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.
Faith is personal, but that doesn't mean faith is private. That distinction is important because spiritual growth doesn't happen in isolation.
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.
If spiritual growth is like a journey, then in order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you currently are.
It's vital that when you see change in your groups members, you take time to point it out and celebrate it.
The most frequent question group leaders ask church staff is, "What should my group study next?" We can give you all sorts of answers, but the truth is you're in a much better position to answer that question than we are.
I've always liked this quote from G.K. Chesterton. It's more poetic than theological, but I like how it points to God's boundless, playful creativity.
One thing you can do to find community as a leader is to pursue reciprocal relationships. They require two ingredients: depth of relationship and frequency of interaction.
As a leader, sometimes leading is a ministry. You pour into others even though they may not be capable of pouring into you. You may not always find community—strong, reciprocal relationships—in your group.
Everything has a starting point — your life, your relationships, your education, your career. Sometimes we forget that faith has a starting point as well. Starting Point is an 8-session small group conversation about faith. Whether you’re new to faith, curious about God, or coming back to church after some time away, it’s a place where your opinions and beliefs are valued and no question is off limits. You may know Starting Point as an environment we've created to help people connect with their heavenly Father. What you may not know is that you can lead your Community Group through Starting Point too.
Starting Point is a great option regardless of the makeup of your group or where you are in your group's life-cycle. Whether your group has new believers, non-believers, longtime believers, or a mix of all three, this resource will help you connect with God in new ways and have deeper conversations about the spiritual assumptions we all make.
The question that leaders most frequently ask their Groups Directors is, "What should my group study next?" That's why we created the Resources section here at groupleaders.org. It contains all kinds of studies recommended by church staff and group leaders, categorized by topic, group type, length, format, and even the amount of homework required. But sometimes what you really need to know is how a particular resource will help your group, and when in the life-cycle of your group it's best to use it.
So, on Fridays we're going to post some resource recommendations that answer those kinds of questions. The purpose isn't to sell you anything. It's just to make you aware of what's out there and how specific resources may or may not meet the needs of your group.
Today, we'll take a look at Renovate. It's a great study if you and your group want to take a relatively deep dive into spiritual growth. Here's the rundown:
How long is it?
Renovate is eight sessions, so there's a time commitment involved. But it's worth the time.
How is it structured?
Video elements (to view during meetings) and written content make it easy lead. It's relatively plug-and-play, though you'll need to be ready to model the kind of transparency and openness the study demands.
Discussion questions tee up some great conversations, but there's also exercises to do inside and outside of group meetings. In other words, you can expect more homework than a typical study (but it's not overwhelming).
What is unique about Renovate?
Renovate deals with an often neglected aspect of spiritual growth: self-awareness and emotion intelligence. It's never easy to take an honest look at the areas where we have room to grow. The more open and transparent your group members are, the more everyone will get out of the experience.
When should we do it?
It's important that relationships already exist and trust has been established before you use this study. You probably don't want to dive into Renovate until your group has been together for at least six months if not a year.
Renovate isn't an easy study. In fact, it may rock your world. But it offers some phenomenal content that has the power to strip away obstacles standing in the way of your personal spiritual growth.
Have you ever wondered about the purpose of your life? Have you ever wrestled with why you spend your time doing what you do, and whether you've made the right choices in life? Check out "How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes," a TED talk by film and theater producer and former Disney executive Adam Liepzig.
The title's a bit provocative for the sake of being provocative (I don't know that you'll actually discover your purpose in five minutes), but the content—especially Liepzig's conclusion—is excellent. It has ramifications for the way you live and the way you lead others . . . including those in your Community Groups.
Leading a group of 10 to 12 individuals can be tough because each person has different needs. Although everyone in the group shares the same goal—to grow in their relationship with Jesus—each person's best next step in pursuing that goal is often different. So, how do you lead individuals while also making sure the whole group is headed in the right direction? Here are three things to keep an eye on:
1. Lead toward the big goal. Take comfort in the fact that even though people have different wiring, personalities, experiences, talents, and temperaments, the purpose of the group of the group is the same for each of them: to create an environment where they can grow in their relationship with God. Within the context of that goal, the individuals in your group will be at different places in their journeys and will be ready to take different next steps. Your job is to keep an eye on the overarching goal while helping individuals take personal steps toward Jesus.
2. Determine where each person is. Each person in your group comes into group at a different place in their journey with God and with community. It's important to figure out where each person is so you can lead them effectively. Some group members may be exploring the idea of a relationship with God. Others may be beginning their relationship with him. Still others may be pursuing a deeper relationship with God through community. People in different places in their spiritual journeys face different challenges and struggles. Determining where your group members are spiritually will help you decide which topics to study as well as how to tee up helpful conversations.
3. Point to next steps. Once you know where everyone is starting, you can begin to see their best next steps. A next step might opening up more to the rest of the group, serving on Sundays in a ministry area, signing up for a mission trip, or just beginning to read the Bible and pray on a regular basis. You may be able to see what a person's best next step is better than he or she can. And the entire group can offer encouragement and accountability. Just remember: your job is to help your group members as they take a next step. They're responsible for actually taking the step. And God is responsible for growing them.
As you help each individual take steps toward Christ, you strengthen the group as a whole because each person learns and grows in doing his or her part in the body of Christ. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
In this TED video, author Malcolm Gladwell puts a new and fascinating spin on a story we're all familiar with . . . or at least think we're all familiar with.
I got to see Gladwell give a longer version of this talk at last year's Catalyst Conference. It may have been the highlight of the conference for me.
To dig deeper, check out Malcolm Gladwell's book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
This past week in his series Ask It, Andy Stanley gave advice that sounds so simple yet can be so difficult: when making decisions, get other people's opinions.
Andy Stanley's current series, Ask It, has gotten me thinking a lot lately about knowledge, wisdom, and the difference between the two. Ours is a knowledge-obsessed culture (we are living in the information age, after all). As a result, we tend to confuse knowledge and wisdom. If we have a problem, our knee-jerk reaction is to throw information at it. Read a self-help book. Watch an instructional video. Google it. We want to believe that if we have enough information, it'll solve our problems.
But it's not quite so easy, is it? Sifting through all the information out there to find what's true and helpful is challenging. That's because knowledge tells only half the story. The other half belongs to wisdom. To clarify things, let's take a quick look at some definitions from Dictionary.com:
Knowledge—acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation.
Wisdom—knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.
Knowledge is about knowing (duh). Wisdom is about living. One can't be wise without knowledge, but the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake doesn't make one wise. Application is the path to wisdom. This is so true that you can actually become wise by leaning into other people's application. We can learn from the experiences and mistakes of our parents, mentors, bosses, and friends, without having to repeat those experiences and mistakes, if we listen humbly and thoughtfully.
So, what does all this have to do with group leadership? Well, if you've been a leader for any amount of time, you've probably bumped into group members hungry for knowledge. They talk about wanting to go "deeper" in Bible study. There's nothing inherently wrong with digging into Scripture, but keep in mind that our culture over-emphasizes the power of knowledge to affect change. People often don't grasp that just knowing the Bible won't grow them spiritually.
It's more important that your group's interaction with the Bible is focused on personal application than it is on depth. Going deeper for the sake of going deeper won't change your life. But even a "shallow" reading of Scripture—one that doesn't take into account stuff like historical context, literary genre, or rich theological analysis—can change your life, if you ask, "In light of what I'm reading, how can I change the way I live in order to align my heart and my mind more closely with God's?"
Asking that question is the path to wisdom.
In my last post, I wrote about four barriers to great group prayer. One of those barriers was group members' lack of experience with prayer. So, let's dig a little deeper into what that barrier looks like and some things you can do to overcome it.
Group members who don't have a lot of experience with prayer usually struggle in two ways:
- They lack knowledge. Some group members just don't know how to pray. Maybe it's new to them, or maybe they've prayed privately but never in a group. One way to overcome this hurdle is to devote a group meeting to prayer. During the discussion, define or explain prayer and then lead your group through focused prayer based on the discussion. There are lots of ways to teach the principles of prayer. One is the ACTS approach in which you give your group a brief description of four aspects of prayer using the ACTS acronym:Adoration Acknowledging who God is, worshiping him, and praising him for his character and attributes. Confession Confessing sins to clear away anything that breaks fellowship with God. Thanksgiving Acknowledging that God provides for our needs, and communicating gratitude for what he has already done and provided. Supplication Presenting our requests to GodAfter explaining each aspect, encourage group members to think about what they would like to say to God in that area. Lead a time of prayer where members pray out loud about that area. You may also want to provide group members with a note card or "cheat sheet" to help them remember how to incorporate each aspect into their personal prayers.
- They lack confidence. It should come as no surprise that people who don't know how to pray will be reluctant to do it out loud. Walking group members through the ACTS approach to prayer will probably alleviate some confidence problems. But you can also help them build confidence by creating some low-intensity baby steps that allow them to practice:
- Ask a group member to pray before the group eats dinner or dessert. (You may want to talk to the group member ahead of time, so you're not putting him or her on the spot.)
- Have each person in the group write one prayer request on an index card and pass it to the person on his or her left. Then have each person pray out loud for the request on the card.
- Split up into groups of two or three for prayer time so no one has to prayer in front of more than two other people.
In the next post, we'll take a look at what to do when your group's prayers lack authenticity and depth.
Many factors can restrict the growth and development of a Community Group's prayer life, but most of them fall into one of four categories. The first step in leading your group over, around, or through these barriers to great group prayer is being aware of them.
Here they are:
- Group members lack experience with prayer. Most Community Groups include members who have no experience with group prayer. In fact, some group members have no experience with prayer at all. Groups attract people from diverse religious backgrounds. Some group members have no religious background at all. Others come from a tradition where faith was kept private. It's not surprising that group members lack experience with prayer.
- The groups' prayers lack authenticity and depth. Shallow, inauthentic prayer definitely undermines a group's prayer life. That kind of drab prayer experience can be a result of a number of factors from people who never have prayer requests to those who dominate prayer time.
- The groups' prayer times lack structure and variety. Routine can be good. Many of us wouldn't be able to maintain physical fitness without the stability and predictability of habit. But the same characteristic of routine that provides stability—the ability to perform an action without giving it much thought—can rob a group's prayer time of its energy. By injecting a little change into the structure of your group's prayer time, such as altering the timing and format, you can keep things fresh and vital.
- The group doesn't follow through on prayer requests. Maybe the most important tip I can give you is to follow up on prayer requests. There's no better way to reinforce the value of group prayer than to ask members what has happened with their past requests.
Over the next few posts, I'll dig more deeply into each of these barriers and talk about ways that you can avoid or overcome them.