Pray Top Down

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A standard protocol for any ministry is to pray for God’s protection and favor over their work.  At a Women’s Ministry team meeting, we may pray for each others’ personal requests, for the event we are planning, and the women in the church. How often do you make sure to include praying for your Pastor, Staff, Church, and the Community it is serving?

So often we are focused on our own ministry needs that we forget that we are part of a bigger ministry in our community.  We are focused on our own ministry, and our own church… and we may forget about the other ministries and churches that are serving in our areas as well.  We also may be so focused on our role in serving in our ministry area that we forget that we are part of a body larger that we serve as well.

As we delve into the topic of Prayer & Worship in your Women’s Ministry at this weekends training event, we want to make sure that we don’t neglect to remind our leaders the importance of praying beyond your ministry.  We are grateful for The Good Book Company’s book “5 Things to Pray for Your Church”, which walks you through the ways you can be praying for your church, your role within it, and beyond your church walls.  The women attending our training event will be receiving a copy of this book courtesy of The Good Book Company.

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A posture of prayer needs to start from the top down.  As ministry workers who are part of a larger church body, before we begin praying for our own ministry needs and direction, we must begin with the church from the top down.  We pray for protection over the building, and we pray that our Pastors will be protected & have wisdom in shepherding the flock. We can even go a step further up, as we pray for our country and elected officials and how they will respond, represent, and protect the rights of the church.

As we lead the women in our church to a posture of prayer, and model the behavior and practice before them, we can also help them to foster a position of prayer over the church they call home.

Model the Prayer

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For some people prayer seems to come naturally, it pours off their lips like sweet nectar.  We can even be envious of another person’s ability to pray, as their heartfelt words sound like music to the soul.  For others, prayer is like walking through a room full of mouse traps with a raw egg on a spoon… hoping you can make it to the other side with out falling.  We can recognize the preciousness of what we are carrying (sweet words to the Lord), we understand the importance of our task (to honor and praise Him, to confess and surrender to Him), and yet the words just do not flow at all.

There are those whom the Lord has anointed the spiritual gift of intercessory prayer.  While we are not to covet or try and take a gift that was not intended of us, prayer is not an exclusive gift that only some of us get.   The scriptures give us multiple examples of people who cried out to the Lord, written prayers of the saints, and even Jesus himself was asked:  Lord, how do we pray?  He answered with The Lord’s Prayer.  Prayer is something that we are all called to participate in, and yet a common area new believers (and even some seasoned believers) stumble through.

Here is the GOOD NEWS… a prayer can be as simple as crying out the Lord… Oh, God!  For the Lord knows what is on our hearts and what burdens us.  He knows the trouble we face, He understands the words that we fail to utter in our despair.  The Lord is also patient, and He will listen as you unload every word running through your head… whether it is in eloquent sentences or broken up by sobs.  He mourns when we mourn, because He loves us so deeply.  He rejoices when we pray to Him in thankfulness and praise.  He hears the hushed tone Thank you, Lord as much as the loud Thank You JESUS for your blessings of which I do not deserve!

Yet, there is MORE good news.   When we want to understand more about how to pray, the scriptures are there to answer that need.  We will learn what TO DO and what NOT to do in our prayer life.  We have the example of The Lord’s Pray, and the prayers of others who have come before us.   In addition, we have books that can help us improve our prayer life.  Whether it is a book of sample prayers, books that have pulled out the prayers directly from the scriptures, and books that walk you through the process of praying from your own heart.

As Women’s Ministry Leaders we can help foster an attitude of prayer in our church by modeling prayer in our personal lives.  We can also help foster a posture of prayer in the lives of the women in our church by helping them develop prayer habits.  Prayer teams do not need to be made up of only those who excel in prayer.  They can be a great place to put women who desire to deepen their prayer life.  Prayer rooms can provide direction and resources, as well as women who are available to help model prayer to those who walk in those doors.

Another option is to begin an intentional step toward developing good prayer habits by adding Prayer to your Small Groups menu.  This weekend the women in attendance at our training event will be receiving a copy of Susan Hunt’s Prayers of the Bible study book and leader guide.  Not only is this a great opportunity to talk with your existing small group leaders, about having a small group focused on prayer… but it is a great introduction to get NEW small group leaders in place.  If you have a woman who is already a prayer warrior, but didn’t think she could be a small group leader… WHAT A GREAT WAY TO GET HER STARTED!  This would allow her to get her feet wet in the leader process while leading a subject that is already near and dear to her heart.

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Thank You P&R Publishing for your support in our upcoming Women’s Ministry Council training event on Prayer and Worship & their role in our Women’s Ministry programs!

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Lead Them to Pray

This week, in preparation for our Prayer & Worship Training Event , the Women’s Ministry Council invited member Jenny Andrews to contribute to the conversation.  Jenny is going to share with us practical tips for Starting a Prayer Team  in your Women’s Ministry. 
Before starting or agreeing to start either ministry in the church be sure to go before the Lord in prayer  about what it takes to start either or both. Both take time and both require diligence. Like any good steward we are called to count the cost of starting a ministry or team.
After you have done that if you are feeling called go see the Pastor who would be responsible for such ministry. My Senior Pastor was not over this particular ministry, the Associate Pastor was so I went to him. Or, connect with current prayer team leader and ask to how you can help.
I would ask a few important questions:
1. What is your vision for prayer in the church/women’s ministry?
          a. Most likely the pastor and other leaders are aware of the weak areas in the body of  Christ and they can help you be intentional on specific areas of prayer.  (i.e. prayer  chain, prayer team, prayer room, prayer night)
2. How can I help you in that vision?
Once you get those questions answered it is now time to pray about building a team for the prayer ministry.  Use the pastor’s vision as your guideline for the prayer vision for the year. Meet with them yearly around the same time the recast vision and assess prayer needs.
1. Start with key leadership and ask them if they are aware of any women who they would
consider women of prayer.
2. Begin looking for woman in your small group or in casual conversations who are desiring to pray with you and others.
3. Make a list of people and begin praying over them.
4. Make a list of responsibilities that would be required to be a part of the team.
          a. i.e. no gossiping, live life of godliness (not perfection), willing to learn.
          b. You can also look online fore prayer guidelines that will help you make up your list.
          c. Do a separate list of responsibilities for prayer team and for prayer room if you are   doing both.
 5. Send out personal invites to the potential team members for a meet and greet.
 6. Plan out a year of prayer events before meet and greet
          a. Have your dates in writing, you don’t have to have details of events or meetings       just that they are happening.
          b. Get on the church calendar schedule so they know you are having events.
 7. Pray for a potential assistant or co-leader for team they will help you tremendously.
8. At the meet and greet:
           a. Share the vision of the team/room.
          b. Share the responsibilities
          c. Allow them to have input on needs of prayer
           d. Share with them calendar
          e. Do brainstorm for prayer event ideas
          f. Look for potential leader to help you in this meeting
 9. Follow through with events
10. Keep team up to date on everything and encourage them often.
Remember this is not a to-do list it is a suggested list and can be tweaked to fit your particular church  body needs.
Study to show yourself approved. I would encourage you to study spiritual warfare as it  goes hand and hand with prayer. My encouragement would be David Platt’s series on Angels, demons and spiritual warfare. Pray for discernment and wisdom often as you will need it. Research praying scripture and praying God’s will in accordance with the bible.
It will be a slow process and it does take time but your efforts and diligence will pay off in the long run.  Remember to keep Christ as the center of you prayer team and never be afraid to ask for help in area unknown to you. Remain teachable and steadfast in prayer.
Prayer meetings can happen anywhere.   You can host them in the main sanctuary of your church, or even at a local park.  A popular trend is the establishing of a prayer room in your church.  This is usually a quite space, where women can come to pray alone or in groups.  Some are decorated and stocked with resources on prayers, and others are just a friendly space with some chairs.  A door that can close for privacy is recommended.   You may even choose to have a prayer garden or walk on your church property.  For some ideas on Prayer Rooms, visit our Pinterest Page.

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.

Small Group Series – Q & A

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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. 

Small Group Series #4- When We Meet

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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!

The Small Group Series #2 – Obstacles

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Written By:  Gena McCown, Women’s Ministry Council Co-Founder

Small Groups are a beautiful part of a successful Women’s Ministry program, however it can take some effort to get a program rolling.   This week, we are going to look through some of the obstacles we face in trying to get small groups started, maintain them throughout the year, and encourage growth toward the future.

To start with, we need to establish clear goals for our small group.

  1. The purpose of the small group is to help women in our church and community deepen their knowledge of the Word, through group study and individual study time.
  2. As the women deepen their knowledge of the Word, we help demonstrate how to apply Biblical principals to our every day lives.
  3. Additionally, the small group should foster a sense of community and fellowship that leads us into a relationship of vulnerability, trust, and accountability.

We also need to establish boundaries for our small group.

  1. Small group is a place to share our vulnerable selves, not to spread gossip about others not in the group under the guise of prayer requests.
  2. Small group is a sacred space of communion and we agree to keep our small group conversations within the confines of the small group.
  3. Small group is exactly that, a small group.  50 women are not in a “small group”, that is a bible study or fellowship ministry.  We need to have an expectation that growth will result in the formation of a new small group, splitting the members among them.

Once we have these basic parameters in place, we can then begin to look at what obstacles may come our way and how to address them as they arise.  There are a few things I have noticed over the years that are pretty consistent obstacles that show up in the small groups.  These obstacles show up from the preparation stages through the last day of your study, and I’m going to address them in that order.

We Lack Small Group Leaders

A huge struggle for many Women’s Ministry Leaders is getting enough women to lead small groups.  I’d like to first address the first half of this obstacles which is defining what you are looking for in your small group leaders.  Are you looking for a facilitator, which is a woman who is happy to host the study in her home or willing to use prewritten curriculum that requires no actual teaching or preparation on her part.  Or, are you looking for a small group teacher, which is a woman who is a seasoned believer who is willing to dig deeper into the scriptures and serve as a discipler.

Once you know what type of leaders you are looking for, it becomes easier to find them.  Why?  Because, now when you start asking women in your church you have a clear expectation of what you want from small group leaders.  I would suggest that both facilitators and teachers have their place in small groups.  Facilitators will generally guide the group through written curriculum, and are learning alongside those in their group.  There are less expectations on them to “have all the answers” and it is a great group for new believers.  Teacher led small groups are perfect for the women in your church that are looking to challenge themselves by digging through the scriptures in an expository style or even seeking the wisdom of seasoned believers on tough topics from the scriptures.

Additionally, if you are developing small group leaders… facilitating is a GREAT first step.  It allows the leader to familiarize herself with the general format of how a small group runs before putting her in charge of developing her own materials.  Which leads me to the next obstacle for small groups, leadership development and support.

We Lack Small Group Support

It is really easy to find a small group leader if you tell her that her only responsibility is to hit the play button on the VCR.  It is also much easier to tackle tough subjects that no one wants to teach if they know they don’t have to come up with their material on their own.  I’m doing this now myself, leading a study as a facilitator because I know this is an area that I too need help in.   It is harder to find leaders who are ready to teach a group, where the bulk of the preparation lies on their shoulders.  I do not believe this is because God doesn’t have the women in the church already… I believe it is because they lack the confidence to do it.

How often have you approached a women in your church to teach a small group and she replies that she doesn’t know enough about the Bible to lead a group.  How do you respond to it?  If you are like most leaders, you will ask for her to pray about it or give her the option of letting you know should she change her mind.  How many times have you followed her objection with the question:

Would you be interested in being trained to lead a small group?

If we never challenge our women to rise to the occasion, they may never do so.  If we have a plan in place to help them learn how to facilitate a small group, and then eventually teach a small group… we have opened up the potential of endless teachers.  Ask questions about why they don’t think they can lead.  You may find they feel Biblically illiterate, not certain how a meeting runs, concerned they can’t command the attention of the group, or they may think there are costs associated with the role which are not in their means. 

Solutions for this obstacle will begin with simply answering those objections.  Biblically illiterate, would they be willing to meet with you for 1:1 discipling?  Concerned about how to run a meeting or command attention, consider setting them up as a co-leader to an established leader you respect.   Concerned about material costs, then explain to them who is responsible for paying for the materials (the church, split among the participants evenly, everyone buys their own, or using materials the church already has in stock).

Support doesn’t stop after we have trained small group leaders, we need to continually develop them and encourage those leaders to also find and develop leaders in their group.  If you small groups take a break over the summer, use this time to put together a brief training for your leaders.  Find a book or develop your own material, if need be.  Check in with your leaders throughout the year to see if they are having any issues in their groups.  Consider having one of your Women’s Ministry Leader team dedicated to overseeing the small groups.

We Lack Interest in our Small Groups

It’s the week of small group sign ups and your group is filling up nicely.  Your first meeting goes off without a hitch, however by mid-study the number of women attending as decreased.  By the end of the study you are down to a few dedicated women.  Or, perhaps this scenario sounds more like your experience:  After weeks of promoting small groups, only a small percentage of the women in your church have signed up.  How can you have small groups if there are no women signing up?  Why continue them if the women are not committing to see it through until the end?

The first question we need to ask ourselves is a tough one, which is are the small groups important in this church at all?  I’ve noticed that there is a certain culture to churches where small groups are really successful.  The church is made up primarily of people who grew up in church and know how to “do church” without prompting.  The church is made up primarily of people who have a strong sense of community, and their church family is their biggest area of community.  In churches where I see small groups struggling, I notice these are churches with a larger percentage (not necessarily majority) of new believers.  I’ve also noticed that members of these churches are having their community needs met outside of the church.  They are involved in outside organizations, live in areas that are extremely busy offering a lot of options for socializing and fellowshipping, and may have a community of friends who either do not go to church at all -0r at least not all go to the same church. 

Another aspect affecting small groups, that I have begun to notice, is the attempt at churches to utilize technology to streamline sign ups.  I’ve had far more success getting women to sign up for ANYTHING when they can do it on the spot vs. online at home.  For no other reason than they forget, out of sight… out of mind.  Certain areas of the country are also populated with either older generations who are not computer savy or live in an area that is economically disadvantaged and those congregants lack access to computers to sign up digitally.  If you live in a major city, with lots of professionals and technology is common knowledge… online or app sign ups are perfect.  In other areas, if this is your goal, you are going to have to slowly transition to it.  Be sure to provide both options until you begin to see the change of habit.   This can including offering digital signs ups and old fashioned paper sign up forms.  Or, you can choose to set up some tablets in the church lobby for quick sign ups before they leave.  Have a volunteer there to help your older members with the process.

If you have made the sign up process simple, meaning everyone can see the details of the study (what it is about, when it meets, how much materials cost) and you have an easy way for them to sign up… and you still lack interest?  Then you may need to face the reality that Small Groups are simply not the method in which you are going to best disciple your women.  Perhaps they are more interested in workshops, retreats, conferences, and other events of this nature than long term group studies.  You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. 

The second question you will need to ask, when you see declining numbers, is whether or not the materials you are providing are of interest to the women in the church.  A church that is made up of 80% young families will definitely have success offering Parenting and Marriage related topics in their small groups.  However if the majority of your studies are taught by your older women, on the topic of Empty Nesters… you just won’t see the numbers you want.  We must be intentional about how many, and what types of groups we are offering.   If every study you offer is a video series from a major publisher, and your numbers are in decline, perhaps it is time to add in some expository groups or topical groups.  If every study group is held on weekday mornings, you are neglecting your working women.  Variety and diversity in the topics & scheduling will help increase the number of women attending.

We Lack Returning Participants

If you have noticed that your small groups are a revolving door in regards to attendance there are few immediate considerations.  First, women may be looking for their right fit.  Don’t take it personally if they leave and join up another group.  Be glad they are still in a group, and praise God that He will be sending someone else to fill that spot.  Second, women in our current generations are busier than ever before.  Perhaps your group was the perfect fit in the fall, but their spring season runs on an entirely different schedule.  Another group may be more convenient for spring, and you may see the women return to their original groups the following fall.  Third, women may be hopping groups based on the topics.  If you jumped from a Galatians study to one on parenting, don’t be surprised if the single ladies without kids jump ship to another study.  To combat this include your group members in choosing the next subject/topic for the group instead of selecting material that you are interested in and hoping they are too.

Something else to consider is this… these women may be seeking.  They know that they want to dig deeper into the word, but they are not sure what or how.  They may not even be able to articulate that they are searching or even what they are searching for.  However this study is just not “doing it” for them, and they drop out mid way.  In some respects we do need to allow our women the freedom to keep seeking, however our leaders need some sort of consistency for their group (especially if people are sharing personal details).  It is perfectly acceptable to either have the small group leader inquire as to why a member left, or if you have a Women’s Ministry Team member who oversees small groups to check into it.  Do so without judgement, but with the hopes of helping to guide them into a group that might meet their needs better.  This also may be a perfect candidate for 1:1 mentoring vs. joining a small group.

Ultimately the greatest solution to our Small Group Obstacles is COMMUNICATION.

  • Ask why someone is not willing to lead, facilitate, or teach a small group.  Offer a solution, by having a training plan in place.
  • Ask why a group member has left, and offer guidance into finding a small group or mentor relationship that is a better fit.
  • Ask your small group members for suggestions on what they would like to study as a group.
  • Ask yourselves honestly if Small Groups are the right fit for the church you are serving, or develop a plan to cultivate Small Group culture over time.
  • Ask yourselves about the quality, variety, and diversity of the materials, groups, and availabilities you are offering.  Seek to create a menu of Small Groups that fit the climate of your church.

***** In our fourth installment, we will cover obstacles that occur IN or DURING the course of small groups that are more individually based. *****

The Small Group Series #1- Benefits

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By Gena McCown, Women’s Ministry Council Co-Founder

There is a subtle difference between a Bible Study and a Small Group.  Bible Studies, whether they are expository or working through a book, are generally public groups.  This means that participants can come and go as they please.  Whereas Small Groups are a bit more intentional, regardless of the material they are choosing to study.  Small Groups are usually a close knit group of people who have committed to studying with each other long term.

If you finish a study and the group disbands, and you find yourself looking for a new study to plug into, you are most likely in a Bible Study group.  You like the fluidity to move into the studies that interest you, your intentions are pointed toward learning and possibly meeting new people. As a Bible Study teacher, you are selecting the material you are interested in learning, and happy to take others along for the ride.  What the group looks like in regard to membership vacillates from study period to study period.

If you finish a study, and the whole group talks through what book you are all going to study next, you are most likely in a Small Group.  You like the commitment to meeting regularly with this particular group of people, your intentions are pointed toward learning and building deeper relationships with this group specifically.  As a Small Group leader, you discuss the options for the next study and take the groups opinions into consideration.  Small Group members are also more likely to meet outside of their regular group time, for fun and fellowship.    Small Group membership will remain steady over the course of time with little membership change.

There are some groups that do bridge between the two, it might be a Small Group that is always open to having new members join the group.  Or, you may be a part of a Bible Study group that does fellowship every now and again.  So, these are not hard fast rules… but I do believe there is a distinction between the two, and both are valuable to your Women’s Ministry.  Today we are focusing on Small Groups, although some of these benefits are also gleaned from Bible Studies too.

How Does a Small Group Benefit the Women’s Ministry:

  • Brunches are a great way to meet new women, but Small Groups are a beautiful way to begin building relationships.
  • Small Groups are a great next step in your discipleship plan for women in the church.
  • Small Groups for women specifically are welcoming for your single women, or women who are married to nonbelievers.
  • Committed Small Group participants end up becoming committed Small Group leaders.  We unknowingly are investing in and modeling leadership skills to those who attend our groups.
  • Small Groups are an opportunity to find future Women’s Ministry team members.
  • Women feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing in a Small Group, whom they have grown to trust.
  • Small Groups offer a less intimidating invitation to a nonbelieving friend or family member, than inviting them to church.
  • Small Groups tend to support their members during times of need and crisis.  This is especially important for larger churches who may not be aware of families who are struggling.  Group members minister to each other.
  • Small Groups provide an opportunity to teach others studying techniques, how to pray, and other lessons that may not make it into Sunday Services.
  • Small Groups encourage accountability among it’s members.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Every day they continued to meet together… they broke bread in their homes and ate together… and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42, 44, 46-47

 You can support the Women’s Ministry Council when you order any of these lovely bracelets or other accessories from our Bravelets Fundraising Account.  $10 from each purchase helps the Women’s Ministry Council continue to offer FREE training and resources to the Women’s Ministry Leaders in our area and beyond.   We appreciate your support & prayerful consideration.

To purchase, click on the image below or HERE

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