If your group isn't living jaw-dropping stories of amazing life-change, that's okay. In fact, it's normal.
Most of our spiritual growth happens through small steps of faith, so how can you recognize what’s worth celebrating?
The great thing about small group is the opportunity to create a space to encourage and celebrate each other, no matter the circumstance.
A common concern among group leaders is that prayer time at the end of group meeting can feel shallow, stale, or awkward.
It's vital that when you see change in your groups members, you take time to point it out and celebrate it.
Perhaps the most important tip I can give you to improve the quality of your group's prayer time is to follow up on prayer requests. There is no better way to reinforce the value of group prayer than to ask members what has happened with their past request. First, it shows you care. Second, it gives the entire group an opportunity to celebrate God's faithfulness.
Here are three simple ways to follow through on prayer requests:
- Record them Keep track of prayer requests in a notebook, prayer journal, or a file on your computer. This helps you share them with absent members, email them out during the week, and revisit them . . . which brings us to the second way to follow through on prayer requests.
- Revisit them Make a point of asking what happened with past requests . . . especially those that include a critical date. As a group, take some time every few months to review past requests and get updates.
- Celebrate them Answered prayer requests are milestones that build our faith in God's faithfulness . . . if we remember what he's done. When you hear about an answered prayer, remind the group that it was something you collectively prayed about, and take the time to celebrate what God has done.
Life change is all about obedience to the two greatest commandments—to love God and to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:36–40). God is in the business of changing lives. If we are to follow Jesus, then we have be about the business of changing lives too. But how do you make sure life change is the central goal of your group? How can you be intentional about creating an environment that helps your group members grow?
There are four key ways you can think life change. While this isn't an exhaustive list, it does provide some concrete steps you can take to help set the stage for God to change lives in and through your group.
1. Cast Vision Casting vision is about painting a picture for your group members of what God can do in your lives through your group. Here are two simple ways to do this.
- Use the Group Agreement. Talk about the Group Agreement during the group’s infancy. It can help you explain the purpose of small groups.Revisit the Agreement every six months or so throughout the life of the group. This evaluation can help you diagnose when your group is getting off track so you can redirect the group’s momentum.
- Ask good questions. Good questions can trigger meaningful conversations that serve as a catalyst for spiritual growth. The questions you ask reveal what you value.
2. Create the Environment. You can't grow people spiritually, but you can create an environment conducive to God growing people. Here are two practical ways to do this:
- Strike a balance between seeking truth and developing relationships. Both elements play a valuable role in the growth that happens in a small group. Focusing primarily on one to the exclusion of the other will stunt your group’s development.
- Choose curriculum strategically. Paying attention to the issues that surface in your discussions can guide you to what your group might want to study next. Make sure that your group gives attention to each of the Three Vital Relationships (don’t get stuck on Intimacy with God). Groupresources.org is a great resource for finding curricula. You can even filter your search results by Vital Relationship.
3. Identify life change. It can be easy to miss life change when it’s happening. Here are some ways to identify life change:
- Be intentional about watching for life change. Don't just watch for changes in behavior. Watch for the changes in attitudes and priorities that may signal people are viewing things more and more through the grid of God’s truth.
- Pay attention to prayer requests and answers to prayer. People’s prayer requests often point to areas where God is working in their hearts.
4. Celebrate life change. We celebrate the things we value. When you recognize life change, take time to celebrate it.
- Don’t let opportunities to celebrate pass you by. When you see that someone is starting to view his or her circumstances, attitudes, and actions through the lens of Scripture, take time out to affirm the change.
- Celebrate one-on-one. Sometimes it’s best not to call attention to life change in front of the entire group. But you can still celebrate in a more private setting. Write a personal note. Or take the group member to lunch and offer encouragement about what you’ve seen God do in his or her lives.
By putting these ideas into practice, you can set the stage for God to do some incredible work in the lives of your group members. And you can help them recognize it when God is changing their lives. But it bears repeating: it's not you or the group that does the changing. You may play a part in God’s work in people’s lives, but only the Holy Spirit changes people’s hearts. The good news is that Scripture is clear that God is committed to doing his part.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)