Please enjoy this replay of our recent webinar: Effective Small Groups in the Small to Medium-sized Church.
Sponsor: Bible Studies for Life
Resource: Group Answers Podcast
What do those two small words make you think and feel? Maybe a lot.
Some of us are only reading this article because we found it on social media. Others just think of our kids and how deeply we wish they wouldn’t spend so much time behind a screen.
Added to our personal experience and opinions, we can get caught in conversations among Christians about the role social media plays in the lives of the church and small group members. Does it bring people closer together? Or encourage comparison and division?
No matter the ultimate resolution of the debate, the world we live in lives in a world of social media, and this tool can be used both for ill and for good.
So how can your group maximize its social media use on Instagram, specifically, to build community? It might seem simple, but three easy actions can help add to Christ-centered unity and community (and even help you recruit new small group members).
Instagram stories are almost becoming a social media platform in themselves. And some of their features can be used to strengthen community, get feedback, and invite others to join. Something as simple as snapping a picture of your latest Bible study book and asking people to reply if they’re interested in joining the study can help you build community. You can start a poll to survey your followers to see which topic they’d rather study as you prepare for what’s coming next in a group. You can take a boomerang of your group flipping through their Bible’s pages and post with the date and time of your group to spread the word to potential new members. You can use stories to post screen-shots of upcoming group events to invite others without your regular feed looking spamy.
Hashtags are a # followed by text that, then, is searchable to others across the social media platform (e.g. #blessed). What if your small group created their own group hashtag? This could encourage your members to post about group which can spread the word to new members and keep members who’ve been missing from group in the loop about what’s happening. It can also be a way for the leaders to communicate encouragement to their members. If a leader is posting daily devotional content to the group hashtag, the content can be easily found, commented on, and liked, so that your group’s community continues to be strengthened.
You can challenge your group members to post, even once a month, what God has been teaching them through group, what their favorite part is about group, things or people they’re thankful for within the group, and more. This will encourage the group members to stay invested in each other’s lives, but it can even be a wider encouragement to the church if they tag. By tagging the church in their individual posts, the shared image and description can be viewed by others. Other church members not in group can see and be encouraged or inspired, and people visiting the church and searching for the church’s social profiles can see what the life of actual members is like within the church community.
It might seem simple, but simple encouragement to your group members to use stories, remember hashtags, and intentionally share and tag can make an impact not only in your group’s existing community but also as you look to recruit new members.
What’s more? You can be intentional in who you follow, to be encouraged and inspired. Recently, the Groups Ministry team here at LifeWay has launched an Instagram page. Check out the profile to stay up to date on the latest small group studies and to find other tips, tricks, and helpful content for all your small group needs.
by Jared Musgrove
It can be commonly accepted in our groups world that there are times of year that are just not good time to launch a group. Spring Break is one. After a late Easter going into Summer is another one all together. I understand the tension point. And while it’s true that these may not be optimal times, they’re not impossible times. It might even be part of the plan.
For years we’ve been trying to whiteboard our way out of the alleged conundrum of starting a group during one of these periods. We will probably keep trying. Because if you have one group, you have one group. They are all unique.
So as we head into the months when our people’s vacation, sports, and fireworks schedules reign over weekday evenings, don’t abandon the basics. I propose to you that we stick to what it time-tested in group life season after season, even if that season is after Easter.
Why Does This Group Exist and Meet?
A group that meets after Easter should have the same rhyme and reason (even if the rhythm of meeting is different) as a group that starts any other time of the year. Can this new group answer why the group exists and meets? What is the compelling biblical reason you are giving them all year round? That will be what carries a group through the dog days of Summer.
Who Is the Leader(s)?
An identified leader or leaders is essential to the success of a group, in season or out. Are these leaders committed, calendared, and have conviction about the group’s purpose and time together?
When and Where Do We Meet?
“Even if three people come, we are still having group.” Let this be the resonating resolve regardless of the season. Have that place and time set. Don’t decide to have group or not by consensus. Even if three people come, have group. This builds expectation and solidifies group time as a calendared constant.
What Do We Follow and Submit To?
In season and out, God is still at work in your group. Even if three people come, the Scriptures can be opened, read, considered, prayed through, members prayed over, and spiritual fellowship can be had. Because the group submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ unity may be had, Christian practice and partnership deepened, and the biblical purpose of your groups furthered.
How Do I Participate?
Is the connection to group life in your church as clear after Easter as it is the rest of the year? This also shouldn’t change. If there are system considerations, get creative and still capitalize on the fact that people are coming and want(!) to be in a group. Make sure their pathway is straight as it would be any other time of the year.
Sometimes a smaller group can be a blessing of warmth and intimacy for a season. And even if numbers are down in your group for a month or so, who knows what the LORD has in store to grow you in gospel partnership together. He put these people in your group for this time in this Summer season. He has work to do. This group that begins after Easter was His plan all along for the spiritual growth of those in it. Including you.
A small group leader has many roles to fill. The key to a healthy and multiplying group is to give as many of those roles away as soon as possible. You can identify which roles to give away first by knowing which ones are naturally weak for you. We all have areas of leadership where we are stronger and weaker. Someone in your group is going to excel in a role where you might struggle.
Here are what I believe are the top five roles (not in order) for every group leader. As you read the list, think about which ones you should start giving away now.
1. Fun Planner
A key to your group staying healthy is being intentional about planning fun activities during every semester or quarter. That can be a game night instead of a doing the study, going to a ballgame together, or organizing a picnic during the spring or summer.
2. Food Planner
The beginning of every group meeting should be a time of just hanging out, and food can be an important part of that first 20 minutes. It gives people in your group something to do while having important bonding conversations before the study portion of the meeting.
Every group needs someone to officially host the meeting. That may include providing the space for the meeting, but it always includes being a smiling face at the door to set the tone for night. A good host will help lead to an effective meeting.
Your group members are needing more than a social time and a Bible study. The goal should be to have your small group feel like family. Families care for one another and are there for each other when circumstances are great and not so great. We should celebrate and weep with our group members equally.
5. Prayer Time
Prayer is an important element during the group time, but it’s also essential between meetings. A praying leader is a leader worth following. You should pray consistently and specifically for your group members each week.
Is there a role or two on that list that you can give away soon?
Heroes of the Bible.
When you hear this phrase, who comes to mind?
All of these are incredible people who, by God’s grace, knew God and made Him known in powerful ways. We learn from them. We are inspired by them. We, in many ways, want to be more like them.
But, who might we be missing?
Some other heroes of faith often take longer to come to mind.
These are just the beginning of women of faith who, by God’s grace, also knew Him and made Him known through their lives.
Why study biblical women?
In our small groups and Sunday schools, we have strong reason to not overlook the sometimes shorter or less emphasized stories of the Bible, including the stories that highlight women.
In fact, we miss out when we do not study these.
Amid a culture of women’s rights and feminism, and within the church’s subculture of egalitarianism and complementarianism, what it means to be men or women and the ways we handle biblical manhood and womanhood are intensely debated. We can look to what’s happening around us and our experiences within us to try to make sense of it all. But, why not the Bible?.
Just as we look to people in the Bible to learn how to deal with suffering, to learn what fruit of the Spirit we should have, or to explore what it means to trust God, we can look to the Bible to see what it means to be women who follow God. Whether we need this advice or whether we need to encourage women in our life toward seeking God, we can learn from what women (just as we can learn from men) did, what they said, how they prayed and praised.
As we dig into their stories, we will learn from their lives. First, we can see their relationships with the Lord. We can see the ways they talked about Him. We can look for the way the knowledge of God shaped how they spent their days. We can see the expressions their faith took: worship, prayer, fasting.
We can also see how this relationship and fear of the Lord impacted their relationships with people. We can see the ways they were loyal, courageous, truth speakers, justice seekers. We can learn from their actions about how to lead lives that model God’s truth and grace.
What and how can everyone learn from biblical women?
Women in the Bible can show us far more than we might imagine.
They can show us about relationship with the Lord. They can show us about relationship with others. They can encourage our faith. They can shed light into the sometimes difficult and often deeply personal discussions of manhood and womanhood.
Yet, just as any story in the Bible, they can bring us further into the heart of God and spur us forward into a life compelled by God’s love (2 Corinthians 5:14).
What can we learn from biblical women? Much more than we might imagine.
How can you get started? Try studying, walking through the very texts of Scripture where these women are chronicled. It starts with scripture. Seeking out the stories of women and diving in.
But we don’t want to leave you alone in your search. We can help you and help you lead others on this study. LifeWay’s Women’s Ministry Specialist, Kelly D. King, walks us through six stories of biblical women in Bible Studies for Life: Living by Faith – Women who Trusted God. She’ll lead you into the stories of Rahab, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, the poor widow, and the Samaritan Woman.
What you’ll find? Hope, strength, perspective, wisdom, and so much more. Find out more here.
Deborah Spooner is a Minnesota-born analytical creative serving as a Marketing Strategist for LifeWay’s Groups Ministry. As a pastor’s daughter with a background in Digital Communications and Media and Biblical & Theological Studies, you can find her at her local church, in deep conversation, or with a book or pen in hand as she seeks to know Christ more and make Him known.
by Reid Smith
Balance has always been elusive for me in ministry. Earlier on, I grew skeptical of it because I pictured it as being something that literally meant I was giving equal time and attention to multiple things but somehow not cheating anything. Life rarely allows this luxury. So when I heard balance applied to small groups, my instinctive reaction was “Nope – that’s just setting leaders up to fail.”
If we’re honest, we’re probably not doing all of the things we’ve learned that we should be doing in our groups. People connect and grow together regularly through some form of fellowship, Bible study and prayer in most groups. Far fewer develop a plan for building in other spiritual practices, different expressions of worship, and outreach to make a group experience well-rounded, or dare I say, “Balanced!”
Over time, however, “balance” for me became less about maintaining perfect equilibrium, and more about planning ahead on how you can incorporate activities that are commonly omitted from group life, but vital to the health of it. You need to have a plan to have balance.
The group leader is the person responsible for driving the process of developing a plan with the group about how they will be intentional about including spiritual practices that do not normally occur in their gatherings. I’ll share a few pointers on how group leaders can lay the groundwork for balance by planning ahead for it followed by practical ways members can pursue balanced group life together.
Laying the Groundwork for Balance
Balancing Group Life Together
This last point is a master key to balanced discipleship in your group. Maybe the Lord has a unique purpose for every group that is unique to it based on the supernatural composition of spiritual gifts represented in its group members. Maybe every group has its own divine palette of colors that can be mixed together to produce a one-of-a-kind work of art to the glory of God.
If this is so, it stands to reason that a group will experience “balance” as each member of it works in concert with one another to make his or her own special contribution to God’s mission in the world. Group leaders can catch a vision for unlocking balanced disciple-making when they tap into the spiritual growth goals and gifts the Lord has planted in their group members.
As Christians, we understand the importance of balance. Balance in our lives, our family, our prayer time, and even our health. Do you ever stop to think about balance in your discipleship plan?
Being a group leader, there is nothing more daunting than picking out the next study for your group. If you start by searching for small group Bible studies in your search engine, you are immediately given 57,300,000 results. It’s going to take some time to sifter through those results to find the perfect Bible study for your group.
Our goal as the LifeWay Groups Ministry is to help the Church in Her mission of making disciples. This applies to small group ministry. Having a balanced discipleship plan should be easy, but it can oftentimes be difficult to remember and keep up with.
In an effort to make it easy for small groups and their leaders, we have the Balanced Discipleship Pathway. This pathway, or plan, is built on three characteristics of Bible study: centered on the Gospel, expanding in scope, and displayed in real life.
LifeWay research has done studies to find out what would be included in a balanced discipleship plan, and these steps on the pathway are lifestyle patterns that ought to be growing in ever-increasing measure the longer a person walks the pathway of discipleship.
The eight signposts on this pathway are:
By choosing a study from each of the following categories (signposts) over the course of a year, you will ensure your group is taking a balanced approach to attaining spiritual maturity.
by Jared Musgrove
Why do we do Groups? Why does any church have some type of smaller group context? Even if your church does not have a formalized pathway for this, I can almost guarantee you that it is happening in some informal sense.
We do groups because we’ve always done them. As the church of Jesus Christ, We have 2000 years of God’s people leaving large teaching gatherings going into smaller contexts, usually homes, to encourage one another and build each other up.
We see this as early as Acts 2. They met in First Century homes and groups, gathered around the Word (at that time the apostle’s teaching), they broke bread to mark and celebrate milestones, had fellowship out of the shared story of life transformation in Jesus, and they prayed with and for one another. And it had an incredible evangelistic effect as “the LORD added to their number day by day.”
“Why groups?” is a question each of us needs to be asking. Where in your church context are you making time and space for Christians speaking words of life, for Christian practice of the 59 One Another passages of the New Testament? Where is the context for Christian courage to be enflamed? For believers to speak a word in season to a soul who needs it? Where is there time and space into which others, maybe even outsiders, may be welcomed in to see Jesus at the center of our circle? Where are Christians getting personally encouraged in your church?
Encouraged Christians are incredibly brave with the gospel.
One example of this is from our own Home Groups: We had a man very hesitant to join one of our groups. “Why share my feelings?” he said. “What more do I need but my Bible and a study guide that tells me exactly what God’s Word says?” But he did reluctantly joined a Home Group. And it so happens that the group was halfway through sharing their individual testimonies of Christ transforming their lives. And this man, sitting in that circle, was so powerfully affected by each of these stories being told that he was given the courage to share his Christian testimony with a group of people for the very first time.
And he wouldn’t stop sharing it after that!
What happened in this 21st Century small group was that this man sat in the center of Christian practice of sharing his testimony. Out of this he was given Christian courage to continue sharing it with believers and non-believers alike. That’s plugging into the ancient stream of what brothers and sisters have been doing in and out of smaller groups for 2000 years. This is why we do Groups.
So I encourage you to consider in your church where you are making time and space for such a circle to encourage one another and build each other up. Groups are a standard part of almost every church, but why are they so important? For almost 2,000 years, groups have provided a critical space for Christian practice. And Christian courage to share the gospel.
by Alan Raughton
Leaders have been described as those who challenge, inspire, enable, model, and encourage. Others call leaders risk-takers, visionaries, and people who see the future and make it happen.
Jesus called twelve men to become leaders. Look at whom Jesus called—fishermen, tax collectors, common people who displayed little unusual potential. But Jesus took them and shaped them as He carried out the ministry God placed in His hands. Jesus inspired them, taught them, challenged them, and then set them free with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. These leaders then became visionaries, world-changers.
As a group leader you should feel that God has called you and placed you specifically in your position of service and leadership. You are much like Peter, James, and others who became servant leaders and accepted the responsibilities Jesus placed in their hands.
Leaders are essential for a life-changing Bible study group. Every class or group should be a place where people are grounded in God’s Word and engage in reaching, teaching, ministry, and fellowship.
Consider multiplying your ministry through mentoring others. The mark of an effective group leader is not in how big your group becomes, but how many people leave the group to serve in another area of the Sunday School or groups ministry. So, our key metric should be how many people are we maturing in their faith so they leave our group and lead somewhere else in our church or start another Bible study group.
Jesus spent three years investing Himself in the lives of twelve men. Although one fell away from Him, Jesus sent the disciples to carry on His ministry. Jesus adopted these men, spent time teaching them, and then guided them through on-the-job training. If Jesus had called out the twelve only to keep them in seclusion and enjoy their fellowship, He would not have accomplished what God intended. Leaders are people who challenge others to “go and do likewise.”
Churches that effectively use groups in a strategic way multiply leaders and Bible study groups. This just doesn’t happen on it’s own! These churches have an intentional, ongoing plan to multiply their leadership base and increase the number of ongoing and discipleship groups.
These churches keep a clear focus on the purpose for their Bible study groups: To make disciples.
Bible study groups are central in training other persons to be strong in grace and to teach them to teach others (2 Timothy 2:1-2). Think about ways your personal ministry could be multiplied. Is there someone for whom you could be a mentor? When you multiply yourself in others, you help other believers exercise their spiritual gifts, take intentional actions that are in obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus, and lead people to faith in Him. When seen from this perspective, your relationship with others becomes an exciting adventure!
Can small groups really work in smaller size churches? That is the topic that we are going to tackle in this free webinar on March 19, 2019, 11am – 12pm CST. Here are a few of the questions that myself and our expert panelists will take on:
Spots are limited, so register for this free webinar soon here.