“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.

 

 

The 10 Commandments of Conversational Small Group Bible Study Facilitation

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Facilitating a small group Bible study is one of my favorite things to do. Hearing the combined wisdom of the group, drawing the hesitant group member into the conversation, searching for God’s truth while keeping each other’s opinions in check, and seeing the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as He uses many voices to find out what God is really saying, is a thrill I never get tired of.

Being an effective conversational Bible study facilitator demands keeping a few things in mind. Below are my 10 Commandments of Small Group Bible Study Facilitation.

  1. Thou shalt make Scripture the centerpiece of the conversation.
  2. Thou shalt talk less than 30% of the time (20% would be even better).
  3. Thou shalt prepare easy to understand questions.
  4. Thou shalt ask open-ended questions.
  5. Thou shalt be an active listener.
  6. Thou shalt allow group members to answer one another’s questions (Don’t jump in and answer someone’s question unless you have to.).
  7. Thou shalt make the goal to find out what God is saying (not people’s opinions concerning what God might be saying).
  8. Thou shalt not allow the overly-talkative person to ambush the conversation.
  9. Thou shalt never demean anyone (for a question asked or a response given).
  10. Thou shalt call the group to apply the truth learned (The greatest spiritual growth comes in doing God’s Word, not just knowing 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.

 

 

Four Pitfalls Every Small Group Point Person Should Avoid Like the Plague

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Spearheading a small group ministry has its complexities and because of this it’s easy to experience the fine art of, “leadership gaffes.” Like anyone leading any ministry, company, or movement, we will make mistakes. And, like every other leadership role, there are a few mistakes, if made, that can throw the brakes on the momentum the ministry is experiencing and will sometimes bring the ministry to a near halt.

  1. Lack of long-range planning – Long range planning is the key to having enough leaders in place, enough financing in order, and the staff necessary to keep up with growth. Short-range thinkers may accomplish what needs to be done in the upcoming six months but, if a groups point person isn’t thinking ahead two years, they’ll be ill prepared when the ministry grows exponentially.
  1. Missing the moment – In every small group pastor’s life there are moments that could be turning points for the ministry they lead. The senior pastor asks, “Is there anything I can do to aid you in your ministry? I’ll do whatever you need for me to do.” The wealthy church member takes you aside and says, “I love what’s happening in our small group ministry. If you ever need anything just let me know.” A church consultant or leading voice in the groups movement says to you in the lobby at a conference you’re attending, “I’d be happy to help you any way I possibly can… no cost to you.” I think you get the picture. There are some moments in a group pastors life that could be turning points for the ministry. Don’t miss the moment!
  1. Under staffing – Small group ministry is a relational ministry so it demands that there a people to lead leaders and people to care for and nurture leaders. In order for a group ministry to continue to grow, it’s essential that the church continue to add staff throughout the ministry’s growth stages. Think ahead and be ready to ask for more staff members before the need for them arises. And, if you can’t hire full-time staff, part-time staff members, if led well, can be difference makers.
  1. Over promising – In most situations the small group point person is asked annually to turn in a budget to the finance team for consideration. Some overzealous group pastors dream dreams without considering what the reality really is. They promise 200 new groups in the upcoming year and ask for the finances required to train the leaders of those new groups, pay childcare costs, etc… When they only attain half of that goal the finance team is disappointed… and skeptical. When the groups pastor goes back to that same finance team the following year, the year they really will start 200 new groups, they are more than likely to get half of what they’re asking. When making promises, make promises you know you can keep.