Small Groups are Practical

Here is a great word from pastor Rick Warren about small groups. We may attract attenders through the Internet and a worship service, but disciples are made in small groups.

Small groups provide the kind of accountability and support we need to mature as believers, so here are four reasons why they are important to King’s Grant.

1 – Small Groups are Relational:
You can’t have a conversation with 300 people or 30 people, but you can have a conversation with a small group. Generally, when there are more than 10 in a group, people stop talking. It is impossible to learn how to love your neighbor as yourself unless you are involved in a small group of some kind. You don’t need a lot of friends in life, but you do need a few good ones, and you find those solid, supportive friendships in small groups.

Small groups allow us to know people, regardless of how big the congregation becomes. You don’t have to know everyone in the church as long as you know somebody in the church. If you miss a weekend service, not everyone will know you weren’t there, but your small group will know. Even the largest congregations seem small when your members are in small groups.

2 – Small Groups are Flexible:
Small groups can meet anywhere. They can meet in a library, at a coffee shop, in a park, outside, inside, in an office during lunch, or in a home. The Bible says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

3 – Small Groups are Expandable:
We will run out of space and money if we try to build enough classrooms for our groups to meet at the church. On the other hand, if our small groups are meeting across the community, then we will never run out of space.

Don’t let buildings limit the number of small groups we can have. That’s like letting the shoe tell the foot how big it can be. Buildings are just a tool for ministry. Invest in people; they will last forever.

4 – Small Groups are Economical:
When people meet at the church, we pay for the lights, and we pay for clean up. But if a family hosts a small group in their home, they don’t expect the church to pay for utilities that night or to send a custodian over to clean up. In fact, they’re usually glad to take care of those things as part of their ministry to others.

Think about it: you bring a guy into the church for a meeting and he might sit there like a bump on a log, but you put him in a home and give him a cup of coffee, and he may talk his head off. Why? Because you’ve put him in an environment that encourages fellowship.

What Prevents You From Serving?

Volunteerism – nothing much would happen at the church without volunteers, so why is it so difficult getting people to step up and lend a hand? Some studies suggest that people do not serve because they have not been asked? Not sure about how to respond to this one, because what part of the Great Commission are we leaving out? We don’t ask people to sell all they have and move to Africa for the sake of the gospel, we simply need people to set up chairs at 9:00 each Sunday, and care for children and preschoolers at 9:45 or 11:00.

I was reading Andee Mark’s article, The Un-Interview, today. She says we need more than an “interview” with potential volunteers, we need meaningful conversations with them. People will give many excuses for not serving, mostly because we all carry false assumptions (ideas and expectations) about ourselves and about others.

I believe one of the most destructive assumptions is that we are consumers at the church. We won’t admit it but I feel it is totally true. When it’s all about me, I want and expect others to do the work so I can just sit back and enjoy. It’s about customer service, I’m the customer so those around me are here to serve (me).

When people say they don’t have time for volunteering:

As ministry leaders, this is the excuse we most often hear from someone who is unwilling to serve in ministry. Rather than pull our hair in frustration, what if we view this as a clue to what God wants to do in that person’s life, and embrace it as an opportunity to engage in spiritual direction… that is, creating space for this person to grow in their understanding of God? (Andee Marks)

As a leader, we need to recognize wrong assumptions and start addressing them, in our own lives and in the lives of the people we serve with. In doing so, we can help people to grow out their consumer mentality. What about the following false assumptions that people may have about serving in the church?

  1. The church doesn’t need help.
  2. I have nothing of value to offer.
  3. There are other people more qualified to serve than me.
  4. Serving will require time or skills I don’t possess.
  5. I will be asked to serve in an area they don’t enjoy.
  6. I feel that I have already served enough, it’s time to step aside.

Talking about these openly and honestly will help others realize that God may have more in store for them than what they assumed.

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A Shortage of Men in the Church

On Saturday February 26, the Men of Steel had a Men’s Breakfast and I handed out this information, (I will post the talk by our guest speaker at another time).

Men are absent from the church. The church may be led by men (for the most part), but the influence of women has kept most men in society out of the church. I’m reading a book by David Murrow that attempts to address the topic, “Why men hate going to church” (I’ll post a few of these insights at a later time, too). For now, let’s agree that there is a gender gap in the church, and here are the facts:

  • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. [1]
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches. [2]
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. [3]
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants. [4]
  • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male). [5]
  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return. [6]
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church. [7]
  • Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to nine women for every adult man in attendance. [8]
  • Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every one man. [9]
  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. [10]

Church is good for men:

  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life. Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness. [11]
  • Church involvement moves people out of poverty. Its also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem and greater family and marital happiness. [12]
  • Religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers. [13]
  • Teens with religious fathers are more likely to say they enjoy spending time with dad and that they admire him. [14]

And men are good for the church:

  • A study from Hartford Seminary found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline. [15]

 


FOOTNOTES:

[1] “U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 29 October 2003, [ Go ]

[2] This statistic comes from Barna’s figures on male/female worship attendance, overlayed upon the Census 2000 numbers for adult men and women in the U.S. population.

[3] This figure takes the U.S. Census 2000 numbers for total married adults and overlaying Barna Research’s year 2000 percentages of male vs. female attendance at weekly worship services. The figures suggest at least 24.5 million married women attend church on a given weekend, but only 19 million married men attend. That’s 5.5 million more women, or 22.5%. The actual number may be even higher, because married people attend church in much greater numbers than singles.

[4] Barna Research Online, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America,” 6 March 2000. [ Go ]

[5] Ibid.

[6] “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church,” PowerPoint presentation accompanying study, available at LifeWay.com.

[7] Barna, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.”

[8] My source gets an e-mail message about once a month from a pastor overseas whose congregation is almost totally female.

[9] Camerin Courtney, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Christianity Today, Single Minded. [ Go ]

[10] Based on a show of hands at the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries meeting in 2005. The consensus in the room among hundreds of men’s ministry experts was that less than 10% of congregations had any ongoing ministry to men. Compare this to the 110% of churches that offer women’s and children’s ministries.

[11, 12] “Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 1064, 25 January 1996. [ Go ]

[13] Penny Edgell (Becker) and Heather Hofmeister, “Work, Family and Religious Involvement for Men and Women,” Hartford Institute for Religion Research, [ Go ]

[14] Christian Smith and Phillip Kim, “Religious Youth Are More Likely to Have Positive Relationships with Their Fathers,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 12 July 2002, findings based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997).

[15] C. Kirk Hadaway, FACTs on Growth: A new look at the dynamics of growth and decline in American congregations based on the Faith Communities Today 2005 national survey of Congregations. Hartford Institute for Religion Research, [ Go ]

Our Goal is Getting Connected

My primary responsibilities on staff involve helping people to get better connected to God and our church, and the development of small groups; I see the two as being compatible. But getting connected is not automatic for a lot of people. Many are content to sit back and receive what the church has to offer, but do not understand that the entire body needs to be functioning if the body is to be healthy.

The world has never been more connected. Companies are laying millions of miles of fiber optics and shooting satellites into space. Kids all around the world are texting each other on cell phones, yet we hear about people all the time who feel more and more disconnected. They feel like they’re out of touch and lonely. Loneliness can come even when we are surrounded by a million people in Virginia Beach.

Our fast-moving lives wreak havoc on our relationships. We don’t feel nearly as connected to each other as people did a generation ago. We are not sitting on the front porch at sundown, watching the kids play and talking to neighbors over the back fence. These days we can close our electronic garage door and step into our house without even greeting our neighbors.

Yet we were created for relationship. The first thing God said was, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” God said that human beings were not made for isolation. We were made for connection. Why? We were created in the image of God. The Bible says God is love. And to love, you’ve got to have somebody else around you.

One of the crucial purposes of our church is to help people get rid of this sense of disconnection. There are people in our facility every weekend who aren’t connected to our church in a meaningful way. That’s why from time to time we offer the Connections Class.

Part of that class emphasizes the four great word pictures of the New Testament church. These metaphors tell us a lot about why God wants us to connect with one another. They give us a picture of what the church should be.

The Bible says that that being spiritually connected means:

We’re built like a building: “In Christ you are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:22 NRSV). We are meant to fit together like bricks in a new building. It’s essential that the parts of a building fit together. You aren’t safe otherwise because there’s no support. Those who aren’t connected to the church family in any meaningful way have no support. Life is tough. We all need the support of people who care about us. King’s Grant can provide that for the people in our community.

We’re joined in a body: “Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s Body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others” (Romans 12: 4-5 TLB). That which Jesus did when he was here in his physical body, he wants to do today through our church. We are the body of Christ on Earth. We are his hands. We are his feet. All of us have to play our part. Being part of the body of Christ means we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and if we don’t play our specific part, the mission of the church is impacted.

We’re born into a family: “I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church” (1 Timothy 3:15 GW). I like this one because it doesn’t take any explanation. Most people think that Christianity is a belief system. There are beliefs in Christianity, but it’s so much more. Christianity is a belong system. The Bible says we were born again into God’s family when we became a follower of Jesus. It also says that we have been adopted into God’s family. Both are great metaphors for what it should mean to be a part of the church.

Because those of us who follow Christ are part of God’s family, we should accept one another and love one another. Now let me be very clear here. We don’t approve of everyone’s behavior. That’s not love. If someone is doing something hurtful, approval is the opposite of love. But we must accept and love one another. Your family hasn’t always approved of everything you’ve done, but – I hope – they’ve loved you anyway. That’s a picture of the church that your congregation needs to see.

We’re attached to a vine: “Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me” (John 15:4 GW). Being connected isn’t just a horizontal issue. It’s a vertical one as well. Our people need to be connected to God himself, and Jesus says when we are connected to him it’s like being attached to a vine. Fruit not connected to a vine dies. It’s that simple. Our people can have all the interpersonal relationships possible, but if they are not connected to God, they will not have the life that God wants them to have.

Paul continues Jesus’ metaphor when he talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. When we’re connected to the True Vine, there will be certain spiritual fruit in our lives. If you’re connected with God, those fruit will characterize your life, and that’s the kind of connection we all want.

From the Connections Class workbook, I teach about six symbols of the church:

  1. The Church is a Fellowship:
    • Acts 2:42 – (they devoted themselves to fellowship, prayer, teaching…).
    • Ephesians 4:3 – (united in spirit, bonded with peace).
    • Romans 14:19 – (aim for harmony in the church, build each other up).
    • John 17:23 – (Jesus desires complete unity, so the world will know that the Father sent the Son, and loves them).
  2. The Church is a Family:
    • First Peter 3:8 – (be of one mind, sympathize with each other, love each other, have compassion, love, humility).
    • Galatians 6:10 – (do good to all, especially to those in the household).
    • Hebrews 2:10-12 – (we are declared to be holy and brothers of Jesus).
    • First Peter 4:17 – (judgment begins with the family or household of God…).
    • First Timothy 5:1-2 – (speak to others as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters).
    • First Timothy 3:4-5 – (must manage his own family well to lead God’s family).
  3. The Church is a Flock (Jesus’ favorite description for the church).
    • John 10:1-30, Matthew 26:31, Matthew 25:33 – (Jesus’ imagery with sheep).
    • John 21:16-17 – (the flock is led by a shepherd).
    • First Peter 5:1-2 – (overseers and shepherds are leaders of the church).
    • Acts 20:17-18, 28 – (elders are to keep watch over them, like shepherds).
    • Titus 1:5-7, 1 Timothy 5:17 – (elders will direct the affairs of the church).
  4. The Church is a Body (not a business, an organism not an organization):
    • First Corinthians 12:27 – (we are members of Christ’s body).
    • Ephesians 5:23 – (He is Savior of the body, His church).
    • Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18 – (and the church is His body, made full and complete).
    • Colossians 2:19 – (Christ is head of the body and He holds it together).
    • Romans 12:4-6 – (the members of the body working together).
  5. The Church is a Bride:
    • Second Corinthians 11:2 – (…I promised you as a pure bride to one husband, who is Christ).
    • Isaiah 62:4 – (Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride).
    • Revelation 19:7 – (…For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself).
    • Revelation 21:9 – (Then one of the seven angels … said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb”).
  6. The Church is a Building:
    • First Corinthians 3:9-10 – (…you are God’s field, God’s building. … I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care).
    • Ephesians 2:20-21 – (In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit).

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