Over the years, I’ve used Story Cards in three or four small groups, at work, with family, and in Starting Point groups. And they’ve worked 100 percent of the time.
If you want to grow, why can’t you just go to a Sunday school class and learn theology? Why do you have to let other people get all up in your business?
The bad news is, no one can make another person grow. But the good news is every individual can take charge of their own spiritual growth.
Why did we create a new study? What's different? Here are three key differences between Community and Circle Up.
If your group isn't living jaw-dropping stories of amazing life-change, that's okay. In fact, it's normal.
Vulnerability is more than just sharing our biggest secrets. It’s also stepping out in smaller ways to reveal more of ourselves to others.
How often do we use words or phrases in our groups that not everyone understands? It's especially important to watch out for this kind of thing when new believers or non-believers are in your circle.
If Jesus told us to expect grief and loss, why is it so difficult when we find ourselves grieving? Why do we have such a hard time comforting others when they are grieving?
Don't forget to connect socially with your group and have some fun. To help you out, we've created this Christmas Would You Rather? icebreaker game.
Social time happens at the beginning of every group meeting, usually for 15-30 minutes.The goal is to create an informal environment where group members can unwind, connect, and laugh.
Every leader should be humble, teachable, curious, and intentional because if you lead from that posture, it creates an environment that encourages transformation in the lives of those you lead.
If you're looking for a fresh way to help your group members connect, consider checking out Well Known.
One of the most important things you can do as a group leader is to be intentional. That means leading your group toward a destination, and making sure that the things you do and your conversations have a purpose.
When something goes wrong, is your first instinct to assign blame? Check out this short video featuring author and research professor Brené Brown.
The idea of telling your personal story to the other members of your group may seem a little uncomfortable, but it doesn't have to be a big production.
Asking great questions is as much an art as it is a skill. But developing that question-asking muscle is essential for great leadership. Asking great questions is the most effective thing a leader can do to create conversational environments where people can experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth. Jesus did this better than anyone in history. In the Gospels, he's asked a ton of questions — everything from "Are you the Son of God?" to "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" He rarely responds with an answer. Instead, he tends to ask questions that lead people to consider the truth, think about their own experiences, and reflect. Jesus understood that asking great questions helps people to process what they're thinking and feeling and to really own the answers they discover. Providing quick, simple answers doesn't usually do that.
When it comes to asking great questions, Jesus sets the bar high. You probably won't be as quick or insightful as he was (I'm not, that's for sure). But it's still a great idea to work on your question-asking skills, and to look to Christ for inspiration. You won't change overnight, but in time you'll find that your ability to ask better questions will create a better environment for your group members to grow.
Here are five simple, self-explanatory tips for asking great questions in group:
- Ask open-ended questions, not those that can be answered with a yes or no.
- Ask questions that evoke feelings, make people think, and lead to insights.
- Ask questions that have more than one right answer.
- Ask questions that encourage group members to share personal examples.
- Ask questions that stimulate group members to apply what they're learning.
Responding to questions by asking good follow-up questions engages everyone in the group. As you guide the conversation, make sure responses connect your questions to the topic you're discussing, pave the way for you and your group members to talk about your personal struggles, and encourage self-discovery by allowing people to arrive at their own conclusions with the help of the group discussion.
There's some good stuff in this video.
Leadership is all about creating an environment where other people can grow and thrive . . . even when doing so requires some sacrifice on the part of the leader.
As Mr. Sinek puts it, "If the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the [group]. When we feel safe inside the [group], we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities."
In a healthy Community Group, the members are growing in their relationship with God and with each other. It can be difficult for leaders to maintain a balance between discussing the substance of a study and group members sharing their hearts. It can also be difficult to navigate general updates on everyone's lives while leading the group toward vulnerability with one another. So, how do you cultivate authenticity in your group?
Be vulnerable and transparent. Your group members follow your lead. If you're vulnerable, they'll be more likely to be vulnerable. Be transparent about the struggles you've faced in the past and the struggles you face right now. Community Group members sometime will disconnected from the leader. They assume leaders don’t struggle with the same things they do. And let's face it, that's not true. Sharing your heart in an intentional way not only shows them you struggle with life just like that do, it models the kind of vulnerability and transparency you want for them. When you ask a question that challenges your group to be vulnerable and transparent, be ready to answer the question first in or to lead by example.
Encourage consistent attendance. When members of a Community Group miss lots of group meetings, it hinders the depth of the group experience. From the beginning of the group, help your group members understand how important it is to commitment to regular attendance (the Group Agreement is a helpful tool for casting that vision). Give the group permission to hold each other accountable. Give them permission to hold you accountable. If a group member's attendance starts to become inconsistent, initiate a one-on-one conversation. Do so sooner rather than later.
Create opportunities to share. It can be easy to move from one study to the next as you help each member of the group grow in various areas of their lives. But if you're not paying attention, this can lead the group toward knowledge and topic growth without relational and community growth. Set up “check-in” points throughout the life of the group. These are free nights during which group members can talk about what God is teaching them and how he's growing them. They can also open up about areas in which they're currently struggling and can use the group's support. The Group Member Assessment is a great tool for initiating and navigating those kinds of conversations.
Cultivating authenticity is one of the most challenging tasks for a Community Group leader. But it's worth the effort because it paves the way one of the most important aspects of our lives as followers of Christ. In John 13:34–35, Jesus calls us to love one another sacrificially:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Knowing what's going on in one another's hearts and lives is the first step to loving others and allowing others to love us like that.
One of your top challenges may be encouraging convincing begging group members to show up each week. There is no shortage of reasons for people to not show up. It begins with a single text: “I can’t make it.” And then the dominoes begin to fall: “I can’t make it either,” “I’ve got a ton to do.” Suddenly, it's you and one other person staring awkwardly at each other. The frustration of last minute cancellations creates a weight on your leadership. You begin to ask yourself what you're doing wrong, and how you can prevent cancellations.
Don't beat yourself up or, worse, send out a scathing email about attendance (admit it, you’ve done it or you've been tempted to do it). Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you're not responsible for making someone else responsible for their commitments. Instead, focus on these four strategies for improving group attendance:
1. Create an engaging group environment. Think about environments that you like. What stands out? Is it the warm, welcoming host? One of the things that engages me most is knowing that the leader wants me—specifically me—to be there. A text from a leader during the week or on the day of group is often enough to convince a person show up.
2. Communicate clear expectations. How do you communicate attendance expectations to your group without sounding like you’re scolding them?
- Use the Group Agreement. It's your best tool for setting clear expectations about the group experience. Don't use it as a list of rules, but as a springboard for a discussion about what will make our group experience great. Regular attendance is a huge part of maximizing the group experience.
- Acknowledge the obvious: Poor attendance will undermine your group dynamic. No one has trouble filling up his or her nights. No one shows up at group each week because they have nothing better to do. We show up because we’ve decided group is necessary for our spiritual growth. Encourage and challenge your group to resist allowing the urgent to crowd out the important.
3. Hold your group members to a standard. Don’t apologize for holding group members to a standard. At the same time, make your expectations clear. Holding them to a standard you’ve never communicated isn't fair. Keep in mind that holding people to a standard you to be flexible sometimes, too.
4. Plan out 2 or 3 months at a time. Look at your calendars together and plan out your weekly meetings in advance. This communicates that “Tuesdays” are spoken for, unless a clear exception comes up. People appreciate it when a leader has a plan for a meeting, whether that meeting is at work, a neighborhood association, or a small group. Having a plan communicates respect for people's time. There may be some weeks were everyone is gone. Planning ahead allows you to cancel group in advance.
Finally, remember that you'll probably need to have the attendance conversation more than once. It may not be easy, but it can make the difference between having an okay or a great group experience.
Have you ever had a group meeting that made you think, “That was really fun, but we didn't get to the study”? The good news is the “community” part of your Community Group is probably going well. But that’s not all your group is about. It should be a place where life change happens within the context of community. That means the relationships need to be intentional. You need to have a shared goal.
For most women, building relationships comes easily. In fact, the anchor of women's Community Groups is often our relationships with one another. Here's the challenge: God wants us to be connected to each other, but he also wants us to be connected to Him. Relationships are the hands and feet of God’s love for us.
The apostle Paul prayed we would experience and understand God’s love for us through the context of our relationships with one another. His hope was that we “…may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18–19).
In other words, we are to experience and grow in God’s love alongside others on the same journey of growth.
So, how do you lead your group from good relationships towards life-changing relationships that nurture spiritual growth? How do you make sure you're cultivating relationships and leading your group members to read, discuss, and apply God's Word? Here are four practical things you can do:
- Leverage time outside of group to build relationships. Don’t only use group time to build community. There’s not enough of it. Using time outside of group to build the relationships, frees up more group time to dig into God’s Word and pray together.
- Set the expectations for the weekly group time. Communicate that group time consists of three things: sharing (time to connect relationally), study, and prayer. Keep casting vision around sharing, study, and prayer so your group doesn't drift. The Group Agreement is a great tool for setting clear expectations from the outset about what happens during group meetings.
- Paint a picture of spiritual growth. Relationships are a consistent thread in The Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith. Help your group members see the connection between relationships and how they are growing spiritually. Consider setting aside a group meeting to discuss the Five Things and share and encourage each other. If you want to dig deeper, you can even take a few weeks to study the Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith sermon series by Andy Stanley.
- Press for “so what” during group discussions. Don’t just let discussions be a time for venting. Ask questions, while affirming how your group members feel. “It sounds like your boss is being really difficult right now. What do you think it looks like to respond with humility?” Learning to ask "so what" questions takes some practice, but the results will be worth your effort.
Have any of your groups ever drifted into too much social time and not enough study? What did you do to correct course?