Quick Start Guide

You can share the following tips with Group Hosts or new Group Leaders who can use them every week to generate conversation and build community:

Include fellowship time on the front and tail end of your meeting time and when possible have food. Start and end on time. All these elements encourage conversation and build relationships.

Open your time in a brief word of prayer and help make participants aware of Jesus’ Presence in your midst (Mt 18:20).

Share 1-2 brief insights of your own to jump-start the conversation.

Relate what you’re discussing to Jesus by asking two questions:

  • What does this teach us about Christ?
  • How does God want me to respond to what I’ve just learned?

Be prepared to ask “open-ended” questions that will stimulate reflection and help move people toward action. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” and often start with the words “what” or “how.” For example:

  • What do the rest of you think? How do others feel?
  • What did you find noteworthy about this passage?
  • How can we move forward?
  • What led you to that conclusion?

Questions you can use in EVERY bible study discussion:

  • What stands out to you in this passage? What impacted you during the reading?
  • Was there something read that’s new for you, reaffirming, confusing or challenging?
  • How can we apply this to our lives today?
  • How could this be shared with people who do not yet know Christ?

Be real. Be yourself. Authenticity is the key to helping others open up. Develop a dynamic where people feel safe to share and free to be themselves. For example, be the first to respond to a question and do so humbly and honestly.

Try to involve every person – acknowledge and affirm each person who speaks.

Turn people’s attention beyond your immediate circle by praying for the lost and encouraging them to invite friends to join you.

Deal with It! (Part 2 of 2)

There is wisdom woven throughout the Scriptures on how to deal with conflict in ways that are healthy for individuals and groups. In the table below, you will find a selection of passages on how group leaders can “leverage” conflict to create an environment where biblical community can continue to grow:

Key Scriptures Applied to Conflict
1 Cor 13:4 Go to God before going to another. If you are not being patient, kind, and thoughtful of the other then you are not responding in love. Be sure your heart reflects love’s attributes before dealing with conflict.
1 Cor 13:5 Prayerfully offer up the offense and your response to the Lord and ask Him if the source of conflict is something you should release or respond to with truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Mt. 18:15-17 When you have a problem with somebody, first pray and then go immediately and directly to them to deal with it in private. Subsequently, only involve others if necessary for their sake and for complete healing.
Prov. 15:28 Take your time to think before you speak. It is an act of love to discipline your emotions to serve as the caboose and not the engine in conflict.
Jms. 4:1-2 Use the questions in Part 1 of this post to evaluate your motives for conflict and get your heart right before speaking into a tense situation.
Phil. 2:4 Try to understand where the other person is coming from and what you can do to work toward a solution that results in mutual understanding and encouragement.
Eph 4:15, 25 Continually hold on to truth and love as you speak to another person. We become off-balance the moment we let go of either one.
Eph. 4:26-27 Be real and say everything you feel you need to say in love. Do not leave behind any scraps for the enemy.
Prov. 20:3;       2 Tim. 2:24 Be self-controlled in conflict. You can prevent conflict from devolving into quarreling and strife when you are mindful of your emotions and thoughtful of the other.
Rom. 14:19 Aim for a “win-win’ situation where both you and the other person are better off after conflict than you were before it.
1 Pet. 3:8-9 The best “defense” is a strong offense of love. Resist the temptation to fire back at somebody who insults you. It is a credit to your strength when you find a way to stand your ground while responding in ways that show understanding and love. Humility and compassion help you to relate harmoniously with others.
2 Tim. 2:25-26 Be gentle in how you “instruct” others. By approaching and addressing people in gentleness and love, you will be more effective in leading them (and yourself!) into God’s truth and peace.
2 Tim. 2:23 Spend your time and energy on the essentials of the faith and help people to stay focused on the person of Jesus Christ; it tends to be the non-essential doctrines that produce unproductive debates (Titus 1:9; 3:9).
Jms. 5:16 Vulnerability and honesty are the greatest safeguards against unhealthy conflict. They strengthen the unity of the group and raise its level of compassion.
Jms. 1:19 Group participants will be better equipped to distinguish between constructive and unconstructive conflict as they take their time to listen and learn what others are communicating. It also enriches your group’s Bible study and discussion.
Mt. 12:25;   Prov. 6:16-19 Disagreement and discord can grow into divisiveness. The enemy is constantly at work to divide God’s people and like sin, the longer it goes unaddressed, the more powerful it becomes. Love can conquer anything that causes dissension.
Prov. 18:8 Gossip breeds destructive conflict and breaks down trust within the group. If somebody says something unsubstantiated or speculative about another person (even if they are “passing along” what they have heard from another), explain the uncertainty of what was shared and then suggest to those who heard it that they should go directly to the person being talked about and find out the whole truth.

Conflict is not something to rush into or to avoid. It can threaten to be a separator, but the Bible shows us how we can use it as a connector. It can be a “blessing in disguise” when we handle it with biblical wisdom. God, in His grace, gives us ways we can “use” conflict so that relationships grow in ways they would not have without it. In fact, conflict can be the very thing God uses to ‘draw-out’ authenticity and empower people to be more real with each other. It can be the key that allows us to experience the wholeness and life that comes with biblical community (Acts 2:42-47).

There are barriers we will invariably encounter as we grow in relationships with others.conflict2 Sometimes conflict can be the “mountain pass” we are looking for to get on the other side of the ‘thing’ that seems to be blocking open and honest communication. Trying to go ‘around’ it only makes the journey more difficult even treacherous. Instead, we need to work through it. We need to use it as a pathway to something better for the whole group.

Conflict is not pleasant. Most people would rather do without it. But if it is life-changing Christian community that we want then we need to deal with conflict in love-filled and biblically-informed ways. Christian community is not a destination…it is a journey and conflict comes as we travel together. As a community-building leader, you can tell your group(s) that your goal is not to “keep the peace” but to travel with them through the occasional discord that comes with the transformational adventure of building biblical relationships.

Deal with It! (Part 1 of 2)

Conflict happens. You cannot always anticipate it, but you know it when you have stepped in it. The temptation is to avoid conflict, but that is a mistake! The key to handling most conflict most of the time is to deal with it head-on and right-away in love. Attempting to avoid conflict only invites more of it into a situation; unaddressed tension festers into the kind of conflict that is harmful to group-life. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). When group leaders address tension in its brewing stage, it can enrich everyone’s sense of belonging and togetherness.

The most violated principle in handling conflict is probably Matthew 18:15, which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” The first thing believers are instructed to do when they have a problem with another person is to directly and privately address the matter with that person. People tumble into trouble, and disagreements escalate into tragic relational fractures and fissures when they skip this first step and gossip or stew in their feelings.

We must examine our own hearts before we go to deal with conflict. For example, our motivation is off if what we really want deep down is for the other person to see that we are right and apologize to us for the trouble they have caused. Rather, we want to ‘win over’ our brother or sister for the sake of the relationship…not to ‘win’ an argument for our ego’s sake. We will be better prepared to deal with conflict in healthy and productive ways if we ask ourselves these questions before speaking into tense situations:

  • Why am I upset?
  • Is there anything I need to apologize for or let go of? What can I learn from this?
  • Why do I want to go to this person? What is my goal? What do I hope to see accomplished?
  • Do the outcomes I desire benefit me and the person I have a problem with? Would Jesus hope for the same outcome I desire?
  • How can both of us not just move on but grow together as a result of the conflict?

listening1Make it your goal to understand where the other person is coming from and what they are really saying. Begin by asking questions to clarify their perspective: “When you say _____, does that mean _____? Am I understanding you correctly?” If you are frustrated or offended, non-defensively share how you are feeling: “I feel _____ when you _____.”

Next, evaluate whether your disagreement is about something essential to your life and faith. In Romans 14, Paul reminds us that there few things that should create division between Christians (vv. 17-19). He also shares what believers should do after identifying differing opinions: Acknowledge the most important areas of agreement and shared goals. This allows people in a dispute to discuss possible solutions, which might entail compromising on negotiable items for the sake of fulfilling God’s purposes for the group (Acts 15:10-11, 19-21, 28-31).

When you feel like you have arrived at a solution, say so. Make sure the other person sees the solution the same way you do and feels that a resolution has been made. Finally, look for an opportunity to seal your conversation and decision through prayer.

READY ► SET ► GO

New group leaders are looking for direction so be sure to give them steps to help them get their group off to a strong start. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information, but offer just enough guidance so they know what they should do BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER their first meeting. This is an example of a single page resource I’ve used called “Ready–Set–Go”:

BEFORE

  1. Invite as many of your friends as you can think of…
    • Share your vision for the group – why you’re doing it and what you hope people will walk away with.
    • Try to describe the dynamic of the group and the people who will be a part of it.
    • Create an invitational ripple effect by having your friends and new group members invite their friends too.
  2. Invite more people than you have room for (this is b/c usually only half to ⅔ of those who confirm actually end up showing up!). Start with as many people as you can at the beginning because there’s always attrition.
  3. Tell people it’s a short-term experience that could change their lives forever and then they’ll be able to decide if and in what way they’d like to continue.
  4. Let them know there will be food…lots of good food! (If group members commit to bring food to the next meeting, this increases the likelihood they will return.)
  5. Phone or text your sign-ups a day or two before your first meeting.
  6. Pray for your new group and group members!
  7. If you’re using a video-based study, review the upcoming session and any leader/host material in advance.

DURING

  1. Welcome and introduce yourself (be relaxed, be real, and have FUN!).
  2. Share a little background as to why you chose the focus of the group you did and tell them basically what each meeting will look like.
  3. Allow time for people to introduce themselves, sharing who they are and why your group stood out to them.
  4. Acknowledge God’s Presence with you (Mt. 18:20) and share how you believe the Lord will use your new group experience to transform their lives. Depending on how many people are present who are not a part of your church, you can touch briefly on how your group will help everyone to fulfill your church’s mission by living out the biblical purposes of God together.
  5. Model authenticity and affirm each person’s input as you facilitate discussion.
  6. Encourage participants to invite their friends, people they work with, neighbors, parents of their kids’ friends, and other unconnected people at your church to future meetings.
  7. Close your group time in a brief prayer and get a picture.

 AFTER

  1. Let your Pastor or Coach know how everything went and how they can pray for you!
  2. Follow-up with those who didn’t show up by calling them and let them know you missed them, how great the first meeting was, and remind them of when the next meeting is going to be.
  3. Spread the word on social media with your photo and welcome people to join you.
  4. Remind your new group members of your next meeting (and the food they’re bringing) a day or two beforehand.
  5. Review the upcoming session and tailor the discussion questions based on who God has placed in your group.
  6. Start pondering and praying about who you believe could co-lead with you and eventually launch out with their own group.
  7. Over time, share bite-size roles and responsibilities with your group members, see what people gravitate toward, and let them run with it! Rotate the study facilitation as well.

Influencing the Spiritual Climate of Your Group

Have you ever been in a high-pressure situation where you needed to know the facts on how to do something…and fast? Imagine a friend needed YOU to jump in and lead their group last minute. What would you need to know? These principles can serve as your quick-start guide:

  1. Be a people engager – Use the social time with your group to find out how people are really doing and what you can pray for later in the group. If somebody is new, build connections. Also, don’t underestimate the power of “breaking bread together” and how much food helps people take their guard down and build relationships with others.
  2. Be an Immanuel acknowledger – Open your group in prayer and recognize how our God is Immanuel, “God with us.” Remind them that Jesus is in your midst, and where God’s Presence is, there is power to transform lives so every group meeting should be life-changing (Mt 18:20). Call out the things you believe God is going to do in people’s lives – believe for each group member and pray for them by name!
  3. Be a temperature-setter – Group leaders create environments where thclimate1e Acts 2:42-47 kind of community can grow. One of the keys to helping a group go deeper in relationship with one another is authenticity. The more real you are, the more vulnerable others will be – so set the pace and be courageous by being completely yourself! This will help people feel more ‘at home’, open up with others, and participate more in the group.
  4. Be a Scripture sower – The #1 catalyst for spiritual growth is reading and reflecting on God’s Word. It transforms us from the inside-out because it is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16-17). So use every opportunity to refer people back to the Bible, pray Scripture aloud, and weave biblical references into your conversations.
  5. Be Jesus-focused – Use the conversation around your study to point people back to who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Think of Paul, who said, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Turning people’s attention to Jesus creates an atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving. Make your group Christ-centered, not curriculum-centered, and invite the Holy Spirit to have His way.
  6. Be generous in love – To follow Jesus’ example, is to love others. Leaders who are rich in love earn the privilege of influencing people spiritually. Take time to learn people’s unique stories, listen to their needs, and pray for their dreams. Generous love does not limit its reach only to those within the group’s circle, but it goes to those who have yet to be transformed by God’s love (Mt 25:40). A group will never grow to its full potential if it does not reach beyond the needs of its own members.

Biblical community will grow when you exercise these principles. Along the way, you’ll experience the thrill of being used by God to inspire real growth in His people and help those who have yet to know Him find their way home.