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      All posts in "small groups"

      Book Review: Starting Small (@benreed)

      What is a small group?

      To those outside the church world, a small group might be defined as a tiny grouping of something – a small group of rocks, a small group of kids, or a small group of something else in common.

      Inside the church world, a small group is kind of like a mini-church.  A small group is a way to make a church small and intimate.

      I grew up surrounded by small groups.  My parents were part of small groups for as long as I can remember.  They hosted small group at our house sometimes, and I can remember sneaking out to the dining room to grab some of the delicious snacks set out for their friends.  As I grew older, I started to understand the importance of small groups in my own journey.  In college, I was part of a couple small groups that challenged my faith and pushed me to grow in different areas of my spiritual life.  Since getting married, my wife and I have led and participated in all kinds of small groups.  As a result of these groups, I have seen connection and life change.

      This week, I’m excited to announce the launch of a new book by Ben Reed.  In Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, Ben shares some practical advice for taking small group ministry at your church to the next level.  Whether you are just starting a small group ministry at your church or trying to figure out a way to get new people plugged into small groups at your church, Starting Small will give you some ideas for moving forward.

      Having been part of small group leadership at my church, I can vouch for the content of this book.  It’s practical.  It’s inspiring.  And it’s helpful.  Starting Small will get you thinking about what you can do next to build your small group ministry.  It will refocus you on the purpose of small groups in your church.  And it will inspire you to do something new today with your small group ministry.

      I’m a big believer in the power of small groups to connect people to each other and to God, and I believe Starting Small can help you towards this goal.  For this reason, I recommend Starting Small to small group champions, leaders, and pastors who are interested in taking their small group ministry to the next level.

      Does your church have small groups?  Are you in a small group?  How have small groups impacted your life?

      Please note: I received a copy of Starting Small for free in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to like or recommend this book.  My recommendation is based on my belief in the power of small groups and in the ability of this book to help people find connection through small groups.  Ben Reed speaks from an experience I can relate, and I find his book helpful in your own small group discovery and journey.

      Also note:  There are affiliate links in this post.  If you purchase a copy of Starting Small as a result of clicking on one of these links, I receive a small “commission”.  Any “commission” received will be used to support The Stretched Blog and to support continued ministry in Guatemala.  Thank you!

      Don’t forget to sign up for the weekly Stretched newsletter.  Check out this post to find out how to sign up.

      Book Review: Creating Community (@AndyStanley and @BillWillits)

      For those of you who have been around for a while, you may know that I have a passion for small groups and for seeing people connected and growing in community.  I’ve been to three or four groups conferences over the past decade.  I’ve been plugged into a group of one kind or another for the last fifteen years.  And I grew up in a house where small groups were modeled as a way to connect people to each other and to encourage people to grow in their relationship with God.  I’ve written more than a couple posts about small groups over the past six years.  In fact, one post is among the top viewed posts of all time:  Ten Things Every Small Group Leader Should Know.

      For a while I was helping to lead in the small group ministry for our church, but I took a break for a few years due to other commitments and some other circumstances.  Recently, a friend reached out to me and began to rekindle my passion for group ministry leadership.  As part of our conversation, he passed along a book by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits about building a small group culture.

      Creating Community: Five Keys to Building a Small Group Culture was written to explain the success that North Point Church has had using small group ministry as the center of their strategy for helping people grow in their relationship with God.  Creating Community was also written to help churches and church leaders to develop a course of action that could be vital in achieving the mission of the church.  Stanley and Willits share about the importance of moving church goers from the foyer to the living room to the kitchen.  They share some of their own experiences of what worked and what didn’t work along the way.  If followed closely, I believe their method for creating community will not only catapult groups ministry to a whole new level but it will propel local churches in their pursuit of living out the Great Commission and expanding the Kingdom.

      Creating Community is a quick read.  And I would recommend it to anyone who is passionate about small groups, the local church, and connecting people in community.  Stanley and Willits are not simply trying to create another program at your church.  They are presenting a mind shift for how you do church in general.  North Point, where Stanley is the lead pastor, has grown by leaps and bounds and is having a tremendous impact on the Atlanta, Georgia area.  North Point’s small group culture is a huge part of this growth and impact.

      Check out Creating Community by clicking the link below!

      Are you in a small group?  How has community impacted your life?  What are you doing to invite others into community?

      Answers From Me Part 2: Small Group Studies

      Two weeks ago, I let you (The Stretched Community) ask me anything.  The questions ranged from simple and fun to serious and deep.  As promised, I wanted to answer as many of the questions as possible.  This week, I’ll answer a question about small groups asked by Bridgette Petrino:

      Hi Jon – I have a question for you (or anyone willing to answer)… what are some good small group studies out there? I lead a mixed group (and it’s mostly couples, but age ranges from 30-65 years old). We all get along great. We try to alternate between DVD based and book based, but now with the summer coming DVD based seems good because with vacations, etc. people can jump in and out without missing much. And, there is usually no “homework” in between sessions. It’s seems like there are so many studies out there that I get overwhelmed looking through everything, so I would greatly appreciate some suggestions. Thanks!

      This is a great question, Bridgette!  The right study can make all the difference in the success or failure of a group.  It makes sense to find a curriculum that best suits your group.  It’s great to see that you have such a  diversified group of people in your small group.  At the YS Palooza conference I attended this weekend, Kara Powell (author of Sticky Faith) spoke about the benefits of inter-generational groups in helping people in sticking to God and the church.

      Some of you may not know that I have a huge passion for seeing people connecting to each other and to God.  Small groups are a great place for connection.  Over the years, I’ve led and participated in many small groups.  There’s a lot of small group curriculum and discussion guides that I’ve never used, so I’d love to hear what suggestions others have for this question.  Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed over the years:

      • Making Room For Life by Randy Frazee (book study)
      • NOOMA by Rob Bell (DVD study – This may raise some eyebrows as Rob Bell has been in the news for some of his theological beliefs, but I’ve found this series to be an excellent springboard for discussions.)
      • 40 Days of Purpose by Rick Warren (book and DVD study)
      • Fully Devoted by John Ortberg (this is a discussion/book series that our church is using for the Foundations Class)
      • Supernanny Parenting Discussion Guide by Jon and Leanne Stolpe (This is a parenting discussion curriculum written by my wife and I several years ago based on the Supernanny television series.)
      • Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby (This book study is pretty intense.  I may not recommend it for a summer series, but it’s worth going through when your group can focus more and be consistent with attendance and homework.)

      I could probably recommend a few more, but this should provide a start.  I’m hoping that The Stretched Community will chime in with more ideas to help Bridgette.

      What small group curriculum do you recommend?  What’s worked well in your small group?  What hasn’t worked so well in your small group?

      Beers, Brothers, and Bible Study

      During our vacation, we stayed with my sister-in-law and her family for a couple of days in Columbia, SC.  It was fun to catch up with my nieces and to get a glimpse into the lives of our extended family.

      As part of the visit, I was invited to attend a men’s Bible study group where they were discussing the attributes of a Biblical man and husband.  The discussion was interesting, and I definitely left the meeting challenged to step up in my role as a husband.

      But there was something else that happened at the meeting that really got me thinking.  As the men were filing into the house where we met, we small talked about the newest Burger joint to open up in Columbia, the latest happenings in their church community, and the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State latest news.  As the small talk continued, the host came out with cookies and chips.  And then two six packs of beer emerged from the kitchen that were strategically placed by the chips.

      As the meeting started, a few guys grabbed a beer without a second thought.  Not everyone participated in the beer, and it was certainly not forced on anyone nor was it the focus of the meeting.  I just thought it was a great way for guys to be guys – a way to help some guys feel a bit more comfortable with the group.

      I’m not sure if there’s any Biblical evidence, but I suspect there would be wine or other alcoholic beverages when Jesus gathered with his disciples.  Can’t you just see Peter commenting to John about the great taste of the 4 B.C. wine?

      I realize that this could be somewhat controversial for some.  After all, the Bible clearly states that we shouldn’t do anything that causes another brother or sister to stumble.  So having beer or wine at a small group meeting could be somewhat risky.  But I also wonder if the risk is worth it people who are far from God are drawn one step closer to Him, because they feel comfortable and welcomed by a group of guys doing what guys do – talking about sports, drinking a beer, and talking about things that matter.

      What do you think?  Have you ever had beer at your small group meeting?

      Repost: Creating Community – The Power of Poker

      This week, I’m going on vacation with my family. I thought I’d take this opportunity to republish some old posts from the archives. Feel free to leave comments here or on the original post. Enjoy, I’ll be back next week!

      Today’s post was originally posted in January 2011.  It created a bit of buzz and some great dialog in the comments.

      A guy at our church has been “leading” a monthly Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Group connected with our church’s grouplife ministry. For some of you, this sounds sacrilegious and not quite right – after all, doesn’t the Bible discourage gambling? I guess I understand this viewpoint; however, I would argue that this is the type of group that Jesus would promote. From what we read in the gospels, Jesus hung out with prostitutes, cheaters, and punks. I’ve attended this poker group a few times, and it draws all kinds of people – people who are part of the church and people who are not part of any church. The group’s goal (besides playing cards) is to create an entry point for people to get connected with people from our church. From here, the hope is that they would come to our church and check out other opportunities to get connected and to grow.

      Today, I was blown away when I saw one of the group’s attenders file into church a few rows in front of me with the group’s leader. He quickly received a hand shake and hello from one of the group’s regular attenders who was sitting right in front of him. I’ll be honest, I never expected to see this guy in our church. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. This is the group’s goal, and it’s working.

      So what do you think? Would you consider this a valid part of your grouplife/connection ministry? What other types of groups might serve in this same manner?

      I’d love to hear your feedback!

      Summer Small Group Suggestions

      Last night, our small group (H.O.P.E.) celebrated the start of the summer season with an end of school year picnic/barbecue. It was a great way to celebrate a wonderful year together serving others and growing closer to each other. I have thorough enjoyed watching our kids connect with the kids from the other families in our group, and I have enjoyed bonding with the other adults. I’ve also enjoyed serving together with these wonderful families. Over the paste year, we have made crafts and spent time with the seniors at the Colonnade of Schwenksville nursing home, made a holiday meal for international students at Montgomery County Community College, cleaned up the backyard at the Norristown Community House, packaged books at Cradles to Crayons, served breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House, made packages for cancer patient siblings at the Phoenixville Hospital, stuffed eggs for a local Easter egg hunt, and made cards for soldiers. We have had a great year together!

      As we approach summer, we’ve decided to take a couple of months off while we all enjoy our summer vacations and summer schedule.

      The summer often presents a crossroads for many small groups. Should they keep meeting regularly throughout the summer or should they scale back until the fall? This is a great question.  Here are my ideas for how to approach this season.

      1. Consider meeting regularly. If your group has enough mass, you might be able to get away with continuing right through the summer. If you decide to do this, I would recommend selecting a study topic that allows for group members to come and go. Many group members will likely miss a few meetings, and it’s a good idea to use a study topic that people can jump into at any time.

      2. Consider meeting once a month. This is a great opportunity to keep the group going with a few social events. Picnics, swim parties, and outdoor meet-ups are great ways to stay connected during the summer months.

      3. Consider taking a break. From the introduction above, you can see the this is what our group, has decided to do. We are all pretty busy over the summer, and this break will provide some time to focus on our families. Having said this, I’m already looking forward to meeting again in the fall.

      4. Consider using the summer as a natural end to your group. Sometimes, it can be awkward to stop a group and start over. The summer can provide a natural time to transition from one group to another.  This can also be a great time to release a leader who needs a break from small group leadership.

      If you’re not in a small group, this may not make sense.  I’m praying that you find a small group to call home – to connect – and to find the right balance of grace and truth.  If you’re already in a group, I hope this is helpful as your group approaches the summer.

      Are you in a small group?  How does your group approach the summer?  What other suggestions do you have for summer small groups?

      Foundations Class – Week 3 – Groups

      This past Sunday, I led our third Foundations Class based on Fully Devoted by John Ortberg. Our first class was on Grace. Our second class was about Growth. And our third class focused on Groups. As you may imagine, I was pretty excited about this week. I’m a huge grouplife fan, and I have a passion for seeing people connected in community through groups.

      The lesson for this week reminded me that being in a group is more than just about connection. Being in a group is about experiencing the life transforming power of truth and grace. You see, we all need truth and grace in our lives. If we have too much grace and not enough truth, we will miss out on growth. We will fail to face up to things in our lives that need change and transformation. On the other hand, if we have too much truth in our lives and not enough grace, we will get bogged down in the sin that entangles all of us. We need both truth and grace in equal amounts.

      When it comes to dispensing truth and grace to those around us, we also need to be balanced. We need to speak both truth and grace into those around us. When we fail to do this, we miss out on showing love. My friend, Diane, showed me a great chart that helps to demonstrate this principle. I’ll do my best to explain it.

      Looking at the chart above, Grace is plotted along the x or horizontal axis and Truth is plotted along the y or vertical axis (I love this kind of talk!).  If we fail to show grace and we fail to show truth, it shows are lack of involvement in the lives of others (this is the RED area of the chart). When we show truth and we fail to show grace, we are graceless (the YELLOW area of the chart). On the other side of the spectrum, when we show grace and we fail to show truth, we are lying (the GREEN area of the chart). Where we hit our sweet spot, we show both truth and grace (the BLUE area of the chart). This is how we truly exhibit love towards one another.

      Christian community isn’t always perfect. Over the years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that can sometimes happen even amongst groups that call themselves Christian. We need to strive for the best. We need to be marked as people who love. Love happens when truth and grace coexist. And I believe that small groups are a perfect place to flesh this out.

      Do you have a relationship where grace and truth exist? Are you in a small group? Why or why not?

      Join A Small Group Today

      Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:23-25

      I keep coming back to these verses.  I posted about these verses back on October 13, 2011 and August 15, 2010.  I remain convinced that plugging into a small group of people is absolutely essential to our faith and to our spiritual health and growth.  The Bible clearly presents this as a model for Christ followers.  Yet, many Christians shy away from this type of relationship with other Christians.  Are we afraid of intimacy and transparency?  Are we afraid that others might learn that we’re not perfect?  Are we so independent that we believe we can do it on our own?  Are we just introverted and the thought of opening up to others is terrifying?

      I’m not sure, but I know from my own experience that my involvement with a smaller group of Christians as brought me through some tough times.  It has pushed me to grow and think.  And it at times has made me uncomfortable as I ponder challenges and deal with the ups and downs of those in the group.  This may not sound attractive to some, but I’m telling you – it’s worth it!

      If you’re not in a small group of some type, why not?  What’s stopping you from getting involved today?  I would encourage you to take your own leap of faith by getting involved in a small group this week.  Don’t let it wait until all the stars align with your schedule.

      Today, at my church, we are rolling out the spring groups.  If you go to CCV, this is a perfect opportunity to jump into the mix.  There are groups for everyone at every stage of their walk.  There are exercise groups.  There are service groups.  There are foundations classes and groups designed to go over the basics of what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Christ.  And there are in-depth Bible studies.  Check out the groups catalog on-line, and sign up today!

      If you’re not from my church, seek this out at your own church.  You’ve had enough time to sit on the side lines.  If you’re church doesn’t have small groups or a small group ministry, start a group yourself.  Grab a few other people and start one today.  If you need help figuring this out, send me a comment.  I’d love to help.

      Okay, that’s enough spurring on for today.  Have a great Sunday, and keep STRETCHING!

      What’s your story?  Are you in a group right now?  If not, what’s stopping you?

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