Authenticity in Group Leadership

The people who have made the greatest impact on me and my spiritual formation were authentic. They were real about their lives and struggles. They weren’t insecure or territorial. They weren’t image-conscious or secretive.

Rather, they were humble risk-takers for the Kingdom, selfless advocates, and potential-seers. They weren’t threatened by other leaders or competitive with them because of their own insecurities. Instead, they tended to be self-effacing, preferring to elevate and celebrate others instead of themselves.

Authenticity is a trait that almost every human-being admires and desires to emulate, but it can be scary for many of us to model because it makes us feel vulnerable. However, this vulnerability is well worth the risk because next to prayer, authenticity is the key to success as a group leader. It’s an essential ingredient for creating the conditions for biblical community to grow.

“The irony of masks is that although we wear them to make other people think well of us, they are drawn to us only when we take them off.”
– John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them

The health of a group can be directly linked to how free people feel they can be with one another. People will gladly spend their time and energy to be someplace where they can be themselves and most people can only be themselves when they feel safe. This kind of safe environment is born out of authentic leadership that builds trust by telling the truth. Truth and trust feed into one another – as one grows stronger, so does the other.

There is no greater influence on the dynamic of a group than how real the leadauthenticity2er is with the participants. By way of example, the effect of a group leader’s authenticity is not unlike that which a mother duck has on her ducklings: Demonstrated transparency from leadership has tremendous “imprinting power!” One of the beauties of authenticity is that it’s contagious! As you model authenticity, you will see that it inspires others to do the same.

I believe that one of the reasons group members complain of the group not being “deep enough,” is not so much due to shallow curriculum, as it is the lack of relational depth among participants. Authenticity deepens relationships and results in group discussions that have more depth and challenge to them.

Authenticity builds community, earns credibility, breeds safety, and helps relationships grow deeper. People can smell authenticity…and the truth is…God is more easily found in a community that tells the truth about themselves. There are practical steps you can take to grow as a leader who models authenticity, which I’ll share in the upcoming post.

Building Relational Ministry Teams

Take the time to help your ministry teams function more like groups because healthy ministry flows from healthy relationships. By adding some intentionality to building community among people who serve together, a leader will see powerful outcomes they would want everyone on their team to experience. Members of relational ministry teams…

  • Are naturally motivated to invite others to serve alongside them
  • Feel a deeper sense of belonging and purposeservingtogether2
  • Are more inclined to remain committed to serving
  • Ooze more joy while serving, resulting in greater impact together

So how can your team experience more of the life-giving dynamic we see in Acts 2:42-47 so it can have even greater ministry impact?

  1. Appoint somebody on the team to compile everyone’s contact info and then distribute to the members on that team. Consider setting up a group on Facebook so people can stay in touch between times of serving together.
  2. Pray for one another before your ministry task together. Prayer knits people together and makes the combined effect of their service together even greater. You can keep this shorter if members are staying in touch with each other beyond your serving times. Again, you can appoint somebody on the team to help champion this.
  3. Periodically host a social gathering (e.g. 3-4x/year). Prioritize having fun together because that goes a long way when times of need or hardship arise. Find ways to spontaneously express appreciation.
  4. Find out B-days, anniversaries (in marriage and ministry) and celebrate them with your team by gifting that person with one of their favorite treats. Your communications person (see first point) or somebody else on your team can help to look after this.
  5. Stand together, facing outward. Help one another think and operate evangelistically. This can happen by praying for the lost each week, welcoming others on the team, engaging in a local service opportunity together a couple times a year, etc.

Team members who experience community while serving together are more likely to catch the vision of groups in your church and be champions of serving within them. Taking the steps above will help your teams function more like groups so that everyone can experience the joy that comes with fulfilling the church’s mission together.

Benefits of Groups

For years I would tell people how awesome groups are and why they needed to join one. I figured I would see greater results with more “stage time” and energy put into encouraging people to connect. However, the extra emphasis rarely yielded results that were much better than normal. This prompted me to rethink how to help people catch the vision for biblical community and become intentional about growing spiritually with other believers.

As with many things in our Christian faith, the most powerful actions are the ones that are simple to take. For example, I came to realize that instead of delivering just the right words with gusto, I needed to pray, asking the Lord to convey the vision to people’s hearts and inspire them to lead or connect in a group. In the process, I found that God would give me something to share that I didn’t plan on originally. Here are some other tips to help explain why Christ-followers should say ‘yes’ to being in community:

  • Avoid “selling” groups – God inspires next steps. People’s best efforts in coercion usually only result in temporary change anyways. Besides, community is not so much about what people can get from it, as it is what they can give to it. As a result, they’re blessed with more than they could have imagined.
  • Start with the ‘why’ – Answering the fundamental “why questions” for people speaks to the heart; otherwise, they’re just going to hear the un-motivational message of what we think is good for them to do. Groups are the means (or strategy) to the end of biblical community. Focus on the content of biblical community rather than the container in which it grows.
  • Emphasize purpose over need – People want their lives to count and to fulfill their God-given purpose. Think invitation over promotion. People are not inspired to get involved when groups are promoted as something that fills a personal need. Rather, biblical community enables people to be a part of something they could never do alone.
  • Have faith that God is building His Church (Mt 16:18) – Never forget that it’s God who is continuously and victoriously building His Church and making things grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). We just need to be faithful in working hard and praying hard.

There are numerous benefits to being a part of life-giving biblical community. In fact, if you dig deep into the passage that gives us a blueprint of what the early Church looked like at Pentecost in Acts 2:42-47, you can find over two dozen positive aspects of this super-natural gathering of believers. It’s helpful to have a some of these benefits in mind to share with the people you get to influence, whether it’s a few friends or an entire congregation. As a result of engaging in a group, people can expect these transformational outcomes:

  1. Fulfill your God-given purpose
  2. Engage effectively in God’s mission in the world
  3. Enrich your understanding and application of God’s Word
  4. Results in greater consistency and depth in spiritual practices like prayer, reading and reflecting on God’s Word, etc.
  5. Builds healthy spiritual friendships that are vital for encouragement and accountability
  6. Enables believers to be faithful in living out the ‘one anothers’ of the New Testament[i]
  7. Mobilizes God’s people to reach more people with the life-changing Good News
  8. Facilitates meaningful connections where each one can function as the part of the Body of Christ that God has made them to be by discovering, developing, and deploying their spiritual gifts
  9. You know God more personally and intimately in community than you ever could alone because Jesus reveals Himself through the love of other believers (1 John 4:7-12)
  10. Develops and multiplies leaders so all believers can experience full-bodied discipleship and play an active part in living out The Great Commission together (Matthew 18:18-20)

You could unpack each of these ten benefits, revealing so many more empowering outcomes for believers who are rooted in Christ-centered community. Beyond the impact at the individual level, groups build up the church and support its paid staff immensely. When groups are the basic building blocks for every ministry area in the church, more people feel a sense of belonging, stay involved, and serve together! Church staff receive necessary support, congregational care is strengthened, giving increases, and the local church can live out all the vital functions of the Church during the week!

All of this just skims the surface of the inextricable significance of biblical community to the mission God has entrusted to His people (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). An eternal ripple effect is initiated when believers pursue their God-given purpose in life-giving relationships with Him and others. The invitation into a group then is really an invitation to join in God’s mission and it’s how we can be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10-18).

So when we talk about the benefits of believers connecting in community, it’s not so much that THEIR needs will be met…it’s more so they can be effective in the purpose to which God has called them: To make disciples. To join a group is to join in God’s mission.

[i] There are nearly 60 references to the phrase “one another” (or “each other”) throughout the New Testament; a fourth of which is to love one another. Community makes it possible for us to be faithful to these biblical commands and exhortations.

Multi-site Church Groups Check-up

The Executive Pastor of a large multi-site church trying to revitalize their “life group ministry” once asked me what needed to happen in order for them to do groups well. I summarized the conversation thinking some insights might help you with where you’re at now.

  1. Transition “groups” from a ministry area to the way all ministries express themselves. Relationships that put Christ at the center are the basic building blocks of the Body of Christ and need to be continually and creatively communicated throughout ministry areas for every generation. Emphasize “community” and “relationships.” Build a community culture. Groups is the strategy.
  2. Don’t do a “push” for groups only once or twice a year. Offer a series every season and do it with excellence, equipping everyone to form groups inside and outside the boundaries of your campuses. This will help your people see groups as being a part of your culture versus a sermon series.
    • Emphasis and focus on groups have gotten diffused because you have many other things competing for attention at the same time (particularly in September and January).
    • Creative media and Communications have been very limited in how you have been able to support and message groups. The message and strategy has been lost amidst the noise of all the other initiatives being announced at the same time.
    • In your communications, err toward equipping the saints for the work of the ministry by challenging members to ‘start’ vs. ‘join’ a group and to think of those whom God has already put in their lives (be missional where you’re at).
  3. Challenge each ministry area to set goals utilizing healthy Christ-centered relationships as a key indicator of health. Define measurables for biblical community, such as engagement level in practicing spiritual disciplines with other believers, and refresh metrics each season.
  4. Determine how to measure the growth of relationships with spiritual focus and celebrate them in every ministry area. Communicate that group-life is the barometer of relational health at the campus level and it is the shared responsibility of all pastoral staff; not just those with “groups” as part of their staff role title. Spiritual friendships is a primary motivator and outcome of disciple-making, which is what we are called to do together as God’s people.
  5. Implement a reliable, easy-to-use tool for tracking groups and helping people find a group. Your church database should be accessible to vetted volunteer leaders and be user-friendly. Otherwise, it will not be utilized resulting in more unusable data and rendering your front-end list of open groups ineffective. Coordinate sufficient administrative support for maintaining group information, responding to connection inquiries, etc. Focus on people development over accuracy of data.
  6. Ensure there is a primary community champion with authority that’s accountable at the senior level for groups within every ministry area at each campus. Empower them to appoint and invest consistently into high-capacity volunteer leaders (Community Leaders / Coaches) who work with group leaders at each campus.
  7. Align weekend messaging with community-building initiatives as much as possible. Make sure your platform communicators and community champions are working with each other in the creative planning of weekend programming and even aspects of sermon planning. All that’s needed to create a stellar homegrown campaign is an outline for a sermon series in advance and the involvement of the Lead Pastor in communicating it on video. Checkout for examples.

The implementation of any of these insights will bring improvement, but what makes all the difference is the dedicated buy-in and extreme ownership of the Lead Pastor. If you’re not there yet, pray and take steps forward with the ones you think are most achievable for you right now. Progress observed will inspire additional steps forward.

Keys for Building a Community Culture

Culture is something you feel. Every group of people and organization has a distinct culture. It’s the water in which you swim when you’re hanging out in an environment or with a group of people. It’s what you experience through all your senses when you are gathered with others who are a part of it.

You, for example, are experiencing more than just coffee when you sit inside a Starbucks. There is a culture that has been intentionally and artistically created to entice customers to return and build brand loyalty. Although our motivations differ, church leadership want people to return and consistently engage in their community life for infinitely more important reasons.

Pastors love it when people say their church feels like family. They just know it’s a win when folks say they feel like they belong and enjoy connecting with others each week. However, most leaders are not conscious about all the factors that make it that way. The DNA of culture must be deliberately molded, and just like a potter with clay, it is best to do it at the very beginning of a new work.

Regardless of where you would consider yourself to be in building a community culture in your church, here are eight keys I’ve discovered along the way that will help in this process:

  1. Discern God’s plan for building community in your church and reaching your surrounding community with the power of the Good News. It’s safe to assume the Lord is already at work building His Church where you minister and your primary job is to figure out how that’s happening. Invariably, it will be a community of two or more people pursuing Christ together. So how is God already moving in your midst to reach the lost?
  2. Decide together with your core leadership team how everyone will prioritize community and relationship-building. How will each one live it and lead it? The involvement of pastoral leadership in a church’s community life is the linchpin to the ongoing growth of biblical community. There is no substitute for what the most influential and visible people in the church model and advocate, particularly on the weekend.
  3. Don’t allow groups to be viewed as another ministry program/department of the church or to be perceived as something that good Christians do. A programmatic paradigm can be lethal to the life of organic community. It is not groups that we’re after ultimately…it’s what happens in them. Biblical community empowers believers and churches to function as the Body of Christ should (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:21-27).
  4. Dedicate resources towards building community. Invest time, energy, and money into the leaders and resources that serve as the life-source of community in your church. By virtue of resourcing this area of your church, you will be enhancing all There is no short-cut to healthy ministry, which flows out of healthy relationships.
  5. Discover who is gifted in communications and beat the drum of community every chance you get. You want to show and tell people what you believe about the importance of biblical community to their spiritual growth and well-being. Use all forms of communication: Platform, print, digital, visual, and stories to convey what God is doing through the community-life of your church.
  6. Design a community-life calendar and include no less than three church-wide opportunities per year for people to get plugged in. Present new ways for people to get connected in new types of groups. Feature existing groups and new group start-ups in your weekend announcements, website, social media platforms, slides, etc.
  7. Determine that every event you host or program you run will be used as an opportunity to help people take their next step toward greater engagement in your church’s community life. Churches tend to pour a lot of time and energy into planning events and the next step leadership wants people to take is an afterthought. Flip this. When events are built around a clear next step, more people are inspired to actually do something and you’ll see measurable fruit from your organized activities.
  8. Devote yourself to building a community culture. The journey will be filled with successes and set-backs, but stay with it. Study churches that do it well and read books by leaders you respect who are community-building champions themselves. Attend groups conferences and take staff and key volunteers with you. In other words, be a learner and take others along with you. Never settle.

This is all worth doing wholeheartedly because healthy spiritual relationships are essential to having a growing relationship with Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 John 1:7, 3:14, 4:20). Furthermore, when spiritually lost people come to a loving community, they tend to come to Christ (Acts 2:47; John 13:34; 1 John 4:12). Building a community culture is not optional for a church that wants to advance God’s mission in the world and these keys will help you and your team in the process.