When Only a Few People Show Up for Your Small Group Meeting​

By Rick Howerton

There are going to be those weeks when only a few Small Group members show up for the Small Group meeting. Maybe an illness hits a household, a child’s ballgame happens to be rescheduled forcing group members to miss the meeting, a business traveler is out of town, or maybe some fanatical football fan calls in sick. Small Group members start calling you an hour or so before the meeting. You anticipated ten of your closest friends hanging out in your living room, but only four or so show up.

You may not realize it, but how an Small Group leader handles this situation can greatly enhance or detract from the leader’s level of influence. A few do’s and don’ts

  • Don’t cancel the meeting.
  • Don’t apologize for the number of people who are in attendance.
  • Don’t speak negatively of those who aren’t there.
  • Don’t make statements that negatively impact the conversation like, “I sure wish John was here. He would really have some important input right now.” or “If Sue was here, she could speak to this issue,” etc…
  • Don’t allow the enemy to lead you to believe group members didn’t show up due to your leadership or because they don’t appreciate the group.
  • Don’t feel an obligation to fill the entire meeting time. If you finish early due to the fact that fewer people are involved in the conversation, that’s okay. Spend the rest of the time just enjoying one another’s company. This will pay off in the long run.
  • Do start on time (don’t wait to see if more people are going to show up).
  • Do go ahead with every aspect of the small group meeting.
  • Do give your whole heart to those who are in attendance. In fact, realize that the smaller number of attendees gives you the opportunity to connect with these group members at a much more intimate level.
  • Do pray for the needs of those who aren’t at the meeting. Be careful that you don’t pray that they’ll show up next week.

Consider a smaller than normal group meeting an opportunity to build deeper relationships and prove every individual is important to you.

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3 Reason to Value Conversational Settings

By Andrew Mason

In a content-driven information age culture, people can miss the value of sitting in a circle for the purpose of discussion. Most people don’t want to talk to a group of people or listen attentively to a handful of individuals. Others don’t care for either.

Acts 2:42 informs us that the early church was not only devoted to the Word (Apostles’ doctrine), prayer and breaking of bread; they were also devoted to fellowship or koinonia. Koinonia means, “to share.” I believe this forms the Biblical framework for group discussion. Scriptural fellowship is deeper than just a picnic or barbeque (however, informal gatherings like these can be some of the initial stepping stones towards achieving koinonia). I’ll explain this more towards the end of this post.

In order to appreciate the value of group discussion you have to understand how God uniquely blesses a dialogue in an interactive circle differently than He does a monologue in a large gathering. In light of this kingdom opportunity, conversational settings should be intimate (no more than 15 people), they should be in a fellowship-friendly environment (no loud noises or distractions) and they should always happen in the context of scripture, spiritual growth and love.

Here are 3 Reasons To Value Conversational Settings:

1. More oxygen for relationships to breathe. A conversational setting creates the opportunity for me to learn more about each person in the group. I love preaching, but I’ve always become more acquainted with someone else’s life and journey in a small group. Instead of a 30-40 minute teaching, a small group is engaged with questions. People are stretched to open up and listen attentively.

In a day of too much technology and crowded loneliness, people have placed a premium on being known. Conversational settings can make someone who is lonely into someone who is loved. In these times, to be known is to be transformed

2. Evangelism muscles are exercised. In Transformational Groups by Stetzer and Geiger, their research concluded that people who attended groups shared their faith more than people who did not attend groups. They stated the following, “…those involved in groups tend to spend more time thinking and discussing biblical and spiritual matters.”

Think about this: In a typical church service, an attendee is listening 100% of the time during the message. In a conversational setting, a participant is listening AND contributing.

The more a person engages in discussion, the more they will cultivate their language of faith. The more their faith language is exercised, the more natural it is for them to share their faith with unbelievers!

People need to be talking more about what they believe. They need to hear themselves as well as other believers who aren’t necessarily pastors or preachers.

3. Transparency is increased. Another finding from Transformational Groups was that regular group attendees are more diligent in confessing sins and wrongdoings. To put it another way, living in community with other believers brightens the light of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

This shouldn’t be surprising because this is exactly what the Bible describes as fellowship: But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Conversational settings not only create the conditions for vulnerability, I believe they unveil more light into a believer’s soul. Listening to the faith, the testimonies, the struggles and the perseverance of other Christians, allows areas of darkness to be exposed at a very close and personal level.

Obviously, there are many other benefits to conversational settings that I have not listed here, but I feel strongly that the three mentioned above – relationships, evangelism and transparency – are foundational to our motivations in group life.

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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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