Posted on April 25, 2018 |
This is the second of a two-part series focusing on things you can do as a leader to bring revival to your small group. When we introduce new topics to our blog, we often solicit other pastors, coaches, counselors, and leaders to tell us their stories and describe their experiences as to what worked for them in their (often many) years of service in a leadership capacity. When it came to bringing stale groups back to life, we received so many great responses! There were two main themes that kept coming up over and over again. The first was the idea of getting back to basics, which we featured in a previous post you can check out here! The other is the idea of changing things up and breaking routine, which we’ve presented here.
The human body is a wonderfully-made, adaptive machine. If you’re like me, you made it out of the holidays and a long winter only to find that you’ve packed on a few pounds. When I reach for another slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, my body is so very helpful in storing those extra calories for “later,” whatever that means. Then comes the pain of dieting and exercise. My first few days of counting calories I thought I was literally dying of starvation. My wife was not sympathetic. After I exercised I was sore, tired, and stiff. But then in the second week something happened. My body started to adapt again to my discipline. I started feeling less hungry, and I started craving healthy food and became less interested in junk food. The gym was no longer a drudgery but was a source of relaxation and energy. As it turns out, the brief pain of breaking my old habits was worth it to experience new healthy growth!
When it comes to our spiritual lives, sometimes we need to break old habits and start up new patterns. It doesn’t mean our old patterns were necessarily wrong (just like it wasn’t “wrong” that my body was storing those extra calories as fat), but when we become complacent, we rarely grow. The same thing happens in our small groups. When people come to a small group every week knowing exactly what to expect, what to say, what they’ll hear, which snacks to avoid (better stay away from Debbie’s vegan brownies…yuck), and how much effort they have to put in to feel comfortable, things can quickly become stale. We design our own little comfortable kingdom right there in that living room each and every week. Sure, we participate in the discussion and offer to pray for Dan’s sick dog. And when 9pm hits we know how to do one of those dramatic yawns in the direction of the leader to let them know we should probably be wrapping things up. But where is the freshness? Where is the life change? Where are we allowing the Spirit of God the room to grow us and challenge us and inspire us?
Of course the first step to combating staleness in your small group is to make sure you’re doing the basics right. If your small group is not embodying biblical community, then it’s best to get that right first. But beyond that, often the best way to bring freshness to your group is to simply change up the routine. Break out of old habits and introduce some new patterns. Just like our bodies adjusting to a new exercise routine, it can be a little rough at first, but then comes energy and satisfaction and excitement over the results! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Change up your prayer time — I remember one night I was with my guys during accountability time and this one guy was just really struggling. He was just having one of those moments in life where nothing was working out. Normally we would have everyone share, and then we would go around the room and pray. Well this particular night, this guy was especially vulnerable and we were all leaning in a bit with intensity listening to his story, and I ended up asking one of the men to pray for him right on the spot. You would have thought I broke out some pirate hats and told everyone to do the hokey pokey! They all just stared at me and were like, “What…you mean pray NOW!?” Yes now! You see your brother in need! Pray now! Sometimes just changing the order of prayer or the way you share or the things you pray for can really wake people up.
- Change who leads the group for the night — Ready to really shake things up? Assign a person or a couple with the task of preparing for and leading group the following week. Tell them you won’t be leading at all, just participating. They don’t have to be apprentices or even the most spiritually mature people in your group. Obviously make sure they are capable of doing it at some level, and set appropriate expectations for what you know they can handle. To add a little extra mutual ministry to the mix, tell them that if they need help, they should contact one or more of their fellow small group members (A.K.A., not you) for assistance. Like so many training experiences in life, it’s often those “sink or swim” moments in life that provide us with the most growth!
- Change locations — I often give my group a hard time because each week each person sits in the same exact seat every time. I’ve even had newer members frantically apologizing because someone informed them that they accidentally took “my” chair. What a ridiculous thought. Does anyone really think that where we meet or where we sit means anything? No, of course not. It’s just that people are creatures of habit and they love their environments to feel comfortable and predictable. So once in a while, wake them up by suggesting to meet at a coffee shop. Or how about a picnic in the park? Or how about another member’s house? Forcing everyone to suddenly adapt to a new meeting space can help people be more “present” during small group. They become more aware of where they are, who’s watching, and what they’re doing.
- Change the curriculum — Remember when your group was totally jazzed about doing that 24 week study of the book of Romans? Yeah, that lasted about a week for our group too. If your people are coming to group with low energy about whatever you’re currently studying, it’s time to think about changing things up. Obviously, this takes discernment and prayer. If your members are just resisting heart change or are being lazy, that’s a separate problem. But sometimes the material you committed to weeks or months ago is just not the right thing for your group in the current season. I remember one time my group really wanted to do a marriage study, so we started reading a highly recommended book. A few weeks in, I could tell people were just bored. The book was biblical and the information was practical, but the writing style just didn’t jive with my group full of freshly-married twenty-somethings. I switched us to a book by a hip young author that was all about living radically like Jesus, and suddenly they woke up (and their marriages improved as well). Don’t be afraid to take a break from your regular curriculum or abandon it altogether if it makes sense for your group.
- Change the discussion — My group has gotten really good at preparing just enough information to formulate an acceptable answer when I call on them during discussion. Sometimes the couples in my group cheat and work out 2-3 answers between them so they have a shared “pool” to choose from! So I throw them curveballs. Or I ask them individual questions that have nothing to do with the study material just to get their thoughts on a piece of scripture or a particular topic. Suddenly they have to think for themselves on the fly and it terrifies them. But you know what? It gets them thinking about their own beliefs and heart attitudes, and in the end they grow from it! Or how about this: if your group feels a little stale, cancel your normal discussion time and have a “family chat” on why the group has gone stale! Ask your members to be accountable to themselves and each other on why there is little or no growth in your group!