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Getting BIG Results with Small Groups
a Small Group Leaders Training Manual Web Sample by Rev. David Weidlich, Pastor, Cooper Mountain Presbyterian Fellowship
Building Community In Your Small Group
Acts 2:44-46: All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
What is Community?
The biblical word for community, koinonia (Acts 2) involves more intimacy than just fellowship. It literally means, "having things in common." In a Christian community, such as a church, or especially a small group, a person should have relationships that can withstand crisis and differences of opinion.
This is the kind of community Christ intended to found here on earth. It's the kind of community you can lead.
In other words, a place where we can love each other and practice our spiritual gifts.
This is what a small group can do that large group worship service cannot begin to accomplish.
When a group first begins meeting, community building is a necessary focus. People need to know each other before committing themselves to a longer action plan.
-from Good Things Come In Small Groups, p. 99.
A Community Test:
When you ask for prayer requests, are the responses like this: "Pray for my neighbor's aunt who is in the hospital" or can someone say, "Pray for me, I'm having tests done and I'm scared for my life?"
Can someone tell the group, "I was a recovering alcoholic but last week I got drunk." Or "I'm out of work, and I just can't seem to get myself motivated."
Five Levels of Communication:
1. Cliche conversation. Discussing "safe" public information takes place during the first few minutes of a meeting. Topics include the weather, family and friends, and current affairs.
2. Sharing information and facts. People talk generally about events, ideas and facts, but not about themselves, their commitments, and their beliefs about Scripture.
3. Sharing ideas and opinions. This deeper level of communication involves a willingness to talk about personal ideas and opinions. There is some risk-taking at this level.
4. Sharing feelings. People are willing to risk telling group members what they feel, not just what they think. Members are less protective and more open.
5. Peak Communication. The deepest level of communication involves openness, transparency, and self-disclosure. It is a risky and rare but powerful level of communication.
The task of building community is actually the art of relationship building. The leader's job is more complex, because he/she is not only working to build their relationship with group members, but is also encouraging and facilitating group members building relationships with each other.
How can we build real community?
1. Get to know each other.
It starts with getting acquainted, but we must go beyond- to deeper levels of interests, beliefs, values and feelings. The leader must value and model this. Let group members get to know the real you, first on more superficial levels, then on a deeper level. When group members see you do this, they will know it's okay for them to do the same. The great thing is--as we get to know each other better, we like each other more.
To communicate the reality of God we must share our humanness...that inadequacy of ours which made us need Him.
Schedule time in the group meeting for talking about yourselves, telling life stories- in the whole group or by dividing up into pairs or fours.
Discuss specific application from your Bible study: "What has this passage said to me? What am I going to do about it?"
Structured Experiences: (Good for the first meeting) Have each person finish these statements: "My name is.... The most exciting thing I did this summer was ..."
More questions to help people tell their story: "What is your favorite place in the house and why?" "Where did you live and what were you doing when you were in 6th grade?" (deeper:) "When, if ever, did God become more than a word to you?" "Who is one person in the Bible (besides Jesus) you identify with and why?"
(At 3rd or 4th meeting) "Let's go around and have each person give a 'weather report' describing how you feel tonight." This is good to do periodically.
For more community builder ideas, check out the icebreakers in All Aboard by Serendipity House. The book Good Things Come In Small Groups, has many great community builder ideas in chapter 16.
Schedule time with group members outside the group meeting- one-on-one, two-on-two (lunch, dinner).
Outside group activities: barbecues, picnics, camping, retreats.
2. Accept and enjoy diversity.
We need to not only appreciate our differences, but work with one another with those differences.
Each one in your group is God's creation.
It is God who made us different- the spiritual gifts (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12)
3. Care for individual needs.
When someone's weather report comes up "hurricanes," you better ask about it. Ask what's going on to manifest this report. That person will then be more able to tune into the Bible study.
At times, you'll have the opportunity to perform specific acts of service: meals at a time of birth, illness, death, or help with transportation, etc. Don't miss out on these opportunities.
4. Open up lines of communication.
Encourage group members to say what they're feeling as well as what they're thinking. People bring the baggage of the day with them when they come to your group. You can help them unload some of it by talking about it.
Bring the obvious out into the open. For example, if Sally is weeping, hand her a tissue and say, "Sally, it's okay to show emotion here. You don't have to explain. But if you'd like to, we'll listen." If Joe is yawning and nodding off, and it irks you, you can (kindly) say, "Joe, are you OK?" This way you give Joe the chance to say, "I'm really tired from a recent trip, I don't know what good I'll be, but I really wanted to be here."
5. Practice active listening and expect group members to do the same.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...
How you lead your group in personal sharing will determine to a large degree the closeness your group achieves.
Active listening requires expectancy, interest, involvement and caring. Passive listening requires nothing from the listener; no involvement, no interest, and no response (a rock can do that).
Suggestions to aid active listening:
When you do these things, the speaker will feel accepted. Plus, you will demonstrate to other group members how the speaker should be treated.
These suggestions for active listening would be good for sharing with your group. Even if you're a good listener, all it takes is one judgmental person to stifle deeper communication. Sometimes, your patience in listening may be interpreted by a group member as lack of knowledge or unwillingness to speak out for the truth. If they know why you're sitting silent, they will be less likely to butt in. If your group is going to be a safe place for deeper levels of communication, your group members will have to agree to be good listeners.
These principles are important, not only when someone is sharing a deep need, but also when someone is answering one of your study questions. Be sure to affirm each one who speaks with some acknowledgment: "Thank you for sharing" "That's an excellent insight" or "interesting viewpoint."
6. Be clear about expectations.
Spelling out expectations for group members can help avoid conflict and frustration. Do this at the beginning using the Group Covenant. Also pay attention to the less formal ways we communicate expectations. Consistently beginning on time communicates your expectation of punctuality, more so than a Group Covenant.
Group members will feel more loyalty for the goals of the group if they have a part in forming those goals. Some of the goals of your group are formed by the Covenant Groups program or by you ahead of time. But many goals can be fashioned by your group. For example: what will we do with children, what time will we end, who will provide refreshments if any, do we want to do things together outside of our group time? Several other questions are listed on the "Group Covenant" worksheet.
Prayer in Covenant Groups
The Christian's Number One tool for meeting another person's need is prayer to God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. We've placed prayer under the category of Community, because prayer is the function of a Christian community.
However, group prayer is very intimidating to some. Besides being a deeper level of communication (hopefully), some are worried about using the right words, tones, postures or whatever else they associate with "correct prayer."
Think of the joy that comes when a baby mumbles her first "Da Da." There's a similar joy in escorting a timid seeker to the throne of the Creator God, holding their hand as they venture their first syllables of public prayer! You can do this if you approach the opportunity with care and patience.
Here are some good guiding principles for group prayer:
There are several factors which affect the depth and closeness of a group during its lifetime. For instance, if very few people show up one week, communication has been broken temporarily and as a result, "closeness" suffers.
Here are some external, environmental factors which you should be aware of:
Group Size: The larger the group, the more impersonal it is. It is more difficult for everyone to be heard in a large group. It's also easier for an individual to "hide" in a large group (which may be okay for a while). The leadership must necessarily be firmer, resulting in less interaction among group members. In a group of 6-8, there is more potential for intimacy. The best Covenant Group size is 6-12.
One way to still achieve intimacy in a group larger than twelve is to break up into two or three groups for the discussion part of the Bible study. That way you double the participation opportunities.
Frequency of Meetings: The more often a group meets, the closer it can become. A group meeting monthly will need much longer to achieve intimacy than a group that meets weekly or every other week.
Location and Seating Arrangement: The governing principle is that those who see each other will talk to each other. That's why it makes good sense to seat the group in a circle (with no corners) where everyone can see and be seen. Any person sitting behind anyone (a second row) or out of view of everyone is probably going to feel excluded. Covenant Groups usually meet in homes because a living room is usually more comfortable than a classroom. And a living room or family room is the right size, as opposed to meeting in the middle of a large room.
Help! There's a need we can't meet!
Besides meeting needs for growth, worship, community and outreach, your group will be able to meet many other needs. Some may be helping a group member move, taking flowers and meals to a sick member, providing a listening ear and a prayer by telephone, and dozens more. But every Covenant Group Leader must know when they are in over their head. You need to be aware of the limitations of your group. Those limitations are defined by your purpose and group covenant. One expectation is that the group exists for the growth of all its members. When one person's problem dominates more than one group meeting, others' needs are not being met.
Fortunately, saying that your group cannot meet some need is not to say the need cannot be met. Know when and where to refer. Refer to a pastor or professional Christian therapist when a group member displays emotions that threaten violence to self or others. Refer when you just don't have the time or energy for the need that is expressed. When a group member becomes so emotionally involved they cannot help but dominate group meetings, refer that person to a counselor or a more highly structured group (recovery or therapy group). Consult the appendix of this training manual for a current Referral List. If in doubt, call a pastor.
How do you keep the group from becoming a counseling session that focuses on just one person's need?
1) Continually emphasize that the group exists for the benefit of all its members. Everyone should be given the opportunity to be heard, therefore, everyone must be brief when speaking, so others have the same opportunity to speak. No one should dominate. If you exemplify and enforce this early on, you'll have less trouble later.
2) Refer to another time and place. When an individual is going through crisis and needs to talk about it, allow enough time for that person to briefly tell the group what's going on. Then provide closure by saying something like: "Madge, it sounds like you really are going through some rough weather. We want to help if we can. After our meeting is over, but before you go home, can we get together and talk and pray about it?"
This document maintained by David Weidlich. Material Copyright ©2001 David Weidlich