March 25, 2014
In the last post we presented the advantages of sermon-based small groups. If you missed it you can read it here.
In this post I want to stress some of the key ingredients needed to raise small groups beyond mediocrity and make them a significant and vibrant part of your church.
Sermon based small groups are a great ministry tool and I'm convinced that they can create an environment in your church where discipleship is fostered in real and practical ways. Here are some key ingredients:
1. Dynamic sermon based small groups are built through a dynamic pulpit
The more inspiring and energetic the messenger the more it will energize and inspire your small group ministry. The heart of sermon based small groups is the sermon, so its natural to expect the source to be dynamic.
Now this may be a hard reality for some to swallow, but a boring messenger will not create the traction needed. People do not want to revisit something that did not engage or challenge them in the first place. So they will not be compelled to get in a group to rehash what didn't move them.
It has been my experience that anyone, even non-believers, who are challenged to live better through a dynamic message that is real, personable, and doable, will see biblical truth in a new light. Think TED talks if you need a reference point.
2. Reinforce the application in the sermon through the small group material
To grow people in their faith needs intention and strategy. The big mistake is to view small groups as an academic exercise, not a discipleship tool. It's very easy to create a small group system where people just sit in groups taking notes and discussing the theological implications of the text. Its another thing altogether to fuel spiritual development that stretches the individual further.
That's why the applicational part of the sermon is so important for helping your church grow more like Christ. Don't just preach on generosity, give tangible ways of experiencing it. Don't just preach on forgiveness, but challenge people to reach out to someone in the week with the offer of forgiveness.
Here is where the small group becomes a valuable reinforcement of the message's application. There is strong accountability when a group is given practical steps they can follow.
3. Build into the groups a vehicle for service
Small groups are a great vehicle for generating excitement or purpose around a particular project or service. You can even target specific groups with specific projects that may be due to their meeting day, geographical area, or demographic make-up.
For instance, what if within the next small group cycle there is an opportunity to serve at the local food bank for one week? This is especially powerful if the particular sermon series is on community service. This can be utilized in a variety of ways but the essential thing to remember is to make the small groups a vehicle for practical discipleship, not just academic learning.
4. Give people an opportunity to opt-out or take a break.
Freedom is a liberating thing! Growth for the average person comes is spurts and seasons, not as a gradual upward curve. Our groups usually run for 10 weeks with a break in between and the understanding that you can opt-out at any time.
This allows individuals to not feel guilty and to grow at their own pace. Further, though counter-intuitive, this freedom actually keeps people more engaged instead of feeling the pressure week in and week out.
Lastly, this becomes a great measurement tool for leadership. If a lot of people are opting out for extended periods, maybe its time to re-evaluate and make some changes.
Building on the previous point, don't neglect analytical tools to measure your groups and their effectiveness. After-all, if small groups are one of the best tools for discipleship, shouldn't you have some idea on whether or not they are doing what you intend?
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