SGL: Dealing with Conflict Between People

As a home group leader you hope you will have a happy group of people, all growing fervently in their relationship with Jesus. And that is the case most of the time. However, there will be occasions when there is conflict with or between others. How do you keep the peace so things don’t blow up? Do you ignore it, laugh it off, or come down strong? Continue reading

SGL: Home Group Participant Church Involvement

Home groups are where people can get real. The worship service is the place where people have their best foot forward, they get to experience a moment of “heaven on earth” with connections and singing and they can be taught blessed truths from God’s Word. But the worship service is not a place where very many will want to be very open about challenges and growth opportunities in life. Continue reading

SGL: How to help Faithfulness in Attendance

Small Group Leadership: How to help Faithfulness in Attendance 

            We live in a culture that has a multitude of options.  People can watch hundreds of shows if they have cable, and they can call or text with another any time they want and very inexpensively.  There used to be party lines when I was a boy.  A party line is where several families in different homes used the same phone line and you had to wait until another family was off the line before you could make a call.  Of course, you also could listen in on conversations, if you were very quiet.  That is not an issue today as almost every person in every family has their own personalized cell phone number. We have developed a technological society in which we can do what we want almost when we want it. 

            We live in a time when people are not faithful in church attendance.  Church is important to many Christians, however, for many others, it is one of those things to add to the schedule and then when it is convenient, “You can count on me!” I was speaking to a pastor-friend who lives out west and he mentioned that if a person comes to church twice a month, they are considered committed – and that’s for an elder or deacon! 

            We live in a hedonistic society that can enjoy almost anything it wants and that’s just the acceptable opportunities.  A person can watch just about anything he wants on television, he can travel just about anywhere he wants to enjoy incredible beautiful scenery, he can attend a multitude of sporting events, or a whole host of other options. How do you suppose that affects attendance in a small group?  How does that affect things, especially, when there are very few who are starving or going without, because of all the government programs?  Who really needs God? 

            Everyone needs God, but only those who choose to seek first the kingdom will be faithful in attendance and use every opportunity to grow and encourage others to be faithful in connecting, becoming equipped and multiplying for the sake of the kingdom.  How can you encourage others to be faithful in attendance?  This is not an area that I have mastered.  I’d like to say I have the magic formula, but these are only a few suggestions.

            First, pray for your group (Jam. 5:16).  All the suggestions in the world will be fruitless unless God is working in their lives, unless people are responding to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, unless people are motivated by a love for Jesus Christ and love for others, and unless people make the choice themselves.  You can manipulate people to come, but if it is not by their own free will, they will become unfaithful in attendance again, once your prodding dissipates.

Secondly, tell people you are glad they came (Rom. 16:16).  People appreciate the connection and affirmation.  The technology boom is actually hurting real relationships and people thrive to know they belong and can have fellowship.  Texting, etc., is helpful to communicate data, but social relationships and the emotional sense of belonging lack satisfaction in our culture.  I encourage you to tell people you are glad they came rather than thanking them, because thanking them may make them think they have done something great, when they should be thanking you for having a home group.  If you thank someone for not doing anything, their pride can easily set in.

            Thirdly, call people who were missing (1 Cor. 12:25) .  This lets people know you care and are interested in them.  It also prevents time from passing and finding out several weeks after the fact that they had a major struggle in their life, like the death of a parent, trouble with a child, or a divorce. Don’t hesitate to call and just say, “We missed you last night, is everything going well for you? Is there anything we can do for you?”  That keeps the questions from being judgmental or critical and allows the person an easy choice not to return.

            Fourthly, spend time with them outside of the meeting (1 Jn. 1:7).  There are times when a strong relationship can be built outside of a meeting for connection.  The outside time shows the person that they matter and it is an opportunity to ask questions that you may not want to ask in the group.  People are becoming more and more “shy.”  That seems like an acceptable reason why people don’t get involved or become committed.  It is really just a form of self-centeredness, because the person is not concerned about others as Scripture commands.  The outside meeting with someone may be an opportunity to exhort and admonish what you wouldn’t do in front of others.

            Fifthly, give them opportunities to serve within the gathering (Gal. 5:13).  These are opportunities for ownership in the group and a reason for consistent attendance.  You must give opportunities to serve within the group any way, because that is part of discipleship.  People need to participate in the small group if they are going to be trained and prepared to multiply for the sake of other home groups. 

            Sixthly, exhort them to do the homework (Phil. 4:9).  Show them how much better the discussion goes when they prepare prior to the meeting by looking over the passage, their own sermon notes and preparing answers for the Message Based Discussion Questions (MBDQ).

            These are just a few tips and suggestions for how to develop greater commitment and faithfulness in attendance.  Ultimately, they have to make the choice.  If they are not pursuing the Lord Jesus Christ and the upward call of God in their lives (Phil. 3:12-14), they will spiritually wilt when the sun gets hot or their circumstances become difficult.  Your role is to be faithful and keep training your people and meeting them where they are.  Don’t let go.  Don’t give up.  Don’t get discouraged.  Your faithfulness will inspire faithfulness in them.

            You may have other suggestions. You can freely make them in response to this article.  May the Lord multiply our ministries!


SGL: How to Encourage People to Talk

Small Group Leadership: How to Encourage People to Talk

            For people who are content just sitting and listening, how do you encourage them to talk in a small group? Permit me to over-generalize. There are some people who are extroverts and they often talk without thinking or without considering that there are other people in the room.  Then there are introverts, who would rather die than talk.  The purpose of the home group (small group) is to connect people to worship God, equip people in grace to become more like Jesus and multiply to reach the world with the gospel.  If people only sit and listen they will never spiritually advance into the aspects of equipping and multiplying.  Therefore, leaders must encourage people to talk and even take active roles of leading and facilitating.  How can a leader accomplish that?

            Why don’t people talk?  They have not been discipled regarding spiritual growth.  They had probably said something in the past that embarrassed them and they don’t want to look like a fool again.  Or maybe they gave a wrong answer and the leader or other participants made fun of their wrong answer.  They feel like they failed and no one wants to fail.  Or they want to be approved and if they give an answer that is off topic, a little “weird,” or not very spiritual, they might be found out as a spiritual fake. People are inhibited because they don’t want to look like a fool, to fail, or to be found out as a spiritual fake. It is because fearis a great inhibitor for speaking in public, even if there are only a dozen people.

            I know many people who are greatly inhibited.  They may be introverted or maybe hurt in some other situation that makes them willing to be a part of the group, but not wanting to risk saying something others will criticize or ridicule.  In any case, they will need encouragement to participate.  Here are a few suggestions to encourage quieter people to talk.

            First, get people talking with an ice breaker.  An ice breaker is a question, activity, prayer request time, or humorous illustration that requires each individual to participate and respond.  I normally use one of the above and then ask for a response from every person.  The activity or question must be easy enough that anyone can participate or answer the question.  It can be as easy as, “What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?”  That was from a recent Message Based Discussion Question from a sermon on “Music and Worship.”  I have also led playing the piano and getting everyone to sing a well-known song and then asking what their favorite song was.  Everyone can respond to that.

            Secondly, affirm what is said. When a person responds to an answer, verbally affirm the words, without adding to what they say.  Your affirmation can be words, a tone of “Hmhmm!” or pleasure with your face to the person.  Have good eye contact when someone is talking.  Don’t be concerned about what you are going to say next.  Show by your face and body language that you are interested in what they have to say.

            Thirdly, use simple questions to get the person talking.  Use follow up questions once they have spoken to give them immediate encouragement.  In the Message Based Discussion Questions, especially in the “Digging Deeper” section, I ask a simple question based on the message or a passage of Scripture with a fill in the blank line.  Then I ask one or more other questions as follow up questions.  The fill in the blank is something just about anyone could answer, and that gets the cogs going so they will risk answering the other “deeper” questions.

            Fourthly, when a quiet person speaks, affirm them without making an issue of them.  This is an advance on the second principle, because it means that you should not patronize the person.  People who don’t like to talk, do not want you to make an issue of them.  They want to be included with the group.  If you make an issue of their response, whether brilliant or not so brilliant, they will be less inclined to respond in the future.  Affirm, but do not go overboard in your words.  Treat the person like you appreciated what they said, but you non-verbally considered that they would know the answer like anyone else.

            Fifthly, laugh with people, not at people.  Laugh loudly to bring joy, happiness and even hilarity.  But never laugh at the person.  You can laugh at the response if it was funny, but never so that the person thinks you are laughing at him.  He will clam up and you will need weeks of assurance or affirmation to get him to talk again!

            It’s up the leadership team to help people talk.  If people don’t talk, they will never learn to disciple others.  If they do not learn to disciple others, they will never be equipped, nor will they multiply disciples for the sake of the kingdom.  It is not about the leader doing all the talking.  It is about encouraging people to talk, so they can learn to articulate (explain) biblical truth and become leaders themselves.


SGL: Leading a Home Group: How to Encourage People to Pray

Leading a Home Group: How to Encourage People to Pray

            Prayer is an essential ingredient for growth in the Christian life. There are three ingredients for growth, which include prayer (or faith), God’s Word and God’s empowering Spirit (Rom. 15:13-14).  As these three ingredients work in the relational environment of a small group, people will grow and want to pray. 
We listen to God communicate to us by listening to the reading, teaching and preaching of God’s Word.  We listen to God as we study and meditate on His Word.  But a relationship with God is built on two way communication.  People will never “know” the Lord, unless they have a dynamic prayer life.  That prayer life is developed over time.  We must help all Christians learn how to talk to God, just like a parent will help a baby learn how to talk to the parent.
            Yet, prayer is often a scary thing for some people.  For others, they hide behind the “shy” personality moniker or some others are just lazy and don’t feel like praying.  Here are several things you should consider in helping your group learn how to pray and grow spiritually to overcome their fear. 
First, people are afraid to pray in public. Even though they are talking to One who loves them more than anyone else, public prayer is like public speaking – it scares people to death!  They feel they might say a wrong word. They feel they might say something wrong. They feel awkward.  They can’t see God!  So for new people it’s frightening.
Secondly, people think praying is only for super spiritual people.They hear pastors and others give “eloquent” or really “spiritual” prayers and they think they have to pray like that also, or they better not pray.  Some don’t think they could ever sound spiritual enough, so they would rather remain quiet than say something that might come out “less spiritual.”  As a pastor, I think that way about my prayers at times.  Sometimes a prayer flows well, but other times, it seems like I stumble over myself or forget something important.  Yet, God knows my heart and I keep leading in prayer, because I know God wants me to talk to Him and lead others.
Thirdly, people have not been taught to pray.  Granted, prayer is just talking with God, but it is a big deal for new Christians.  There is no agenda, or order, or beginning or end that has to be said.  Using Scripture is the best thing to use in prayer, but it’s not an absolute, especially for new Christians.   If someone is a little nervous, they choose to think they don’t know what or how to pray.

Fourthly, people think what they pray must sound spiritual, intelligent and profound.  Fortunately, God hears the prayers of children often times more than the prayers of adults.  God is concerned with the faith behind the prayer more than the content or manner of prayer.
So what do you do?  I’ve tried things like asking people to pray one sentence prayers.  I’ve tried praying very simply so no one is intimidated.  I’ve tried asking who would pray for each of the prayer requests (but then that’s all they pray for and they are still uncomfortable).  But I’ve found something that seems to work.
In my home group, we close by praying around the circle.  I open the prayer time up for prayer requests, which I write down and then I tell the group that we’re going to go around the circle in prayer.  You can pray as you desire, or if you’d rather not, just tap the person next to you on the outside of the knee.  That tap lets them know it’s their turn to pray.  No one makes an issue of who prays or not.  To begin, I ask the person to one side to start and around the circle it goes.  That has been very effective in helping people feel relaxed about praying.  It’s not the inspired method, however.
You may want to meet with people outside the group who do not pray.  Your purpose is not to twist their arm, but to get to know them and build trust in the relationship.  As you get to know the person, you will be able to find out through discussion why they may not want to pray. 
Often it’s because they have never prayed in public and don’t know how.  In that case give them encouragement of something simple they could pray next time in the group, or even pray together right there with them – out loud.   It may be that as you see the person at the next meeting, you affirm them about the prayer time together from the last meeting. You may want to take some time to talk about prayer during one of the home group sessions.
Above all, affirm the prayer time with the group.  You don’t have to say something every time.  Yet, you can express once in a while how much you enjoy the prayer time together.  You can let people know how you are blessed by listening to the other prayers and praying along with them.  You the leader can dramatically change how people look at prayer and develop dynamic prayer lives.  There are many resources on prayer.  The key is that prayer is simply talking to God, expressing praise and thanksgiving for His goodness and character and for His ever faithful will in our lives.


SGL: Leading a home group: Asking a person to read

Leading a home group: Asking a person to read

There are few things more exciting than watching people grow spiritually.  Some people are going to be like John the Baptist and grow in difficult, desert conditions and deliver God’s message in difficult times.  However, most people are going to be far more hesitant to participate, let alone lead.  What about asking people to read Scripture in a home group setting? Does it matter?
It matters about asking people to read. Some people are afraid to read in public, because they may think they will say a word wrong, not know a word, or just stumble too much if they have to read.  Be careful not to call on people to read, unless you know them well and you know they are very willing to read.  Calling on someone to read may shut them down that night and even cause them to back out completely. Consider the following thoughts when you want people to participate by reading in home group.
People are afraid they won’t read well.  That prevents people from participating.  Some people did not learn how to read well in school or talk well publically.  Public speaking is one of the most fearful things people can do.  Many would rather die.  Even in a home group, it’s fearful for some.
People are afraid of unfamiliar words in Scripture. There are familiar words like Mary and Joseph, but there are also words like Jahaziel or Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Is. 8:1), which look too scary to say in a closet!  People do not want someone else making fun of how they pronounce a word.  Even a snicker is intimidating, so people just don’t want to try.
People are “texting” communicators, rather than verbal communicators.  In our not so brave new world, people are getting used to texting back and forth and all the “text short-hand” causes people to text, rather than talk, even from opposite ends of a couch.  Hence, people would rather just sit and soak rather than do any reading.
Finally, people have been taught to be passive by watching television or the internet.  That passiveness rather than interaction makes people less willing to open up and read. 
So what do you do?  Here are several ideas.
First, ask for a volunteer to read the passage.  Normally someoneis willing to read it.  It’s okay if some would rather not.  Now, if the same person always does the reading, meet with them afterwards, outside the group and ask them to let others read and help them understand you are discipling everyone to get to the point of reading.
Secondly, talk to a hesitant person ahead of time to understand them.  Talk to the person to get to know them.  There might have been an incident in the past where someone made fun of them reading, or they used to stutter, or they just don’t think reading is “them.”  Listen to understand and empathize with them.  Compassionately and as a shepherd, ask them if they want to grow spiritually.  Then help them understand when they are ready, that reading is part of the process of growing spiritually. Help them see they will want to help others read and their overcoming will be an encouragement to others.
Thirdly, talk to a person ahead of time with a specific passage.If someone is not reading very often or at all, talk to them ahead of time and let them know a specific passage you would like them to read at the next group meeting and see if they are willing.  If willing, then make sure you tell them “thanks” right after they read, but don’t make a big deal about the reading in front of others.  After the meeting, affirm them much more enthusiastically and get their reaction.  Ask them if they are willing to do it again.  Keep working with the person to build confidence in the Lord and to participate with the group.
Fourthly, affirm those who read.  A simple “thanks” or “great” doesn’t hurt.  Is it necessary?  For most people it’s not, but what is the problem with giving extra encouragement and affirmation?  You’ll make disciples quicker by following these suggestions.
Asking someone to read is a small thing and yet it’s huge to some people.  A spiritual parent will consider where the person is in his/her spiritual growth and consider how best to stir him/her up to love and good deeds.