Everything ends eventually, even groups. You can either stumble into the end of your group or you can plan for it from the beginning.
If you don't have an apprentice, your primary goal as you end remains the same: making sure everyone in your current group has a clear next step for remaining in community.
Ending your group may not go as planned (in fact, it's likely you'll be met with some surprises along the way). But you're doing a good work. Remember that.
Even though I don’t always love the end of things, I've come to understand something important: The end matters.
Is your group coming to an end in the next few months? If so, it's time to start planning to end well. It may feel like you have plenty of time, but you don't.
It may be time to multiply. Does that freak you out a little? Does it make you wonder why we make a big fuss over ending groups.
All groups have a natural life cycle. It's up to a group's leader to work with group members to make a plan for finishing strong and, ideally, launching new groups out of the group that is ending.
As people grow, it's important that they have the opportunity to influence others. That can't happen if a group stays closed off.
Ending your group well is one of the most difficult parts of leadership. That's because it's one of the most important Leader Essential, but it doesn't feel urgent until the eleventh hour.
Last week, I wrote about why it's important for leaders to apprentice others and the qualities to look for in an apprentice, but let's back up a bit and answer a more fundamental question.
What is an apprentice?
An apprentice is someone who works with a leader in order to learn how to lead. In the context of Community Groups, apprenticing involves people in ministry for the purpose of training them to take your place. It's a way of developing new leaders so that we can create more space for others to join life-changing community.
Because an apprentice is a leader-in-training, to understand what an apprentice is you need to understand what a leader is . . . and is not.
A group leader is not a scholar or expert. Some group leaders have strong backgrounds in biblical knowledge or ministry experience. Some don't. Strong biblical knowledge and ministry experience is not a requirement for group leadership. Knowledge and experience are great as long as they're coupled with humility and grace. Leaders who have the most knowledge or experience have to be careful not to play the role of scholar or expert because know-it-all leaders can actually hamper the group's growth.
A group leader is not a teacher or a counselor. Some people pursue group leadership because they enjoy teaching others. They think Community Group will provide an outlet for using that gift. But groups aren't teacher-driven environments. They're a place where a facilitator encourages all members to participate in discussion. Gifted teachers often find that, for the good of the group, they have to put aside their God-given desire to teach others.
A group leader is a shepherd. The best group leaders understand where the group is supposed to go. They guide and care for the group members. They monitor and protect the health of the group.
A group leader is an investor in people. Groups are about doing life together. A good group leader is intentional about building relationships and creating environments where group members experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth.
Given what a group leader is and isn't . . .
- An apprentice is not someone who has it all together.
- An apprentice is not merely an assistant to the group leader.
- An apprentice is someone who has caught the vision of what groups are all about.
- An apprentice is a shepherd-in-training.
In Wednesday's post, I wrote about why identifying an apprentice matters. But how do you know which of your group members might make a good apprentice? It's important to remember that you're not looking for someone who can lead a group tomorrow. You're looking for a teachable group member who has the potential to be a great group leader in the future. Here are four qualities that will help you identify that kind of person.
1. Character Character is what makes a leader worth following. The foundation of character is a growing relationship with Jesus. Can your potential apprentice point to a time when he or she established a relationship with Jesus? Has he or she been growing in a relationship with Jesus for over two years?
2. Competence Is your potential apprentice teachable? Is he or she able to learn the skills necessary to create a predictable environment where healthy relationships and spiritual growth can happen? Does he or she have the relational skills to lead a group at some point in the future? Have you seen your potential apprentice display leadership skills in your group, such as facilitating group discussions, planning socials, or providing care to other group members?
3. Culture Is your potential apprentice a member of the church or is he or she willing to pursue membership? Is he or she committed to the mission and strategy of the church?
4. Chemistry Chemistry matters. You'll eventually be sharing leadership responsibilities with your apprentice. Have you been able to connect relationally with your potential apprentice? Have you seen your potential apprentice connect with the other members of your group? Are you comfortable with your potential apprentice's ability to relate to others?
If you can answer "yes" to all of the those questions, you've probably found a strong candidate for apprenticeship. If you can't, you may want to consider other group members or discuss your concerns with your Groups Director.
Replace Yourself is one of our 8 Leader Essentials. But you may find yourself wondering, "Why am I supposed to identify and develop an apprentice? Why is it such a big deal?" Here are three reasons.
1. It's biblical. Throughout the Bible, leaders apprentice others so they can follow in the leaders' footsteps. Moses apprenticed Joshua. Elijah apprenticed Elisha. Paul apprenticed Timothy. One of the most cited verses on the subject of apprenticing is in Paul's second letter to Timothy:
"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Timothy 2:2)
The clearest example of apprenticing is Jesus' interactions with the twelve disciples. If anyone could have done ministry all by himself, it was Jesus. But he didn't. His disciples were always with him—watching, learning, and listening. He involved them in almost everything he did. That's because he saw beyond his three years of public ministry. He knew success was handing off the ministry to those coming behind him. That's one measure of your success as a group leader too.
2. It's practical. Apprenticing doesn't just develop the apprentice. It also grows the leader who apprentices. Nothing makes you take stock of what you know like being asked to teach someone else. The process gives you incentive to organize your knowledge and put it down on paper. It helps you to solidify it in your mind. As you hand over responsibility to your apprentices, they bring their knowledge, talent, and experience to bear upon what you've shared with them. They find new and better ways to lead. This gives you the opportunity to learn from them. It expands your knowledge and skills.
3. It's strategic. Our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Our strategy to carry out that mission is to get people into groups because we believe that life change happens best in the context of small groups. So, creating space for more people to experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth is essential. We can only do that if we have qualified group leaders. Those who have been apprenticed make the best leaders because they've had first-hand experience of Community Group.
So, those are three reasons you should identify and develop an apprentice. On Friday, I'll give you four things to look for in order to identify an apprentice.
On Monday, I wrote about why Invest and Invite can be a great approach to group multiplication. In this post, I want to give you six practical ways to weave Invest and Invite into the life of your group.
The key to the success of this approach is to continually cast vision about the importance of Influence with Outsiders. Introduce the concept early in the life of the group. Be intentional about revisiting it regularly.
- Plant the seeds (first 6-8 weeks). While the group is still brand new, cast a vision for what it means to have Influence with Outsiders, including what it means to Invest and Invite. Session 7 of Community: Starting Well In Your Small Group is all about Influence with Outsiders. It'll help you establish that vital relationship as a shared value in your group. Once you're finished with the 8-week starter period, resources like Go Fish, Start: Becoming a Good Samaritan, and Like Your Neighbor? are a great way to revisit the topic periodically throughout the life of the group.
- Memorialize the plan (8 weeks). As the group moves out of the 8-week starter period, the Group Agreement is a great tool for emphasizing the importance of a commitment to investing and inviting. The agreement addresses multiplication in two places—once in the values section, and again in the first guideline (where group members agree on the lifespan of the group). As you walk the group through the agreement, cast vision for why multiplication is such an important part of the Community Group experience.
- Commit to pray (2–3 months in). Once you've introduced Influence with Outsiders and Invest and Invite, raise the stakes a little. During prayer time one evening, ask everyone in the group to think about and share the names of those they want to invest in. Commit to pray for these people. Have someone in the group write all of their names down and distribute them to the group so they can pray for them on an ongoing basis.
- Schedule regular checkups (every 6–8 weeks). Every six to eight weeks, revisit the Invest and Invite prayer requests. Ask everyone how it's going and if there are more specific ways the group can be praying. At the midway point of the group's life span, dedicate one meeting to a group health checkup. Use the agreement to lead an informal discussion about how the group is doing in each of the values and guidelines. This provides an excellent opportunity to talk about Invest and Invite, and whether people need additional support.
- Beat the drum (6 months before multiplying). When the group begins to enter the home stretch—the six months before to multiplying—it's time to emphasize what the group needs to do to get ready for multiplying. Now is the time for group members to mention to the people they've been investing in that the group will be multiplying soon. From this point on, talk about multiplication at least once a month.
- Finalize the group effort (2–3 months before multiplying). As multiplication time draws near, group members can help one another with their invest and invite activities. As the existing group wraps up, host social events. Invite current group members and the people they've been investing in. This gives outsiders a taste of what Community Group is like. Take a few minutes to explain how Community Groups work. Have group members share a few stories about their Community Group experiences.
Let me wrap up with a reminder. Lists like this one are great because they're easy to read, help you absorb information quickly, and give you actionable steps. But they can also make things like Invest and Invite come across as a project made up of a series of simple tasks. But Invest and Invite is about relationships. It's about people . . . and people aren't projects. This list of six tasks isn't an end itself. It's a means to producing a heart for outsiders in you and your group members. Invest and Invite only works when the people you invest in know that you really do care about them.
One of the best and easiest ways to bring those outside the faith in is to invest in their lives and, when the time is right, invite them to an environment where they can begin to experience and explore the gospel.
Multiplication is the topic most groups don't want to talk about. That can make it particularly tough to lead your group through the process.
It happens. You get to the end of the eight-week starter period and some of the people in your group decide not to continue. What do you do?