For several years now, Chapel Hill folks have been used to calling our Sunday evening discipleship small groups by the designation “LIFE” groups. Now, I want to designate ALL our small groups under the category of “LIFE” groups; whether they are Sunday morning Bible study small groups or they are Sunday evening discipleship groups or they are small groups that meet off-campus at other times during the week. All small groups exist to provide the nurture and environment (“community”) where believers help and challenge each other to grow up unto spiritual maturity. This is the witness of the New Testament scriptures as well. See Acts 2:42-47, Acts 5:42, and Acts 20:20.
At issue is not what type of small group the gathering is; nor is the issue when and where your small group meets. Rather, the issue is whether your gathering (small group) is spurring each other on to growth and maturity in Christ “…who is the Head.” It does not matter whether the group is focused on Bible study, a deeper doctrinal study, Biblical recovery and support, or other. As long as the small group is Christ-centered and rooted in God’s Word, the group has the opportunity and responsibility to make disciples who are making disciples who are obeying the Great Commission of our Lord found in Matthew 28:20, “…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Thus, ALL biblical small groups are “LIFE” groups in that they are God’s plan for raising up spiritually mature believers who are engaged servants of the living God — both within their local faith community and within their greater geographical community at large.
The realization of the truth of the statements above is why we are adopting a specific, intentional, and focused plan (strategy) to encourage the making of disciples of Jesus who, in turn, make more disciples of Jesus. For lack of a better term, I will use the word Rubric. A rubric is an established procedure or plan for the accomplishment of a goal. The graphic above is a visual demonstration of Chapel Hill’s rubric for making disciples and encouraging believers to progress in their spiritual development until the point of spiritual maturity that is demonstrated by behavior, speech, and attitude. After all, what one really believes and prioritizes is demonstrated (made manifest) by one’s actions, attitudes, and words. In the following weeks, I will begin explaining Chapel Hill’s plan for helping you to become a mature follower of Jesus Christ who will, in turn, help another to become a mature follower of Jesus Christ.
This is an exciting and great time to be a believer in Northport, Alabama, and it is a great time to be a believer at Chapel Hill Baptist Church. Let me admonish all of us when I say, “may we all grow up unto spiritual maturity and attain to our goal and example Jesus Christ! If we do, God will use you and me to change the world — literally.
by Rick Howerton
Facilitating a small group Bible study is one of my favorite things to do. Hearing the combined wisdom of the group, drawing the hesitant group member into the conversation, searching for God’s truth while keeping each other’s opinions in check, and seeing the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as He uses many voices to find out what God is really saying, is a thrill I never get tired of.
Being an effective conversational Bible study facilitator demands keeping a few things in mind. Below are my 10 Commandments of Small Group Bible Study Facilitation.
- Thou shalt make Scripture the centerpiece of the conversation.
- Thou shalt talk less than 30% of the time (20% would be even better).
- Thou shalt prepare easy to understand questions.
- Thou shalt ask open-ended questions.
- Thou shalt be an active listener.
- Thou shalt allow group members to answer one another’s questions (Don’t jump in and answer someone’s question unless you have to.).
- Thou shalt make the goal to find out what God is saying (not people’s opinions concerning what God might be saying).
- Thou shalt not allow the overly-talkative person to ambush the conversation.
- Thou shalt never demean anyone (for a question asked or a response given).
- Thou shalt call the group to apply the truth learned (The greatest spiritual growth comes in doing God’s Word, not just knowing it.)
by Jeremy Smith, The SmallGroupNut
Being a small group leader is one of the most fun and terrifying things in life. The fun comes when the relationships get bigger than the group and discipleship happens. Terrifying happens when relationships get messy and when questions get bigger.
Here’s a few helpful hints that can hopefully remove some of the ‘terrifying’ and emphasize the fun.
1. Pray, Pray, Pray – pray for the meeting (invite the Holy Spirit), pray for the group members, pray over prayer requests, pray over the discussion materials, etc. Just pray!!!
2. Ease into Transparency – the goal is to get the group to open up and begin to share life together. Transparency takes time. It would be a surprise to have someone come week 1 and pour out their lives (it has happened, but it’s not the norm). Slowly easy into transparency as you begin to build relationship.
3. Lead it, Don’t Read it – invest yourself in the discussion materials. Do additional research, craft the questions to your audience, and pray over the materials. As the leader, you are setting the tone for the meeting time, so be prepared. Don’t expect to have every answer, but be prepared and know the material.
4. See Ya Later – I always told my small group leaders that 75% of small group happens outside of the small group meeting. Be deliberate about building relationship. Go out to dinner together, invite them to birthday parties, call during the week (follow-up on prayer requests), write a personal note, etc. The relationships will grow and connect quicker as you are investing more time.
5. Don’t Take it Personal – sometimes groups fail to launch. It’s not your fault. Sometimes people don’t desire to go from simple community to disciple-forming relationship. It’s not your fault.
6. ASK – Don’t be afraid to ask your coach or small group pastor if you have questions. They are there for you.
I am excited that you have decided to step into small group leadership. Small groups are a crucial piece to growing people towards Christ and you are critical to that process.
by Ken Braddy
If you asked a dozen teachers what the purpose of Sunday School is, you’d hear a variety of things – there would not be consensus among them. Some would argue that Bible study is the primary reason Sunday School exists. Another person would passionately plea that evangelism is the number one goal. Still others would say fellowship or ministry to others are the main reasons why groups exist.
I believe that Sunday School groups exist to make disciples. The Great Commission is at the core of what churches are supposed to be about. We should be able to measure our effectiveness against that biblical mandate.
You may be a member of a large Sunday School class, or your church may allow large groups toexist in their Sunday School structure. Large groups are normally have an attendance of 25+ people, sometimes bordering on 40-50, and in some cases even more. I have spoken to group leaders who proudly say theirs is the largest group in their church. The teacher puffs up, sticks out his chest, and lets me know that his group has the most people, and everyone in the church knows it – and knows what a good teacher he is. I grimace when I am a part of those conversations, because large groups actually hurt the church. Here are four ways those big groups are not helping the church:
- Most people cannot speak in front of large crowds – it limits who can teach. It is a fact that the fear of public speaking is one of people’s worst fears. If you’ve ever had to give a report, make a speech, or talk for an extended time in front of a crowd, you know this is true. “Few people have the gifting to speak in front of thousands. But most of us feel okay speaking to a few people we are really getting to know. In a small group, we can develop skills that may give us the ability to speak in front of many more. Everyone needs a starting point, and a small group is the perfect place” (Real Life Discipleship, p.59). The larger the class, the fewer the number of people who feel capable of teaching such a large group. If the teacher is absent, finding subs is more difficult. If a teacher moves, quits, or retires from his teaching ministry, it can be extremely difficult to replace him. But not so when the group is around 12-15 people.
- Big classes sometimes like to go on power trips. “You aren’t going to split our class” and “You need to move us to a bigger room” are phrases that staff leaders have heard from large classes. Big groups of people quickly learn there is power in numbers, and staff leaders are often unwilling to confront them because of the political and social power the group tends to wield in the church. Big classes can turn into bully classes, demanding their way, or else. This is certainly not the attitude of Christ. A giant class can influence the vote at a business meeting, it can apply pressure on the pastor and staff to do what the group wants, not what is necessarily the right thing to do.
- People fall through the cracks. Teachers are shepherds, and as shepherds we have sheep to protect and care for. Think about the way a rancher would check up on his sheep – he’d have two options. First, he could do the hard work of driving around his ranch, counting sheep, and recovering those who have wandered off or put themselves in danger. Second, he could sit by the watering hole – eventually all the sheep would come around for a drink, and he could note the ones not there. Teachers of big groups tend to be shepherds that hand out by the watering hole. It’s difficult to teach a group of 50 and be a great shepherd to them all. “When a disciple maker is responsible for shepherding more than twelve people, it is far more likely that some will fall through the cracks because there are just too many people to get to know all of them well” (Real Life Discipleship, p.53)
- Disciples are not being produced. This is the most serious of the reasons why big groups are a bad idea. People sitting in rows, listening to a lecturing teacher, are not going to be turned into the kinds of disciples Jesus envisioned. As I have said to group leaders, “You can’t disciple people from a distance,” and big groups create distance between the leader and the people in the group. The only way a leader can effectively help his people progress as disciples is to know them, to know what they need, and to give them the tools, the challenges, and the opportunities to grow as disciples of Christ. As Jim Putnam said in his book Real Life Discipleship, “When it comes to discipleship, relationships are the pipe. They are the conduit that delivers the precious ingredients of discipleship” (p.47). While Jesus did preach to large crowds, the majority of His time and energy was poured into the 12 disciples and even smaller groups. If teaching the masses was the way to produce disciples, Jesus would have preached a lot more sermons to a lot more people than He did.
Big Bible study groups are not necessarily bad, but they almost never produce disciples the way smaller groups can. It may strike a blow to the ego of a teacher who has become popular, maybe even more popular than his pastor, to know that his group is not effectively producing disciples. Teachers who embrace their role as disciple-makers will not allow their group to become super-sized groups; good teachers know and follow Jesus model of discipleship, which means they keep their group to around 12-15 people, and when it grows, they simply lead their people to start a new group. It’s just that simple.
My friend and colleague, Rick Howerton, is an expert in small group ministry. He released a blog post this morning on the same topic as this blog post! I am tempted to say “great minds think alike.” He and I did not consult about today’s topic, but evidently the Lord led us both to address the topic of large groups. Check out his post by clicking here and see what he thinks about large groups from someone who is in the small group movement.
A massive number of people never join a small group because, when they verbalize an honest excuse, we don’t have a wise answer for them. Below you’ll find fourteen excuses people use when they don’t want to become part of a small group. You’ll also find a wise response to each excuse.
- I don’t know the Bible well enough.
Response: No one knows everything about the Bible, even pastors. All of us are there to learn the Bible together.
- I’m an introvert.
Response: Many of us in the group are introverts who don’t like to talk in public and you won’t have to until you choose to.
- I’m not comfortable around strangers.
Response: You won’t be strangers very long. I know because I’m just like you. In just a few weeks you’ll feel right at home.
- I don’t have time.
Response: We all have time for what we make time for. It’s up to you if you choose to make small group a priority or not.
- I’m afraid a question will be asked that I can’t answer.
Response: Every week the group leader asks a question I can’t answer. I just let someone else in the group answer that question.
- I don’t have anyone to watch my kids during the meeting.
Response: We have childcare at the meeting for your kids. In fact, they’ll get to hang out with other kids whose parents are in the group. Your kids will have a great time.
- My kids will interrupt the meeting.
Response: Sometimes our kids come to the room we’re meeting in and interrupt us. We don’t care about that because we all love our kids and will love yours too.
- I’m not comfortable praying aloud.
Response: You won’t be called on to pray aloud. You can if you want to but you won’t be forced or asked to. If you want me to I’ll let the group leader know about this before you come to the first meeting.
- I don’t understand the terms other Christians already know.
Response: None of us know all the Christianese that people use. When we don’t know what some term means we just ask the person who said it what it means.
- My husband won’t go with me.
Response: No problem. We’d be honored to have you without your husband. A lot of people are in groups without their spouses coming with them. Sometimes it’s because the husband travels for work or for some other reason. We’d be honored if you’d join us and I promise, you’ll feel right at home if you do.
- My wife won’t go with me.
Response: No problem. We’d be honored to have you without your wife. A lot of people are in groups without their spouses coming with them. Sometimes it’s because the wife travels for work or for some other reason. We’d be honored if you’d join us and I promise, you’ll feel right at home if you do.
- I’m allergic to most pets.
Response: We’ll be sure to find a group for you where the hosts don’t have any pets.
- I’m single and most groups are made up of couples with kids.
Response: Jesus’ church is really diverse. I promise, you’ll feel welcomed and be treated as just another Christian friend if you’ll give the group a try.
- They’re going to want me to talk about myself and I’m not confortable with that.
Response: You don’t have to talk about anything until you’re ready to. The group leader isn’t going to force you to talk about yourself or anything else.
If we truly take God’s Word as being sufficient and complete, then we will see that the New Testament reveals what a small group of believers should look like when they come together to help each other grow in spiritual maturity and become like Jesus. Whether your small group meets at the church building on Sunday mornings/evenings or whether it meets off campus at any other day and time, the same four characteristics will be at play in the life and relationships of your group members. The name of your group really does not matter; Sunday School class, Disciple group, Life group, commonality group, women’s group, men’s group, and so forth, they all have the same four characteristics. What are these characteristics (qualities, ingredients, etc.)? See below:
More from Rick Howerton’s blog and his interview with Mike Mack.
Transformational discipleship involves moving people from sitting
in rows, where they are simply in proximity to one another, to sitting
in circles. From there, they move into community with one another.
When Eric Geiger and I were writing Transformational Groups, we studied 2,300 churches sponsored by 15 denominations. Fewer than half of those churches said they had a plan for discipling people. Only 63 percent had
someone responsible for the spiritual formation of children, students, and
The majority of these churches weren’t satisfied with the state of disci-
pleship or spiritual formation. We know there is a great level of dissatisfaction in many churches about where they are on the issue of discipleship, but what is the solution?
We also conducted a Transformational Discipleship study of more than 4,000 Protestant churchgoers in North America and asked them about spiritual formation. One of the five items most predictive for spiritual maturity was participation in a small class or group of adults such as a small group, Bible study, or adult Bible fellowship.
But what makes a small group thrive? Our studies discovered five elements of a transformational small group environment: mission orientation, Word-driven mentality, multiplication mindset,
stranger welcoming, and kingdom focused.
First, every small group should be mission oriented and focused on becoming part of and following God in His mission for the world. When someone becomes a believer, he or she takes on the responsibility of being globally minded; this mindset contributes to his or her spiritual growth and maturity.
Second, small groups need to be firmly rooted in the Scriptures, which are a source of life and growth. Sharing life’s struggles and encouraging one another is a healthy part of any community. But too much sharing can make the group seem like a support group. The needs people share in the group need to always be hedged-in and examined through the lens of Scripture.
A third aspect of transformational discipleship groups is a multiplication
mindset. The purpose of a group is to eventually reproduce into another group that is making and growing disciples of Christ. This element of small groups helps members stay open to change and inviting to new people.
For this element to function effectively, church leaders need to relinquish
ministry and leadership into the hands of believers in their church and not cling tightly to power. While groups can multiply under the leadership of an elite few in the church, the possibilities of growth are minuscule compared to what occurs when the laity leads small groups.
A fourth element of small groups is that they welcome strangers. Small groups must always be aware of new people in the church and new people in their groups, intentionally creating a welcoming and relational environment for them. Without this the group becomes inward-focused and loses sight of the mission to make more disciples.
A fifth and final component of transformational groups is a kingdom-focused mindset. Group members need to stay focused on what God wants to accomplish in their time together, not how they can be the most exciting small group in the church. Groups cannot exist for the sole purpose of emotional support for their members, but must find their
place in God’s greater plan of advancing His kingdom.
Transformational discipleship can happen when small groups focus on God’s mission, His kingdom, and His word, and when they are welcoming to strangers and intent on multiplying. All of this begins when people move out of the pew and into circles in order to be in community
with one another and provoke one another to love and good deeds. This is
Small groups that produce transformational discipleship are essential not only to the spiritual growth and maturity of church members but also to
the advancement of the gospel.
ED STETZER (@EdStetzer) is executive director of LifeWay Research. For more visit www.EdStetzer.com
Today Mike joins me in discussing a topic that seems to be lacking in the minds of many… holiness in community and why it matters.
Rick: Mike, I know you as one of the most biblically focused authors I know of when it comes to group life. Not only that, I’ve seen the way you live your life. You are a man who lives a holy life. I think many groups are struggling to understand the importance of holiness in group life. Why is holiness in the life of each individual group member important to the group and why it is important if a group is going to experience true Christian community?
Mike: One of the topics I love talking to group leaders about is Christ-centeredness, both in the group and in the lives of the leaders and members. Living lives of integrity (holiness/piety) comes out of spending time with God on a regular basis, individually and as a group. When we come near to God, he will come near to us (Jas. 4:8). Spiritual leadership starts with remaining intimately connected with God (John 15), and when we do, his love, power, grace, compassion . . . flow out of us.
Discipleship doesn’t happen merely in a once-a-week meeting. People grow as they spend time with God in his Word, in prayer, in personal worship, in fasting, etc. regularly. Then, when a group of people who have been spending time with God all week come together, it is powerful, as each one shares what God is doing in his or her life with the others.
This is why investing in people’s lives is more important to a leader than facilitating a good study. Both are important, but real transformation happens when you simply but compassionately get involved in one another’s lives.
Rick: The Groups world has taken a turn in a new direction. Whereas we once talked mostly about “community,” the groups movement is now abuzz about what it means to make disciples. Mike, how would you describe disciple making and what do you think the groups movement must do in order to do more than just create groups where people do life together?
Mike: I could write a book on this one! I believe we as a groups movement need to get serious about the things Jesus and his group were serious about. When we design groups (and churches, for that matter) for consumers, they remain consumers. But when we make it clear up front that being in a group requires a commitment (to Christ, the group, and to mutual discipleship), those groups will bear fruit. Our model leader, Jesus, spoke often about the cost of following him, and so should we. Are we willing to sacrifice numbers over the short term for spiritual maturity over the long term? I hope we go with the latter.
Rick: You’ve consulted many churches through the years so you know the importance of the senior pastor’s involvement in the groups ministry. Some senior pastors don’t understand the importance of community life through small groups. When a groups pastor asks the question, “What do I do if my senior pastor isn’t involved in a group and has little concern for the group ministry?”, how do you respond?
Mike: I secretly wish I had had an opportunity to talk to them before they took the responsibility! At that point I could counsel them to be sure they and the senior leadership (senior pastor as well as the leadership board and other senior-level leaders) are all on the same page in regard to values and expectations.
Once a groups pastor in in the role, he or she can leverage several opportunities, depending on the church and the pastor. First, partner together with the pastor to achieve common objectives and carry out the common mission. Ask how you can help him (not how he can help you) to carry out the mission of the church. Love him. Invest into him. Pray for him. Learn to speak his language. Work within the confines of your leadership structure (if you report to a second- or third-tier leader, don’t go over their head), and yet find ways to lead up. Don’t be afraid to invite him to participate in a group—after all that’s your passion and your job—but don’t lose faith if he says no. Help him discover the group he already has—a leadership group for instance, or a team he is on—and ask him to talk about that group in his sermons.