Grow Your Community Group: 15 Ideas for “Off” Weeks

The Community Groups at Lincroft Bible Church meet twice per month. As groups pastor, I believe that every model and method has its pros and cons. For our busy Northeastern culture, having groups twice a month has some distinct advantages. One of those is that it gives great flexibility and freedom to the group leaders. They can minister to their groups in the “off” weeks in creative ways, without facing the pressure of having to lead a group meeting every single week. Here are 15 ideas of things to do during an “off” to build your Community Group:

1. One-on-One Discipleship

Meet with someone in your group one-on-one. Dig into a book of the Bible together. Read a Christian book.

2. Accountability Groups

Meet in a smaller group of men and/or women to confess sin, pray together, and counsel one another.

3. Watch a TV show together

Follow a show as a group and get everyone together. Make popcorn. Heather and I followed The Amazing Race with friends every Sunday while we lived in Louisville. Plus, a show like that is a kid friendly option.

4. Watch sports together

It is football season after all!

5. Have a standing reservation at a restaurant for dinner

You have to eat dinner each week. Why not eat together? If no one shows up…date night!

6. Meet for happy hour together

This wouldn’t work in the South.

7. Girls Night!

Bring all the kiddos (and dads) to one house. Girls go out.

8. Go to lunch together after church

Everyone is usually hungry after church. Food is a great community builder!

9. Go to the park together on a Saturday

Look at all the kids roaming free!

10. Rotate hosting Saturday brunch

Breakfast food is great for any meal. And I mean any meal.

11. “Adopt” a ministry together

Have everyone serve in the same ministry. Here are some ideas: LBC Kids, Nursery, childcare for MOPS, etc.

12. Rotate prayer walking through your group’s various neighborhood

Exercise!–Both physical and spiritual

13. Go to the gym together

Working out is always easier…Wait a minute…Working out is never easy…But it is more motivating when you have someone to go with

14. Play in a sports league together

Softball, soccer, basketball, you name it. Just play it.

15. Sit together in church

You will be amazed how much you can grow in your relationships by using small chunks of time.

So those are my ideas. What are yours?

A Ministry Discussion with Jordan Jones, Pt. 2

This series of posts is based upon an email exchange with my friend who is also a pastor in Northern Kentucky, Jordan Jones. He oversees the youth ministry of his church, while I primarily oversee the Community Groups at mine. To see where God is at work in our churches and lives, we are discussing various aspects of our ministries. Part One.

JORDAN: Sorry, I was distracted by the NBA playoffs! Let me get around to asking you a question: Chris, how do you define small group ministry in your church?

CHRIS: I usually look at small group ministry from two perspectives: the reasons why we should do small groups, and the purposes of small groups. Scripture shows us two reasons for small groups. First, we are created for community. When you think about the God we worship, what kind of God is He? He is Trinity, and always in perfect community. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Being made in God’s image, we reflect something of what God is like (Genesis 1:26-26). So I think that God created us for close community. Small groups helps meet this God-created “need” in our life. Second, we are saved for community. The gospel creates true community. We are born again not only into a new relationship with God, but also into a new family, the church. Small groups, then, helps connect us together as family.

The purposes of small groups are discipleship, care, and mission. We speak the truth of Scripture to one another in community, confess sin to one another, and express love (discipleship). We also view our groups as family so we care for one another when needs arise (care). And God’s mission extends through community (1 Peter 2:9-10). So we try to advance the gospel together on mission

To put a fancy coating on this: I would define small group ministry as groups which are transformed by the gospel, to be rooted in Christ, connected in community, and engaged in mission. That’s, at least, how I define them at Lincroft Bible Church!

JORDAN: Why do you see this as an effective model for church ministry?

CHRIS: I’ll give some of the practical reasons. biblical community helps all ministries of the church. Think about the different ways that biblical community impacts all areas of church life:

Bible study: The community groups will discuss the previous Sunday’s sermon. This enables the group to dive further into the gospel truths proclaimed in the sermons as well as creatively apply the text to the group’s particular context. It also helps streamline the teaching in the church so that the members are not bombarded with too many Bible studies.

Member Care: If a group member winds up in the hospital, the CG members are the “first responders.” They will be the ones visiting with and praying for the sick member. Thus, a burden is alleviated from the shoulders of the elders, who can concentrate on prayer and ministry of the word. If a group member falls on hard financial times, the CG can rally around him and bear the financial burden together. The member would not have to wait for his case to be reviewed and money from the “benevolence fund” given.

Evangelism: Rather than outsourcing evangelism training to a particular parachurch ministry, or cold-call evangelism which causes night sweats, biblical community provides encouragement to engage in evangelism. Members are hearing the gospel on a weekly basis and becoming well-versed in the biblical storyline, which should spill over into all areas of their lives, especially in conversation with others. In addition, if unbelievers happen to see the group in action, they will witness a community of love and service which provides great opportunities to proclaim the gospel to them.

Mercy Ministry: Various needs outside the church can be met through community groups. Groups are encouraged to engagetheir local neighborhoods with the gospel and with mercy ministry. Widows living next door can be cared for. Kids in the neighborhood can see love and service in action. Meals can be made for shut-ins. Mercy ministry is thus not confined to peopleover there, but mercy is actually given to those here, in our midst.

 

A Ministry Discussion with Jordan Jones, Pt. 1

I am beginning a series of posts based upon an email exchange with my friend who is also a pastor in Northern Kentucky, Jordan Jones. He oversees the youth ministry of his church, while I primarily oversee the Community Groups at mine. To see where God is at work in our churches and lives, we are discussing various aspects of our ministries. Part Two.

 CHRIS: Hey Jordan, since we’re both not too busy—you know, with you having three kids, pursuing doctoral studies, and working full-time, as well as me prepping for my first kid on the way, working full-time and looking for housing—I thought it would be a great opportunity to have an email exchange about our ministries. So let me kick this thing off:  Why do you do Youth Ministry? What gets you out of bed in the morning for ministry?

 JORDAN: Serving teenagers is certainly different than serving adults. One of the pros might be that teenagers generally still possess somewhat of a blank slate, which is ideal for those who are trying to influence them with the gospel. In that sense, you get to see results quicker in teens than in adults. Don’t get me wrong, teens come with lots of baggage, just like adults, but many times the said baggage hasn’t yet morphed into cold, hard bitterness. I’ve been asked the question, “What do you guys do to get the kids to come and keep coming?? For that, there is no secret formula. The answer is so very simple that it’s almost insulting–you MUST love them. I’m not talking about the feeling of love you have in your heart that they know nothing about; I’m talking about constantly and actively displaying love. This materializes by doing, doing, and more doing. It doesn’t present itself in the form of a huge worship band, tons of activities and games; rather, the purest exhibition of daily love is manifested in spending quality time with those to whom you minister. Whether by phone (text) or in person, you counsel them, pray with them, encourage them, AND laugh with them. Sure, they’ll listen to your Sunday night exposition of 2 Peter, and the more mature ones will actually grow from it, but the “meat and potatoes” of youth ministry is found in the gospel-centered exposition of life that takes place on the front-porch swing of the youth pastor’s house—it’s the 2am Scripture-infused text messages to reassure a sleepless heart that’s in turmoil. These things communicate love and create powerful, life-long bonds between believers. That’s why I do it. That’s why I get out of bed. That, and (insert obnoxious cliché coffee reference here).

CHRIS: So, as a follow up question: What has been the biggest surprise in doing Youth Ministry?

 JORDAN: The biggest surprise for me has been how much selflessness it takes. Pride and self-righteousness are instinctive, but it requires an entire re-wiring of your head to do ministry from a humble heart. Seeing trash in my yard or on the church lawn from teens or knowing something has broken in my house can ignite the pilot light of fury in me. Blame my red hair or my preacher’s kid status, but when I see a crushed soda can in my front yard my skull usually expands due to pressure. In those moments, though, God always manages to gently slap me across the face, which lets all of the frustration and hot air dissipate in a half second with this simple truth: None of this belongs to me. Nothing. Not even my own body. I am a steward of God’s manifold grace. I am to be a servant. I am to be selfless and give of myself for the sake of Christ Who, having nothing, gave everything. I’ll teach the teens about discipline and respecting others and their property, but I shall not let the status of my stuff or my pride interrupt the work of the gospel in their hearts. This physical stuff is all temporary. The working out of the gospel in teens’ hearts is what will have eternal results. This selfless aspect of ministry is manifested in how you deal with situations that arise with the youth. Privately, youth pastors can sometimes be short-fused and ready to swing the gavel of justice down on some rebellious teens, but grace is SO much louder than judgment. We don’t ignore sin—no, sir. We address it publicly in sermons and privately in confrontation, but I know from experience and Scripture that the self-righteous anger of a youth pastor availeth little. A selfless servant who operates out of grace is what we ought to be striving to be in youth ministry.

 

Simple Small Groups–A Short Review

While most small group literature is of the, “Hey, this worked for me! So you should do it my way!” variety, Simple Small Groups by Bill Search is refreshingly…well…simple. Instead of providing a new model or method, Search wants to help make whatever model a church is using better (p. 13). In other words, Search’s advice can help just about any church with an already existing small group structure.

 Search’s paradigm is…

Connecting: The Relational Pattern (chaps. 2-3)
Changing: The Growth Pattern (chaps. 4-5)
Cultivating: The Missional Pattern (chaps. 6-7).

Search is not reinventing the wheel here. He wants people to grow deeper in their relationships with one another in the group (Connecting). He wants people to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ through the group (Changing). And he wants people to grow deeper in their love for others by ministering to them as a group (Cultivating).

The benefit of his chapters on connecting, changing, and cultivating is twofold. First, Search provides a lot of practical advice on growing in each of those areas. Second, he also provides a list of questions to evaluate where your group currently lands. For example, he believes that there are three phases of connecting: meeting, committing, and belonging (p. 57). Each phase increases the level of intimacy and trust in the group. The questions he provides help diagnose the phase your group is currently in.

Harmony, Not Balance

 Search argues that harmony, not balance, is the best way for groups to move forward (chaps. 8-9). Harmony has all three patterns working together, even if the group focuses on one pattern more than the others.

Have you ever done the “wheel” evaluation for your Christian life? If you haven’t, the gist of the “wheel” is this: you plot your scores on the spokes of a wheel concerning various spiritual disciplines. Then you connect your scores with a circle. If one “spoke” of the wheel is shorter than the other, then your Christian life is out of balance. The goal, then, is to balance out your Christian life.

Although certainly based on good intentions, I think the “wheel” overlooks a basic principle of Christian living: all Christians are gifted in different ways and every Christians has certain strengths and weakness. Of course, each Christian should attempt to take a step towards growth in a particular area, but it is unrealistic to believe that every Christian will become perfectly “balanced.” For example, in my own life, I am strong in Bible study and teaching. Yet, I am often weak in prayer. Does this mean that I never make an attempt to grow in prayer? May it never be! But it also means that instead of beating myself up over my lack of prayer, one solution might be to include a prayer partner into my ministry.

Similar logic can also apply to small groups. Leaders may want balance. A “balanced” small group would be equally good at connecting, changing, and cultivating.  But if groups were judged by the balance they achieved, most would be deemed failures. Groups, by nature, will tend toward one pattern more than the others. The goal is not to artificially impose balance on groups, but rather have a group integrate all three patterns into its life, even if one is more of a priority than others.

Buy, Borrow, By-Pass: As a pastor overseeing the community life of the church, I bought this book and found it extremely helpful, so I recommend buying it, if that’s your area of oversight. Small group leaders would also serve themselves well to buy a copy.

Don’t Lift up Goals, Lift Up Jesus

If you want to inspire people to the mission of God, you must lift up the Son. When we grasp the glory of Jesus, it becomes the sustaining inspiration that transform life. Isaiah was inspired by seeing Jesus in the temple (Isa. 6:1-8). Peter was inspired by seeing Jesus after his resurrection (Acts 1:1-11). Paul was inspired when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:22). These men were changed when they saw the glory of Jesus. His mission become their mission. His glory was enough to change everything. Our apathy toward the mission of God is not because of a lack of knowing what to do. It is our blindness to his glory and grace that keeps us satisfied with nominal Christianity. If you want to light a fire under your church for the mission, don’t simply trot out your goals; life up Jesus.

Community by Brad House, p. 75.

 

You Don’t Make A Decision To Join a Local Church

Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, in their book Total Church, speak on the true nature of church membership:

By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. To fail to live out our corporate identity in Christ is analogous to the act of adultery: we can be Christian and do it, but it is not what Christians should do. The loyalties of the new community supersede even the loyalties of biology (Matthew 10:34-37; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 11:27-28). If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians. (p. 41)

 

 

Small Group Advice from Big Church Pastors

Most people have a cursory knowledge of seven deadly sins: sins which could derail a person’s life. In their book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry, pastors Russ Robinson and Bill Donahue also argue that there are seven deadly sins. But these sins have to do with mistakes churches make concerning small groups, which can derail a small group ministry.

The seven “sins” are…

1) Not knowing where small groups fit into the life of church (Chapter 1)

2) Not having the right person oversee the small group ministry (Chapter 3)

3) Not supporting group leaders with coaching (Chapter 5)

4) Not having ongoing leadership development (Chapter 7)

5) Not having groups interested in adding new members (Chapter 9)

6) Not having groups be broad enough to include lots of different people/situations (Chapter 11)

7) Not following up with and assimilating visitors into the groups (Chapter 13)

Seven Sins…One Reason to Buy the Book

The first chapter is worth the price of the book. The first chapter covers the first “sin”: not knowing where small groups fits into the life of the church. Many churches desire to have small groups, and even believe that small groups are important. But do churches know exactly where the ministry fits in with everything else. Is it one option among many? Or is it the primary ministry of the church?

To help churches figure out the priority they want to place on groups, Robinson and Donahue classify the three main models of small group ministry.

1) Churches with Small Groups

2) Churches of Small Groups

3) The Church is small groups

With…Of…Is

Churches with small groups present groups as one option among many. For example, a visitor has the option of getting involved with a Bible study, an evangelistic program, or small groups. No opportunity is better than any other. The goal is to get someone involved somewhere.

Churches of small groups see small groups as an extension of the larger community of the church. These churches often see groups as the primary ministry of the church. The goal is to get most of the church involved in a small group.

Those who advocate that the church is small groups invert the general pattern: rather than seeing small groups as a microcosm of the larger community, the large community gathering is a coming together of the primary expression of the church, small groups. The goal is to get everyone involved in a small group, because the small group functions like a mini-church.

Pick a Model, Any Model

Robinson and Donahue’s don’t argue for any one model (They do state that they operate in a church of small groups, but their insights could be appropriated by any of the three models). The purpose of the first chapter is to provide a path forward for discussions among church leadership.

Can’t Get Around Context

If a weakness exists in the book, it is that the authors cannot separate themselves from their context. At the time of writing of the book, both authors had extensive history working at Willowcreek Community Church, a mega-church in Chicago with 20,000+ attendees. So they are writing the book from the perspective of mega-church pastors. That isn’t necessarily a weakness in its own right, but if statistics hold true, most churches are around 75-200 members. Thus, the book will probably be read mostly by pastors who won’t (and will never) share their unique congregation size (20,000+). In light of that fact, some of their suggestions seem completely unrealistic for the “average” church.

For example, they argue that churches should not have a “narrow” definition of small groups. Small groups should not be a “one size fits all” type of ministry, whereby each group does roughly the same thing: hang-out, pray, and study the Bible. Rather, churches should integrate small groups into every aspect of the church’s life, and base groups around different affinities.  I counted 116 affinity groups that Willowcreek offered (pp. 169-182)! Group opportunities ranged from hairdressing to sports.

Too much. Way too much. No “average” church would ever be able to offer anything close to that amount of affinity groups. In addition, if everything could be made into a small group, then nothing is a small group. If the definition of a small group becomes too broad, it is hard to see what is distinctive about small group ministry.

Unity in Christ, Not Common Interest

I’m also not sold on creating small groups around affinity (common interest). Is it easy to hang out with people who are like myself? Yes. But where is the gospel unity in that? I have the sinful tendency to want to spend time only with those people I like, or find “easy.” Real ministry, however, means reaching out to all people, even the difficult ones!

It is a beautiful thing when a diverse group of people can come together and build relationships around Christ. Many youth pastors are seeing the detriment of creating ministry “silos” for children in the church. In other words, children spend all their time together in church, never mixing with people who are older or different than them. Why would a church want to continue promoting “silos” within the whole body?

 

Despite those criticisms, it is still a valuable book for beginning the discussion on where groups fit into the life of a congregation. I don’t think a typical church member would have interest or use in reading the book, but it is valuable for church leaders, especially those who oversee small groups.