empty chairThere are going to be those weeks when only a few small group members show up for the small group meeting. Maybe the H1N1 hits a household, a child’s ballgame happens to be rescheduled forcing group members to miss the meeting, a business traveler is out of town, or maybe some fanatical football fan calls in sick, the Bengals just might beat the Steelers. Group members start calling you an hour or so before the meeting. You anticipated 10 of your closest friends hanging out in your living room, but only four or so show up.

You may not realize it, but how a small group leader handles this situation can greatly enhance or detract from the leader’s level of influence. A few do’s and don’ts…

  • Don’t cancel the meeting.
  • Don’t apologize for the number of people who are in attendance.
  • Don’t speak negatively of those who aren’t there.
  • Don’t make statements that negatively impact the conversation like, “I sure wish John was here. He would really have some important input right now.” or “If Sue was here she could speak to this issue.” Etc…
  • Don’t allow the enemy to lead you to believe group members didn’t show up due to your leadership or because they don’t appreciate the group.
  • Don’t feel a obligation to fill the entire meeting time. If you finish early due to the fact that fewer people are involved in the conversation, that’s okay. Spend the rest of the time just enjoying one another’s company. This will pay off in the long run.
  • Do start on time (don’t wait to see if more people are going to show up).
  • Do go ahead with every aspect of the small group meeting.
  • Do give your whole heart to those who are in attendance. In fact, realize that the smaller number of attendees gives you the opportunity to connect with these group members at a much more intimate level.
  • Do pray for the needs of those who aren’t at the meeting. Be careful that you don’t pray that they’ll show up next week.

Consider a smaller than normal group meeting an opportunity to build deeper relationships and prove every individual is important to you.

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I reached a point this last weekend where I wanted to run away from home.

A long weekend. Bliss, right? For the working mother, three days with child and husband should be perfect. I could play catch-up, endless hours of patty-cake and cuddles.

Libbie, Eight Months

Libbie, decked out in Braves attire for Daddy

Well, endless–that’s one way to put it.

My darling daughter, eight-month-old Libbie, whined relentlessly and refused to nap for THREE. LONG. DAYS.

What was I doing wrong? She had a clean diaper, was well-fed, and has three million toys at her disposal. We tried bouncing, snuggling, walking, ignoring, and even Baby Einstein. Nothing helped.

By Saturday afternoon I was questioning whether I should have waited longer to become a mom. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. Maybe I expected too much of this little child. Maybe I could run away and start over, fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a Broadway star.

And then the guilt starts. Why don’t I have more patience? Why can’t I make her happy? What is wrong with me? How could I even think such awful thoughts about my sweet baby? Obviously, I am the worst person in the entire world and should simply be put in a mental institution. Toting Libbie around the grocery store Saturday afternoon in her sling, I kissed the top of her head and told her I was sorry she had such a crazy mother. I piled ice cream and baby food into my basket, silent tears dripping in her fine baby hair.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” right? So why the guilt? Why the panic?

The preschool minister at our church advised me that times like this are normal. That we feel so inadequate as parents so we will stay continually on our knees, praying for survival for the next 18 years and then some.

For me, times like this come when a) I haven’t been in the Word and in prayer like I need to be; and b) I haven’t been talking about my struggles with anyone. I begin to feel like I am the only person EVER to be this awful of a mother. Having community, friends who are willing to be authentic, is crucial to not letting the panic of motherhood escalate. So much of the time, I feel like everyone else must have it all together, because I don’t see otherwise. We need to be real, people. Be willing to admit that we struggle in parenthood, struggle in our faith, sometimes want to run away to New York City.

I find so much as Americans we aren’t willing to be vulnerable. Pride makes us believe we can’t let on that we’re hurting or need help.

Practice vulnerability this week. Open up to a friend. They might be battling something big and just need an opening. Call someone when their name comes to your mind. It can make a world of difference.

Jesus taught the disciples to pray. Shouldn’t we do the same?

 I’ve been in ministry for 34 years now. An unforgettable ministry conversation took place one afternoon after our Sunday gathering of Christ-followers. One of the small group leaders at our church was speaking with me about the growth he was seeing in his small group members. I was already on the edge of my seat but when he told me about one of the members who had prayed aloud for the very first time the week prior I was trounced on by a dancing heart. I’ve got to tell you, my internals were on the move. And as I was driving home that day, my tear ducts got into the game. You see, the “first time out-louder” the small group leader was telling me about has a fantastic wife and two incredible sons. During my drive home that afternoon I realized that these young boys were going to grow up in a home where dad prayed for them at the dinner table, by their beds, on vacation, etc… The list could go on and on. And those kids will do with their own children what they have seen their dad do. Because a small group leader took the time and strategically was teaching his small group members to pray aloud a mountain of believers for generations to come will know what it means to be prayed for by godly, caring parents and as those children realize that God is real and alive they will want to know about His Son Jesus and will most likely choose a relationship with Him.

 It is vital that small group leaders teach those in our groups how to pray.

 Below you’ll find a simple step-by-step process that will help you as you teach small group members how to pray aloud.

 LEVEL ONE: The Leader prays and models conversational prayer. The term “conversational” is important. Exhibiting a preacher voice, speaking in old English terms, or sounding as though you’ve swallowed a pile of “o pity me’s” will only confuse the  small group member who longs to have an authentic relationship with Jesus.

 LEVEL TWO: The Leader asks for volunteers and sees who emerges after it has been modeled for a couple of weeks.

 LEVEL THREE: The Leader calls on two people to pray who have been volunteering and then the leader closes in prayer.

 LEVEL FOUR: The Leader leads the group to “Complete the Sentence.” This could be a sentence like, “God, this is ______, I want to thank you for________, or God, would you help with ________.” The leader lets everyone know that if you prefer to pray silently to God instead of out loud, just let the group know by squeezing the hand of the person next to you (if the group is that close) or say the word ‘Amen’ to indicate you are going to pray silently.

 LEVEL FIVE: The group grows to the place where they can pray conversationally as a group using this method: A prayer request is shared and the group spends time praying “sentence prayers” about that specific request before moving on to the next prayer request.”

 You probably noticed that these are baby steps moving toward full-fledged paragraph prayers. In time, this will come naturally.

Most church plants have no option… they’ll be doing small groups. They don’t have the space to have any other kinds of adult classes on Sunday morning and even if they did, they need every person who makes up the church to set-up, tear-down, be sound technicians, musicians, greeters, etc… In most church plants the only ministries a church can offer adults will be worship and small groups. 

If the church is going to flourish it’s vital that these first small groups have the right DNA, the DNA that will be passed on from one generation of small groups to the next. 

There are some aspects of that DNA that must be in place and must be kept in place. These are principles from Acts 2:42 – 47. When these are working together God will do amazing things. A quick list… 

  • The Bible being recognized and studied as words coming from God
  • Friendships that are built on the principles of biblical Christian community which means those in the group are one body. When one person suffers everyone else feels their pain (and responds to comfort the one who is suffering) and when another has something to celebrate everyone senses their joy and celebrates with them.
  • Recognizing Jesus as the centerpiece of group life and helping one another grow to become more and more like Him.
  • Potent prayer, group prayer that anticipates God is going to respond to our requests.
  • Meeting one another’s needs no matter what the cost is to those who make up a particular group.

 It doesn’t matter what kind of small group system the church planter has determined to propagate. It doesn’t matter if the church is doing open or closed groups, using curriculum or discussing the Sunday sermon, is involved in a 40 day campaign or simply meeting at the coffee shop with a few other believers for spiritual conversations, if these components are not part of group life, the groups will not reach optimal effectiveness.

 If you would like to know more about church planting and small groups come join us at the Exponential Conference in April.