fun

4 Ways to Make the Most of the Holidays with Your Group

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The Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s window is always an interesting time in the life of your small group. It rarely makes sense to start a new curriculum after mid-November, because you’re unlikely to finish it before your group breaks for Christmas. But you don’t want your group to limp into the end of the year. If you're intentional about it, December can actually be one of the best times of the year to build your group’s sense of community and and purpose. Here are four ideas for finishing the year well: Serve together. There is no time of the year that people are more inclined to serve those in need than around the holidays. Whether you adopt a family for Christmas, leverage a Be Rich service opportunity, or create your own service project, look for an opportunity to serve together. Serving together is a bonding experience that creates lasting memories, and it also provides you with an opportunity to focus on your Influence with Outsiders.

Be social. We say “Merry” Christmas and “Happy” Holidays for a reason. Whether you go catch a Christmas concert together, host an Ugly Sweater Party, or go ice skating at the park, December is a great time to have fun together.

Share communion. Christmas is a time for tradition and remembrance. There is perhaps no older tradition within the body of Christ than sharing communion together—and this is something you can do with your group. Don’t worry, we have suggestions on how to lead through this.

Look back and celebrate. As the year comes to a close, take a night to reflect back together on what God has done in the lives of your group members over the past year. Pro tip: as the group leader, you might want to come with some ready examples for each person/couple, already in your pocket. What prayers have you seen answered? What steps have you seen people take? What life change have you witnessed?

Get creative. Maybe combine two ideas to make one special night. But whether you’re wrapping up your first semester together, or winding down the end of your group’s life cycle, but don’t miss the opportunity to close out the year on a high note!

Don't Let Summer Frustrate You, Part 2

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In the first post in this series, I wrote about how it's important to work with your group members to find the right frequency and direction for your summertime meetings. If you haven't read it, go check it out before reading this post.

Back? Okay. Summer is a busy time of year for most people. If you don't make accommodations, you and your group members may end up frustrated with the group's inability to maintain traction through the summer months. I mentioned in the previous post that most of the groups I lead meet only one or twice a month during summer. In some groups, we put aside doing studies and only meet socially. The challenge with that approach (even though it's dictated by the reality of everyone's schedules) is the risk that the group may begin to drift apart. So, what do you do?

This is where you can lean into one of the 8 Leader Essentials: Promote Participation. We've talked about promoting participation here and here, but it's also a great tool to use during those seasons (including summer) when your meeting schedule becomes irregular.

During those months when our groups drop back to just having social meetings once or twice per month, my wife and I ask group members to plan the socials and communicate those plans to everyone in the group. We give them guidance about what they need to do, and how and when they need to do it, but we let them run with it. We also try to identify group members who are willing to keep track of prayer requests and send them to everyone in the group by email.

Rotating some of these simple responsibilities keeps group members engaged and reminds them that they're co-owners of the group experience. It maintains momentum even when we aren't meeting on a weekly basis. And you know what? Most group members love doing these things. They're usually genuinely happy that we asked them to be involved.

What other strategies have you used to maintain momentum in the summertime?

Don't Let Summer Frustrate You, Part 1

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This month we're exploring the challenges of leading groups during the summertime, when life is jam-packed with holidays, vacations, and children's activities.

During the first couple groups my wife and I led, summertime was a major source heartburn. When we sat down with our group members in May to look at our calendars and make plans, everyone was gung-ho to continue meeting and working through a study during the summer months. By the time June landed, their previous enthusiasm wasn't reflected in their attendance. It was common for only two or three couples to be available on any given group night.

To say that my wife and I were frustrated is an understatement. The fact that we'd bent our schedules to accommodate group meetings when no one else had stirred up a whole host of emotions—none of them all that positive. But the first thing we had to come to grips with is that the enthusiasm our group members had expressed back in May was genuine. They just weren't able to recognize at the time (and neither were we) how that enthusiasm translated into an unrealistic plan. It was up to us, as their leaders, to show them some grace and adjust our strategy in the future.

Little League games, birthday parties, and vacations take their toll on group members' availability during summer months. That's just the way it is. So, as my wife and I have become more seasoned leaders, we've made summertime scheduling a little less democratic. It's not that we don't give group members a voice. It's not that we don't appreciate their enthusiasm and their desire to remain connected to the group (in fact, we love to see those qualities in group members). It's that we've come to understand an important principle about leading other adults:

It's not our job to coax, cajole, or guilt people into showing up for group every week during the summer. It's our job to help our group members set reasonable expectations and agree to a schedule that doesn't leave them (or us) feeling frustrated or disheartened.

So, we have a frank conversation with our groups about the challenges of meeting during the summer. We lay everything out on the table. And we recommend a course of action based on our experience as leaders. In other words, we lead the group members in such a way that it helps them to come to an informed decision about how to handle summertime group meetings. It's not about guilt. It's definitely not about manipulation. It's about everyone taking an honest look at his or her summer calendar and then coming to an agreement about what will work best for the whole group.

What does that look like? Well, mileage varies. We've found that meeting more than twice a month just isn't realistic for the kinds of groups we lead (married couples with elementary and middle school aged children). In many of our groups, we've met only once a month. In those instances we didn't bother with a study because the less frequent contact with one another meant that we wanted to spend our meetings catching up, doing something fun, and finding out how we could pray for one another.

You may have a group that can meet more often and that has time to finish the reading and homework that a study demands. That's great. Plan accordingly. The important thing is that you establish an achievable goal for group meetings. If you set the bar too high, your group members will be frustrated . . . and so will you.

Come back on Wednesday for the second part of this post. In it, I'll talk about how you can leverage one of the 8 Leader Essentials to avoid summertime frustration.

In your past groups, how have you decided how often your group will meet during the summertime and what you'll do during your meetings?

Leading in the Summertime: One Size Doesn't Fit All

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As I mentioned in Monday's post, we're going to dedicate much of our blog space during the month of May to posts about leading your group during the summer months.

Summer is a tough time of year to maintain group cohesion and continue to grow relationships because everyone's schedules kind of explode. Vacations,  holidays, sports seasons, and children with a lot more free time can make it hard for groups to continue to meet on a weekly basis. Many groups drop back to twice-a-month meetings. Some even meet only once each month for a little social interaction.

The important thing to know is that there isn't a one size fits all solution for navigating the summer months. Instead, you'll need to communicate with your group members and be intentional about formulating a plan that works for you. This month's posts won't necessarily offer easy answers, but we hope they help you to find an approach that works for your group.

To kick things off, I'd like to point you to Maintaining Momentum in the Summertime, a post from last year in which we gathered some recommendations from three Groups Directors. I've even posted one of those videos here. In it, Adam Johnson underscores the importance of setting clear expectations for your group members.

Momentum for Summer - Adam Johnson from NPM GroupLeaders on Vimeo.

What approaches have you taken in the past to lead your groups well during the summertime?

Maintaining Momentum in the Summertime

Summer has a way of being both hectic and a refreshing change of pace. Any change in the rhythms of life can have a ripple effect on the momentum of your group. We asked four Groups Directors to share some best practices for maintaining momentum in the summertime. Each answer is less than 30 seconds long and offers a valuable insight you can use this week. The first is from Matt Driggers:

The next is from Philip Duffie:

This is what Adam Johnson had to say:

What do you do to maintain small group momentum in the summertime?