hints and tips

Icebreaker Idea: Animal (of God’s) kingdom

If you were a household pet in the kingdom of God, what animal would you be?

It’s a question I recently heard used as an icebreaker and it was just a fun little way of getting people thinking and talking. But it can also be quite a profound question.

For some, the answer would be dog. Energetic and loyal in their youth but after a few years they might have grown a little lethargic, but still love their master.

For others, the answer might be cat. Maybe a little bit more independently minded. They know their territory. Sometimes they bring ‘gifts’ back into the house! Most of them like being fussed over but can change their mind pretty quickly.

Other people might feel more like a tortoise. A hard outer shell protecting the soft tissue inside. They also live for a long time and take things slowly!

Maybe some of us are more like goldfish. Bad memories… feel like we’re swimming around in circles… Did I mention the bad memories?

Need we mention rabbits and their ability to recreate (or make disciples in our context!) or hopping from field to field in search of the best grazing.

Perhaps the answer would be parrot. Whether or not you’ve had a parrot as a pet (or any other bird for that matter) most of us know that parrots are famous for listening to and repeating what their master says. Is that what you want to be like? Someone who listens to what Jesus says, pays attention to the way Jesus acts and speaks, and replicates it in your own life?

So, what animal would you be in the kingdom of God, and why? It’s not such a silly question!

You could open it up to non-household animals, or get your thinking cap on and come up with another creative idea, like… If you had to describe your place in God’s Church as a type of food, what food would you be and why? The idea is just to get people thinking and talking, and considering how they relate to certain aspects of the Christian life in a fresh way.

Enjoy!

 

About Mark Baker

Mark is an editor and is passionate about small groups. He loves writing, reading, and finding out more about God and His purposes for our lives.

Fresh ideas for… outreach as a small group

Autumn is in full swing. There’s no crueller reminder that you need to dig out your scarves and gloves than the chilly foot-shuffling, hand-rubbing dances you see commuters doing as they try to warm up whilst waiting for their morning buses and trains. However, just because the temperature is dropping and the nights are drawing in, that doesn’t mean you have to hide away inside as a small group – autumn is as good a season as any to be active and present in your local community.

Here are a few simple but effective ways to use the autumn season as an opportunity to engage with people around you and your small group:

  • Why not start this weekend with Bonfire night? Does your local village, town or church have a community bonfire, or fireworks display? As a small group, you could take the opportunity to each extend an invite to neighbours and friends, and meet socially before or after the display, introducing them to one another and the idea of meeting as a group.
  • You could hand out bacon rolls (vegan and vegetarian options are available!) to the commuters waiting at your local train station. Why not also hand them a copy of Why Pray? or Living on a Prayer, two of CWR’s informal and short booklets  introducing people to the idea of prayer.
  • Invite your neighbour to Sunday lunch – everyone knows how great a warm and hearty roast dinner is on a cold day. You could even suggest meeting after attending a church service together.
  • Christmas isn’t that far away (eek!), so how about writing Christmas cards to people in your local community with an offer to pray for people over the holiday season. Add a contact number or email for people to get in touch and who knows what connections or friendships could start. It would also be a great way to strengthen your small group as you pray and reflect together on any requests you may receive.
  • You could invite people to your church’s carol service. Carol services are great events to invite people along to as carols are often familiar and attract lots of people who wouldn’t normally go to church every Sunday.
  • Or you could take your group to visit a local nursing home for an evening (best check with the nursing home beforehand).

Outreach seems like a scary thing, but it needn’t be. It’s simply loving the people around us like God already does. When people ask you why you’re visiting, helping out or inviting them to an event, you don’t have to share your testimony right away or hit them with some well-timed scriptures. You can just explain that you wanted to do something nice; to share some of the incredible love that God has lavished upon you.

And remember, you’re not alone – your whole small group can get involved together.

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.

For or against: should you invite non-Christians to your small group?

Small groups are something that you are likely to be encouraged to get involved with as a regular church-goer. Hopefully, if run well, they offer a safe space for Christians to grow together and they help to deepen both friendships and understanding of God. But what if you are not a regular church-goer? What if you don’t call yourself a Christian? Is a small group the ideal space for people to be introduced to God, perhaps for the first time?

FOR:

1. The most obvious argument, and potentially the trump card, is that Jesus told us to go out and make disciples, to share the gospel with those who don’t yet know Him. We should use our small groups as places to connect not yet Christians with Jesus:

‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ Matthew 28:19

2. A small group is a safe and potentially less intimidating space for people to ask questions than a church environment. People who are not familiar or comfortable with the format of a church will feel more at home with a smaller group of people and are therefore more likely to ask questions, get involved and be open to prayer.

3. The Christians in the group will learn more. Someone who doesn’t yet know much about God approaches faith with a freshness and innocence that others can learn from. Doubts provide questions for Christians to explore and answer.

AGAINST:

1. A small group is for teaching and building up Christians, for fellowship with like-minded people who can encourage each other and pray together. If you invite non-Christians into the group, they could feel left out and not fully benefit from being surrounded by Christians.

2. People could feel held back and frustrated by having to go over the basics of their faith if they had to teach people who might not know anything about the Christian faith. What about people who are in the group because they want to study the difficult passages and topics in the Bible that don’t often get discussed in church – wouldn’t that just put non-Christian people off?

3. Inviting people who are not yet Christians to your group would change the dynamic so much that it might not be the comfortable, friendly, supportive place you’ve created with friends.

CONCLUSION:

I’m not going to give you a conclusion, that’s for you to decide. Every group is different and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all rule as to who should or shouldn’t be in your small group…

But I hope this ‘for and against’ exercise has got you thinking. Are you getting too comfortable in your small group? Do you have room in your small group to invite non-Christians to join with you? Either way, we need to make sure we are constantly seeking Jesus and asking Him what’s the point of our small groups and what should we be doing within them.

 

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.

 

Help – I don’t know how to lead a small group!

I have attended many small groups, some fun, some serious and one really awkward one. I’ve felt embarrassed at my lack of Bible knowledge and sat in groups with all single people that felt like a dating game. It wasn’t until I was approached (ambushed) recently with the daunting question, ‘Will you lead our small group?’ that I really even thought – how do you run a small group?

I panicked and immediately responded with:  ‘Are you sure you meant to ask me?’

One of the reasons I panicked is because I didn’t even know where to start. To help out other people who might be in the same boat, I’ve put together a list of things gleaned from wise people in my church:

1. Pray – this group isn’t about making you look good, or even about making it the best time ever for those attending it, it’s about seeking God and growing closer to Him. So, ask Him what He wants for the group.

2. Get organised – Find a place to meet and make sure everyone in your group knows where and when you’re meeting together. Find a way that works for you all to stay in touch – this could be by email, Facebook, WhatsApp or anything else.

3. Don’t over-complicate hosting – Real hospitality is about being there for people, having the time for them, listening and actually taking in what they are saying and remembering it. It’s not about having a shiny clean house with the perfect sofas (comfortable enough to fit everyone on, but not soft enough that people fall asleep).

4. Don’t panic – You aren’t now responsible for the spiritual growth and welfare of everyone who meets in your living room. You are there to facilitate discussion – pray for others and provide some kind of direction on what to study, but you don’t have to have all the answers!

5. Enjoy it – Take a break from studying the Bible, praying and trying to learn together every once in a while to go have fun and build real, genuine friendships together.

There’s no such thing as a perfect small group, but there’s the opportunity to be real with one another and grow together. Don’t pressure yourself into trying to be the best small group leader ever; just trust that God has you in this place for a reason and ask Him to guide you.

For more help running your small group, look out for Andy Peck’s new book Small Group Essentials, out in January 2017.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Fresh ideas for… small groups over the summer

Church can be a funny place during the summer. It can feel a bit disorienting as people take holidays, students come and go from university, and holiday activity camps bring a sudden influx of families. And small groups don’t know what they are doing either! Should they carry on meeting to try and accommodate those who aren’t away over the summer, or take a break as numbers dwindle?

It’s pretty impossible to keep things going at the same momentum as the rest of the year, so don’t try to force it. Here are four ideas your small group could try this summer to keep things rolling, but without exhausting yourself by trying too hard:

  1. Book club! Choose a book to read, maybe something light-hearted such as Cactus Stabbers by Jeff Lucas. It can be both a summer holiday read for the members of your group sunning themselves on beaches abroad and a great discussion point when you do get a chance to meet up.
  2. Socialise. Other small groups will also be wondering what to do with their summers, so why not meet together, support each other and get to know some more people in your church. You could make the most of an opportunity to do something different: worship evening, trip to the pub for a meal or a picnic and a prayer walk.
  3. Set up a group email, WhatsApp group or Facebook thread for your group to stay in touch over the summer. It doesn’t have to be anything more than just sharing prayer requests and encouraging things that you hear about whilst you are away. It’s a good way for your group to still support and care for one another, even if they aren’t in the same place.
  4. Choose Bible study material that works for both individuals and small groups so that people can study the same material in their own time that the people who don’t go away are looking at when they meet together. Something from the Small Group Toolbox range would be great, with books covering topics such as: discovering spiritual gifts, guidance, hearing God and identity.

My conclusion is that if Jesus says He’s there with us even when there are only a few of us, then we should keep meeting when we can over the summer.  ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’ (Matt. 18:20).

Use the smaller numbers attending your small group as an opportunity to do something a bit different over the summer!

 

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.

 

Fresh ideas for… small groups facing a dry spell

This week we received an enquiry from a small group leader who was looking for some fresh, Bible-focused resources for their small group of twelve to make the most of. The leader was finding it challenging to discover fresh content that differs from the regular material made available by others.

So, here at Small Group Central, we put on our thinking caps to provide a whole selection of resources that the group might like to use going forward. We then thought that this could be a challenge that many other small groups might be facing, and so we thought we would share our thoughts:

1.  The Vital series

This series comprises four study guides of four weeks each, focusing on seventeen different spiritual disciplines across the series, including Bible study, witnessing, temptation, silence and giving thanks. As you work through these various areas of discipline, you will see how each, in its own way, works towards this goal of loving God. Each session also comes complete with a free video teaching, which can be found online.

To read more about this series, click here.

2. The Small Group Toolbox series

This series offers six study guides, each containing four sessions, on a variety of relevant topics for Christian small groups today, including titles such as Building Character Through Testing Times, Identity and Hearing God. Each of the six study guides is a workbook-style resource ideal for taking your small group to the next level.

To read more about this series, click here.

3. Every Day with Jesus Extra

You may have heard of the popular Bible reading notes Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes. However, did you know that CWR also create resources for small groups to use alongside these notes? Short icebreakers, key thoughts, discussion points, prayer points and scripture are collated to provide readers with stimulating and ever-changing small group study guides.

To buy your subscription to Every Day with Jesus, you can click here. To download this month’s free Every Day with Jesus Extra, you can click here.

 

Of course there are many, many more resources available for small groups who are looking to shake up their weekly meetings. We offer Bible reading programmes for the whole church, which also work within a small group setting, a number of DVD resources that are ideal to work through as a small group and a huge selection of Cover to Cover study guides, which give a fresh perspective on numerous books and people in the Bible.

So really the possibilities are endless – which one will you try next?

 

 

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.

‘Would you mind taking someone new?’

You receive a phone call from your Small Group Co-ordinator. Someone is new to the church and wants to join your group. Will you take them?

Does your heart leap with joy at welcoming someone new to enjoy the delights of your group? Or are you thinking, ‘Oh no! We like it the way it is!’? Be honest. (Of course, you may be thinking, ‘Great! Our group is lousy. Maybe they can improve it.’ – but that’s another story …)

It is an issue that faces small groups in every church and it is not easily solved in the short term if your groups have been structured in such a way that welcoming a newcomer is unexpected. I am here assuming a classic structure of small groups that meet for Bible study, prayer and fellowship, made up of Christians at different levels of maturity. In such groups one aim is to build deep and close relationships in which our honest journey with God can be shared. If you have been set up as a group and have been merrily working to build trust and intimacy, you can understandably feel that a newbie would spoil the dynamic. Many groups do resist newcomers for that reason (and occasionally because of space considerations) – I get that. It would be like a family being asked to have someone live with them long term. That family will never be the same.

But all that said, if groups can be set up for growth from the very start, with the assumption that people may join, you start off on a very different footing. That phone call becomes a sign of God’s work and potential blessing for you and the newcomer(s).

It doesn’t mean that groups shouldn’t develop appropriate levels of connection, just that you have to be deliberate about how the newcomer is helped to feel at home. For a start it helps if the small group co-ordinator who allocates people to groups knows a little about the person and can make a judgment about the best group that might suit them. At the first meeting invite the person (or couple) to share a little of who they are, or meet up with them beforehand for a brief chat. This will depend on their temperament and maturity, of course, but can give the rest of the group a head start on how to best connect. You can also spend time helping them to know how people contribute in this group, what the aims are, brief them on any stuff that might assist them (Bob is hard of hearing, Alice has just lost her husband, Mary has an autistic son …)

If the groups are set up for growth, the group’s DNA includes that expectation that the group will grow and will multiply.

This whole issue of welcoming newcomers is not unimportant, for the very attitude that is nervous about welcoming a newcomer to a small group could be embedded within the church, preventing growth. We may think our church is friendly, which is code for ‘my church is friendly towards me’. Outsiders can have an altogether different experience. Church services full of in-jokes and references to people the outsider has never heard of are subtly saying, ‘We are family; you are not.’ At least not yet.

So I sympathise with groups that want to remain as they are, and would not force them to take newcomers – they are adults after all, and there’s no statutory obligation! But the ideal is that the small groups set up mirrors a healthy whole church mentality of being keen to welcome people to grow and flourish within the small group set up. It will be a challenge, but you can be sure that God will be right there with you.

About Andy Peck
Andy is a writer and Bible teacher who has served as a tutor with CWR since 2006. He is the author of Coached by Christ, A Life to Die For and co-author of Unlocking the Bible. He worked as an editor with Christianity magazine and hosts the Leadership File on Premier Christian Radio.