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.

Leveraging Spiritual Gifts to Build Community

We tend to think about spiritual gifts on an individual level, but it can’t stop there. Groups offer the best environments for discovering how God has graced each one and they’re ideal outlets for believers to exercise their gifts together. The biblical community that grows in groups inspires Christ-followers to be faithful and bold in using what the Lord has deposited in them to advance His Kingdom.

A spiritual gift is a special enablement that God gives to each believer, according to His grace, to build up the Body of Christ (Rom 12:6–8). Spiritual gifts enable us to do things with greater spiritual effectiveness because we’re not operating by our strength alone. The Lord has already called us and empowered us by the Holy Spirit to share them by serving others.

spirgift1.jpgGod’s power flows to and through a group in life-changing ways when spiritual gifts are being used in concert together. As a group leader, you want to be sensitive to the supernatural composition of your group so as you think about how to grow and serve together, begin by asking WHO is in your group rather than WHAT you should be doing. You can facilitate the following three conversation to help in this discovery process.

Conversation #1: Introducing and Identifying Spiritual Gifts

(This first conversation can be done in one or two sittings.)

Part A: Introducing Spiritual Gifts

  1. Introduce spiritual gifts to your group and highlight how every believer has them. Refer to 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11.
  2. Have everyone complete an assessment and bring their results back to share with the group. For examples see:

Part B: Identifying Spiritual Gifts

  1. Invite the group to affirm how they see the spiritual gifts evident in each person who shares.
  2. Draw a circle and segment it according to the number of your church’s values or purposes. Then brainstorm where each of your regular group practices fit under the values represented.
  3. Talk about how the spiritual gifts represented in the lives of your group members relate to your…
    • Church’s values
    • Group’s practices
    • Church’s activities
    • Group fulfilling your church’s mission

Spiritual gifts help believers discover their unique capacity to serve God and effectively advance His purposes in this world. The more we decipher our gifts the better we discern our calling.

The collective gifts of all the group members create a roadmap revealing how the group can best experience God’s power and be most effective on mission together. They also help group leaders empower each one to share the responsibilities for the group and turn its energy and focus outward, keeping it healthy.

Conversation #2: Building Well-rounded Group Life Together

These questions can be used to help engage the group in a conversation on how to leverage spiritual gifts to build community within the group and strengthen its impact:

  1. How can each member use their God-given gifts to strengthen and enrich the group (1 Cor 12:7)?
  2. Which group practices are frequent and active in our group (Bible study, sharing meals, prayer  etc.)?
  3. Which group practices are infrequent or inactive that we need to somehow incorporate in our group life (e.g. sharing the Gospel in word and deed, etc.)?
  4. What is needed to continue developing the frequent group practices and to elevate the infrequent or dormant ones?
  5. How can each one invest their spiritual gifts in our larger church family and further what the Lord is already doing?

The goal is to empower each group member to connect their gift-mix to a group practice that will express your church’s values. Consequently, biblical community will grow and your group members will be empowered to live out your church’s mission together. Empowerment is helping believers do what God has created and commissioned them to do. It is unveiling who they are in Christ and helping them to see themselves the way their Heavenly Father sees them: As His very own children.

Conversation #3: Connecting Spiritual Gifts to Group Practices

spirgift3Think of yourself as a synergist who is administrating gift deployment so that people are built up and God’s purposes are advanced. One way you can empower your group members is to ask each one to champion an area of your group life that’s in keeping with their gift-mix by, which you can approach by…

  1. Recalling your previous conversation around Q4 above and creating a list with two columns: One for what’s needed to continue developing the frequent group practices and the other for what is needed to develop the infrequent or dormant group practices.
  2. Brainstorming with your group what an easy (baby) step could look like for one season or semester of your group’s life together.
  3. Asking group members to pick 1-2 group practices they can picture themselves developing and to give the group a snapshot of what that looks like. Which opportunities tug at their heart the strongest?
  4. Observing what people naturally gravitate toward doing and asking questions to explore their interest level. Help people see connections between development opportunities and the deployment of their spiritual gifts in your group or your larger church family.
  5. Inviting group members to take responsibility to develop or strengthen a group practice for a season/semester of your group life or try deploying their spiritual gifts in a ministry of your church.

As someone is faithful to use their God-given spiritual gifts to build up your group and church, they can be entrusted with a greater sense of stewardship for an area of your group life. This will empower them in ministry, lift the load of responsibility you’re carrying, multiply leadership development, and grow biblical community, which is transformational for everyone.

Selecting and Developing Co-leaders

One of the greatest preventable mistakes made by group leaders is when they try to carry too much – the “I’ll just do it myself” syndrome. If we follow the examples of Jesus and the Apostle Paul, we will purposefully develop others as they serve alongside us (Luke 6:12–13; 2 Timothy 2:2).

Your health and balance as a leader – not to mention the overall health of the group – is dependent on others who will serve alongside you. Having someone to co-lead your group will enhance how you connect with the diversity of people circled up with you. Your co-leader will strengthen how people are cared for in your group and can provide feedback that you would not have otherwise received (Proverbs 27:17). The impact of your leadership will be increased exponentially with the support of one or more co-leaders.

We can find guidance on how to select co-leaders in Luke 6:12-13: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” In this passage, Jesus gives us a four-step process for choosing a co-leader:

  1. He prayed – Earnestly seek the Lord for clear direction and wait until you get it.
  2. He called – Initiate a time to personally connect with who He places on your heart.
  3. He chose – Tell prospective co-leaders what you see in them and why you’re choosing them to partner with you (cf. Mt 16:16-19).
  4. He designated – Empower them to champion specific aspects of group life in keeping with how God has graced them. For practical ways on how you can go about this, see my post entitled: “Leveraging Spiritual Gifts.

devldrs1.jpgIn the process of selecting your co-leader, let them know how you’ll work with them, what it looks like and what they can expect. Start with the end in mind and share a vision for how their leadership will help grow biblical community. Ultimately, experienced co-leaders multiply options for handling numerical growth so new groups can branch out and more people can connect to Christ and the community of His Church.

Groups that have more members taking on more responsibilities are better at making disciples who grow deep and impact wide. Now let’s turn our attention to some tips and tactics for developing your co-leader:

  • Give your co-leader smaller tasks at first and look for opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments. After a period of time, let the group know how this person is helping the group in this role of service (Matthew 23:11-12; Mark 10:42-45). In other words, don’t announce that somebody is your co-leader before they’ve started as if it’s a position, but rather affirm the difference their support is already making for the group.
  • In the beginning, be sure to shower your co-leader with encouragement. As the relationship grows, you can address areas where they need further development. Be sure to end your coaching times on a positive note, and pray together.
  • As co-leaders progress, increase their level of responsibility by preparing for meetings and taking the lead with special events and outreaches. Don’t just delegate tasks to them, but empower them to succeed with greater assignmentsdevldrs3 by applying the following developmental model:
    • I do, you watch
    • I do, you help
    • You do, I help
    • You do, I watch
  • Find ways to share your life with your co-leader outside of regular meeting times. Meet them on their home turf. Discover what’s in their heart and what outcomes they want to achieve in the next season of your group.
  • Know their birthday, anniversary, and what makes them smile, e.g. a specialty coffee, dessert, handwritten note, etc. Then deliver on it!
  • Pray for them by name each day. Keep notes on needs and answers to prayer that you can revisit with them.
  • Take time with your co-leader to informally debrief group meetings while the experience is still fresh. Ask them to share their observations: What did they feel good about? What observations or questions do they have?
  • Make your relationship a priority by listening to their questions, empathizing with their anxiety, and sharing helpful resources that will build their leadership competency.
  • Share the frequency with which you’d like to communicate, but do it using methods they prefer, e.g. text, phone, FaceTime/Zoom, email, social media, etc. (See my post entitled “Leadership Investment Rhythms” for more on how you can organize for this.)
  • Make an encouraging deposit into their leadership at least once a month with Scripture, quotes, an excerpt or executive summary of a book, video or podcast.
  • Loop them into the larger network of leaders you know so they glean from their wisdom and grow in confidence.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one co-leader: Invite group members to take on more responsibility when you sense they are ready for it! People can serve in a variety of ways that will create full-bodied group life and develop their leadership through outreach, communications, coordinating meals or childcare, social outings, etc.

It is never too early to appoint co-leaders! The Apostle Paul knew this. He usually had dozens of people around him who were friends and “fellow-workers” (Philemon 1:24). Several from his missionary band led house churches that were instrumental with the initial spread of the Gospel! Then and now, the multiplication of healthy leaders and groups depend on the kind of missional partnership that is forged with co-leaders (Philippians 1:3-6).

Leadership Investment Rhythms

Intentional investments made over time into developing group leaders will empower them to create healthy environments where biblical community will grow. This requires meaningful touch-points in different ways with enough frequency that leaders feel known, loved, included, and challenged so they continue learning and growing.

Different leaders need different kinds of care. This care will look different for each leader depending on whether they are new or experienced in leading groups. There are repeatable investment rhythms you can easily put into motion that will build the relationships necessary for healthy leadership development. A group leader will fall somewhere on the spectrum of new to experienced, and for simplicity, we will only look at these two general categories:

  • New leaders typically want time to interface with you in person and be connected with other leaders. They are helped by a higher frequency of touch-points that are more personalized. You want to love on these leaders and provide ample attention and direction, especially within the first few months as they get started.
  • Experienced leaders typically prefer a lower frequency of touch-points that don’t require as much in-person meetings. They need to know you’re there and care, but they don’t need the same level of engagement as new leaders. Keep these people in the loop and show your appreciation for them.

NEW

EXPERIENCED

  • Pray for them regularly
  • Call or text 1x/mo*
  • Meet in person 1:1 or group format 1x/1-2 mos
  • Send email or note 1-2x/mo
  • Visit group twice in first 6-mos
  • Be available as needed
  • Pray for them regularly
  • Call or text 1x/mo
  • Meet in person 1:1 or group format once per semester
  • Send email or note 1x/mo
  • Visit group 1x/yr
  • Be available as needed

* Weekly frequency during their initial training & up through their first study

The concept of “span of care” applies as the scale of your group leadership grows. For example, let’s say you have eight group leaders. You’ve built relationships with them over time and have been able to provide the necessary care, but you want to do more. About this time, four new leaders emerge out of these groups who are eager to launch their own groups.

You quickly realize that you can’t maintain the same level of care with your first wave of leaders and also pour into the next wave. So you select one of your most capable and available leaders to function like a “coach” and invest into half of your experienced leaders (4) and half of the new leaders (2). Instead of your span of care becoming unmanageable at twelve, you equally divide the care of the whole group leadership between you and your new coach resulting in a 1:6 span of care.

investleaders1Keep in mind that span of care is an elastic concept in practice. For example, coaches with greater margin and leadership competency can care for a greater number of leaders. The biggest factor can also be the greatest unknown, which is what level of care leaders will ultimately need because even experienced leaders face personal crises and challenges in their group life that will require greater investment.

Occasionally, you and your coaches should plan to substitute an in-person touch-point with a half-day retreat or conference that will develop your leadership community. Top-notch content is on-demand that you can use anytime, anywhere. Adding some variety into how you invest in your leaders will help guard against your investment rhythms turning into ruts.

The table above is meant to serve as a rule of thumb to help you determine what healthy investment rhythms should look like in your church considering the maturity and needs of your group leadership. It’s also important to remember that YOU need investment too! Point leaders like yourself are all around you and you can glean so many useful ideas and resources by joining a huddle through www.smallgroupnetwork.com.

Full-Bodied Group Life (Part 2 of 2)

A church’s purposes or values usually reflect the practices they want to encourage in the lives of their members. If your recommended group format is structured around your church’s purposes, you will be more effective at weaving these essential spiritual practices into your group life. This is critical since the relational circles of groups create the community that transforms lives and enables your church to be transformational in its own community. This post examines four more spiritual practices that necessitate spiritual relationships and help believers to be faithful and fruitful in their walk with Jesus.

  • Communion – This practice, along with baptism, is a primary sacrament of the Church and involves community. Though communion may be done in private, the biblical example shows this to be a communal event that involves the sharing of food (Acts 2:46b; 1 Cor 11:23-34). It is an expression of worship and an act of remembrance any believer is authorized and able to do. Receiving communion together honors Christ, communicates the Good News, and proclaims the unity of the Church (1 Cor 10:16-17).

Growth Tip: Bring bread and beverage to your group, open by reading from 1 Cor 11:23-26, distribute the elements, give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice explaining what the elements represent, provide a time of quiet reflection, and close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving. Practicing communion in your group conveys how all believers are ministers and confers a fresh sense of authority in how your members minister to one another. It strengthens your group’s bond and deepens the way your group worships together.

  • Confession – Confession points to how we need one another for full healing. It holds such importance that we are advised to make it a common practice (James 5:16). Healing results from confession because the dark areas of a person’s life where sin likes to remain concealed is exposed to the light of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:5-7). Confession breaks sin’s power, enabling people to respond to God’s transforming grace and extend what they have received in Christ to others (Rom 8:5-11; Gal 5:16-26).

Growth Tip: The group leader sets the pace for vulnerability in the group. Vulnerability is a necessary ingredient for confession to become a spiritual practice that is exercised in your group. The more real a group leader can be, the more free people are to be themselves and receive the healing God wants to bring. When confession is modeled by the group leader it empowers others to do the same. There may be times that are more conducive to breaking up into smaller prayer groups or same-sex breakouts, which can encourage more openness. Pray for discernment in how to introduce this spiritual practice in your group.

  • Ministry – Ministry is the super-natural outworking of our Christian life and involves giving our time, testimony, talents, and treasure in Jesus’ Name. It involves the exchange of God’s life-giving grace and takes on many expressions: Loving my neighbor, carrying the burdens of a fellow believer, exercising my spiritual gifts, and sharing the resources that God has blessed me with so that I can be a blessing to others and advance God’s purposes in the world. Ministry is relational by nature and has the effect of building community.

Growth Tip: Aim to create an interactive environment in your group. When somebody shares how God is doing something transformational in their life, pause the discussion and affirm what He is doing. If somebody is sharing a struggle, lay hands on the person and pray. Invite others to do the same. Allow prayer and Bible study to ignite ministry moments. Then model care and demonstrate how ministry is a priority over your group’s meeting agenda. To paint a picture of what in-group ministry can look like go to www.biblegateway.com and do a quick search of the phrase “love one another.”

  • Outreach – If we are to encounter God, we must meet our neighbor in need (Mt 25:40, 2 Cor 5:19). We cannot ignore one command and follow the other. We cannot walk with Him and leave our neighbors behind. Evangelism is how we ‘love much’, which we are constrained to do since in Christ we have been ‘given much’ (Luke 7:47, 12:48). God commands us to reach out and invite others to follow Him (Luke 14:23), which is an act of obedience that is inherently relational. It is our purpose as the people of God, His Church (2 Cor 5:13-21; Eph 3:10, Mt 28:19-20). Relationships fuel disciple-making, which enlarges the family of God – so from beginning to end – evangelism involves community. There are things we just would not do without the encouragement of other believers around us. Our evangelistic potential is multiplied with the addition of just one other Christ-follower by our side. This is why Jesus sent out His apostles and other disciples two-by-two (Mark 6:7-8; Luke 10:1-2). We are stronger together.

Growth Tip: Three simple steps group leaders can take to develop outreach in their church’s community life are: 1) Set the expectation 2) Pray for the lost 3) Appoint members to ministry roles. It refreshes the group to discuss its purpose at the outset of each new season. Before entering a new study, share with the group that one of the reasons why your group exists is to share the Good News with others. Then in times of group prayer, be sure to pray for those beyond the group and for your church’s outreach efforts. This fosters an emakedisciples2xternal focus to your group and plants seeds for future outreach. Gradually appoint people to fulfill ministry roles in the group that are in keeping with their passion and gift-mix. Invite them to try out roles for a limited duration at first and start them off with small tasks before graduating them to larger group projects.

Community is the wellspring of the spiritual practices that enable us to be faithful followers and disciple-makers. Each believer’s life with God and effectiveness as a part of the Body of Christ hinges on their relationships with other people. If we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – we must be walking in the most excellent way of loving our neighbors (Mark 12:29-31; 1 Cor 12:31b). If we are to obey the dozens of ‘one another’ commands in the NT, grow in Christ, and show lost people the way home – we need relationships (John 14:21, 13:34-35; 1 John 4:7-12, 20-21). There is no more effective way to ensure the outworking of spiritual practices in our lives than being in community with a circle of believers enjoying full-bodied group life together.