fellowship

Fresh ideas for… worship in small groups

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the act of worship in a small group, I imagine a group of slightly awkward-looking people standing around in a circle, tentatively singing Shine Jesus Shine. There is nothing wrong with this picture – Shine Jesus Shine is, in fact, a great song – but it raises the question, how do you worship in a small group?

Inevitably, there is no right or wrong answer to this. Everyone chooses to express praise and adoration to God in their own, personal way – that’s why the act of worship is so amazing! However, worship in a small group dynamic faces its own unique demands and challenges in comparison to worshipping alone or in a large group. Here are some ideas that may help small groups engage in natural, heart-felt worship…

1. Share a global communion

Introduce a different take on communion. In preparation, buy different international breads such as naan, chapatti, pitta, tortilla wraps etc. and a variety of drinks: red wine, red grape juice and a glass of noticeably dirty water (probably not to drink! It’s to remind us that there are people out there, including Christians sharing communion, who don’t have access to safe drinking water) and share communion together. Take time to remember believers all around the world who also share communion together, but who may not be able to worship as freely we can.

2. Take the group outside

Combine God’s Word and His creation in worship. Print out Bible verses that focus on creation and nature. Then, take your group to a local outdoor area, find a quiet spot, and spend time praying and reflecting on a passage each. Once the group is ready, spend time sharing insights, questions and thoughts on what has arisen during this reflective time.

3. Giving thanks

Invite each person to share something that they would like to give God thanks for since you started meeting as a group. Sharing thanksgivings with one another not only offers up praise to God as worship but it also builds the sense of community within your group.

4. The six-word challenge

Give everyone a pen and piece of paper and ask them to write praise to God using just six words (the words don’t need to form a full sentence). Each person then read the words aloud to one another and they can be used to guide worship within the group.

5. Sing together in your small group

Singing in your small group is a great way to worship together, provided you consider certain aspects. For example, when selecting songs, bear in mind the number of members who will actively participate – don’t choose songs that require the enthusiasm and momentum of a large group. Choose familiar songs with friendly keys to create an easy worship set. It will take a while for people to feel comfortable within the group when it comes to singing, so start with a prayer and plan some brief talking in between each song to relax the group. Focus on the connection between members and between them and God, rather than creating a performance.

 

About Charlotte Moore
Charlotte is a recent graduate, working to build her career in digital marketing and web design. When she isn’t working at CWR, she is playing drums at her church or planning her next holiday to a new destination.

 

Honesty in small groups

A challenge that most small groups face is how to create a genuine atmosphere – one where people feel that they can be honest and will be supported and listened to rather than embarrassed or judged. A place where you can discuss the stuff that doesn’t always get talked about in church.

A practical way of moving towards a group that trusts one another is to share personal testimonies. Whist the idea of telling your private story to a room full of (sometimes) strangers is really daunting, it can also be encouraging and affirming as it gives people confidence to share their faith with others.

ENCOURAGEMENT – The encouragement is two-fold: both for the person sharing their testimony and also for those receiving it. By telling your God story you remember things that God has done in your life afresh and those hearing how you have come to know, believe and follow Him learn new things about His character and love for them too.

‘Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me’ (Psalm 66:16)

AFFIRMATION – Testimonies remind us what we believe. They show that we all have different walks with God and confirm that it’s okay to be different. Some people have dramatic testimonies of God intervening into desperate situations in their lives and changing everything in an instant, whilst others have gradually come to know God slowly, little by little. By sharing your story and listening to others you learn just how amazingly different people’s relationships with God are. The individuality of each testimony isn’t a competition to see whose story is more ‘impressive’, as the more testimonies you hear the more you’ll realise the best bits aren’t when people are talking about themselves, but rather the truths they have learnt about God.

‘And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son’ (1 John 5:11)

CONFIDENCE – The more testimonies we hear the more amazing truths about God we have to share with others. If you hear great stories of God acting in people’s lives, you want to share them. By practicing telling your testimony in the safe environment of your small group you’ll be more prepared to share your story with others who don’t yet have a relationship with God. Your story doesn’t have to polished and perfect, just real and honest.

‘“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him’ (Luke 8:39)

 

About Emily Owen

Emily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true, she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

I found faith with the help of small groups!

I am very new to faith, only having been confirmed in March 2016. My journey to faith took a couple of years, helped by consistent support and love from the small group I have been blessed to meet. I am hoping my testimony will encourage and help you to support and encourage others in their journeys.

A little over two years ago, I didn’t know many people who openly practiced their faith, whatever it may be, and none who openly discussed it. If I ended up in a conversation on faith I often lost interest and tended to be cynical of it.

When we moved house, my wife expressed an interest in finding a local church as she wanted to rekindle her faith. To prevent her from getting lonely I went along with her, and I promised to be open minded. We visited a local church and to my surprise people made an effort to speak to us and welcomed us warmly. I continued to accompany my wife to church each week. I didn’t always understand what was going on, which sometimes made me feel uncomfortable.

After a short while my wife joined a small group and after a few weeks they invited us both to a group dinner. This was just a relaxed evening to share in fellowship and was not an evening to discuss faith. Everyone again made time to talk to us and welcome us. At most parties, friendship groups stay together and it is tough as the new comer to the party, but this was different!

After some months I was beginning to ask questions and decided to attend an Alpha course. This was arranged into small informal groups, in a safe, friendly environment. Around this time I started to join in with the small group my wife belonged to.

It was in these small groups – where I could ask basic questions, discuss and challenge things – that I really began to understand not only what bits of the church service meant, but what it was really all about. The friendly, safe environment allowed me to understand what faith is about and eventually to choose God. I was never made to feel that I had to come to faith; I was allowed to participate and was always welcomed. It was this welcoming, to someone who was cynical of faith, allowing me to ask questions in a safe environment, that helped me to find my faith.

If you know someone who hasn’t come to faith, try inviting them along to an informal event which isn’t about faith, but where there are others of faith. Hopefully they will see something different that makes them ask a question and support them in that. Hopefully in time they too will find God!

 

About Chris Garner

Chris is an accountant for a large oil and gas company. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and friends, as well as a spot of DIY and the odd cycle ride. He recently started to support his local church in a variety of ways, including volunteering at the creche during Sunday morning services, running cinema clubs for children and organising walks for older people.

Coming alongside others in small groups

I saw an advert for a church recently that mentioned warm fellowship – it was definitely intended to be an incentive to draw people in. I don’t think the offer of ‘fellowship’ is really that enticing for many people … what is fellowship other than a hurried cup of coffee after a church service, before everyone rushes home to tend to roasting potatoes?

In Acts, Luke writes about how the Early Church made fellowship a priority.

‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’ (Acts 2:42)

Why is fellowship important?

Without getting too deep into a lesson in ancient Greek, there’s a word used in the New Testament that means fellowship, which is koinonia. Two main ideas stem from it: ‘to share together, take part together’, and ‘to share with’, the act of giving to others. But how do we effectively share with one another?

I think that small groups are essential for developing fellowship in a church. To share with and care for one another. Yet it’s often easier said than done, which is why teaching found in series such as Paraclesis: Journeying Together is so important. To learn how to journey with someone, to have real, effective and honest fellowship with one another, just as God calls us to do:

‘He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.’ (2 Corinthians 1:4, The Message)

The main premise of Paraclesis: Journeying Together is for people to share what they have learnt through their life experiences with other people, in order to help them through the challenges they are facing.

Paraclesis: Journeying Together sets up churches and small groups to experience and practice true fellowship with teaching, resources and creative ideas. It teaches us to come alongside one another instead of just standing side-by-side each other at the coffee morning.

For more information, visit www.paraclesis.org.uk

About Emily Owen

Emily Bio Pic smEmily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

Start local, think national, go global

One of my favourite things about my small group (other than the hobnob biscuits) is the priority we place on prayer. Sometimes though, we get caught up in only praying for each other and forget about things outside of our group.

A well-used prayer formula for things bigger than our own life bubbles is: start local, think national and then go global.

LOCAL – Pray for opportunities to be light in your community. Put down the hobnobs and go for a prayer walk around wherever it is that your group meets. Ask God for opportunities to love the community around you.

NATIONAL – Pray for our country’s leaders as we approach the EU referendum in June. Pray for the Church in Europe, that no matter what the outcome of the vote is, it might be united and continue to grow.

GLOBAL – I recently read a brilliant prayer on World Earth Day (April 22) written by Pope Francis. Maybe you could use the following lines as a start for praying for our planet?

‘O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in Your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognise that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards Your infinite light.

We thank You for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace. Amen.’

Whether or not your small group prays for your local community, nation or global issues already, it would be amazing to turn the focus away from ourselves and pray for the things going on around us.

About Emily Owen

Emily Bio Pic smEmily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

What are small groups?

Small groups can represent different things to different people. Each group, and each church, will do things in slightly (or very) different ways, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter approach. What works well for one group might not work for another. What works well at this point in time might not even be what God wants to be doing with that same group in the future.

Some groups have a structured plan for their meetings, others will be a bit more open to improvisation. Some groups will always have the same leader, others take turns to lead. Some groups are made up of an eclectic mix of people, others will have a lot in common with each other.

So to define what a small group actually is can be a pretty tricky task. But there are some truths, some cornerstones of group life, which will most likely ring true for the vast majority of Christian small groups.

So, what are they?

Small groups are ordinary, broken people trying to figure out life together with Jesus at the centre. They are a group of people who want to find out more about God and His love for the Church and the world. To not only know about God, but really get to know Him personally. A group of people who want to pray, to learn, to worship, to grow, to have fun, to be there for each other, to make mistakes and get back up again. A group who admit they can’t do it alone, but with God’s help and with others around them, they can do far more than they ever imagined. They’re one part among many making up God’s global Church, and they are a gift God has given us to help bring people to Him.

They are you and me and some people we know who want to live the kind of life God intends for us, building each other up and walking with Jesus one step at a time.

Small groups are part of God’s masterplan for saving the lost, bringing light to the darkness and hope to the hopeless. Why? Because you are part of God’s masterplan for saving the lost, bringing light to the darkness and hope to the hopeless, and so is everyone else in your group!

Small groups are not

On the other hand, there are some things that healthy, Christ-centred small groups shouldn’t be:

  • A replacement for regular church gatherings or services
  • The way to salvation in and of themselves (only Jesus can do that!)
  • An exclusive club serving only its own members
  • A way to show off how ‘good’ a Christian you are
  • A place to moan about how ‘bad’ a Christian you (or other people) are
  • A place to gossip behind people’s backs
  • The be-all and end-all of discipleship
  • The only time your Bible gets read outside of church
  • The only time you pray outside of church
  • A place to be in a Christian bubble, away from the ‘real world’
  • A qualified psychologist or counsellor (though journeying alongside each other is vital)
  • A dating or social club
  • Free babysitters every week
  • A place to switch off and let other people do all the work
  • A place to do all the work to feel like a ‘better Christian’
  • ‘Better’ or ‘worse’ than the small groups from the church down the road
  • A one-way flow of information from leader to members

And one more thing that groups definitely are not… perfect! As individuals we are still works in progress, and so are our groups. Don’t be discouraged when things don’t go as smoothly as you would hope (we live in a fallen world – it happens!). Stand up, brush yourself off, and carry on journeying together, having learnt something new.

 

About Mark Baker

Mark is an Editor at CWR. He’s passionate about how small groups fit into God’s masterplan. He’s also passionate about pizza. There’s no reason pizza and small groups should be mutually exclusive – each one enhances the other! Mark still finds talking about himself in third person a bit weird…

Lent – acts of generosity

Lent is a funny one. It’s one of those times that everyone in the church seems to be aware of but no one really understands. It makes me think of giving up chocolate or wine and I’m not even sure why.

I understand the concept and recognise that Lent traditionally is about sacrifice or resisting temptation – to remember Jesus resisting temptation in the wilderness. But I don’t really want Lent to be associated with feeling miserable or resenting giving up my favourite foods.

That’s why this Lent I’ve been inspired by the organisation Stewardship who run a campaign called ‘40 Acts of Generosity’. The idea isn’t to give something up, but to live a bit more sacrificially throughout Lent, to be generous to the people around us and hopefully share some of Jesus’ loving, generous character with them.

Looking around my small group, we have all sorts of people working in a variety of places. All those people have families, colleagues and friends who we could reach for Jesus by being more generous.

You don’t have to stick to it day by day or even follow the 40 Acts of Generosity version! You and your small group could set a challenge each week and collect your stories to share the following week. Challenges such as: write a thank you note to someone who doesn’t realise how appreciated they are; wash your neighbour’s car when you’re planning to wash yours, or maybe pay for the person’s coffee in the queue behind you at the coffee shop.

My challenge to myself, and to anyone else reading this, is that during this Lent don’t give something up for the sake of it, but challenge yourself and your small group to make little daily sacrifices for others. Being generous to others seems like the perfect way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice at Easter – God sending His son to die for us and save us has to be the biggest act of generosity there ever was!

About Emily Owen
Emily Bio Pic sm Emily dreams of travelling the world and writing about the great things she sees God doing along the way. Whilst waiting for dreams to come true she happily works for CWR, plays a lot of netball and is trying to learn Spanish.

Different opinions in small groups

‘One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.’

Romans 14:5–13

To those of us who know that each greasy morsel will add to the tyre around our waist, the fat laden feast is something to be renounced. But having paid for the bed how can we refuse the breakfast – especially as the mingling aroma of coffee and succulent bacon drifts up the stairs at the very time when our moral energy is sapped by holiday rest and recreation.

So I confess that at least once during a holiday break I avoid the reproachful eye of the kipper, and go instead for the summit of all holiday luxuries – the full English breakfast.

The trouble with theological books and commentaries is that they don’t tell you the really useful things, like whether Paul would have been offered eggs and bacon for breakfast.

But there must certainly have been a day when for the first time he held a sizzling portion of pork upon the tip of his knife. It must have been a real spiritual battle for this man who had been a supreme ‘Pharisee of the Pharisees’ to put food into his mouth that he had always regarded as disgusting. His throat would have closed against it. His stomach would have revolted at the idea encountering it.

Romans 14 is by any standards an amazingly tolerant chapter, it is all the more astounding when you realize who wrote it. Paul broke completely free from his own prejudices.

There are still many secondary issues where Christians disagree. One day we will stand before Jesus and look into His face. His eyes will search not only what we did but why we did it.

If you want to please Him, bring your own life to the tests of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit now while you still have the opportunity. Don’t spend your life going round in grim disapproval, sniffing out the shortcomings of other people.
Put it to yourself in very simple terms. Ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if Jesus were to return while I was watching this, reading this, saying this, doing this?’ Can you sincerely thank God for the thing that you are enjoying? We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Are you afraid of what verdict He will pass on your life? Cheer up. He died instead of you. He will receive you, but He wants to reward you as well. It’s time to clean up your life, not because you fear Him, but because He loves you so much and you love Him in return.

About Norman and Margaret Moss

Normanandmargsm Norman and Margaret Moss commenced ministry together in 1957. After 9 years in Chiswick, they pastored a church in Wimbledon for 31 years, and since then have been widely engaged in travelling ministry.

Margaret contributed to the Dictionary of Christian Ethics (IVP) and Norman has written several children’s books. Both have wide experience with small groups.

How can Christian small groups make a difference for people living alone?

By Ron Kallmier

The small group in which my wife and I are currently sharing has a number of people who live alone. As I was reflecting on this, I checked the census data for the England and Wales, the USA and Australia. The data are conclusive. A greater percentage of people live alone than they did at the middle of the last century. The data from the recent census for people living in England and Wales in 2011 found that just under one third live alone[1]. The Washington Post in 2014 described 27% of USA households as single person dwellings[2]. In Australia in 2011, one-person households had increased to 24%[3].

For a percentage of individuals, living alone is their preferred lifestyle. It frees them from many obligations. They can do what they like, when they like, and make their social connections when it is convenient to them. On the other hand, sadly, many people are alone because of the disintegrating fabric of social life in Western countries or through life’s tragedies.

God designed people for relationships – relationship primarily with Himself, but also with one another. We do not do well if we are cut off from others for long periods of time. Having lived both in the UK and Australia, I have observed how warm and welcoming Christian small groups can integrate those who have become accustomed to living alone, whether by choice or circumstances. In my experience, the groups that have achieved a strong sense of being family have been quite diverse in membership, age range and background. We all know it takes time to trust oneself to another, let alone to a group of people. But when trust grows, and people respond to one another with genuine interest, care and support, a new type of family is born.

There are unanswered questions about the future shape of these Christian small group ‘families’, but they will need to be welcoming and flexible. Suitability of time and location will dictate when and where some groups can meet. For example, those involving working single parents, or aged people who find it difficult to leave their home, will need specific time slots in the week.

I enjoy our regular family meal nights very much. Real life issues come up naturally around the meal table, along with a lot of laughter, and when necessary, some serious prayer and support of one another. This dynamic seems to reflect what I believe is one of the core purposes of a Christian small group – building strong bonds of relationship. My interest in building small groups into faith families has been particularly stirred by Psalm 68: 5—6:

‘A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families’ (NIV).

Perhaps your small group and mine is one way that God goes about achieving this.

[1] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-and-quick-statistics-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/sty-how-people-are-living-in-england-and-wales.html
[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/more-americans-living-alone-census-says/2014/09/28/67e1d02e-473a-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html
[3] http://theconversation.com/australian-census-one-in-ten-live-alone-but-that-doesnt-mean-theyre-lonely-7674

Ron Kallmier, an experienced teacher, counsellor and pastor who served as CWR’s Director of Training, turns our attention to a few of the essential leadership skills relevant to discussion in small groups.

Why care homes need small groups

This article has been contributed to Small Group Central by one of our readers. To find out how you can get involved click here.

I have been leading Christian fellowship groups in two local care homes for almost three years now. Without doubt the Lord’s hand is in this. It began when I had to place my dear mum in a dementia unit. The home offered Communion fortnightly, but I soon became aware of a deeper spiritual need that was not being met: they yearned for more so I offered to hold fellowship meetings. Management agreed and this worked well, and over the years we have established a pattern to our meetings, which I am eager to share with others who might have a heart for this very special and urgently needed ministry.

What a meeting looks like
  • Traditional ‘sing-a-long’ hymns as everyone assembles.
  • Warm welcome – using first names.
  • Opening prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer for all to join in.
  • Topic for the day – a current event in the Christian calendar ie Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Father’s Day etc or handling an emotion ie loss, anger, forgiveness, hope, love. Always trying to draw them in to contribute, but keeping it simple with no deep theology!
  • Closing prayer followed again with the Lord’s Prayer.
  • More traditional hymn singing.
Why care homes need small groups

Many people within this age group had traditional Christian upbringings so familiar hymns, Bible readings, topics and prayers enable them to refocus on their faith or even renew it. Adapting to life in care is very challenging after a lifetime of independence and a whole range of emotions are experienced from abandonment to isolation, rejection, loneliness, depression, despair and fear. People often think that because they can no longer get to church, God will forget them.

It is important they are reminded of His unfailing love for them; that He cares about their every need and still wants nothing more than a lasting relationship with them. If they place their trust in Him they have nothing to fear but have a certain future and the promise of eternal life. It is of immense importance that they are encouraged to re-establish their relationship, hope and trust in Him before He calls them home.

My mission is to raise awareness that these precious souls deserve a level of spiritual support that must be recognised and catered for apart from their physical wellbeing. We have an increasingly aged population being kept alive by advances in medical science yet we are not apace with their mental or spiritual needs. The consequent distress and emotional gulf thus created urgently needs addressing. We Christians could be doing so much more to help.

Over to you

This has been a hugely rewarding experience for all. We have witnessed the most extraordinary moments when a memory is triggered and suddenly someone who no longer communicates can do so briefly – and even share their thoughts and recollections. Relationships are formed and a sense of belonging fostered. We laugh a lot and sometimes we cry!

I would wholeheartedly encourage others to run small groups in their local care homes. Without doubt this is our Father’s desire.

Practical tips
  • Circular seating for inclusion and unity.
  • Print hymns in large type. There are plenty of good CDs available to sing along to.
  • Prepare for people to come and go and for interruptions!
  • Include staff wherever possible.
  • Keep it simple, to the point and brief – half an hour maximum. Attention span is a challenge!
  • Have someone to support you if possible.