6 Digital Tools to Build Community in Small Groups

6 digital tools to build community in Small Groups

By Eric Seiberling

Small groups can be key to the spiritual development of individuals and growth for churches. However, hectic schedules can make it difficult for individuals to meet regularly.

Social media and digital tools provide new ways for members to build community, which is exactly why small groups exist. Many of these tools are free and make it easy for members to connect outside regular meetings or to share life even when apart.

Here are six ways to connect small groups digitally:

1. Stay connected with Facebook groups.

Create a private group where members can participate. You can continue the conversations that began in meetings, share new insights and prayer requests, or post materials that will add to the discussion.

2. Use Instagram to share life and prayers.

Instagram now offers Instagram Direct where you can send photos and videos to an individual or the group. Send a picture of a page in a small-group study book that you have highlighted. Make a video prayer request to your group. You can use Instagram Direct from your smartphone, so you always feel connected to your group. When someone asks for prayer, take a private video of your prayer. This can encourage other members to pray for one another, even when they cannot get together in person.

3. Share ideas and insights using Pinterest.

Pinterest allows you to “pin” (upload) pictures to your bulletin board. Capture ideas for your small group, find inspirational quotes or Bible verses or take a photo of your small group. Then, pin them on your Pinterest board. Others will see your “board” and comment and add their own ideas. This is a great way to publicize what your group is doing. Make sure you do not post anything that is sensitive or might be considered confidential.

4. Collaborate using Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.

Both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive let small-group members work on documents or lists – everyone at the same time. You can create forms where people sign up for food or make prayer requests. 

5. Meet virtually in a Google Hangout on Google+.

Create a video conference for your group using Google+ Hangout. Plan a meeting, a service project or a new study – without needing to gather everyone in the same place at the same time. Set a specific time for everyone to join. You can even hold a virtual meeting.

6. Use Skype or Facetime to include someone who is out of town.

Encourage members who travel to join a meeting via Skype, instead of missing it altogether. All you need is an iPad, smartphone or laptop with a camera, and -- voila! -- your absent member is present via video.

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Confidentiality is vital for a small group’s success. Digital tools can help groups grow closer, but they can also create issues if not used carefully.  Make sure everyone understands what they can share publicly and what should stay within the group’s face-to-face conversations.

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Keeping Gossip Out of Your Small Group

Gossip often starts at the Small Group level and needs to be  stopped before it escalates. As Small Group Leaders we know that one of our roles is to prevent gossip , but often we do not know how to deal with it or where to start. Here are 3 tips shared by Allen White in a post on churchleaders.com to help you eliminate in your group.

1. Be Proactive.

Even though your group is filled with wonderful people, the first place to deal with gossip is on the first day of the group. As your group talks about their group values, you should formulate a group agreement. These are simply the things the entire group agrees to. This can include when and where the group meets, the frequency of meetings, childcare, etc.

A key value for your group is confidentiality. What is said in the group needs to stay in the group. Period. Your group should be declared “Las Vegas.” Nothing in the group—comment, prayer request, joke or off-the-cuff remark—should be repeated outside of the group.

Sometimes, the rules get blurry. Let’s say a group member requests prayer for a mutual friend—let’s call her Jane—who is not in the group. Jane is having some tests for a serious health problem. One day, you bump into Jane’s husband and tell him you are praying for Jane and her health issues. The problem is Jane hasn’t said anything to her husband. She was afraid the news would affect his heart condition, so she didn’t want to worry him unnecessarily. (This is a fictitious story. I am not telling tales out of school here.) Now, you get the picture.

Gossip, as benign as it might seem, is a missile that will sink the whole ship. Who would ever share another prayer request or personal issue in front of someone they feel they can’t trust? If the group starts to lack trust, relationships will start to  brake down. There is no more group. Confidentiality is the foundation of group life and must be preserved at all cost!

2. Even Gossip in the Group About Others Is Dangerous.

Gossip shuts down trust. Even if the gossip is about someone outside of the group, it certainly makes the group wonder what this person says about them behind their backs. Gossip of any kind will diminish trust in the group. If the group lacks trust, then the members will not open up. The leader should redirect the gossiping member with, “Let’s keep our discussion to those present in the group.” Then, take the member aside and personally talk to them about gossiping and the harm it can bring to a group.

What is gossip? Well, the rule of thumb is that if the person you are talking to is not part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s gossip.

3. Act Quickly.

If something about your group is told outside of the group, deal with it as soon as you are aware of an incident of gossip. Few other issues are as harmful as gossip in a small group. But if the leader deals with the issue quickly, chances are the group will remain strong. If the issue is not dealt with, it won’t go away. In fact, it will become a greater problem.

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Are you Choking the Discussion in your Small Group?

Learning how to effective facilitate a discussion so that it "flows" is an acquired skill and Sam O'Neil from Lifeway has written a great blog post on some ways to improve your skills.

 I’m not a mechanical person, but I’ve been vaguely aware for years that choke valves are an important component for internal combustion engines. Growing up, I had to work the choke pretty hard to get my dad’s old tractor to fire up when it was my turn to mow the lawn.

Now, after some internet research, I have a better idea of why choke valves are so important. They basically regulate the amount of air that gets mixed in with the gasoline inside the engine. By choking back on the air, the engine receives a more enriched supply of gasoline, which can help get things started better under certain conditions.

While choke valves are a good and helpful tool for engines, they are not so helpful in small-group discussions. In fact, they can be damaging.

Unfortunately, many small groups contain “choke valve” people who regularly and actively choke out the discussion within the group. Worse, those choke valves are often the group leaders themselves.

Conversation Flow
In my experience, a typical “discussion flow” in small groups and Sunday school classes may look something like this:

  • The Group Leader asks a question.
  • Person A responds.
  • The Group Leader comments on Person A’s response.
  • Person B responds.
  • The Group Leader comments on Person B’s response and adds a story of his or her own to illustrate what Person B meant to say.
  • Person C responds.
  • The Group Leader comments on Person C’s response, then ask if anyone else has anything to say.
  • The Group Leader asks another question.

Unfortunately, many group leaders within today’s church feel the need to comment or categorize each response in a group discussion. When someone responds to their question, they feel the need or the responsibility to answer that person before allowing the discussion to proceed.

Do you see the problem with this kind of discussion flow? When a group conversation is centered on the group leader, it’s not really discussion at all. Instead, the group leader serves as a choke that prevents any genuine discussion from really breaking out.

Sadly, many group leaders have been taught to “manage” group conversations this way. This is what many people have in mind when they think about “facilitating” a discussion. In reality, serving as a choke valve will clog or kill the discussions in your group.

A Better Way
So, what would a healthy “discussion flow” look like? Here’s a good example:

  • The Group Leader asks a question.
  • Person A responds.
  • Person B responds.
  • Person C comments on something Person A said, and then adds another idea.
  • The Group Leader offers a thought.
  • Person D responds to the original question.
  • Person E asks for clarification on something he or she didn’t understand.
  • Person B offers that clarification.
  • The Group Leader asks a new question.

The difference between the two approaches is striking in a group setting. When discussion is allowed to progress organically, without constant input from the group leader, there is a much greater chance of truly meaningful discussion.

As a leader, choose to work toward a healthy “discussion flow” in your groups.

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in Easter

What Traditions Do You Celebrate at Easter?

Traditions are great and if you have children one of things that you can do to make the big holidays of the year more memorable is to create traditions. With that in mind, what traditions will you be celebrating this Easter? Will they be filled with Easter Egg Hunts, toys, candy? If you asked your kids what they’re favorite part of Easter is, would they say, the amount of eggs they collected, or the toys that they got!  If you asked them what the meaning of Easter is, would they even know? 

What if this year, you decided to change one thing, or create a new tradition to teach your kids about the birth, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.   There are age appropriate books and movies that can help them understand, and know the real reason that we celebrate “Easter”.  Here are a few excellent resources to check out:

·       The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation—and at the center of their story too.

·       VeggieTales® 'Twas the Night Before Easter (DVD) When news spreads that singing sensation Cassie Cassava is arriving to perform in her hometown church's Easter service, Marlee gets worried. Concerned about the competition, she schemes to steal the starlet for her own pageant! But when things go haywire, will it be curtains for Marlee's dreams, or will she discover the true meaning of Easter and what helping others is really all about?

·       The Passion of The Christ (DVD) is a powerful movie! It focuses on the last twelve hours of Jesus's life. The film begins in the Garden of Olives where Jesus has gone to pray after the Last Supper. Jesus must resist the temptations of Satan. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus is then arrested and taken within the city walls of Jerusalem where leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy and his trial results in a condemnation to death. 

Get creative; come up with your own family traditions!  Build a cross out of pennies. Buy your teenagers a new bible!  Just spend some time doing and sharing the things that they love to do. But let them know the real reason that we celebrate Easter!

 

Finishing Strong

This is the time in the semester when many leaders are starting to feel tired and the issue of burnout starts to creep in. All of us who have ever lead a small group have felt this way at some point in time and we want to share with you some three tips which where shared on North Point Church's Group Leader Blog

1.) Remember your purpose.

Burnout or boredom are often byproducts of misunderstanding your role as a group leader. It’s your job to create a safe environment where people can grow spiritually and connect with one another. You provide opportunities, but it’s up to group members show up, join in, and be real.

2.) Be proactive.
When you’re faced with a challenging group situation or difficult interpersonal dynamics, it’s easy to become reactive. You may feel whipsawed and helpless. This can lead to a desire for a break from leadership.  Instead of running, re-engaged with a clear purpose. Remember why your group exists (to grow people to spiritual maturity), and do something to engage in that purpose. Maybe you need to take on a service project. Maybe you need to shake up the way you pray for one another. Maybe you need to have a conversation about tensions within the group and make an effort to reset everyone’s expectations of what being in group is all about. Being proactive can reinvigorated and refocus your group.

3.) Ask helpful questions.
Your job as a leader isn’t to make people take the next step on their spiritual journeys. It’s to offer encouragement and guidance. Taking the next step is up to them. One of the best ways you can encourage and guide your group members is by asking questions—questions that encourage them to move in God’s direction and help them to own their spiritual growth. 

Here are some examples of helpful questions:

  • If this group is the best group you are ever a part of, how will you be different at its conclusion?
  • What is holding you back from moving to a more intimate relationship with God?
  • What can you do to step out of your comfort zone?

Don’t give up on leadership. Remember that God grows you through the ups and downs. Even when you face challenges and difficulties, God will use them to grow you. Keep encouraging those you lead. Keep asking the questions that no one else is asking. Don’t let leadership get boring.

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