To Invite, or Not to Invite: That is the Question!

Sometimes group leaders wonder if they should invite a person into their group who is not as spiritually mature as the other members or who could potentially disrupt the good dynamic they have going. If the group has already agreed to be open, I almost always say ‘yes’. Satan is not in the habit of luring spiritually lost people into the company of Christ-followers because that’s where they can encounter God’s life-changing Presence (Matthew 18:20).

inviting1Rather, group leaders ought to cover the invitation in prayer and trust God with the outcome. We can’t control how somebody responds to an invitation to come to a group, but we can control whether or not we take the risk. Plus, when fear is the driving factor in not doing something in cases like this, it’s probably the better to choose the action that requires faith. So I counsel groups leaders to pray, choose to do the most loving thing, and trust the guiding influence of the Sovereign power of God with the outcome.

In cultivating environments that make disciples of people at different stages in their spiritual journey, it is crucial to first respect God’s work. The truth is, God is already at work…

  • Building His Church – What that looks like is the building of community. So try to respond to what He is actively doing in your church’s community life and nurture the way things are already naturally moving. Do not over-engineer or complicate the discipleship process with too many steps. Community is the soil that helps people to sink their roots in Christ so focus on planting people in the fertile ground of those who are already growing together in Christ. What is already happening in and through your church that is effectively reaching people for Christ and building up your community? Explore how you can tap into or build on that.
  • Through His Word – God’s Word is living and active so as you facilitate bible study, assume that biblical truth is actively transforming those who are hearing it. Instead of explaining the truth to group participants, expose them to the truth and lean on the group’s collective wisdom to discover what the Lord is communicating to each individual heart. When seekers or new believers are a part of your group’s bible study, trust that God’s Word will speak to them.
  • Drawing people closer to Himself – God loves people and He is more concerned about their spiritual journey than you ever could be so be diligent to find out how He is working in a person’s life. Then be careful not to presume or prescribe too much. After all, discipleship is not really an orderly process. Just look at the Gospels.
  • Encouraging relationships – Let God bring the people to your group that He wants to. Shepherds are to protect their flock from wolves…not other sheep. If an actual shepherd were to see a lone sheep approach his flock and attempt to nudge itself into it, could you imagine him kicking it out? Of course not! He would probably think to himself: “Hot dog! I just got a new sheep. My flock just increased and I didn’t even have to work for it!” Shepherds are to protect their flocks from decreasing, not increasing. Trust God with the dynamic of your group and the meeting space to accommodate those He wants to bring.

If we look to the account of the Early Church in the book of Acts as our model, we see people in all different stages of their spiritual journey helping one another take their next steps in following Christ (Acts 2:40-47, 4:4, 5:14, 6:7, 8:4-8, 25, 9:31). In the next post, we’ll look at how group leaders can cultivate disciple-making environments that help everyone in their walk with Jesus.

Unleashing Creative Group Worship

Although everyone would agree worship is an essential part of our spiritual life, many leaders wrestle with how to incorporate it into their group time without it feeling forced or awkward. One of the ways you can “break the ice” is to help your group members expand their understanding of what worship can look like beyond the church service. For example, being still before God and listening for His voice, reflecting on Psalms, thanksgiving, giving something up for a fast/Lent and remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for us, etc.

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

In other words, don’t try to replicate a weekend worship service in your group. Rather, discover ways the people you circle up with can worship together that fits your group’s unique dynamic and personality. Gradually introduce new forms of worship by offering a few suggestions from the list below and get a sense as to which one your group resonates with the most.

  1. Invite your group members to think of something that feels ordinary in their daily lives, but for which they are grateful, e.g. a roof over their head, more than one meal a day, etc. Then have each person express their thanks for that thing within the group. After everyone shares, let your group know you just had a time of worship by humbling yourselves before God and giving thanks (Psalm 69:30).
  2. Ask your group to reflect on the Names of God found in Scripture, and share the ones that stand out as the most significant for them. Simply google “list of names of God in the Bible” if you’d like to give them a list to jump-start their thinking.
  3. Play worship music and ponder the lyrics. Choose a song or two that is especially meaningful to you, and as you play it, have your group simply listen intently to the lyrics and reflect upon God’s goodness. Afterwards, invite them to share a word or thought that struck them while listening that was inspirational. Be the first to share and watch how the Lord uses this to help people express worshipful thanksgiving.
  4. Read a Gospel account of Jesus’ death and resurrection and invite your group to reflect on God’s love for each of them and the world (John 3:16-17). Expand on this time by celebrating communion together (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
  5. Read through Psalms 23, 63 or 64 and then invite people to share what was personally significant to them.
  6. Attend your church’s weekend service or a special event where you can worship the Lord together.
  7. Talk about how serving “the least of these” is itself worship and touches God’s heart (Matthew 25:37-40). Plan together to participate in a local outreach.
  8. Identify something in your current study that you are being encouraged to contend for and stand together against the enemy, renounce sin, proclaim God’s promises, etc. (Ephesians 6:10-18; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 Peter 5:8-9; Hebrews 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22)
  9. Invite your group members to bring a picture to your next meeting that’s important to them and be prepared to share how it reflects God’s faithfulness in their lives, what they’re believing God for, etc. Pray together afterwards.
  10. Read biblical references of different kinds of worship such as clapping, raising hands, bowing down, etc. (e.g. 2 Samuel 6:5, 14-15; Psalm 149, 150). Purposefully expose your group to various flavors of worship and talk about what you all think this says about God’s heart for worship.

Worship is a vital aspect of biblical community and the Holy Spirit will help you lead your group to God’s throne of grace (Acts 2:47, Hebrews 4:14-16). As the group leader, be spontaneous and vulnerable in praising God because this will empower others to do the same when they’re ready.

The Lord will honor your effort in exploring new ways of incorporating worship into your group meetings. As you do, your times together as a group will feel increasingly worshipful and your members’ devotional lives will be enriched as they express their love for God and others in creative ways.

Igniting Fervent Group Prayer

Praying in a group can be intimidating for those who haven’t done it before. You’d be surprised how many people are not used to praying out loud with other people around them listening in. This is vital spiritual practice for all believers to develop because agreement in prayer among two or more believers sparks the outworking of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven and builds the community of His Church (Matthew 18:18-20).

As the leader, you can ignite a passion for prayer in your group by using some of these approaches:

  1. Be brief. Brevity can reduce the anxiety level in group prayer because it allows time for others to pray and serves as a model for simplicity in prayer (Matthew 5:7-13). People who aren’t use to praying aloud in a group will see short and simple as something they can do too.
  2. Be informal. Don’t have a big build-up. When it’s time to pray, just begin. For example, “Okay everyone, let’s pray. Feel free to jump in if you’d like. Lord, we…” This makes prayer feel less intimidating and more natural.
  3. Be yourself. Imagine God sitting across from you in the group and talk with Him like you would a good friend; after-all, He is in your midst and wants each one to share honestly from the heart. Have a conversational flow to what you share with the Lord and avoid Christian clichés or complex theological jargon.
  4. Go first in sharing a personal prayer request. This primes the pump for others to share and sets an example of vulnerability.
  5. Use Scripture. Invite people to articulate their prayer with biblical passages. They can read something that is meaningful to them and then say, “I believe that about…” or “Let that be true for…” and reference their own prayer need or one that was shared by another group member.
  6. Invite the most confident to lead. There is usually at least one person in every group who tends to be more forthright in prayer or they’re good about summarizing multiple prayer needs. At the beginning of your next group meeting, ask them how they’d feel about facilitating the prayer time. If they’re open to doing this, reassure them by saying, “Just be yourself…you’ll be great!”
  7. Don’t call on anybody. Some people get really anxious over the prospresencepect of praying in front of others, and if they’re newer to the group, they may not return if you put them on the spot.
  8. Don’t go in a circle. This puts people who don’t want to pray aloud in an embarrassing situation, especially if they’re the only one to pass.
  9. Appoint somebody to write down prayer requests. Follow-up on prayer needs at your next gathering. This cultivates a warm and caring environment that will help people feel safer about personally engaging in group prayer.
  10. Integration. Revisit prayer needs outside of your regular meeting times or when you’re socializing together so prayer isn’t compartmentalized in your group life. Celebrate answers to prayer and be spontaneous about lifting up needs that arise so that prayer is naturally woven throughout the biblical community God is growing in your group!

Optimizing Group Bible Study

As a group leader, there are things that you can do in your preparation that can optimize the impact of God’s Word on people’s lives (Hebrews 4:12). These practices will actually help participants get the most out of your group Bible study and become more responsive to the transformational work the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives:

  1. Pray for it – Give each gathering over to Jesus. Pray for each group member by name. Ask for specific break-throughs and invite the Holy Spirit to have His way.
  2. Preview it – It is well worth taking 15 minutes before each session to…
    • Read the key passages in at least two different translations (bible.com or biblegateway.com)
    • Refer to cross-references and commentaries to give yourself a good feel of the content and context.
    • Review the questions that are a part of the study that you are using and select the ones you sense your group will grab onto the best.
    • Reduce the volume of material given for a study session by 50%. This helps the group time feel more relaxed and more focused, which increases overall participation.
    • Rephrase the questions you decide to use in ways you think will help to spark further dialogue. Restating the same question in different ways helps people to formulate their thoughts.
  3. Focus it – Take a minute at the beginning of each session to frame what you are studying (passage, theme, and context) and what you hope people will walk away with in terms of…
    • Education – A deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning of God’s Word.
    • Inspiration – New thoughts and new motivation for living out our faith in Christ.
    • Application – Ways to bring Scripture to life’s circumstances and relationships right now.
  4. Facilitate it – Don’t get into ‘teaching mode’ or feel like you have to have all the answers. You want Bible study to be a group learning experience where every person’s insight and personality influences the discussion. Here are some reusable questions that can enliven the dynamic of any discussion:
    • What stands out to you in this passage? What impacted you during the reading?
    • Was there something read that is new for you, reaffirming, confusing or challenging?
    • How can we apply this to our lives today?group facilitator
    • How could this be shared with people who do not yet know Christ?
      • Be patient with moments of silence. If nobody shares after a few seconds, put the question in another way. Here are a few other facilitation tips that will help to accelerate spiritual conversations: 1) Be ready to answer questions briefly and naturally if nobody initiates after giving a prolonged pause 2) People think primarily in pictures so try to portray a topic visually by applying questions to hypothetical situations 3) Provide guardrails to help keep the discussion on track so you don’t drift too far off topic.
  5. Affirm them – Make eye-contact with those who share and acknowledge their input with simple affirmations like, “Thanks for sharing” or “Good insight,” and then try to relate it back to the passage being studied or keep the momentum going by inviting others to add their thoughts.
  6. Include them – When people feel included, they feel like they belong. When people feel like they belong, they want to engage. When people are engaged, they grow. Time may not allow for every person to participate in the way they would like, but you can help them feel more included by…
    • Giving each person a purpose to fulfill in the group that correspond with their gifting and passion – start them off with small tasks that have a shorter-term commitment.
    • Circling back to people who have not shared, but looked like they were on the verge of saying something.
    • Expressing your love for them, e.g. “I’m so glad you’re a part of our group!” Simple acknowledgements go a very long way in boosting people’s sense of belonging, which optimizes group Bible study in the future.
  7. Open up – Not enough can be said about the importance of authenticity. This is essential to healthy leadership and Bible studies. The more open you are, the more open others will be. You make the group feel safe when you are real and it frees people up to be themselves, which is the kind of community everyone wants.
  8. Listen up – One of the best ways you can love on the people in your group is to listen to them. This will probably mean you lay aside your own interests, agenda, or things you would like to say. Give people your full attention and reflect back to them that you understand by nodding or putting what they said into your own words to make sure you heard them correctly. When people see that others are being heard, they will feel more secure about opening up and sharing things on their heart with the group.
  9. Lighten up – People tend to be more reserved when there is a serious edge to the study. A light-hearted atmosphere actually encourages more involvement. If you have fun with it all, others will too.
  10. Wrap-up – Summarize what happened in your group and give a teaser for what’s next before you end your group on time.
  11. Follow-up – If somebody asks a question or shares a personal prayer need during your group study, be sure to follow-up with them. Also, don’t hesitate to contact people who said they were going to be at your Bible study, but were not. Let them know they were missed and see if there is anything they need.
  12. Offer up – The way a group stays healthy in the long-run and goes deeper in their Bible study is by letting the grace of God flow outward. He wants to use our Christ-centered community to engage the world, not insulate ourselves from it (Acts 2:47; Rom 1:16, 10:14-15). God always makes room for the lost so expand your group circle as much as possible (Luke 15). He will provide the time and space for additional members if our hearts are seeking to extend His grace to those who have yet to come home. Practically-speaking, you can offer up your group by…
    • Turning your group’s attention to lost people during your time of discussion and prayer.
    • Telling members that you would LOVE for them to invite people they know to your group.
    • Thinking together about how your group can share God’s grace with spiritually empty people.
    • Traveling to locations beyond the home where you meet, e.g. hold your study in a public space or go on a mission trip together.
    • Transitioning your group into new seasons of study by empowering people to look after different aspects of your group’s life together or handing off more responsibility to a person who could co-lead with you. This will prepare your group to multiply so that more people can be impacted by the love and message of Jesus Christ.

You know your Bible study has been effective when your group members love more: They love God more, love people more, love the lost more, and love Scripture more!

Modeling Authenticity

I use to think that if something was “authentic,” it had to be spontaneous, in the moment…raw. But I’ve learned that like many leadership qualities, it is something that can be developed and honed. As athletes train to excel in competition, so leaders can prepare for modeling authenticity in their groups.

authenticity1Authenticity is worth this investment because it’s oftentimes the tipping point to biblical community. There are practical steps you can take that will enable you to become genuinely more authentic in how you lead. As a result, people will feel more of a connection with you and want to be around you more. The Lord will use your ability to be real to free others to be themselves.

So let’s look at how you can develop authenticity in your leadership and model it in your group life:

  1. When you ask a question, be ready to be the first to answer it. The more prepared you are to answer…the more ready you will be to take risks. So as you review questions you’ve chosen to use for your group’s study, envision how you would answer each and consider how to be transparent.
  2. Slow and steady The more you know people, the more open you can be. When people do not yet know each other well, take your time, but be intentional. In other words, don’t bare your soul with people you’ve just met or you might just scare them off! Note the natural progression of Jesus’ openness in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).
  3. The earlier the better – plan to share more personally toward the beginning of your group’s time together because this will encourage more open communication throughout.
  4. Communicate biblical truth and your personal response to it. People like to know what other people think and how they feel in response to something. When you as the leader can express both, it invites others to deeper levels of participation. For example, “I know how important it is to have a devotional time each day, but there are seasons when I struggle with this…lately, I’ve let other things take priority in my life and I want this to change. Please pray for me.” Though some might view this as vulnerability that shows weakness, it is the exact opposite. Here’s what it shows:
    • A truth: Spending time with God each day is vital to our spiritual growth
    • You’re human: Nobody has it all together and does what is right all the time
    • You want what God wants: To develop your relationship with the Lord
    • You need help to respond in faith: We need God and community for life transformation to really happen!

So be the first to acknowledge that you’re only human, and despite your imperfections and idiosyncrasies, you want to follow Jesus more closely. People are more likely to be open about their personal needs when they hear others express struggles they identify with – God uses authenticity to generate ministry moments in your group life.

  1. Grace unlocks authenticity. Grace has a way of drawing out authenticity. Conversations about God’s amazing grace and our dependency on Christ have a way of encouraging greater authenticity in your group life. Leveling the playing field and equalizing your need for grace releases more realness in your group participants.
  2. Err on the side of risk. It is not unusual to have thoughts you question sharing. In your own mind, ask the Lord to help you discern if there is any reason why you should not share something that might be vulnerable or feel like a risk. Your authenticity is most effectively communicated when you put your personal interests aside and take risks for those listening.
  3. Apply the “Socratic Virtues” in your group discussions:
  • Listening – When people feel like they’re being heard, they want to share.
  • Patience – When shier people experience love expressed as patience, they will participate in time.
  • Trusting one’s doubts – If it seems like something is missing in what another person is sharing, carefully weigh if you should call it out in the group by asking questions or if you should talk another time outside the group; either action can help to build authenticity.
  • Talking frankly – Barriers to authenticity are removed when you share without hesitation or fear.
  • Postponing one’s judgment – You may not always be in favor of each one’s point of view, but you can always show your advocacy for the person sharing, especially when they are being transparent. Give people time to share their heart and don’t be quick to draw conclusions. People will not feel safe enough to share their heart if they feel rushed or judged. You want to really hear them so you can understand their heart. When people feel understood, they are more likely to be authentic. Seek first to understand because people who feel understood are more likely to be authentic themselves.
  • Willingness to revise one’s opinion and respect other points of view – Your communication style shows your value for community. If you become more intentional about inviting others to share their points of view and really listen to them when they do, you will become more effective in modeling authenticity. Willingness + Respect = Authentic attitude. An authentic attitude draws out authenticity in others.
  1. Don’t spin. When you get something wrong, acknowledge it openly and maintain a positive attitude versus trying to put a positive spin on your mistake. Be real without being hard on yourself. Beating yourself up for getting something wrong raises the stakes for others to share openly. With a smile on your face, simply share what you thought, that you learned differently, and you’re glad that you did! This makes your group even more of a safe space for people to open up.
  2. Forgiveness nourishes authentic relationships Unforgiveness disables authenticity. We don’t hold onto grudges…they hold onto us. Grudges and unforgiveness toward others (whether they’re a part of the group or not) create barriers in relationships and make it more difficult to be authentic. It’s imperative for us to be right with people if we want to be real with others.

As you model authenticity, people will be able to see Christ in you and it will inspire them to follow your example. The Holy Spirit can use this to break-through to real community, deepen relationships, fuel disciple-making, and compel your group members to impact their world with Jesus’ love and message.