March 11, 2014
September marks the start of fall-programming in many churches. For us, its the launch of our Life Group ministry after the summer hiatus. I've become a staunch advocate for sermon-based Life Groups and hope this post will help you to consider this option when thinking of how to structure your small group ministry (called Life Groups in our context).
A primary goal of church is discipleship. One of the problems that churches face is how to measure it or how to even know if people are growing in their faith. Discipleship is not a one size fits all template and because it is such a difficult discipline to measure, many churches tend to struggle in this area.
I believe one of the best ways to foster an environment for discipleship is to use small groups that are generated by the messages on Sunday mornings. However you form your groups, the material they use should come primarily from the pulpit. The more groups that are focused on the messages the better. Here are the reasons why.
1. It will increase the impact of your sermons
Any one who gets up in front of a congregation week after week will appreciate the fact that their messages will get further traction beyond Sunday. Our church has anywhere from 50-70% involvement in small groups. Not everyone is able to be at church but if they belong to a group that studies the message, they end up going to the site to hear it or end up downloading it from iTunes.
2. It raises the level of sermon engagement
I can't tell you what its like to look out into a congregation and see the majority taking notes. I specifically shape the small group questions to mimic the message. Whenever a significant point or quote or passage is presented there are corresponding blanks for people to fill in.
These become the talking points for the small groups as well as the questions that expand upon them further. Most preachers will tell you, there is more material than can be presented in one message, so a good place to include them is in the small group material.
3. It defuses a couple of ministry misconceptions
When small groups become a significant outlet in your church it empowers the laity in new ways. This helps to diffuse the myth of clergy centred ministry. The second is that ministry can only happen in a particular building (i.e. a church). It helps to flatten the hierarchal nature of many churches and encourage front line ministry.
4. It raises the level of transparency and honesty in the church
The nature of small groups who gather together on a regular basis is that they will at some level become more open. Now you may think this is true of any type of small group which is true to a point, but when a majority of the church is studying the same material, over time there is greater sharing within the community of common struggles.
5. Your messages can have a whole new level of intentionality
This point expands on the first one given above. Suppose you sense that your church is struggling with financial issues. Imagine the impact of a five-week message series on biblical principles on finances where over half the church is engaged in the discussion beyond Sunday. Sermon based life groups have the ability to give the real needs of the church the kind of traction they deserve beyond just a one-off message given on Sunday.
6. It helps to pull in the marginally interested
When a visitor is witnessing a majority of the church taking notes, it raises the credibility and the importance of the message segment. They may not normally be note takers but becoming an active participant in the message helps to engage them at another level.
It has been my experience that the more vibrant a small group ministry, the easier it is for people to begin in a small group. It often becomes the launching pad for greater involvement down the road and in most cases the small group was the first place they made the jump.
7. It provides a powerful model for our children
We've all heard that children learn more from what is caught than was is taught. Nothing is more powerful than parents who are growing in their faith and in their community. Especially if they are witnessing the consistency across the entire church.
8. It is easier to find shepherds instead of experienced leaders
One of the great tensions of small groups is finding leaders who are gifted to oversee a group. This is often one of the limiting factors for many churches. As a result, small groups in many churches flounder because of a lack of leadership. Sermon based small groups, with its focused teaching coming from the message, helps to alleviate this tension. Besides, it is often easier to find people to shepherd the groups which builds a greater sense of community.
9. It sharpens the entire focus of the church
When almost everyone is interacting with the message, as opposed to just listening to it, the church becomes more unified and focused. It is always healthy when a church can create an environment where biblical truth is being engaged openly and consistently.
10. It makes spiritual disciplines a priority
Now some will balk at this because the rage today is all about being a disciple. That means that disciplines like study and reading are not as important as living out your discipleship in practical ways. I tend to agree, but small groups that are sermon based bring together prayer and Scripture study with the particular applicational components from the message. Again, these elements being a consistent part of each week over a large constituency results in building these into the lives of your people.
11. It is easier to tailor tools for measuring spiritual growth
One advantage is being able to create intentional rubrics for spiritual growth. In a church of small groups where everyone is doing their own thing, its hard to know who or what is growing. When a majority of the church is focused together in an area of study it is easier to recognize and witness growth.
In my next blog I will add to this post what I believe are other factors to consider. After-all, we all want our people to grow in their faith and making sermon-based small groups a priority is a great first step.
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