Group Leader Skills: Conversations Between Meetings

The amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place during the small group meeting is directly related to the amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place between meetings.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.

The amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place during the small group meeting is directly related to the amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place between meetings.

I am asked all the time to teach on the small group meeting. The real question seems to be, “How can our group have a life-changing, biblically-driven, story revealing conversation when our small group gets together?” I always go through a list of well-known, often written about ideas:

  1. Be sure to do ice-breakers as they create a conversational environment.
  2. Be sure that as group members arrive you greet them well making them feel welcome and converse with them about their day and what is taking place in their lives so that you deal with those surface conversations before the real meeting even begins.
  3. You as a leader should model vulnerability and transparency so that the conversation goes past surface discussions into real life.
  4. Be sure you’re asking open-ended questions that lead to conversation rather than closed-ended questions that shut down the conversation, etc.

But in almost every instance someone says, “I do all of that but my group members still won’t talk.” My next question, “How much do you and your group members communicate between meetings?” And, in almost every instance, there is a revealing silence. I then state, as I did earlier in this post, “The amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place during the small group meeting is directly related to the amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place between meetings.” Communicating between meetings can take place in multiple ways.

  • Twitter. If group members are tech savvy, and each group member tweets ongoing, group members will know some of each other’s journey throughout the week. Being aware of life-stuff ongoing helps individuals continually sense some level of connection.
  • E-mail one another. E-mail has become an acceptable and appropriate way to share quick thoughts, ideas, opinions, and to pass on jokes, videos that capture our attention, and to communicate prayer requests. In most instances group members will respond in some way. A warning, if your group is made up of 20 somethings or younger they may see e-mail as an old and slow way of communicating with one another.
  • Text messaging. Texting between friends is an amazing way to pass on prayer requests, group member’s opinions about a movie you’re considering seeing, and to just ask another group member how their day has gone. Connection at any level between meetings is better than none at all.

But the best way to make the conversation all it should be when your group gets together is to hear one another’s voices via telephone or even better, face-to-face. Use Twitter, e-mail, or texting to let your group know where and when you’re going to be eating dinner out and invite them to join you. Invite group members to your home for a night of Wii bowling or playing cards of to watch the last episode of your favorite TV show. Find ways, and utilize them, to connect with group members between meetings. This effort between group meetings will greatly enhance the group experience itself.

Rick Howerton has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.

Ice Breakers for New Groups

Icebreakers can be a great way to have a little fun while allowing people in a group a chance to get to know each other a little better. It’s also a great way for each member to begin to hear their voice in the group setting, making it easier for them to share during your discussion time.

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

The following icebreakers are especially suited for new groups or groups that haven’t spent a great deal of time together. Even if your group has been together awhile, there’s always new things to learn about each other. Begin your group time with one of these activities and enjoy the fun as your group grows closer together.

Question Game

Each person writes down a question they want answered in the group. Roll up the questions into a ball. Each person throws his or her question to someone else. Take turns answering the questions. You can have more than one round and ask group members to ask questions that increase risk. (It’s a good idea to briefly discuss positive risk taking and getting to know people in the group).

Interview

Divide the your group into pairs (be sure to ask couples to match-up with someone else for this activity). Ask them to take three minutes to interview each other. Each interviewer has to find 3 interesting facts about their partner. Bring everyone back to together and ask everyone to present the 3 facts about their partner to the rest of the group. Watch the time on this one, and keep it moving along.

Group Bingo

Make a 5×4 grid on a piece of paper and make a copy for everyone in your group. Supply pens or pencils. Each box contains one of the statements below. Encourage the group to mix, talk to everyone to try and complete their card. If one of the items listed on the bingo card relates to the person they are talking with, have them sign their name in that box.

End the activity after 10 minutes and review some of the interesting facts the group has discovered about each other. You can revise or add your own statements appropriate for your group.

  • Has brown eyes
  • Has made the longest journey
  • Has eaten the weirdest food
  • Plays Tennis
  • Is wearing blue
  • Speaks a foreign language
  • Plays a musical instrument
  • Has 2 or more pets
  • Has been to the most foreign countries
  • Hates Brussels sprouts
  • Has 2 or more siblings
  • Name begins with an ‘S’
  • Loves Mexican food
  • Loves to snow ski
  • Knows what a quark is
  • Loves lacrosse
  • Likes to get up early
  • Someone who’s favorite TV show is “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”
  • Someone over 6 ft tall
  • Has read “Gone With the Wind”

Phil Davis has worked in small group ministry for the past eight years and is deeply convinced that transformation and healing occur best within the context of authentic community. Phil is also the Executive Director of Abba’s Way, a ministry dedicated to helping turn the hearts of the father to their children and the hearts of the children to their father.

 

 

Small Group Checklist

With Labor Day behind us and groups getting started in earnest, now is a good time to go over a small group checklist to make sure you have all your bases covered as a group leader.

checklist

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  Connect with each person. Whether you’ve been meeting for weeks or just getting started, you’ll want to be sure to connect with each person in the group personally at least once a month. This is a great way to affirm the people in your group and let them know that they matter. You will get much greater commitment from each person when they know you have a commitment to them.

〈  Assess the group dynamic. Is everyone sharing? Is anyone dominating the conversation? Are group members coming prepared? Can you see that each person is “getting” the key principles being discussed? Once you’ve accessed the dynamic, take appropriate action on areas that need improvement. If you are just beginning to meet, be aware of the dynamic during your first few group meetings and adjust as needed.

〈  Model authenticity. If you want everyone in the group to share authentically and get beyond the superficial, you’ll have to lead out in that respect. Your group members will need to see you be authentic and share the “real” you before they will feel safe sharing what’s really going on inside them. You will set the tone for the level of sharing people feel comfortable with. Remember, however, that healthy groups experience “progressive intimacy”. You don’t share your deepest feelings immediately but gradually share more over time so sharing authentically becomes the expectation of the group, not the exception.

〈  Evaluate the environment. Does the place you are meeting provide the right environment for the group to grow and be transformed? Make sure the basics are covered: temperature set to 68, animals put away, comfortable seats for everyone, pens available, etc.

〈  Look ahead. Take the time to look ahead to the next three weeks of your bible study and make sure you’re prepared and familiar with the content. There may be special supplies needed or you may find something that is unclear to you and requires extra study or possibly asking your  pastor or small group coach for input. You don’t want to walk into group time unprepared or feel rushed trying to clarify an issue. Review in advance so you can lead with confidence.

〈  Know what’s next. If you begin looking for your next bible study during the last week of your current study, you’ve waited too long. You should know what the follow-up study will be and have the materials available for each group member with two weeks to go in your current study. Many group leaders will map out the next two to three studies to make sure they complement and build off each other. Of course, you always want to leave room for the Holy Spirit to guide you when a life situation arises that needs a sudden focus. But for the most part, you’ll want to be intentional and ready to move forward once a study has ended.

〈  Celebrate. One of the best things you can do as a group leader to connect and engage with the members of your group is to celebrate together. Look for opportunities to celebrate such as birthdays, new jobs, promotions, milestones, etc. Ask someone to bring treats or prepare them yourself, but take a moment, or even the whole group time, to pause and celebrate together. You might be surprised at how acknowledging and celebrating good times can bond your group together.

〈  Pray. The greatest thing you can do to help facilitate transformation in a group is to pray for each member of the group daily. By name.

Phil Davis has worked in small group ministry for the past eight years and is deeply convinced that transformation and healing occur best within the context of authentic community. Phil is also the Executive Director of Abba’s Way, a ministry dedicated to helping turn the hearts of the father to their children and the hearts of the children to their father.

 

Icebreakers to Kickoff the Season

Football

Photo courtesy of ThinkStock.

Are you ready for some football? Whether you prefer college or professional, the season is about to get rolling. And even if you’re not a big football fan yourself, chances are pretty good that a number of your group members appreciate the gridiron.

So make good use of the season’s momentum by using one of these football-themed icebreaker activities during your next group meeting.

Remember, the goal of these activities is to help group members engage one another, loosen up, and transition into a discussion experience.

Name Challenge

Consider this a modernized version of the old “sword drills” from back in the day. Challenge your group members to think of NFL team names that are mentioned in the Bible.

There are 11 total, according to the HCSB translation:

If you have time, you could give extra points to those who are able to find specific references to these teams in the Scripture text.

Play Catch

It’s an unfortunately reality that hands-on learners (also called kinesthetic learners) often get overlooked during group meetings. Hands-on learners prefer to process information by occupying their bodies—especially their hands. Working their fingers seems to open connections in their minds and mouths, which means they often get fidgety or bored during a solid hour of sitting still and talking.

So, if you have group members who appreciate physical activity, consider playing a game of catch during your group discussion. Instead of sitting around and talking, stand up and talk while tossing a football back and forth.

You may be surprised at how quickly the “quiet person” opens up and joins in the discussion if he or she is a kinesthetic learner.

Note: you’ll probably want to use a soft football if you’re inside. But there’s no reason you can’t take the discussion outside, if the light and weather make it possible.

Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders.

 

How to Make a Great First Impression

StadiumCrowd

With schools opening their doors again and football kicking off at long last, that can only mean one thing–Fall is approaching. And just like these traditions of the Fall, this is when many churches launch new small groups as well. For those group leaders who will be hosting a new group, it’s always important to make a great first impression to the new group members. While you may know a few of the people in your group, preparing for the first meeting of a new group can be a bit nerve wracking, even for even the most seasoned group leader. In an effort to help coach you for that first meeting, here are the Top 5 Articles that will help you kick-off your first group together like an All Pro.

1)  Ten Steps to Help Group Members Connect

Getting complete strangers to not only talk to each other but make it seem unforced can definitely be challenging, however, this article provides practical tips that make connecting group members simple and fun.

2)  Ten Ideas for a Great First Small Group

Good coaches will often “script” the first few plays of a game to help the quarterback feel prepared and get a feel for the game. This article will give you an easy game plan for making your first small group gathering a great one.

3) Five Tips for Leading Your First Bible Study

This is another article to help prepare you for the first group meeting. This deals more with setting expectations and the desired outcomes during the first group meeting.

4) Two Reasons to Create an Experience with Your Group

Inexperienced group leaders will focus on merely managing the meeting, staying on time, and answering all the questions from that week’s bible study. The group leaders that excel understand group time is more than a meeting, it’s about creating an experience. This will help you understand why that’s so important.

5) Three Things Your Group Wants You to Know

If you’ve ever wondered what the members of your group are thinking, this will help bring those thoughts to light. This will provide you with invaluable insight into what the people in your group might tell you, if they weren’t too afraid to say it.

What are some tips you have for making the first group meeting successful and helping the group leader make a great first impression?

The End of Winter Icebreakers

Although it may be difficult to believe (especially in some parts of the country today), the last “official” day of winter is this week!

As we bid farewell to a rather cold season, here are a few icebreaker questions you can use in your small group to get the conversation going”

1. What are you going to miss most about winter?

2. When it’s warm enough, what are you looking forward to doing outdoors? Who first did this with you and why do you think this thing is so fun for you?

3. Which of the following did your family do to pass time during the winter months? Who normally initiated it?

______ Play board games

______ Watch movies

______ Wrestle

______ Sing

______ Play cards

______ Other: _______________

Rick Howerton has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.

Icebreakers and Object Lessons

Do you remember object lessons? That’s when a teacher or facilitator uses a physical object to help make a point or clarify a potentially complicated idea. For example, when I teach about our need to cut sinful behaviors out of our lives, I’ll often hold up a pair of scissors to illustrate the point. Usually, I’ll even ask group members to pass the scissors around during the discussion, simply as a way of enhancing their experience.

Recently, I’ve noticed that many small group leaders choose to turn their noses up at the idea of using object lessons in their groups. They feel like such tactics would be childish—probably because object lessons are in fact a great way to teach small children, which is why our teachers often used them back in school.

What’s interesting is that many creative and engaging pastors have warmed to the idea of using object lessons in their sermons within the past decade. One of my favorite examples involves Francis Chan demonstrating how to eat a Snickers® bar “for the glory of God.”

So what about small groups? I firmly believe that object lessons are a great tool for small group discussions. This is especially true when you have group members who lean toward a more hands-on learning style, which includes a large number of men.

With that in mind, here are a couple helpful examples of how to use object lessons in your group.

Blueprint for Success
Make an impression in your group by getting your hands on an official set of blueprints. You may be able to borrow a set from someone who works in the construction or engineering industries or from any entity that’s paid for a construction project—perhaps even your church. If you can’t find an official set of blueprints, there are plenty of templates available online. (Start here, for example.)

Once you have some blueprints, you can use them to supplement the group experience for a number of themes, including the following:

  • Jesus as the Cornerstone or Capstone of the church.
  • Building your life on the Rock, as opposed to the sand.
  • The importance of making plans in life—or in aligning your life with God’s plans.
  • The importance of counting the cost when it comes to following Christ.
  • And so on.

With any of these themes, simply pass the blueprints around as a way to visually emphasize the importance of planning, building on proper foundations, counting the cost, and more.

Connecting Your Group
Here’s another idea that can serve as an interesting way to remind group members about the connection they share. Start by bringing a long extension cord (at least 25 feet, if possible) to the group meeting. Remind everyone that prayer allows us to “plug in” and gain access to God and His power. Then, direct participants to pass the extension cord around the group so that everyone can take hold of it at the same time.

When participants are linked together by the extension cord, lead the group in an extended time of prayer. Be sure to include both praise and thanksgiving to God, as well as a time of intercession where group members share needs and pray for one another.

Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders.

Winter Icebreakers

I’m sure many of you are about ready to bid farewell to winter, with the unusually cold season that we’ve experienced! Here are some questions you can use in your small group to get the conversation going.

1) We’re in the middle of winter. If you could go anywhere to get away from the cold, where would you go and what would you want to do most when you arrived there?

2) Which of the following would you like to do most to get away from the cold? Why does that location resonate with you?

_____ Go on a Caribbean cruise.

_____ Go camping in Florida.

_____ Sit in front of a five foot tall fireplace at a Colorado ski resort.

_____ Read a book or watch a movie at my own house under a pile of very warm blankets.

_____ Other: ______________________________________________________________________________

3) Winter ends in a few weeks. What is your fondest memory from this winter?

Rick Howerton has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.

Feeling “Happy” Icebreakers

Are you feeling happy? Yes, I know it’s February, and many people around the country are still locked in the cold grip of winter—not to mention that encountering sunshine is a rare treat if you go to work early or come home late.

But don’t lose heart. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. Spring is around the corner! New things are coming soon, if we can just hold on a little longer.

With that in mind, here are a couple icebreaker activities designed to give your group members a reason to smile.

Joyful Moments
Help members connect with the concepts of joy and happiness by playing a video clip of someone experiencing a moment of extreme joy. Such a clip doesn’t need to be overly complicated—just an example of someone experiencing a moment of more-than-usual happiness.

For example, you could play the clip of Rocky Balboa running through the streets of Philadelphia and triumphantly finishing his workout by sprinting up the steps of the Museum of Art.

After you’ve played the video clip (or a few clips, if you’ve got the time), use the following questions to unpack the experience:

  • When was the last time you felt that happy?
  • What kinds of experiences generally help you feel joyful?
  • How would you describe the proper role of happiness in the Christian life?

Joyful Noise
Consider using the technique known as “concert prayer” as a way of adding some diversity to your group’s prayer life. This method involves the entire group praying out loud and at the same time, which produces a collective “joyful noise” directed to God, rather than individual expressions of supplication and praise.

Begin by explaining to the group that you’d like to try a different form of prayer. If this is your group’s first time with something like concert prayer, it’s best to give participants a specific theme for the prayer. For example: “Let’s spend a few moments praising God for the different blessings we’ve experienced this week.” Or, “Let’s take some time to pray specifically for our friends and family members who are in need of salvation.”

After you’ve explained the prayer theme, tell the group that you’d like everyone to pray out loud—and that you’d like everyone to pray at the same time. Give them the goal of creating a unified expression of prayer from the entire group, rather than having each person express themselves one at a time. Also, be sure to explain that you will conclude the prayer at the proper time.

All that’s left is for you to say, “Go.” Group members may be hesitant at first, but give them time. As more and more people pray together, everyone will gain confidence. Once the prayer begins to fade out, you can close by thanking God on behalf of the group.

Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders.

President’s Day Icebreakers

Here are some quick icebreakers you can use with your small group this week in honor of President’s Day!

1. Today is President’s Day (or “Monday was President’s Day,” depending on when your group meets). If you were president, which of the following issues would you be most passionate about? Why do you think this issue resonates with you more than the others?

______ World Hunger
______ Homelessness
______ Human Trafficking
______ Child Prostitution

2. Which of the following person was the President of the United States when you were in high school? What was something you did during that president’s term of service that would have embarrassed him had you been his son or daughter?

Herbert Hoover: 1929-1933
Franklin D. Roosevelt: 1933-1945
Harry S Truman: 1945-1953
Dwight D. Eisenhower: 1953-1961
John F. Kennedy: 1961-1963
Lyndon B. Johnson: 1961-1963
Richard Nixon: 1963-1969
Gerald Ford: 1969-1977
Jimmy Carter: 1977-1981
Ronald Reagan: 1981-1989
George Bush: 1989-1993
Bill Clinton: 1993-2001
George W. Bush: 2001-2009
Barack Obama: 2009-present

3. If you were the President of the United States and you had someone to cater to your every whim, which of the following would you like the most? Why did you choose that one?

_____ A personal chef.
_____ A house cleaner.
_____ To play golf with Tiger Woods.
_____ A driver to drive me places.
_____ Other:

Rick Howerton has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.