Jesus above all other names, creates a safe place for everyone involved, and produces an environment where unbelievers feel as though they are equals on a spiritual journey so they attend consistently.

I recently spent some time reading about the sermon-based small group experience, and not everything is positive. These are some concerns I discovered.

1. Elevating the pastors words while inadvertently diminishing God’s Word: When utilizing biblically based, well-done discussion guides, the conversation must be strategically turned toward what the Bible is saying. When discussing the weekend sermon, the conversation can be built around what the pastor said. The primary voice in the Bible study wouldn’t be God and his Word, but the pastor and his words. Instead of hearing phrases like, “The Bible says,” or “Jesus told us,” or “God’s Word instructs us,” small group members hear phrases like, “The pastor told us,”or “If the pastor was here he’d probably say,” or “I’ll check with the pastor and see what he meant.” The pastor’s voice may inadvertently become known as the ultimate truth source rather than the Bible being the only source of all truth.

2. Senior pastor worship: Sermon based small group experiences can easily lead to high levels of senior pastor worship. My research on this topic has indicated that the senior pastor’s name is brought up (and he is held in awe) at least six times during each group gathering. Jesus’ name and his personality are discussed much less than the pastor’s personality and the senior pastor’s name. In some pastor-driven high-power church, Jesus is subconsciously established as the senior pastor’s sidekick, the secondary personality in church life. Before long, many believers speak more of their pastor and his great sermons than their Savior and his redeeming power.

3. Those farthest from Christ won’t attend a small group – Those who are far, far from Christ are not going to attend church services which means they’ll never feel comfortable in a sermon based small group experience. The truth is, people who are far from Christ are NOT going to come to a group to discuss a sermon they haven’t heard. To expect a “not yet” follower of Christ (who didn’t hear the weekend sermon and never will because they are not going to attend a weekend worship service) to come weekly to a sermon based small group experience is like asking someone to come to a book club for a weekly meeting to discuss a book they refuse to read. They aren’t going to attend.

One way to combat this last observation is to invite unchurched friends for the fellowship and discussion on a certain topic (the sermon topic, for instance). Even though someone did not hear the message, in the conversation, the group can highlight the main points of the message as the evening progresses, and then the Bible is STILL the primary source of guidance and the one who missed church is not disadvantaged.