Blog Archives

3 Ways to Get Your Small Group Out of Its Rut

boringEven great small groups like yours can easily get into a rut where things are too predictable and routine. If your group is in this situation now and you need to mix things up to create more fun, outreach and relationship, here are three things you can do to get out or stay out of a small group rut:

  1. Party! Everyone, including small groups, loves to party! Every month or two you should do something just for fun. The possibilities are endless. Do a game night or picnic. Or go bowling, mini-golfing or to a ball game together. One thing to keep in mind is Read the rest of this entry
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The Best Small Group Curriculum

Over the past 35 years I have used lots of great books and curriculum in leading small groups and discipleship groups—some of them written by me. Thinking of all of the good material I have used, my favorite small group curriculum now is The Good & Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith.goodnbeautiful

My friend small group author Greg Bowman commended the book to me several years ago. Based on Greg’s enthusiastic recommendation I picked up the book and started to read it. As I started into it for some reason I thought, “What’s so great about this?”, and I didn’t make it past the first chapter. Then last year our senior pastors, Hap & Di Leman, gave me and all of our senior leadership team a copy of the book and worked through it with us chapter by chapter over coffee on Wednesday mornings. The book thrilled me and was tremendously helpful in accelerating my spiritual journey.

More recently I went through the book with four other guys in a men’s discipleship group early on Wednesday mornings. The biblical principles in the book again were life changing for me and them. As one of the guys expressed, Read the rest of this entry

A Simple Format for Including Children in Small Groups

Over the past 34 years, my wife Vicki and I have led a lot of different small groups. Most of those groups have been intergenerational groups that included adults and children.Kids in SG

How do you include children in small groups? There’s lots of different ways to do this and the best approach varies a lot depending on how many children there are, what ages they are, and even what their personalities are.

I’m going to tell you the simple pattern that we have used most often. This pattern assumes that most of the children are over four years old and that there are not a lot of babies and toddlers. I am outlining the format using the “5 W’s” of a great small group meeting that are explained in chapter six of my book Small Groups/Big Impact. If you are familiar with the 5 W’s, you’ll notice, however, that the order of them is changed.

Opening Question (Welcome)

Start the group with an icebreaker question. Children love answering icebreaker questions. By including them in this part of the meeting Read the rest of this entry

My Favorite Small Group Curriculum

My favorite small group curriculum right now, the one I find myself recommending over and over to small group leaders, is Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I love it. It’s a six-session DVD curriculum on how to connect with God through simple spiritual disciplines.

There are two reasons I love it so much. First, the content is great. Barton makes spiritual practices so accessible and doable. She puts the cookies on a low shelf. In my opinion, the book is kind of a “Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies,” so to speak, which I really appreciate. The second reason I like the DVD curriculum so much is that it minimizes the length of the video segments and maximizes learning and practicing the disciplines. Each session has two short video segments—the first one is on the principles or disciplines themselves and is followed by discussion. The second segment explains how to do a discipline, and then you practice it.

The exercises work! People really encounter God, which is cool and moving.

There are actually three components to the curriculum. First, there is the DVD, which is great and costs just $31.99. Second, there is a “Participant’s Guide,” Read the rest of this entry

One Change That Might Revolutionize Your Small Group

Last fall my friend Laura’s small group was dead in the water. There was no momentum, little excitement, and attendance was sporadic. As a result Laura was a frustrated, perplexed, and discouraged small group leader.

After Christmas Laura changed one thing, and now everything is different. Attendance has doubled, new people are coming, the group is fun, relationships are deeper, and God is making cool changes in people’s lives.

What change did Laura make in her small group? She changed the group from meeting every other week to meeting weekly. When she first brought up this option, her group members resisted the change. Most of them wanted to keep things as they were. But as my wife and I prayed for Laura’s group and talked with her, she realized that her group would probably never lift off without this change. She took a risk, demonstrated leadership and did what she felt needed to be done. It has paid off in her members’ lives and in the lives of the new people who are coming. The very people who wanted the group to meet every other week now enjoy coming weekly. Read the rest of this entry

The First Small Group Meeting

My wife Vicki and I had fun launching a new small group last night. The first meeting went great. I wanted to tell you how we did it.

Preparation. We did the usual stuff—praying, inviting people, finding a host, choosing the best night and time for this group (Wednesdays at 6:30pm). Then we prayed some more.

Late afternoon before the meeting Vicki and I took some time to talk things over and map out who would do what. When we launch a new group with new people we do pretty much everything ourselves the first couple of weeks because we want to set the patterns.

Starting the Meeting. We got to our host home about 6:15 and talked a bit with our new host. She’s an awesome host—warm atmosphere, nicely arranged room, great snacks. Two couples arrived on time and there were seven of us there at 6:30. A lot of people were yet to arrive but I started a few minutes past 6:30 with three of the Quaker Questions which are super for a new group. I explained that anyone could answer first and that we would always go in a circle. Everyone answered the first question: “Tell us your name and what school you attended for first grade.” Then we did question two: “Who were you closest to when you were ten years old?” By this time another five people had drifted in so I ask people to state their name again, when answering the final question: “When did God become more than a word to you?”

The Quaker questions always work well. They progressively move people to deeper heart issues.

Explaining. This group is what small group experts call a turbo group. A turbo group is a group that you load with emerging leaders so that you can rapidly multiply several new small group out it. Because I was talking to people who know that they will soon be leading their own group, I did a lot of explaining as we went along, things like, “I did three icebreaker questions tonight because this is a new group and we need to connect to each other. In Ephesians 4 Paul says that when we are ‘joined and held together’ as members of one body that we can grow together into Christ’s likeness. We want to deeply connect with each other so that Jesus’ life and ministry can flow freely in and through this group.”

Clarifying the Purpose. The Quaker questions took half the meeting last night so instead of a Bible discussion I just read Acts 2:42-47, which is small group enthusiasts’ favorite Bible passage, then Vicki and I explained the purpose of the group. We said something like this….

Small groups are not a new fad. The earliest church met in both large groups and small groups (verse 46). Today, as in the early church, people need to experience God in two different ways. In a large group they experience God’s greatness and feel like they are part of a movement. In a small group they experience God’s closeness and feel like they are part of a family. Like the early church we want to see God work in powerful ways. We want to see miracles. We want to share deeply with each other in practical ways. We want to encourage and support and challenge each other and see others drawn to him. Our purposes our fourfold:

1. Reaching Upward to God – Experiencing his power, love and gifts.
2. Reaching Inward to One Other – Experiencing deep, authentic community.
3. Reaching Outward to Bring Others to Christ – When asked “When did God become more than a word to you?” our host shared how she came to Christ through loving neighbors who reached out to her at a time of deep need and brought her to their small group. I emphasized that we wanted our group to make Jesus real to people that need him just as that small group had reached our host.
4. Reaching Forward to Multiply Leadership – We intend for three or four groups to emerge from this group several months from now.

Vicki then explained our schedule. We are meeting every week for the next fourteen weeks. The first meeting of each month will a party or some fun activity. We’ll also do one service project sometime this fall.

We answered people’s questions.

Worship. Vicki led three worship songs using her baby Martin guitar. She had made a song sheet with the words of about ten songs on it, five on each side. We’ll use these throughout the fall. She pointed out that having printed words is important. The worship was directed to God and sweet. I was refreshed by God’s presence.

Ministry Time. I ended the worship time be asking the Holy Spirit to speak to us. I told people that God might give them a word for themselves or a word for the group. Then we were just quiet and listened for about 90 seconds.

I asked people to share words or pictures that they received. After people shared, I ask who the words spoke to. We broke into three groups in different rooms to pray for those who responded to the words and others that had needs.

I was trying to end the meeting by 8:00 but we were bumping up against that when we broke for ministry. About 8:10 I told each of the ministry groups that they had five minutes left to pray for one another.

Snacks and Sharing. At 8:15 people drifted back to the living room where the snacks were—popcorn, cookies, M&M’s, and Twizzlers. We passed a clip board around for people to sign up for responsibilities like hosting, leading worship, bringing snack and leading the Bible discussion beyond the first two weeks. People were having a great time and continued to talk about some of the icebreaker questions, asking those that came late what their answers were.

At 8:35 I suggested we leave and the place cleared out. It’s important to end at a good time. One reason it’s nice to have someone else host is so that you as the leader can say “it’s time to leave” and then lead the way out.

Follow Up. Three people who intended to be at the group were unable to come. Vicki dropped them an email when we got home, telling them that we missed them, who was there, and giving them details on the next meeting.

Your Ideas or Questions? That’s how we did it, what questions, ideas or suggestions, do you have about leading the first meeting of a new group?

Ask and You Will Receive

We’ve seen God do lots of cool stuff in our small group lately. Someone’s severely damaged knee went from extreme pain to pain free, another person’s leg was lengthened 1 1/2 inches when they went forward for prayer on Sunday, a friend on our group’s blessing list has come to Christ and is actively involved in the church.

Jesus said simply, “Ask and you will receive.” Praying is one of the most important jobs of a small group leader. How do you cultivate prayer in your life and in your group?

Here are some small things we do to keep connecting with Jesus’ presence and power.

  1. Vicki and I have written the names of all of our small group members on 3×5 cards that we often pray through together in the mornings before I leave for work. We pray for five or six cards each time and have specific things written down that we are asking God for.
  2. I have a list of the guys on a note on my iPhone that I use to pray through once a week or so.
  3. We get to bed on time so that we can get up early and take daily time with Jesus at the start of the day.
  4. We use a “Blessing List” in our small group each week to pray for our friends that need God. Right now our group has two blessing lists that we use weekly. The men have a list and the women have a list. (See the early blog entry “Pray Weekly, Eat Monthly” if you want to learn more about using a blessing list.)
  5. We try to keep our study and worship time relatively short so that we have ample time for ministry time (and snacks!).

That’s it. Nothing profound. But we’ve found we need to keep asking if we are going to keep receiving. What are you doing to keep bringing your small group, its members and friends to Jesus in prayer?

How to Do a Ministry Night

Vicki and I like to mix up how we do small group meetings, especially in the summer. Most weeks we follow our standard format, the 5 W’s—Welcome (an Icebreaker or Opening Question), Worship, Witness (briefly praying for friends that need God), Word (Bible study), Wind (prayer & amp; ministry), and of course snacks. (I know most of our Vineyard small groups do worship between the bible study and ministry times, but our group does worship upfront to include the children in our group before they are dismissed.) Besides the standard meeting format, we often do a party or fun night like a cookout, potluck, pool party or game night.

This month we are taking several weeks just to do ministry nights. Ministry nights are cool. Here’s how they work. After the usual upfront stuff—the icebreaker, worship and prayer for our friends that need God—we simply ask the question, “Who’s birthday is next?”

Then we put that person in a chair in the center of the room and tell them just to relax and enjoy being blessed and encouraged. (If the person is married, we also put their spouse in the middle.) I then encourage the other group members to get up and stand around that person, to listen to the Holy Spirit, to share any words, pictures or scriptures that are coming to their mind, or just to pray or bless that person with what is on their heart.

It’s fun and very encouraging and refreshing for the person or couple in the middle. After we have prayed for them and shared encouraging words with them for ten or fifteen minutes we ask them if there is one special thing they want pray for. Then we pray for that thing and invite the Holy Spirit to fill them anew with his joy and presence.

Then we say, “Who has the next birthday?” And we minister to that person or couple.

You can do a few people a night. Last night we prayed for two couples and one individual. Depending on how large your small group is, praying for everyone will take two or three meetings. If you have visitors, you simply let them choose whether they want to be included or not. I remember a first time guest saying on a ministry night, “I’m coming back next week, my birthday’s next!”

Last week just before we started this month’s ministry nights, I was a little nervous. I thought, if God doesn’t show up, this is going to be a flop! It seemed risky and scary. He did show up. It was wonderful. I have never had the Holy Spirit not show up for a ministry night. He seems to like these opportunities!

This is just one way to allow more time for ministry. What ideas or experiences do you want to share about doing extended ministry in small groups?

Pray Weekly, Eat Monthly

Our small group’s outreach is going exceptionally well right now and I thought I’d share with you what seems to be working. It’s pretty simple, really. We pray weekly for our friends that need God and we do a cookout or potluck each month.

Pray weekly: This is really very simple and doesn’t take long in our weekly small group meeting. Right before our Bible discussion, I hold up a laminated 11×17 inch piece of card stock that says “Blessing List” at the top. (Click on the words “Blessing List” if you’d like to download a PDF of the list.) We have asked each person to add one friend’s name to it—someone who needs Christ and who lives near by. After I pull the list out, we talk about it briefly and I briefly pray over the list and the people on it. Another alternative is to move people into pairs and have them briefly pray for the persons that those two people have put on the list.

You might ask, “Isn’t the list awkward when you have guests?” Good question. That’s why it’s laminated. So as to not make someone feel put on the spot, we can easily erase someone’s name before pulling it out. Having it laminated also allows us move someone’s name up and down on it’s openness scale.

Several weeks ago a small group member brought an unsaved friend who’s name was not yet on the list. When my wife pulled out the list that evening, the person asked that we add her name to it and begin praying for her. Who doesn’t want blessing prayed over their life? I don’t know exactly where this guest is in her journey, she told the group, I believe in God but I haven’t been baptized. You could add my name to the list.” We put it near the top on the scale.
The other thing you discover when you use a blessing list or do some form of weekly prayer is that your members really do care about their unreached friends and family members and appreciate the chance to pray and work together to reach them.

Eat monthly: Everyone likes to eat and it’s very non-threatening for someone to come to a cookout. Last night we had a cookout and our host had invited a non-Christian friend. That person asked if she could bring some of her friends. She came and brought four other non-Christians with her! We perhaps set a record last night. There were 12 adult guests (plus a few of their children), most of them non-Christians.

So, that’s my simple advice. Pray weekly for your unbelieving friends and do something fun involving food each month.

What are your thoughts, questions and advice on small group outreach?

The Best Small Group Icebreaker Question

The icebreaker or “opening question” is very important to your small group meeting. When your group members gather each week their minds are all over the place. Maybe they just had an argument with their boss or their spouse. Maybe they are worried about a looming deadline. Maybe they are wondering if the Cubs are going to blow the post-season AGAIN. An icebreaker question enables them to shift gears and engage with the group and its members.

Icebreakers are also particularly important if you have introverts in your group (which you do!) so that they have a safe place to step into the meeting. They also let you progressively learn more about others in your group (such as your spouse!).

Your icebreaker should be something that can be quickly and easily answered. I think of icebreakers as falling into three categories, which are: “Tell me about…”:

1. Your past. (Ex. What was your favorite television program when you were a kid?)
2. Your present. (Describe your current week in terms of the weather. Was it stormy, sunny, foggy, etc.?)
3. Your future. (What do you want to be when you grow up?)

I consider one icebreaker question the all time best question because it can be used over and over again. I have known some groups to use it every week. I personally use it every month or two with our small group. I use it almost weekly with my guys mini-group and every month at my west zone coaches meeting. It is: “What has been a recent high point and low point in your life?” Sometimes this is called a “High-Low” icebreaker or a “Pow-Wow” icebreaker, because people are sharing a “Pow” (a low point) and a “Wow” (a high point).

Have you tried this question in your group? What is one of your favorite icebreaker questions?

For a sortable list of all of my favorite small group icebreakers, click on the “Icebreakers” tab above or click on this link.