Jenny Andrews is a wife of 14 yrs, a mother to 3 wonderful boys and a devoted followed of Jesus. She desires to encourage and equip women to be all that the Lord has called them be. She enjoys speaking and teaching the Word of God. For more information you can find Jenny Andrews on her Facebook page.
By Gena McCown, Co-Founder Women’s Ministry Council
We’ve come to the end of our series, however this series couldn’t possibly answer or address every question or need on the subject. We are going to close this series by answering questions that were submitted earlier in the series, and hopefully in doing so … we’ll fill the gaps.
Q: What is the difference between a Small Group, Life Group, Adult Sunday School, and Bible Study? Do we need them all, and if so why?
A: To a certain extent, it really is semantics. In many churches these terms are interchangeable, Small Groups and Life Groups are especially. Generally speaking, Small Groups and Life Groups are intentional groups of church members (usually under 12 people) that are “going through life” together. They may study the bible, a helpful book, or even weekly topical studies together. The purpose of the group is spiritual growth, relationship building, and accountability. Bible Studies and Adult Sunday School, are more akin to traditional models of group study. They are generally larger, and stick to scriptural study. This may be in the way of expository (line by line exploration of the scriptures) or using printed Bible Study curriculum. Over the years, the lines have smudged a bit and Bible Study Groups may elect to study a helpful book, or a small group may grow into a “large group”. I believe they all share the same goal for spiritual growth, although small groups and life groups create more relationships building opportunities.
Q: How do I get people to sign up for my Small Group?
A: There are a few ways to get interest built in your small group. First, I think we need to do a better job of talking up our small groups before the official sign up period. This also includes making sure that we are clear about the details, date… time… place… number of weeks… childcare… cost… etc. Bring it up among your friends, post it on your facebook page, etc. In the churches we should also make a purpose to highlight small groups leading up to the signs ups with intro videos playing between services, information in the church lobby, etc.
Second, personal invitation is a great way to bring people into the fold, it tells the women you encounter that you want to get to know them better or would like to share this experience of growing in faith with them. One thing that can happen (it’s happen to me personally) is that as life groups grow and leaders are developed your personal circle of friends may become life group leaders. You can actually run out of women to invite, because you don’t know them. This means you need to get intentional about meeting new women in the church.
Third, we have to remember the saying “out of sight, out of mind”. Many people have the intention of signing up for small groups & will forget. It is important that when we are announcing small groups at church or a women’s event that we have a way for them to sign up immediately. A kiosk in the lobby that directs to a digital sign up or an old fashioned table with clipboards set up in the lobby, either are great ways to get the women to sign up before they get home and life gets in the way. Another option is a Small Groups Kick-off Brunch.
Q: How do we fund our small groups?
A: If small groups are part of the church vision, then when it comes to the purchasing of leader materials (video, leader guide, etc) this is an investment the church or Women’s Ministry makes. Then, each participant can purchase their own workbook. Many publishers off bulk discounts on materials that could save the participants money, but this requires collecting the $ in advance or the church purchasing materials that may go unused if the sign up is less than expected. I suggest picking a publisher that has a good array of materials, so that you can build an account and relationship with that publisher.
Present your small group menu well in advance for your church members to sign up, and take payment when they sign up. This allows you to only order the materials you need. People who have paid at the time they sign up are more likely to stick through the commitment as well. Then, when the Small Group meets for the first time, you can distribute their books. This also helps your leaders know exactly how many people to plan for. When we allow people to sign up, and then purchase their own workbook… we have no clue on who is actually going to follow through & show up. When we require our Small Group leaders to fund the group themselves, we lessen the number of leaders who are going to volunteer to lead.
If you are a small church, church plant, or a ministry independent of a church… funding the study may not be in the budget. Then, as a Small Group leader consider dispersing the cost of the materials among everyone in the group. $100 leader kid, $10 workbook… 10 women in the group, everyone pays $20. Or if the church can budget $50 towards the leader kit, each woman pays just $15. Also consider, if you are on a tight budget, video series where you don’t need the workbooks (or vice versa). Share materials with other Small Group Leaders, or find a larger church you can establish a relationship with and borrow materials. Or, teach an expository or weekly topical study that doesn’t require anything more than your bible.
Q: How can I lead good discussions in our group vs. asking “what does this scripture say”?
A: I think discussion questions are a huge trip up for some small group leaders, which is why they like to purchase curriculum versus writing/teaching their own. In this case, the leader guide generally has discussion question prompts in place and you are following a script. I believe this is a great option for new leaders, because they can get their feet wet in the process of small group leading. For seasoned leaders, what I suggest is to begin with the purpose you chose this particular study. What is the goal, what do you hope the women achieve by completing this study independently and as a group. Once you identify your goal for the study, you can then create questions that are going to move the women toward that goal. Creating questions that gently guide them to the “ah-ha” moment. In fact, this is why I strongly suggest having your goal in place before you even pick the study. If you are picking a study because it’s popular, or “looks good”, there isn’t a goal in place. Without a goal, you will struggle to come up with engaging questions. With a goal first, you will find your questions are in place, and you select a study that helps answer those questions.
If you questions are not your thing, you can always ask someone else in your group to lead that portion. I must admit, some people are just better at it than others. You could even assign that task to multiple women in the study, each week a different person is tasked with writing the discussion questions. Also, when you preview the material ahead of the group vs. watching it for the first time with them… take notes. The points you thought were worth writing down can become the launching point of the questions you ask.
Q: When should a Small Group be “OPEN”, “CLOSED”, or “DROP IN” in regards to attendance/members.
A: There are only two Small Groups in which I think “DROP IN” is appropriate. 1st, is the very first week. If someone isn’t certain if this particular study is something they want to commit to, allow them to drop in for the first session and view the introduction with the group. 2nd, is if your Small Group is a topical study that changes from week to week. This allows the women to drop in only on the topics that interest them. I love this option for seasoned believers or busy women who are trying to plug in but their schedule doesn’t allow for a long term commitment.
Open Groups are great for big topics. For example if you church offers Dave Ramsey Financial Peace as a Small Group, this is a perfect for Open Groups. Expository or Book By Book Study Groups are also appropriate for Open Groups, as they are working through the scriptures. Open Groups are great for new leaders who are leading their first small group, or leaders who are more interested in getting to know other women in the church. Open Groups are important to have so that the women who attend your church have an opportunity to find their fit within a group of women vs. being thrust into a group where they can’t connect.
Equally, Closed Groups are also important to have in the church because these are the groups where deeper fellowship and accountability occur. Most Closed Groups start that way, a group of women who decided to meet together as a Small Group. However they are not advertising their group to the church, but letting you as the WM Leader know that they are part of a group. Other Closed Groups start off as Drop In or Open Groups, that over time relationships began to form and they make the conscious decision to continue close the group to new members. Closed Groups are important because the relationships that develop are deeper, there is accountability in this group, personal information begins to be shared, etc. At this point it is important to protect that group by closing the group. Then it is up to the leader and group to determine if, when, and who is added to the group.
It is my belief that all three of these types of groups should be happening in your church. Open Groups and Drop In Groups are the first stop usually for new members in the church, guests, etc. This is where they can test the waters, get introduced to how small groups work, and find their fit. Closed Groups are the ones where real relationships are developed, and I believe the long term goal for each woman in your church should be to move from an Open/Drop In Group to a Closed Group. Our Small Group menus should be very intentional.
Q: How Do I Refresh Interest After A Year?
A: When interest starts to wane, the first question we need to really understand is WHY that happened. Was the study too intense? Too long? Did we notice interest started to drop about half way through? Or, did women disengage almost at the beginning? Then we can move onto examining other possibilities.
If a study is too long, or too intense, it could just mean that the women need a break. Either a literal break, taking a few weeks or months off. Or, a break in the material itself and as a leader I need to find something a little bit lighter for our next round. If we notice that somewhere between the beginning and middle, women were already disengaging… that is generally a good indicator that the study materials were lacking in some way. Maybe the speaker on the video was not engaging, wasn’t understood, or the content seemed very dated. It could be that the video was great, but the homework in between was monotonous or unchallenging. On the other hand it could be that the homework was overwhelming. I’ve experienced both. This is why I stand firm on intentional small group study selections, we need to not just grab an interesting title off the shelf, but walk through it ourselves or seek suggestions from others. You just never know what you are going to get.
If none of the above seems to be the case, my next suggestion is to ask the group. Maybe their needs have changed, or it’s time to reevaluate the goal for the group. If your goal as leader was to strengthen the marriages of your group members, and you have done six studies on a row relating to relationship building… maybe it’s time to mix it up. Move to a study that actually is willing to talk about the physical aspects of marriage. Has your group moved from young married couples to married couples with children. Then it may be time to switch from studies on marriage to studies on parenting. Talk to the group members and see what they want to study next. If you’ve been leading expository studies on the Old Testament, maybe it’s time to take a jump forward to the Gospels for a bit. Or, it may be time to bring in fresh faces and invite some new women to your closed group. You may also need to consider that your group is ready to split, and begin leading their own groups. Finally, you need to prayerfully consider if the Lord is prompting you to take a break. It could be that you are entering a season of life where you are called to be the student.
When interest wanes, something in the dynamic of the group isn’t working. Once you have explored all of the questions about the form and function of the group, there are only technical questions left. Such as… has our groups availability changed and we need to set a new day/time, has this group just met it’s purpose and it is time to disband entirely.
By Gena McCown. Co-Founder Women’s Ministry Council
We have plowed through some length portions for this series, and now that we have taken care of the behind the scenes topics… let’s move to the front side of things. We can have all of the prep work in check and still fail at small groups because we can’t control the meeting itself. Now, I am going to admit that no matter how much you try a meeting can get away from you. None of us are perfect, but the point I am going to focus on is what you need to happen MOST of the time. Then when there is an occasional slip up, you will be forgiven.
Let’s cover some basic points that we should ALL be doing, then we’ll move on to the things where we have some options.
- Preview the Material – do not going into each meeting blind. Either watch the video and go through the workbook earlier in the day (or week), or even consider going through the whole thing before the study begins. You will have a clearer idea of how long the material is going to take to cover, if you think you are going to need more time for discussion.
- If you are teaching expository studies yourself, you should be preparing throughout the week, not a last minute hurrah before study starts.
- Your group should be bathed in prayer, as anything we do that draws people closer to God the enemy is going to work to stop. I always pray for obstacles to be removed from the path of the women to the study each week.
- Set a realistic expectation on how long the study should last, and stick to that timeframe. Occasionally conversation may take you over that timeframe, but make that the exception not the rule.
- If a study is 8 weeks long, I always recommend telling people to plan for 9-10 weeks. Inevitably something will happen that will disrupt the schedule. If everything goes according to plan use that last meeting as a conversation night to recap the study, make up date for anyone who missed a segment from the video, service project night, or even a fellowship night out on the town.
- If you are meeting at a local coffee shop either schedule extra time into your meeting for ordering food/coffee…. or remind your attendees to arrive early to place their orders.
- If you are meeting at the church or host home, make arrangements for any snacks/refreshments for the evening. You do not always need to provide refreshments, but if you do put together a volunteer sign up sheet for the first meeting.
RUNNING THE MEETING:
- Start on Time – be sure to show up a few minutes early to set up your videos or other things needed for that nights study. You should be ready to go on time, and arriving early gives you time to deal with any technical issues.
- Open in Prayer – you can choose to do a general opening prayer, allow people to make prayer requests, or take turns praying. It is not uncommon for prayer time in small groups to take a long time if we are not careful. I have tried a few methods each working effectively for different groups. 1) Ask the women to think of their prayer requests while praying a general prayer, asking God to listen to the prayers on their hearts. 2) Ask the women to submit their prayer requests to you via email/text prior to the meeting, then you can not only list them in brevity as you pray but also provide a printed list for the members to take home & pray over during the week. 3) Allow each woman to verbally make her prayer request before or during the prayer, but set a limit for 1 min. per person. Establish this at the start of the 1st meeting, and remind the women they are free to ask questions or give additional prayers and support when the meeting is over.
- Establish the “House Rules” at the first meeting, which will include start and finish times, how prayer requests are being handled, reminding the women that what is said in small group stays in small group, etc. Then in the 2nd meeting give a quick recap. No need to repeat at every study night. Revisit if new members join the group.
- Watch the Video/Teach the Lesson – if you are watching a video, you know exactly how much time it will take (it is usually printed in the jacket sleeve of the DVD). If you are teaching the materials, watch the clock to ensure you leave time for discussion.
- Prompt the discussions, being mindful to not take over the time talking yourself (which can happen with teachers, ha!) or that others in the group do not monopolize the discussion time. Ask specific people questions, make eye contact to feel out if someone has something to offer, and help guide the conversation along.
- Close in Prayer – In the closing prayer I like to include asking for protection over our church, the women in attendance, and those who didn’t make it for that evening.
In between study group meetings, I like to send email reminders if there is something the women need to do before we meet up again. You can also use this email to remind the snack volunteers, do the assigned “homework”, any immediate prayer requests that can’t wait until the next group meeting, church announcements that might be important, etc.
So what makes the small group “effective”, since that sounds like any old meeting? Being intentional. I’ve been to many a meeting in the corporate world, spending 30+ minutes discussing something that could have been said in an email. I’ve sat in small groups where so much time was spent talk about our prayers, that by the time we got to actually say them… we used up half of our meeting time. I’ve led meetings where technical delays caused us to run behind, and I learned the hard way that I needed to arrive extra early.
What makes them effective is that everything goes so smoothly there is nothing to complain about, nothing to improve, and our goals are met. It’s effective because it wasn’t defective.
When your small group meetings go awry, and are not effective it will be quite evident. Word will get back to you that group thinks you are disorganized or always behind. You will see your number of attendees drops, your regulars stop coming, or that you no longer get anyone signing up for your group. You will see that more time is spent praying and talking than studying and you can’t finish in your allotted number of weeks. You will run out of time, members, interest, and find yourself questioning “why do I even bother”.
If you are meeting your goals, if your group members stay put, if your group is growing in number, if your group is growing in their walk…. then you are running an effective meeting.
The final installment in this series will address some great questions that were emailed in about this topic, and will be posted on July 5th. If you have a question and did not submit it yet, pop over to our series intro and submit your question now!
Whether you have a formal program for mother’s like Mother’s of Preschoolers, a variety of Bible Study groups, or your Women’s Ministry likes to host brunches … inevitably childcare becomes an issue.
- Not enough volunteers.
- Not enough budget to pay childcare workers.
- Background checks are expensive.
- Limited space in Sunday School rooms.
- To feed or not to feed the children.
- Paid childcare workers are more reliable than volunteers. If paying a childcare worker isn’t in your budget, consider charging or taking donations for childcare services for women’s events.
- Offer childcare only to those who are truly in need. To do this you can opt to not include it in the event publicity, but direct those who may have childcare concerns to speak with a WM team member.
- To offset costs of childcare workers’ background checks, pool with other ministries in the church or neighboring churches. You can split the costs of the background checks and share the approved list of workers.
- Cut childcare expenses in half by utilizing paid childcare workers and volunteers. Many churches have teens who need volunteer service hours for high school graduation or college applications. Or, you may have a group of teens who receive funds for youth trips in exchanging for volunteering at the church.
- If you know some of the women attending have teens that can serve as childcare workers, or tweens you can help your workers, ask mom to bring them along. I find directly asking mom is far more effective than going directly to the teen. (Volunteer or Paid)
- Give plenty of notice about the event. Even if all the details are not secure yet, a simple “Save the Date” is enough to allow moms to begin planning for childcare needs on their own.
- Provide a list of known baby sitters, and suggest moms’ pool together and hire two sitters, for one house, and the group brings their kids to that home for the duration of the event.
- Plan women’s events during the same time the kids events are happening at church. If the kids are having an Awanas meeting, you could have a special event nearby.
- Some nearby churches may sponsor “Mom’s Days Out” programs periodically. You can schedule your activity during this time frame, and only suggest these locations to the single moms.
When speaking with Women’s Ministry Leaders from across the country, I have found many of us share similar struggles in the ministry. One of which is reaching out to the younger generation of women. Titus 2:3-5 explicitly calls the older generation of women to teach the younger generation, but how can we do that if they don’t even seem interested to learn from us?
There are several ways in which we CAN engage the younger generations coming behind us, it just requires stepping out of the women’s ministry box that we have become accustomed to serving in.
~ Start a MOPS ministry at your church, for the moms with young children. Quite often this is the group we are trying to reach, but we are failing to offer what they desperately need at this time in their life. A MOPS group is not only a great way for the women to be able to build community amongst themselves, but the older women of the church can serve as mentor moms. This is a position within the MOPS structure that assigns 5-8 mothers to a mentor mom, who is there to share her wisdom and life experience with them. She is an encourager, accountability partner, and prayer warrior for these young women navigating a new season of life.
~ Volunteer as a chaperone to youth events, especially ones for the teen girls. This establishes a relationship between the women’s ministry and the teen girls who will one day be a part of it. It lets them know that the women of the church care for them, fosters relationships at an earlier age, and it also keeps the women serving on the women’s ministry team in touch with the how the world is treating our young ladies.
~ Start a SUB Women’s Ministry for the 20-35 age group. When we reflect on our Women’s Ministry calendar of activities, we may find that in our attempt to provide activities and speakers for the general population of the women in our church… we are failing to provide anything that interests the younger generation of women. We may find it is easier to allow them to group together than to try and force them into the existing women’s ministry program. The younger group of women may be more interested in going to see speakers, Christian concerts, or even taking weekend retreats. Whereas your older women in the church are tied down to staying locally, having their kids in bed by a certain time, or job expectations.
~ Intentionally add 1-2 women who represent the younger body of women into your women’s ministry team. They will bring a vault of new ideas, and an insight to what the 20-35’s are looking for out of a women’s ministry. If you can’t find anyone for the team yet, at least consider speaking to a few of the influential women of that age group for their opinion.
~ Engage a “connector” from that group to come to Women’s Ministry events. A “connector” is that women in the church that carries influence. If she is attending an event, others will attend too. Let her know outright that you are attempting to engage more of the young women into the women’s ministry and you covet her support and influence.
Women’s Ministries want to have their younger generations apart of their activities and church life. It is easy to throw in the towel, when you think they are simply disinterested in what the ministry has to offer. When we step out of the box, we can look at the situation with fresh eyes. Is there a change that need to be made in the ministry? Or, is there a better way we can serve them until they are ready?