Ministry Spotlight: MOPS International

 

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This month, across the country and in many parts of the word, mothers of presechoolers are gathering at local churches for fellowship, support, encouragement, resources, and relationships.  An exciting facet is that Jesus is always invited too.

When my husband and I relocated to a new city, over an hour away, we didn’t know a single person here.  At that time we had an 8 year old and a 4 year old… however within just a few months I found out our third was on the way.  We were still trying to find a church home, our neighborhood didn’t have any other families with young children, and I was so very alone.   My first thoughts were:  “I need to find a MOPS group”.

I was already familiar with MOPS from my previous city and I knew that finding a local group would be a great way for me to meet people in my community that were in the same stage of life.  I also knew that MOPS groups were made up of women from various churches, which gave me an opportunity to be a part of a group while we were still searching for our home church.  For me, MOPS was a way to plug into community.

Over the last 17 years, I have watched women come to MOPS for many reasons.  What I also saw was how much MOPS became an avenue that led women and their families into the church.  MOPS Moms would sign their kids up for VBS.  The next year they were signing up as VBS volunteers.  They would trickle into family or kids events at the church, and then you would begin to see them at church on Sunday mornings.

There were some moms who ended up staying in our MOPS group, but their families would attend a church closer to their home.  Some would even start MOPS groups in their new church home.  MOPS is a blessing to both the mothers who are served and the churches in which they become part of the community.

Many communities, like our own, have MOPS groups with waiting lists because they’ve reached maximum capacity.  MOPS is one of those ministries, that in my opinion, you simply can’t have enough of.  Staring a MOPS group is an easy process that begins with the desire to serve our mothers with preschool aged children.

If you are interested in starting up a MOPS group in your church and community, visit their website or speak with another local MOPS leader.

 

 

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. 

Women’s Ministry: No Rest in Your Sabbatical

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In the Bible, God spent seven days in creation mode and then took a day to rest.  The idea of rest has been part of God’s plan for man from the very beginning.  It is something that has been adopted in many beliefs and fields of work.  Typically, it happens every seven years … but that is not a hard fast rule. 

Many professionals, when they take a sabbatical will not be found hanging around their place of employment.  They may stay at home or travel abroad.  A sabbatical can be a little as a month away or up to a year until your return.  But, the goal is always to return to the job, rested and refreshed.  Sabbaticals are often times that professionals may write a book. Or, if they are pursuing their doctorate it, sabbaticals make the perfect opportunity to focus on writing the thesis statement.  Perhaps a ministry workers theological or doctrinal beliefs have been challenged, so they decide to retreat into God and study His word.  In some cases, a job is simply so stressful that a break is needed to rejuvenate oneself to return with a better spirit.

 When one takes a sabbatical from ministry work, it may not be quite as easy to fully disengage.  As a Women’s Ministry leader, what would a sabbatical mean for you?  Would you temporarily step down from ministry leader?  How long?  Would you still attend church or would you take a break?  Would you still attend your church, or use this time to connect with other churches in your area?  What about your other ministry commitments?  Are you taking a break from Women’s Ministry leader only, but still maintaining your other volunteer roles in the church, or are you stepping back from everything?

Each of your choices will come with benefits, and risk.  If you step back from everything, and attend a new church… you may lose a connection with your church family.   You could find that the ministry accomplished somethings while you are gone, and your ministry team doesn’t want to change the progression.  You may even find that YOU no longer feel the call to serve in Women’s Ministry (even if they beg you stay).  With sabbatical, the result could be a complete change.

Yet, you could return to ministry invigorated with new, fresh ideas.  If you were feeling taken for granted, you may return to a more appreciative ministry team as they began to see exactly how much work you provided to the ministry.  Of course all of these benefits and risks are on human terms.  If they Lord calls you to sabbatical, He has a reason.  He is going to be working out something new, better.  If we trust Him, we go along for the ride regardless of the benefit or risk on human terms. 

One thing we do need to be aware of while we are on sabbatical is when the ministry work creeps into our alone time.  It can do this through gossip.  When the interim leader is not leading like you did, when the team is not happy with this leader…. You will hear about it.  When the team doesn’t like how the interim leader holds the meeting, leads prayer, plans events… You will hear about it.  If the church responds to the interim leader differently than it did to you… You will hear about it.  It may come in the form of complaints, or it may come in the form of questions. 

It can almost make heading to church unbearable, because you LOVE the people but you are trying to get REST from the ministry work, and you are being reeled back in.  Or, since you are taking a temporary break from ministry service … other ministries may ask for your help since now you are available?   The questions begin with “would you mind” or “do you think you could” or even … “It would only be one time a month….”.

If you are not careful, you will find NO REST in your sabbatical.  You will not return rested, refreshed, or even find your sabbatical time extends as you feel your not getting enough break.

When you find yourself being called to a time of sabbatical, make sure to:

  • Pray over the length of the sabbatical, and depth of the sabbatical.  How long? From what things? 
  • Pray over the location of the sabbatical. Out of town, in town but different church, in town at home church?
  • Express the conditions of the sabbatical to your church staff, other ministry leaders, and your spouse.
  • Be confident in your call, so that you can respond to requests for serving elsewhere with:  “Thanks for asking, but I am on sabbatical right now.”  And, do so without feeling guilty.
  • Stand firm with team members that approach you about the interim leadership, that they need to take their concerns to the leader directly.  You are on sabbatical, this is not your problem to solve.

Women’s Ministry: The Men’s Ministry Connection

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Recently, a group of Women’s Ministry leaders sat around a table in a Panera Bread.  We were talking about some of the difficulties that Women’s Ministry faces in the pursuit of ministry work.  Several of the women identified that they didn’t feel Women’s Ministry was supported in their church.  In the course of discussion we realized that all of those churches shared something in common, they also didn’t have a Men’s Ministry.  Could it be as simple as that?  Could it be that the reason Women’s Ministry is not being supported in some churches, simply be because the church doesn’t see gender based ministry important?

That began a quest.  I reached out to women all over the country who are Women’s Ministry leaders, and began asking two straight forward questions:

Do you feel your Women’s Ministry is well supported by your church?

Does your church have a Men’s Ministry?

The results were confirming my suspicions.  In the churches where Women’s Ministry was thriving and growing, there was also a SOLID Men’s Ministry that was doing the same.  In the churches where the Women’s Ministry was struggling, there was either no Men’s Ministry or the ministry was not functioning well.

Then I reached out to a few women who were involved in Women’s Ministry on a higher level.  These are women who are running websites that are resources for Women’s Ministry, involved in planning conferences for women in ministry, etc.   And the response was overwhelmingly in agreement.  In fact, many of the women shared that they were just talking about this within their own ministry/organization.

Ladies, this is a LIGHT BULB moment for Women’s Ministry.   In most churches in the United States the staff members of the church are going to be predominantly men.  If the men who are leading the church do not see a necessity for a Men’s Ministry, it will be very difficult for them to fully comprehend why Women’s Ministry is important.

In speaking with a group of men, I have learned that some of them have a notion that men are not interested in a formal “Men’s Ministry” program.  They believe that men are not wanting to gather up with other men the same way women do.  Lunches, Conferences, and other types of events are just too mushy, touchy, feely for men.  Others like to have men’s activities, but that usually revolves around doing man type things, a church basketball team, going to a shooting range, or doing community service projects like Habitat for Humanity where they are building together.

To an extent this is true.  Men can bond as brothers in Christ through manual labor, shared interests, etc.  A group of guys can sit in a room together, watching sports, speaking less than 10 words to each other… and yet that will be the best night of their week.  They are wired differently than women.

Or, are they?  I spoke to my husband about this and was quite surprised by his response.  He actually disagreed with this mentality altogether.  He said that he can watch sports, or work with other men any time he wants.  Simply go out in your driveway and start working on your car and the neighborhood men start showing up.  Call up any group of guys to come over and watch the game, and they will usually show up.  However, having intentional opportunities to bond with his brothers in Christ…. in a gospel centered, Christ centered way is something much harder for him to do on his own.

In many churches, if you look at the menu of small groups / bible studies / peer groups, you will find that the women’s groups outnumber the men’s groups.   Of the men’s groups (and I am specifically not including couples groups), they are often planned around the average work schedule.    There may be one or two in the morning, for the pre-work group.  There may be one or two around lunch time, where you can plug in during your lunch break.   And, then you may have one or two in the post-work hour where the guys stop in before they head home for the evening.

While these are great options, none of these fit for the guy who has to commute to work.  He leaves long before the first group meets, and gets home after the last group is done.  He’s not in town to plug into the lunch group.  Week to week, he is pushing through life without that support of his brothers in Christ.  None of these fit for the guy who is in town, but his work schedule varies… and he never knows when his lunch hour will come.  Because he can’t commit to the regular meeting schedule, he doesn’t join in.  Week to week, he is disconnected from his church brotherhood.

These men, they are the ones who thrive on a Men’s Ministry that is more than just a few bible study or accountability groups.  They can make a workshop on a Saturday, or sit through a Men’s Luncheon.  They won’t even mind chipping in for Pizza or having Chik-fil-a cater the event versus having to bring a dish from home (like the ladies do).  These are the men who utilize conferences and men’s retreats as a way to connect with the other men in the church in away that goes deeper than the Sunday morning meet and greets in the pews.  When they can’t connect in small groups, they can connect here.

I believe the greatest thing we can do for our Women’s Ministry is to encourage the development of a Men’s Ministry in our church.  However, it may be a big task ahead of us.  We are going to be challenging the thought processes of our male leadership on how men see ministry in the church.  We may be breaking molds.  We can’t plan and lead it ourselves, we have to find the man within the body that sees this as valuable and has the willingness to lead the ministry.

As Women’s Ministry leaders, we can start with our own husbands.  Perhaps, this can be a ministry co-led by couples…. where the wife leads the women’s ministry and the husband leads the men’s ministry.  Approaching the Pastor and staff in this manner, will lend credibility to the plan if you are already seen in good favor as the Women’s Ministry Leader.  They know you will be a help and support to your husband as he begins to lead.

You may find him as the husband of one of your Women’s Ministry team members or a woman in the church.  Start planting seeds in the women you are regularly invested in Women’s Ministry events, that a Men’s Ministry would be a blessing to the men of the church.

As a Men’s Ministry develops, have the Women’s Ministry take a strong stand publically in support of it.  If they are having a lunch, get women from your team or in the church to volunteer to provide the food for the lunch.  Or, if you have the funds in your budget, sponsor their first luncheon by catering in the food.  We want the men to know that we support their ministry, we want to help intentionally funnel the men toward it by helping their wives to see the value in it.

You may have to start smaller.  It might not be realistic in your church to step right up to the staff and present a full fledged Men’s Ministry program.  Start with a simple step, like having your husband (or the guy in the church you have recruited to lead) present a men’s conference that he would be willing to spearhead the planning.  If the Pastor’s see that men really are interested in these types of events, it may change their view of Men’s Ministry.

Most importantly, during this process with promoting a Men’s Ministry (or Women’s Ministry) remember that your Pastors are responsible for shepherding the church.  They are running every decision they make through the responsibility the Lord put upon their shoulders when they stepped in to lead our churches.  They are not our enemy, they just have a different vision than we do at times.  Any ministry should be a blessing to the church.  It should support the overall vision of the church.  It should not be a ministry unto itself, isolated from the church and doing it’s own thing.

Before presenting the Men’s Ministry to the church, really spend some time identifying the blessings that the ministry would bring to the church.  Look at your church’s mission statement or vision, identify the ways in which this ministry will support that vision or mission.  There are many Pastors and staff members that do not see the need for gender based ministry, because they see both sexes as equally capable of learning and serving.  We need to be able to identify to the staff the reasons why gender based ministry can be a blessing not only to the church, but to the men and women who are a part of it.   Next Friday, we are going to explore the benefits of gender based ministry in more depth.