Ron Kallmier

Bible knowledge on the decline?

Christian leaders are faced with a dilemma. Biblical teaching and information is becoming ever-increasingly available in an instant thanks to technology. Yet research suggests that Bible knowledge has been on the decline over recent decades. And it would seem that Christians are spending less time regularly meeting together to learn and study the Bible.

Here at Small Group Central, we have many resources to help you dig deeper into the Bible – one of which is CWR’s Small Group Toolbox series. Made up of six study guides, each including four individual sessions, this series looks at a number of different, relevant topics for Christian small groups today:

1)      Building Character Through Testing Times

Keep strong through faith and see life’s challenges as an opportunity to grow spiritually. A resource to help you and your small group explore vital issues of Christian growth and discipleship.

2)      Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

Understand the nature of your spiritual gifts and the reasons why God, in His wisdom, entrusts these special powers to ordinary people. Discover what these spiritual gifts are, which gifts you have, and how to use them wisely.

3)      Identity

Explore the subject of identity rooted in faith. A resource to help you and your small group explore identity and relationships – if you know who you are, you know what you’re here for.

4)      Guidance

Uncover guiding principles found in the Scriptures and set your personal prayers for guidance firmly within the bigger plans and purposes of God.

5)      Strong Faith for Tough Times

Discover how a living faith calls for practical action and unlocks the ability to look beyond current changing circumstances to the unchanging faithfulness of God Himself.

6)      Hearing God

There is a great deal of mystery concerning God’s communication with His children. There are no ‘five easy steps’ that can guarantee hearing from God, but God has probably been speaking to you more than you are aware.

If you would like to find out more about each of the Small Group Toolbox study guides, you can go to the Small Group Central shop.

Why holiday breaks can cause problems for small groups…

How a changing culture may affect some of those in your small group

In the past 100 years we have seen radical changes in Western cultures. Three of these many changes have had an observable influence on Christian small group life. The first has been the gradual deconstruction of nuclear families, leaving many single parents struggling with children, trying to make life work for them and having little available time for anything else. The second influence has been the increasing number of people who don’t get married or who are separated or divorced. These individuals, willingly or unwillingly, find themselves living the lifestyle of singles. A significant number live alone. The third is the ageing population, which has resulted in many people spending long hours each week on their own, perhaps with limited social contact with family or friends.

So what does this have to do with small groups?
The concern I’m raising here is not just relevant to small groups, of course, but it is also relevant to local churches during the longer holiday seasons such as the Christmas period. For many mums and dads with small families, holidays can be times of celebration, relaxation and fun together. This is surely not the case for many people who live alone or who don’t have the time, the finance or the opportunity to take it easy. I’m sure that we wouldn’t have to look too far to find live-alone singles and single parents who do not enjoy the long holiday periods. Some of these people may be in your small group. In fact, holiday times for these people simply accentuate their lonesomeness.

For a number of single people – especially those singles with young families who are struggling to make ends meet – the long holidays can be very lonely, emotionally draining, financially challenging and stressful times.

However, many small groups also close down for these seasons. The reasons for the breaks from group meetings are evident, but what can we do for those members for whom small group life is a welcome highlight of their week?

What can be done when your small group takes a holiday?
I think there are a number of issues that are raised by this situation for small groups in particular, and some may apply to your local church as a whole. First, as small group leaders and church leaders, we need to be aware of the demographic mix of our church or small group. How many people will be on their own when groups take a holiday break? How can we ensure that these isolated people are not simply ignored or neglected whilst everybody else is enjoying the season? I believe there are a number of easily organised things we can do that will include these people and let them know that they have not been forgotten.

One option is that we can organise informal get-togethers. This may be an invitation to have a meal at somebody’s home, or an early morning coffee gathering once a week at a particular café, or perhaps we could arrange a social activity that is open for anyone to come. All that is required to make this work is to determine the activity, the location and for one or two people to be willing to be there. Organising a meal in your own home doesn’t even need this much. This kind of arrangement allows people to continue meeting even if there’s only two or three who come together. Informal social gatherings provide opportunities for people to connect and support one another. These events can be a life-giving oasis for any individual who is going through a particularly difficult time.

In addition to these strategies we can encourage group members to use mobiles, emails and social media to stay in touch with one another, just checking how other group members are managing life.

 

FOR THOUGHT

How many people in your small group will be on their own during the holidays?

Has your small group recognised which of your members live alone?

How can these people be made to feel included rather than excluded during holiday times and celebrations such as Easter, the summer and Christmas?

 

About Ron Kallmier

Ron, 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.

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.

How small groups can help people to change their thinking

In my most recent blog I stressed how important relationships in small groups can be. This time we look at the role long-term Christian small groups can play in helping people to re-align their thinking more with biblical perspectives.

Each Christian small group is made up of people from all walks of life. Each small group member has a unique history. Sadly, many members come to the group with the scars of life either deeply hidden or obviously on the surface. Small groups that enjoy rich and deep relationships among the members can help individuals to address some of these issues.

Congregation meetings, at their best, can be very good at imparting information and maybe enthusing people into action, but congregations are not the ideal context for helping people grow individually and deal with the personal history and emotional scars. I believe this can be and should be the role of Christian small groups. Let me explain.

The familiar words from the apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 stress that we all need the renewing of our minds. How can this be? How does this renewing occur?

Modern neuroscience is discovering more and more about how our brain works. One of the most relevant discoveries here is how the brain can be changed from very negative thinking to develop positive constructive patterns of thinking that actually reshape the brain itself. Christian neuroscientist Dr Carline Leaf has provided many insights into the process of positive change in our thought life. We all need this change process in some measure. Hurtful experiences, painful emotions and associated negative thought patterns are not conducive to a joyful Christian life. To a greater or lesser degree, we all have negative thought patterns and the way we operate in daily living is influenced strongly by our thought life.

So how can small groups help their members develop a more positive, biblical aligned thought life? To begin, we need to recognise that change takes time. Second, change only happens when a negative way of thinking is replaced by something positive. It will not simply go away.

The Apostle Paul describes the positive change process succinctly:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.

(Phil. 4:8, NIV)

As group members deepen their relationships with one another the group will come to understand some of the negative experiences, painful emotions and destructive thought patterns that have developed in others within the group. Helpful change will not come about just by speaking platitudes such as: God loves you and we love you too (though of course this is true). People need to see that not only is change desirable, but that is possible for them personally. They need to come to the Bible not just as a source of information but as a living, vital transforming resource that God has given His Church.

Probably, like me, you know people who have a good understanding of Scripture but the information has not taken root and has not been transforming in their lives. They do not live as though God values them and seeks their best. Some may be able to quote the correct verses but there is big gap between the reality of those truths and the working out of them in their lives.

We should take every opportunity to speak truth to each other, Scriptural truth, practical truth – not just occasionally but on many occasions and in the appropriate contexts. Engendering hope and faith is something that Christians in committed relationship can continue to do over time. This is the value of small groups, especially so if group members keep contact between group meetings. If we do keep speaking transforming truth to one another we will gradually begin to believe that not only are these facts Bible truths, but that they can be true for us personally.

In a number of small groups in which I have been involved I have been privileged to see this in operation as members have spoken truth and life to one another consistently. Some of the transformations have been so encouraging, so life-changing. ­­­

Thoughtful group members will be aware of individuals who have been deeply damaged and find it quite difficult to receive positive affirmation or hope. The context of secure Christian love, expressed sincerely and unconditionally, can open these people up to begin to hope, and then to believe, and then to accept a new way of talking to themselves and thinking about themselves. They will begin to see themselves more accurately as God sees them. They will begin to understand that past experiences do not have to define their future, nor do past failures or hurts define their intrinsic value to God.

Remember that this takes time. It won’t happen overnight. It cannot be faked or come from an unfounded enthusiasm of members. It must be real. It must spark hope and then action. Truth changes people. Christian small groups can be excellent catalysts of this change.

For reflection:

1. Are relationships in your group sufficiently developed so that members are able to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15)?

2. Do you see evidence of members changing, becoming more positive and more hopeful, because of their involvement in the group?

Header image credits: Neural pathways in the brain / NICHD / BY

Keeping the main thing, the main thing

Not all groups set goals for themselves. Sometimes leaders do and the group members simply sign up to the group that they prefer or is more convenient for them. Other groups have a general idea about why they are meeting when they first meet and then work out their goals, together, along the way.

But what is the main purpose of a Christian small group?

When we look back to the book of Genesis we find that God had set a high priority on relationship, with Himself and with others. Not only did God want us to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, but He also had in mind mutually beneficial and fulfilling relationships among His people. We know from the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that God’s view has not changed – not one bit. Sadly, our human side has fallen down badly and the history of failure goes back to the earliest days of the human race. Relationships do matter and they should have a central part in the meetings of Christian small groups.

Groups that understand God’s original plan can play a small but significant part in restoring and strengthening individual relationships with God, and at the same time, promote positive, loving, purposeful and supportive relationships among His people. Of course, not all Christian small groups are what could be called ‘spiritual’, having a primary goal of personal spiritual maturity. Nevertheless, each Christian group, no matter its shape, style or objectives, will either enhance or undermine relationships and either promote or hinder spiritual growth by the way it functions.

It is important that long-term Christian groups do not deteriorate into mere social gatherings – collections of individuals with somewhat similar interests but no clear identity or purpose. Such groups have little cohesion and while some relationships may be built, the strategic purpose of growing closer to God and one another may be overlooked or lost. In the world at large there are many types of small groups: social, recreational, creative, athletic, those centred on hobbies and interests. But if the group is Christ-centred the group leaders should never lose sight of the great potential that these small gatherings have for achieving God’s purposes. Consistent prayerfulness is an excellent foundation for keeping a clear focus here.

Clarity is necessary at this point — I am not suggesting that social events are off limits to Christian groups. Not at all. They have an important part to play in helping people to connect. I am suggesting, however, that Christian groups should be offering something extra; something more, something different.

The heart of the relational dynamic of a Christian small group is love. God alone is the source of this unique love and we become its channel to others. It is not surprising that when an ‘unchurched’ or a ‘de-churched’* person overcomes their reluctance and joins a small group where the love of God is being expressed in a natural way, it may become very attractive to them. Genuine love is the glue of strong relationships and our human nature hungers for the genuine version. It is extremely attractive to those who are finding life tough during this part of their lives and those who have never experienced the security and tenderness of true love.

A final very timely addition: research suggests that the numbers of people who describe themselves as ‘done with church’, though not necessarily their faith in and commitment to God (the de-churched), is surprisingly large. Spiritually vital small groups can provide the context, the involvement and the participation that many are seeking and not finding in their former congregational context. We cannot afford to underestimate the strategic importance of the Christian small group, whatever its shape or style, for the coming years.

I pray that each Christian small group will not lose sight of what makes it different and what it can achieve.


FOR REFLECTION

1. How would you rate the quality of the relationships within your small group?

2. What could be done to strengthen the relationships that exist?

3. What part should a Christian small group play in the nurture, support and mission of its members?

*The term ‘de-churched’ refers to individuals who are no longer connected to a local Christian congregation, though they once were.

 

By Ron Kallmier

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.

Header image credits: heart-shaped cloud / prof. Bizzarro / BY

Enhancing small group discussions

By Ron Kallmier

What can leaders do to enhance the value of group discussions? Here are some key points to consider when leading a small group:

QUESTIONING TECHNIQUES

  • Be alert to significant comments; highlight them then invite further exploration.
  • Avoid narrow (closed) questions, which can have yes/no response; aim for broad (open) questions. For example: What do you all think? Does anyone have any comments? How should this be handled?
  • Questions should not be emotionally loaded to imply disagreement with an earlier comment. For example: Does anyone else disagree with that?
  • Invite but don’t force participation, particularly from more reserved members.

LISTENING AND ATTENDING

Listening is more than simply hearing. It involves observing body language and facial expressions, emotional state, and silences, among other key clues. It is a difficult but invaluable skill to master.

Attending involves demonstrating that you are interested, paying attention, and that the other person has been heard accurately. Attending is communicated by our words, expressions, posture, gestures, etc.

MONITOR THE EMOTIONAL CLIMATE OF THE GROUP (IMMEDIACY)

  • Watch for sudden changes in the comfort level of the group and be alert as to how certain comments impact different group members. In both situations ask yourself: What has changed and why?
  • Be ready to feed your observations back to the group, if and when appropriate.
  • Usually it is best to speak to individuals on their own if you suspect they were upset or made to feel uncomfortable – the fact that you noticed is usually appreciated.
  • You may need to raise a difficulty with another group member privately or, rarely, with the group as a whole.
  • As a group leader, grow past the point of being self-conscious and/or self-focused – be focused on the dynamics of the group and the best interests of the individuals.

USE SILENCES WELL

  • Don’t always think you have to fill the gaps in discussion! Ask yourself: What is occurring now? Is this silence OK?
  • Give people space to think. Protect your group members when necessary; for example, if someone tries to pressure an individual to talk.

PROVIDE FOCUS AND BOUNDARIES

Keep the group focused on agreed topics or tasks unless everyone agrees to a change of direction or topic. Sometimes an individual may try to hijack the direction of the group.

As far as possible, ensure that group boundaries and agreements are not violated.

ENCOURAGE BALANCED DISCUSSIONS

Is the discussion becoming one-sided or ignoring important facts? Feed into the discussion aspects that have been ignored. Often a question can be used effectively here. For example: Should we consider the place of (grace, forgiveness, community attitudes, etc) here?

Watch for discussions that are so theoretical they have little relevance to practical living. Members can comfortably ‘tune out’ in these situations.

FROM TIME TO TIME, CONSIDER CHANGING THE WORKING MIXTURE OF THE GROUP

Add flexibility by occasionally having discussions or prayer and other activities in twos or threes. This adds variety, and can be a profitable alternative to meeting only as a whole group.

REGULAR EVALUATION IS IMPORTANT

  • By the leaders
  • By group members individually
  • By the whole group together

Would you have added other points in this list?

You can practise some of these skills in your everyday life and relationships at home, school or work.

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.

Header image credits: Focus / Dimitris Kalogeropoylos / BY-SA

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.

The shape of Christian small groups

By Ron Kallmier

Do small groups simply happen? Of course not, but how many people in small groups actually consider the way their small group functions? Church leaders and group leaders at least need to understand how the groups in their church are shaped, because every shape or group structure has benefits and limitations.

Let’s consider three broad ways that small groups operate – their basic structures.

Leadership Driven

The first is LEADERSHIP DRIVEN. That may sound rather strong but let’s paint the picture a little more. The direction, objectives and form of groups like this may be shaped by the church leadership. In some situations this will mean that all groups must follow the same programme, without regard to the age, spiritual maturity or the needs of the individual members. One shape fits all. Another form is when the group direction is set by the group leader(s).

There are many advantages of a leadership-driven group. The goals and vision for the group come from the leaders and should be filtered down to the group members. The leaders are responsible to facilitate the life and health of the group. Leaders become a focal point that make sure things get done, that objectives are pursued and that information flows within the group. Leadership-driven groups are useful for teaching skills and knowledge such as Bible knowledge, first-aid, photography, and so on. These groups do not demand a strong relationship bond among the group members.

On the downside, small groups who have highly controlling leaders may find it difficult to disagree or to offer alternative views or suggestions of their own. Dominating, inflexible leadership may produce groups that become rigid, predicable, even irrelevant or boring. Not being involved in decision making about group life suits some people, but there are others who will drift away from these groups or perhaps they may continue to attend out of politeness even though they would prefer to be somewhere else.

Democratic

Another basic group structure is what has been called DEMOCRATIC. Participation by members in making decisions is a dominant value of democratic groups. Everyone is encouraged to have a say (at least in theory) about goals, planning and content. If you have ever been part of a group that has a high value on democracy you will have noticed that coming to an agreement and making decisions can be a long process. It is hard to please everyone. You may have observed also that some group members still tend to dominate and manipulate, even in a democratic group.

Laissez-Faire 

The policy of leaving things to take their own course, without interfering (Oxford dictionary)

A group with this way of functioning is the opposite of a leadership driven style. A good example of an extreme laissez-faire style group would be: ‘Let’s simply meet on Fridays at 7:00pm and see what happens. We’ll work out what we will do when arrive.’ There is often a high value on flexibility, spontaneity and simply being together, but possibly a low value is placed on planning, objectives and direction. Laissez-faire style groups are particularly suited for casual events. ‘Let’s meet for coffee next week … or go on a bush walk … or meet for breakfast at the café on Saturday mornings once a month.’These groups have a high relationship-building potential and can be very inclusive of a wide range of people.

On the down side, normally a laissez-faire approach does not work well for church groups that meet regularly. Organisation can be, at best, a little chaotic and people may be left wondering why they are meeting, where the group is heading and who is going to make sure important things are done. Group cohesion is likely to be a challenge. A fundamental problem for long-term groups can be that, unless a sense of purpose and direction arises, people will lose interest and attendance will dwindle.

Food for thought

The three examples above are, of course, the extremes of each of these types of group. In fact, most Christian small groups will use each approach from time to time, yet there is usually one predominant style.

Ultimately, the style of group should fit the objectives for the group to function well.

  • Would you add another style of group functioning to the three above?
  • How would you describe the dominant style of your small group?
  • Is there some flexibility in the way the group functions?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the way your group operates?
  • What would you like to see improved in the format and functioning of your group?
  • Which group style or combination of styles is most likely to build relationships and assist members to grow to be more whole and more like Jesus?

Ron Kallmier, an experienced teacher, counsellor and pastor who served as CWR’s Director of Training, explores how our small groups are shaped.

The most important purpose of a small group

By Ron Kallmier

Underlying all small groups is often a desired purpose or objective, sometimes this is explicit, other times it is implied. You may have observed that most small groups are formed by church leaders with the aim of unpacking a Sunday message through Bible study and prayer. While there are a number of benefits of re-digesting or consolidating a Sunday message outside of the main service, there can be significant downsides if this is the main focus of the group:

1. Missed opportunities: Members of a small group are often at various stages of spiritual growth and are facing a varied range of life challenges. A ’one shape fits all approach’ may therefore not always work well if you are seeking to meet the different expectations of those involved. Focussing solely on Bible study can often mean that we are not aware of the varying needs of the group let alone seeking to meet them.

2. Frustrations: Equally, small group members often have different levels of Biblical understanding. For example, a group may have one person with four years’ bible college experience and another who is a new Christian – each seeking to explore the passage at a different level. Are the different members aware of each others needs and how they can help and support each other? If managed well, this diversity can be a huge asset to the group, but if not it can cause a great sense of frustration to those involved.

3. Uncertainty: Finally, when a small group’s purpose is set from outside the group (for example by a church leader), ownership of the group and its purpose is less certain. People tend to be more committed to what they personally ‘buy into’, rather than what others direct them to be involved in.

Growing as individuals, together!

Small groups should offer something extra that cannot be achieved at regular congregational meetings. Whatever the small group objectives may be, the most important purpose of a small group, in my opinion, is GROWING AS INDIVIDUALS, TOGETHER! There are two factors which I believe to be key in achieving this and which should form the foundation of small groups before we jump straight into Bible study:

1. Fostering a sense of belonging: For many the relational honesty and openness that develops within a Christian small group becomes their spiritual family, the place where they can relax and be ‘real’. For this to occur there must be a priority of building relationships within the group. This can be powerful socially, spiritually and pastorally. The group is a context where people can be known and their life story can be heard with the empathy and support of others.

2. The power of our life stories: Jesus understood the power of narrative, of story. Much of His teaching is in story (parable) format. One of the ways that I choose to begin a new small group is to allow time to hear each other’s life story over a meal or supper – as much of their life experiences as each person chooses to share. I found that this is never wasted time, even if it takes a number of group meetings. With better understanding of one another we appreciate each person’s uniqueness and are better able to support and encourage one another. Relationships grow deeper and group life becomes more productive. This process also provides the group leader(s) with a better basis for prayer and facilitating group meetings.

To conclude, the purpose of a small group may be to unify the church body in their focus of study and prayer, a great idea in theory; but be wary – this may result in little CONNECTION and little APPLICATION to the group members’ everyday lives. What do you think?

Ron Kallmier, an experienced teacher, counsellor and pastor who served as CWR’s Director of Training, explores the most important purpose for a small group.

Small groups: What’s changing – what’s not?

By Ron Kallmier

I have been involved in a wide range of Christian small groups and in small group leadership training for more decades than I care to remember. Over that time it has become clear that some elements never change, some change intentionally and some changes occur unplanned.

Let me explain:

Years ago the primary focus of small groups seemed to be communicating Bible truth in the small group. Sometimes this teaching was structured around the Sunday message/sermon. Other groups followed printed material on a given Bible book or topic, often designed for 10-12 sessions.

There remains in print a considerable range of small group resources for this purpose. While many groups may still follow this model, many Christians appear to be prioritising, building deeper relationships and support for their Christian growth within their small groups today. The obvious risk with pursuing this important relational component is that our biblical foundations can become minimalized or ignored altogether. Do we want to return to earlier years when the strengthening of relationships was not a major small group objective, if it was considered at all?

Christian leaders are now faced with a dilemma. Biblical teaching and information is more instantly available than ever. This is certainly true in more affluent countries, yet the research coming out of organisations such as ‘Barna Research’ suggests that Bible knowledge has been on the decline, not the increase, over recent decades. Additionally, small group resources, responding to the demands of Christians, spend a lesser number of sessions on any given topic.

The CWR Small Group Toolbox series has followed this demand trend by offering four sessions on each topic. A number of small group members that have spoken to me over recent years have said that their group loses interest in a book or topic after a few weeks. Hmm! What does this tell us about the health and dynamics of the group to which these people belong? More personally, have you and I ever thought the same as these people?

In these blogs I will attempt to address some of the issues that relate to Christian small groups today. You may or may not agree with my points of view. That is OK. My aim is simply that we sit back and have an objective look at why we have Christian small groups today, to review how we go about conducting these groups and to clarify what we hope to achieve through them.

I trust you will enjoy our journey.

 

About Ron Kallmier

Ron, 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.