leadership

Resource of the Month: Small Group Essentials


Small Group Essentials

Explore ten vital aspects of small group ministry.

Small groups are tricky because people are tricky! But even Jesus had a small group of imperfect people. Whether small groups are integral to your church or your group is the only one, discover how to change the right things, develop a compelling vision, value leadership, seek God’s involvement, allow people to flourish, and a host of other insights into small group life.

Full of wisdom and insight from Andy Peck, who has been involved with small group ministry in different forms all his adult Christian life, this book is ideal for leaders, co-ordinators, facilitators or anyone involved with small groups.

 

Meet the Author

Andy Peck has been involved in various forms of Christian ministry for nearly 30 years as a student worker and as a pastor in churches, as a writer and editor of Christianity magazine, and as a host of 400-plus interviews with Christian leaders on Premier Christian Radio, and counting. He has preached at over 50 churches and some have even invited him back!

He serves as a full-time tutor for CWR, on a range of courses and is author of Bible60, Bible Genres Cover to Cover Bible Study and Coaching and Mentoring.

 

More books and courses for your small group
by Andy Peck


COURSE: Small Group Essentials – Tools to unlock your group’s potential

Thursday 23 March 2017 at Waverley Abbey House

What makes for an effective small group?

This seminar will give you lots of practical insights and ideas for leading small groups. The course will explore how you can assess the potential of your small group, set goals and keep on course, how to understand group dynamics and the stages that a small group goes through, and the pastoral care of the members of your group.


God's story in 60 snapshots
Bible60
God’s story in 60 snapshots

If you are looking to help people grasp the message of the Bible, Andy Peck shows in this book the key turning points and common themes that run throughout. As these are revealed, perhaps it will encourage you and your group to go on and dig deeper into the Bible. With thirty readings from the Old Testament and thirty from the New, questions are provided at the end of each day to prompt further thought and prayer.


Cover to Cover Bible Study: Bible Genres
Cover to Cover Bible Study: Bible Genres
Hearing what the Bible really says

This study explores seven of the major genres of literature used by writers of the Bible: law, narrative, psalm, prophecy, gospel, epistle and apocalyptic writing. Each study provides an opportunity to consider a wide range of Bible passages that demonstrate the focal genre style and to reflect on what God is saying.

Ending well

Every now and again small group leaders have to make the choice to bring an end to the group they are overseeing. This can happen for many reasons but the thing to remember is to finish well.

For my wife and I, it came at a time when our co-hosts felt God was leading them to take on a group of their own and another couple in our group felt that they wanted to get involved with a new site that our church had planned to start. All these changes would have left us with too small a number of people to feasibly continue as a group, so we made the decision to bring it to an end.

Once this had happened we spoke with one of our church leaders who had responsibility for groups and prayed together for the next step. We didn’t want to flip the leadership within the group as it may have been awkward for the other couple, so we are on the journey of finding a new group for ourselves.

When you have come to the decision to stop leading a group, you need to finish well and to be able to move on to the next stage of church/group life.

It’s important to remember the following things:

You have not failed as leaders if you need to move on from leading. If anything, seeing it as the right thing to do, rather than ‘flogging a dead horse’, shows that you have matured in your leadership to the point of knowing when it is better to call an end to the group in order for the individuals to move on and grow in other ways.

God is a God of seasons and sometimes He asks us to step back from leadership. This can be a time of refreshing or renewing, and seeking Him in different ways. It’s also good to learn from other leaders as there may be things in your own leadership style that you need to hone, and being part of a group in which you are not a leader can help you do this in safety.

Encourage all the members of the group to find new groups and be encouraged when people do take on leadership roles. Remember that you are a whole body moving forward together; a time of change and people moving into different groups is not a time for rivalry and comparisons.

Remember what God has done for you as leaders, as a group and as individuals during the time you have been together as a group. Remember the answered prayers and the ways you have all grown during your time together.

Pray together for each of the group members and seek God with them for their next steps.

And finally – celebrate! Share a meal, have a party and celebrate the time you have had together.

 

About Anthony Wilkins
Anthony has worked for CWR for over 13 years and is married to Catherine. They are part of Jubilee Church, Farnham and have been leading small groups together for a number of years.

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… 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.

 

The not-so small group

A couple of years ago, my husband and I found ourselves co-leading a small group with a couple of other guys. The group had started because we’d ‘multiplied’ out of another group, which had reached over 30 names on the books. Very quickly, the head-count of our new offshoot had reached 22.

Our church had been (and still is) experiencing exponential growth – something our leaders refer to as a ‘good problem’. It had been planted as a 24-7 Prayer ‘Boiler-Room’ community, built upon a foundation of a) prayer and b) community found in small groups (or ‘collectives’). Church happens in small groups. It’s where you build your community, deepen friendships, cultivate vulnerability, accountability and honesty – and this can’t always be done brilliantly when there’s 22 people crammed into someone’s living room.

We branched off with a new group in the April, with a comfortable figure of 8 people in total – which had grown to 13 within 3 weeks. Already, we could no longer fit into my flat, and had to look to others to host us.

This taught us some very valuable lessons in hospitality. Can you host in someone else’s home? Can you lead on someone else’s turf? I now prefer to view hospitality as making someone feel welcome; accepted; involved; at home; in whatever space you are in – and now, if you invite me round your house, I’ll probably put the kettle on for you. (If you lead a small group and find yourself hosting every single week, I would strongly recommend you inviting others to open up their homes. In my experience, most people love to be asked.)
A couple in our group (now great friends) have a barn attached to their house that, having stood near-derelict for some years, they have recently converted into a beautiful meeting space – and we moved right in! Conversation went on for hours. We laughed a lot. We prayed a lot. We ate an unholy amount of chocolate hobnobs.

By September, we had 28 names to our group, and carried on in denial for as long as possible. Boy, did we love that group. People grew in friendship and in faith (and all those other clichés), and the dynamic was great… But was everyone being heard? Was everyone being looked after? Were the less extroverted people being drowned out by other voices? I felt challenged that being comfortable in my friendships with these people was taking priority over taking things in the direction that God wanted.

We’d had our next leaders lined up for months, but honestly, I moaned at God. It’s funny – you pray for church growth, but don’t actually think about what that will look like for your compact, convenient friendship groups. We expect blessing to come without any personal cost (and amazingly, it often does). My husband and I felt really invested in our collective, and didn’t want to do what felt like ripping it apart. God had to very gently tell us to get out of the way. We abandoned our nostalgia and got over ourselves. This is what we had prayed for.

Throughout the whole process I panicked a bit; I suddenly couldn’t remember how to build and grow a small group, and was worried that someone would eventually notice that we wing it (by the grace of God), week after week. But then I realised I’d never built and grown a small group. We’d only ever met up with some friends every week, got the hobnobs in, prayed, and God had done the rest. So we’re doing some more of that – and already, we’re becoming a not-so-small group.

 

About Rebecca Berry

‘Bex’ is part of the editorial team at CWR. She goes to Emmaus Rd church in Guildford and has led a small group with her husband, Chris, for three years. She loves pecan pie and would love to write her own book one day.

 

‘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.

Good followership

I’ve started reading Follow Me to Freedom, an excellent book by ‘ordinary radicals’ Shane Claiborne and John Perkins (Regal Books, available online and through Christian bookshops). The books opens with the following exchange between the two writers:

SHANE: When we started The Simple Way community, we had an anarchistic saying: “A strong people need no leader,” and we determined that we would not have a leader…

JOHN: …Hmmm.

SHANE: It worked pretty well—for about a week. A lot of folks today have serious hesitations about following others. Can you blame them? They’ve seen so many immoral teachers, bad presidents, crooked CEOs, scary preachers and pretentious mean people on the Left and on the Right … it’s no wonder there is a distrust of authority.

JOHN: I remember hearing the saying in the 1960s, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” And as African-Americans, distrust of authority is common. But Shane is right. Especially in the church and in politics—but also everywhere else—a lack of confidence in leaders has grown. In fact, it is rampant. I don’t like that. But the answer to bad leadership is not no leadership; rather, it is good leadership.

SHANE: So where do we begin?

A great question. Where do we begin? I can’t even attempt to fully answer that here (you’ll have to read the book yourself!) but it did get me thinking about my small group – and small groups in general.

Who are our leaders, and are we and they good followers? There’s a lot of talk about good leadership – which is great – but there’s not much talk about good follower-ship. We all, especially our leaders, should first and foremost be followers of Jesus. After all, the Bible is full of leaders who aim high but often miss the mark – and it’s only when they turn fully to God that their leadership is truly successful. See Paul’s letters to Timothy for more on leaders being accountable.

Disciples

In a way, everyone is a disciple whether they know it or not. A disciple of celebrity, a disciple of sport, a disciple of movies or games or books or music, a disciple of certain political or social groups, even a disciple of a religion. But how many of us are truly disciples of Jesus?

The disciples of Hollywood stars aspire to be like Hollywood stars. The disciples of fashion aim to look like their fashion icons. The disciples of football stars take on some of the traits of their favourite footballers (less so the on-pitch skills and more the off-pitch behaviour or misbehaviour). I would say it’s a safe bet (if I was a betting man) that the disciples of Jesus would act like Jesus.

Maybe this is pretty obvious to many of us, which is great – keep going! You’ve got hold of a vital truth – keep holding tight onto it! Keep remembering this truth about followership and leadership. Appoint leaders who are first followers and continue to be followers no matter how big their (God’s) ministry gets!

Small group followership

As small group leaders – truly lead from the front. Be the leader who prays for their group. Be the leader who remembers their group’s ups and downs, hopes and fears. Be the leader who cares and loves and sacrifices and forgives the way Jesus does.

Don’t absentmindedly read questions off of a page or stick on a DVD as a way of getting out of really preparing – think through what you’re saying, lead the discussion but step back and let the group grow, put some passion into your meeting, tailor the discussion and study around your group’s strength and weaknesses, lead the way you would want to be led.

But don’t let yourself burn out. Take a break every now and then. Share the leadership – both the burden and the honour of responsibility. Rise up new leaders and helpers. Most of all – put Jesus in the centre of all you are and all you do, both as an individual and as a group.

Well done, good and faithful servant.

‘Come, follow me’ – Jesus (Matt. 4:19)

About Mark Baker

mark Mark Baker is an Editor at CWR. He loves reading, writing, worshipping Jesus, leading and being led in a small group, good food, good drink, and good friends (not necessarily in that order). Mark finds talking about himself in the third person a bit weird…

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.

Should we worship as a small group?

My immediate answer is absolutely, yes! Case closed.

On reflection I may be slightly biased on this topic because I absolutely love to worship. I love music and I love to sing. I love to experience the presence of God as I worship Him and surrender myself to His holiness.

However, this is not everyone’s experience of worship. If you aren’t musical or if singing makes you feel self-conscious, or you just really don’t see the point of it, then singing in worship can be a very uncomfortable experience. Especially in a small group setting where it is much more intimate and you can feel like you are right out there for everyone to see.

Despite this I think worship in a small group can be incredibly powerful if we use it in a correct and sensible way.

Let’s first look at why we should worship at all.

  1. We worship because God tells us to. The second most repeated command in the Bible is the command to sing. It is repeated over 400 times. Can God be any clearer about what He wants us to do?
  2. We worship because it invites the presence of God. Psalm 22:3 tells us that God is enthroned on our praises. When we worship God He literally takes His throne in that place. And when the presence of God is manifested amongst us, lives are changed.
  3. We worship because God deserves it. Our God is holy, awesome, majestic, creator of all things, King of kings, Lord of lords, Lord of heaven and earth, everlasting, all-powerful, all-knowing and ever-present, and therefore is due all that we have to give.

So that is great if we are in church, but how do we worship in a smaller, more intimate group? Here are just a few things that I have experienced in my journey.

  1. Only do it if you are comfortable. If you are a new group or you have a lot of people for whom it would be difficult, then don’t do it. Likewise, if you have a lot of people who aren’t Christians it may not be appropriate. If in doubt, ask your group how they feel about it.
  2. Give people freedom. Let people know that this is not a performance and it really doesn’t matter whether we can sing well or not. I have a good friend who is the worst singer I have ever heard, but he loves to worship and I love to hear him worship because it encourages me. We all need to be free to worship God to the best of our ability. And give people the freedom not to participate if they don’t want to. Don’t ever coerce people into worshipping.
  3. Sing songs that people know. If you are singing songs that only the leader knows then it will be a very quiet night.
  4. Keep going. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t go well the first time. It may just take a while for your group to grow into it.
  5. Pray. This is the most important thing we can do but unfortunately is often the most overlooked. Pray that God would bless your time together, that people would feel comfortable to participate and that He would be glorified.

About Michael Johnston

Worship as a Small Group (Michael).docx 2015-04-19 20-56-03Michael works as Music and Creative Arts Leader for Busbridge&Hambledon Church, Surrey. He is incredibly long-suffering as an Irishman living in England and patiently puts up with more potato jokes than you can shake a stick at. He is engaged to Amy and is looking forward to getting married in the summer.

How small is ‘small’?

By Ron Kallmier

Over the years I have been involved in weekly or fortnightly Christian groups of many different sizes. Sometimes a group has been reduced to three or four people on a particular night because of sickness, work, special occasions and so on. At the other extreme my wife and I belonged to a group that reached 27 people on some nights. Around that time it became two groups but within a year it had grown to around 27 again. Is that really a small group or a small church?

In a previous blog, ‘The most important purpose of a small group‘, I mentioned the importance of building relationships as a foundation for effective small groups. But when does a small group become too big to be truly effective in achieving that or helping people to grow in their faith, or achieving a particular task?

The short answer is … it depends.

It depends on the objectives and type of group

A group designed to understand Bible teaching or a group for new Christians can vary in size because it is often in a speaker-audience format. However, getting together to discuss life over coffee does not work well when it becomes too large. Similarly, purpose focused groups – mission trips, community projects etc tend to work better when the group is not large so that teamwork can develop. This leads into the next point:

It depends on how deeply connected the group members desire to become

If we listen carefully when groups meet we will notice that group communication functions at various levels. The deeper the level the more individuals understand and potentially support one another.

Level 1. Information: The ‘safest’ level of communication is when information or facts are the main emphasis. Members can learn but their own lives can remain hidden from others. In many churches, this is the same level as the Sunday message from the pastor or priest.

Level 2. Ideas: Here individuals express something of themselves: their thoughts, values, beliefs. The group begins to develop ideas about one another.

Level 3. Experiences and challenges – sharing life or working on a common task: Life stories told within the group reveal a canvas where pictures of each person’s life journey and current issues can be painted. This level requires increased trust and some vulnerability.

Level 4. Emotions, hurts, desires, doubts, needs:  deep stuff, heart-to-heart, vulnerability: Not every group reaches this level of openness and mutual trust. And it is not always appropriate or necessary, depending on the style of group. When it is desired we discover that there is something very comforting about knowing others and being known ourselves, provided we feel unconditionally accepted.

Thinking back over what is written above, it should be reasonably obvious that some people only feel safe at Level 1 or 2. Others will be hungry for more depth of relationship and so feel comfortable in Levels 3 or even 4. And so we must also be guided by the comfort levels of individuals and what they are seeking from the group.

Food for thought

Think about Christian small groups in which you have participated or one which you are involved in at the moment. Where does it fit within the frameworks above? What are the objectives of the group? And do the two meet?

Ron Kallmier, an experienced teacher, counsellor and pastor who served as CWR’s Director of Training, explores how the size of a small group affects the nature of a relationships within it.