Small Group Member

7 Audacious Practices of Those Who Lead Ice-Breakers Effectively

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Many small group leaders have backed away from doing ice-breakers. As you understood after reading yesterday’s seven reasons for doing ice-breakers, these moments are important if you want to have a transformational conversation.

There are seven audacious practices of those who use ice-breakers effectively that may be helpful.

  1. When asking an ice-breaker question, keep your tone light.
  1. Use questions that anyone can answer easily and none that demand a response that leads the group into deep or dark places.
  1. Be an active listener when each person is responding to the ice-breaker question.
  1. After each person responds affirm them for speaking. This will help get them involved in the deeper discussion to come. Phrases like, “Thanks for sharing, I’m really looking forward to your input in a few minutes.” or “I always appreciate your responses to any of the questions we discuss. I’m especially looking forward to your comments in a few minutes.” etc…
  1. When it’s appropriate, be the first to laugh. When you laugh others will join you in it. Laughter throws the heart open more quickly than almost anything else.
  1. Don’t allow group members to ask follow-up questions of one another. This will hijack your evening.
  1. Keep people’s responses as short as possible and be certain the overly-talkative group member (or anyone else) doesn’t get into telling a long story. You can keep this from happening by asking the question then saying something like, “Let’s each take about 30 seconds.”

 

“Ice-Breakers Suck!”

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I was once again leading a small group leader training event in a southern state. The room was completely full. Over 100 group leaders were there. The small group pastor had invited me to spend 4 hours with them. His one major expectation, “Be sure you help them know how to host an effective conversational Bible study.” Since aiding group leaders in doing that specific thing is one of my passions I was jazzed. That is, until I announced, “If you want to experience a truly transformational conversational Bible study, start with a couple of good ice-breakers.” That’s when the moment went south. From the back of the room came this shout of exasperation, “Ice-breakers suck!”

This is not the first time I’ve encountered group leaders frustrated when ice-breakers are brought up. After interviewing many group leaders who verbalized their frustration with ice-breakers, I find that most of them aren’t personally frustrated. Rather, they’ve had complaints from a few group members when the leader opens the meeting ice-breakers.

There are a few super important reasons to do a couple of ice-breakers before diving into the Bible study conversation.:

  1. It gets group members talking about their own story.
  1. It levels the playing field. A good ice-breaker is simply a question that asks about something from one’s childhood or teen years or asks about a preference you have, etc… It’s a question anyone can answer. And, when you have a garbage collector in the same room as a bank president, when a question of this nature is answered by both individuals, a level playing field is created.
  1. It gives the leader a chance to model active listening for the group prior to the Bible study conversation.
  1. It sets the tone of the meeting as being relaxed. This is especially important when new group members are in attendance or when discussing some heavy stuff during the Bible study time.
  1. It gets the person who is hesitant to talk into the conversation early on.
  1. It allows the non-talker to say something during the meeting, even if this is all they say, helping them to feel a part of the group.
  1. It gives the group leader a chance to speak a word of encouragement to every group member which will make them more apt to speak when the real Bible study begins. After each person responds thank them for sharing then tell them you look forward to hearing from them later.

Provocative… Group Sizes and What Is Best Accomplished in Each

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There seems to be great debate concerning the number of people that make up a healthy group. Part of the reason this is so is due to the fact that today’s church seems to have embraced the idea that almost any group that has fewer people in it than is in a weekend worship service and can fit in one room is a small group.

There are groups of 13 or more meeting in a large classroom with one celebrity teacher proclaiming information to those in attendance. Some call this a small group.

There’s small groups of 4 to 12. These groups have been called small groups for decades.

There’s the disciple making group made up of 2 to 4, one person discipling another person or few others. This too is often called a small group.

So, what’s the deal? The deal is, the term “smaller” (denoting size) has become synonymous with “small” (denoting the actions and activities of a stereoptypical small group, a group of 4 to 12). No group size is the wrong size as long as it knows what it can do best in light of the number of people in attendance.

13 or more – This group is best for the proclamation of The Word of God by an effective Bible teacher. Those in attendance are most apt to sit and listen, take notes, and leave fulfilled knowing they’ve attained knowledge they didn’t have upon arrival. This is more of a university class than a small group.

4 to12 – This group is best for living in intimate Christian commnunity, doing life together. Those in attendance are apt to have a conversation around God’s Word, verbalize their own shortcomings, encourage one another on a personal level, pray for one another’s deepest needs, and leave fulfilled knowing they are not alone in their journey toward Christ-likeness or in the messiness of life. This is more of a family than a class.

2 to 4 – This group is best for high expectation, accountable, disciple making. Those in attendance are led by one person who is discipling them, are driven to memorize Scripture, study the Bible daily, share a verbal witness with others, and leave knowing they are growing toward substantial spiritual maturity. This is more of an accountable disciple making group than a small group or a class.

Seven Reasons A Small Group Should Be 12 or Less People

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The number of people in a small group really does affect the group member’s experience. Some have come to believe that a group of 13, 30, even 50 is capable of accomplishing the same thing in the lives of group members as a group of 12 or less. While it may be true that the group leader can promote the same principles and practices, there are at least seven reasons why this ideology may be impractical.

  1. Only a group of 12 or less will experience close, intimate relationships between most or all of its members. This is a group dynamic fact, not an opinion.
  1. When a small group is more than 12, fewer and fewer people are bold enough to engage in the conversational Bible study.
  1. When a group is more than 12, people begin to feel that they are unnecessary to the group and are more apt to miss meetings.
  1. When a group is more than 12, there isn’t time for all the group members to share their thoughts and perceptions during the conversational Bible study.
  1. When a group is more than 12, in most instances, a few people ambush the conversational Bible study each week.
  1. When a group is more than 12, group members are less apt to step outside their comfort zone and pray aloud for the first time, read Scripture, share their spiritual journey, etc… and it is in stepping outside our comfort zones, in faith, that God grows us.
  1. When a group is more than 12, people are capable of hiding in the crowd and ultimately will get lost in it.

 

 

Three Outrageously Dangerous Group Leader Types

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Being a small group leader is a seemingly overwhelmingly responsibility. At least, that’s what some will say. I actually believe that almost anyone can be an effective small group leader. That is, anyone whose heart is in the right place. Sorry to say, not everyone’s heart is in the right place.

There are three group leader types that may be hazardous to those they lead as well as being a hazard to the reputation of the small group point person, the church leader that allows them to lead.

They are…

  1. The self-proclaimed Bible scholar – There are those people who long to lead so that they have an audience to teach. These types will study hours upon hours so that they can, “teach a lesson.” The self-proclaimed Bible scholar sees himself or herself as the only expert in the room and they speak to others in the room as though this is true. These group leaders don’t lead a discussion that allows the Holy Spirit to teach the group, they declare a message that allows them to prove their level of biblical understanding. Don’t get me wrong. These people may have the gift of teaching, a gift that should be exercised, just not in this way and for sure, not during a small group meeting.
  1. The self-taught psychologist – A plethora of books, tv shows (Dr. Phil), blog posts, and Facebook videos are available that tell us about the human psyche. And many people, even some group leaders, are learning the lingo and giving their hearts to the diagnosis of and emotional healing of their small group members – in lieu of leading the group to learn, embrace, and live the Gospel. While every group leader should aid group members in their emotional healing, every group leader’s primary role is to promote the Gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Confusing psychology with theology will lead to little spiritual growth and will oftentimes lead the group members to believe that God’s primary responsibility to make them happy rather than their role being to bring glory to God.
  1. The self-aggrandizing long-term leader – On rare occasions a group leader that’s been in the game for some years concludes that they don’t need a coach, don’t need input from the church’s group point person, and don’t have any obligation to be held accountable for anything they do. This leader type is extremely dangerous. The self-aggrandizing long-term leader is desperately dangerous because they are apt to become so emotionally separated from the group ministry that they run rampant. And a group leader running rampant is apt to, 1) discuss decisions made by the small group ministry leadership team with other concerned leaders creating a debilitating coalition, 2) feel no obligation to be held accountable for what they study or teach which could lead to false teaching taking place in their group, 3) through their attitude and actions lead other group leaders to believe it’s okay to be a self-aggrandizing long-term leader.

Four Times a Small Group Leader Must Speak Up

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I’m often asked, “How would you describe the role of a small group leader?” The answer to this question isn’t difficult to respond to. Having mulled this over for many years and considering what most churches require of the individuals who lead a small group, the response is simply, “A small group leader is the pastor/shepherd of a small congregation.”

One of the responsibilities of a pastor shepherd is to protect the flock from those things that negatively affect the hearts of the people in their group. With this in mind, there are four times a small group leader must speak up.

  1. When someone in the group is verbally bullying another group member. Once in a great while there will be someone in a small group whose tone, intensity, and body language is purposefully used to intimidate other group members. When this person is using these manipulative tools with the entire group or individuals in the group, the small group leader must speak up.
  1. When there’s conflict between group members. Too many group leaders choose to ignore it when people in the group are at odds with one another. Sooner or later, 1) there will be a verbal explosion during a group meeting, 2) one or other of the group members will leave the group, or 3) the group leader will be drawn into the conflict, not to resolve it, but to choose a side. When there’s conflict between group members a wise group leader will step into the situation as soon as possible and mediate a conversation that leads to resolution and reconnection.
  1. When group members are gossiping about other group members. Gossip will almost always lead to devastating relational consequences. Like roaches, gossips hide in dark places, come out at night when they can’t be noticed, and dirty everything up. The same is true of a gossip. If a small group leader is going to protect the hearts of those they lead and the unity of the group, that group leader must, when they are made aware of it, confront the gossip and aid them in learning to, “remain silent” and “speak the truth in love.”
  1. When a coalition has been built. Perhaps nothing is more dangerous to the unity of a group than when part of the group becomes a coalition of disgruntled conversationalists. Coalitions are built when a few people begin gossiping with one another about group life, someone else in the group, others in the group, and/or the leadership of the group leader. People who are part of a coalition intuitively empower one another and sooner or later, during a group meeting or in a one on one conversation the group leader will hear these words – “A few of us have been talking and…”. That statement is almost always followed by a complaint, a complaint that has the backing of everyone else in the dastardly coalition. When a group leader realizes there’s a coalition in the group they lead, they should meet with those people, hear their concerns, and aid them in understanding that, when one of them has a concern they should come to the leader of the group, not begin polling the other group members.

 

 

The Route to Koinonia As Gifted to the Small Group Movement in the 1990’s

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Sometimes those who are part of or join a movement needs to ask themselves, “What have we forgotten that made us who we are?” Maybe some of us in the groups movement would do well to consider that question. Over the last few months I’ve been rereading some books that shaped my view of small group ministry. Going back to John Wesley in the 1700’s right up to small group books I read last year. These readings have taken me on quite a journey, a journey into some fundamentals of group life that may need to be remembered – and rebirthed.

If you’ve been reading the blog this week you know that I’ve been sharing portions of Lyman Coleman’s, Serendipity Encyclopedia, a man and writing that shaped much of my thinking about group life.

Today I want to allow Lyman to enlighten all of us by unearthing his baseball diamond strategy, a strategy that gives us four bases, the four bases that take a group from simply knowing one another to living in biblical koinonia.

He calls this strategy, The Baseball Diamond. He’s schooling us once again.

The Baseball Diamond.

We are ready to ask the questions, “What does group building look like?” and “What is the process for becoming a group?

The best illustration we can use is a baseball diamond, with home plate being “koinonia” or depth Christian community. This is what a small group needs to become… like the Upper Room gathering in the 50 days leading to Pentecost. And to get to home plate, you have to go around three bases like the three bases of a baseball diamond.

 

First Base: History Giving. Some people call this “unpacking.” We call it “history giving” because we want you to tell your spiritual story to one another.

  • YOUR PAST: Your roots. Early memories. Significant people and places. Milestones in your spiritual development.
  • YOUR PRESENT: Where you are right now in your spiritual pilgrimage.
  • YOUR FUTURE: Where you want to be. Your hopes and dreams.

Your “story” is important to your group if you are ever going to be a caring community. The GREATEST GIFT you can give your group is the gift of your story.

 

Second Base: Affirmation. Some people call this “feedback, “ but feedback could mean negative response and we do not believe a group should ever engage in negative feedback.

We prefer the method that Jesus used when he called Simon a “Rock,” and changed his name and his life with this affirmation; or when he said to Zacchaeus, “I see you as a son of Abraham” – that is, somebody of value. (He in fact, was a son of Abraham, but he wasn’t acting like one… and it took the affirmation of Jesus to help him see this.)

Second base is saying something like, “Thanks for sharing…”; “I appreciate what you shared…”; “Your story became a gift to me…” we specifically work on this in the group-building process.

 

Third Base: Goal Setting. Once affirmed, the group is ready to move on and share on a deeper level. This is sometimes called the need level. Ask the group members to explain this in the positive: “Where do you need to move on…” “What is God saying to you?” “What is keeping you from…?”

Third base is what the disciples must have shared when they returned to the Upper Room after Christ’s ascension – scared, frightened, confused and hurting. Can you hear the disciples in the room saying, “I can’t believe that God has left us”; “I’m afraid”; “I’m angry”? And can you imagine the Holy Spirit beginning to reach out to these hurting people and “bind up their wounds” as he had promised? The Holy Spirit was discovered in this atmosphere of broken people.

 

Home Plate: Koinonia. Nowhere in the Bible is the Greek word koinonia defined. It defies definition. But the disciples must have experience something in the Upper Room, because they were empowered with a new kind of power. The “walking wounded” became the “wounded healers” in this community of love and support.

Some have tried to describe this as bonding, as catharsis, as a symphony orchestra of individual instruments – each contributing their gift. But once a group reaches this level of being, lives are changed and the church becomes alive! The power and ministry of the Holy Spirit is released. This is what the first six to eight weeks in a small group are all about – birthing and bonding.

 

All of us should be thankful to Lyman for his decades of traveling across the nation, for months at a time, teaching church leaders how to do small groups. While you may not agree with all that he says, you should never question that you have the opportunity to lead a group ministry because Lyman Coleman started a movement that continues to this day.

Thanks Lyman!

You’re amazing!!!