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!

I… We… They – Women’s Ministry Event Attendance

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Perhaps you have noticed that the women who attend your ministry events are the exact same women, consistently.  New fresh faces are few and far between, the same familiar women show up to be served.

When it comes to Women’s Ministry events I have always believed that God brings who He knows should be there.  An event is a success if there are two or two hundred women in attendance.  However, sometimes there is a reason other women are not attending.  It is a lesson we can learn from the church as well.

I believe that there are women who simply do not want to just attend a Women’s Ministry event, they want to be a part of it.  Perhaps there hasn’t been an opening on your Women’s Ministry Team, or they may not be able to commit long term to the team but can commit from event to event.  As Women’s Ministry leaders we can get caught up in SERVING our women that we forget about the women who are also called to serve.  I believe for each woman of God, we are called to seasons of serving and seasons of being served.

When the Church staff realize they want people to be more connected to the Church, one of the most effective ways to make this happen is through providing multiple avenues where they can get involved.  When we are involved in our Church, we become invested in our Church.  When we are invested in our Church, we have ownership… and with ownership comes commitment.

There are women in your church right now that are just waiting for someone to ask for their help or expertise. 

  • The women who can sing or play an instrument, but can’t commit to the Worship Team.
  • The women who love photography, and would find great pleasure in taking pictures at the WM events.
  • The women who have a testimony to share, experience in a particular area they can teach others about.
  • The women who have a heart for hospitality and would happily come in and help decorate, make centerpieces, or come up with cute favors.
  • The women who are organized, gifted administrators, who would love to help you find a way to coordinate sign up sheets, manage ministry business.
  • The women who love to write who would be thrilled to tackle writing devotions on the WM facebook page, or communicating information to the women in the church for you.

These are just a few examples of women who may be in your church.  What I have learned is that when you can give women something to be responsible for, their attendance doesn’t just change for that particular event.  Over time they become increasingly more involved, and it may lead to eventual leadership positions.

If a woman from your church approaches you with a specific idea, and it fits into the vision of the church, why not allow her to run with it?  If she has a gift or talent, see if there is a way she can use it in the ministry.  The more connected she is to the ministry, she is also more apt to invite her friends.

Women’s Ministry: Working Women in Leadership

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Many of us in leadership work outside the home.  We are juggling the various priorities with which we are faced, praying we can keep the balls in the air long enough for just a few of them to disappear.  In addition to the ministry responsibilities entrusted to us, some of us are also raising our children, going to soccer practice and ballet, and tucking our most precious blessing in each night, in addition to working outside the home.  We can face time limitations, priority conflicts, sleepless nights, feelings of inadequacy, and even guilt.   

How can we navigate through the maze of conflicts that block us at each turn so that we know we are following our divine navigator down the right path?  It is important to first set our priorities straight, God and then family.  

God does not equal ministry, God equals God.  It is your relationship with Him, praying and growing in knowledge of Him through the study of scripture, and not allowing anything, including ministry, to have a priority that is above God and His will that is key.  If we seek Him first, everything else will come into balance.  Sometimes we are so passionate about our ministry and the good we are trying to accomplish in His name, we forget that it is not our ministry at all, it is His.    We must remember not to neglect our relationship with Him because we are too busy doing His work.  If we do this, we are guaranteed to fail.

One of the best ways to begin to put God first is to start each day with Him.  I call the concept my First Fruits based on Genesis and the Mosaic Law.  God honors obedience, and out of obedience comes blessing.  In Genesis Chapter 4 we read about Cain and Abel, and what is most striking is that Able didn’t give to God his left overs, he gave his best from the firstborn of the flock.  God gave Cain a stern warning when he failed to give God his best that sin was crouching at his door.  The concept of giving to God our best or our First Fruits is carried over into the Mosaic Law in Exodus 23.  Carve out time for God every day, your best time, and make it your first priority.  This is the foundation for success in everything we do, and it must take precedence over everything else.  I work from my home in the software industry.  I carve out the start of my day for prayer, devotion, and reading God’s Word.  I have ignored calls from clients that occurred during my time with God, yet God has greatly blessed me in my job beyond what I ever asked or expected.

Be diligent about delegating responsibility so that you are not overwhelmed and you do not rob yourself of precious time.  One of the biggest reasons many of us don’t delegate is that we think we can do it better.  That may be true, but the truth may only be in our subjective opinions.  Sometimes almost perfect is good enough.  We also need to get past the concept that we can do it faster ourselves.  Although you may have a small initial investment of time, you should never withhold opportunities for others to learn and function as valued and trusted members of the ministry.  We will always remain in crisis mode if we continue to grip ministry responsibilities for ourselves.  Eventually, God may pry our fingers loose, it is better to cooperate with a willing spirit.

Get organized in order to make the most efficient use of your time.  Lack of organization increases stress, leads to forgetfulness, and costs us precious time.  First, get in the habit of writing everything down.  It can be as easy as keeping a checklist or using a daily planning system.   I like to use my online calendar to schedule and track my day to day tasks.  I have reminders popup when I need to begin working on a task.  For larger projects such as ministry events, you can use project planning systems or even spreadsheets such as Google Sheets to track the tasks that need to be accomplished, to whom it is assigned, and when it is due.  

Do your best to reduce interruptions.  You don’t have to check your email or respond to text messages the minute you receive them.  Establish firm boundaries around what interruptions you allow when you are working.  It is Ok to mute your phone and let people know that you don’t answer texts, emails, or voice mail immediately.  It is rare that there is a crisis that cannot wait until you are at a good stopping point.

Stay on task and resist the urge to interrupt yourself because you’ve thought of something else that needs to be done.  Paul says to the Corinthians “…everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”  Flitting from one task to another without finishing the former is not orderly and establishes poor working habits.

It is important to be disciplined in whatever you do.  Be careful to monitor time wasters such as chatty conversations, web surfing, etc.  Part of being disciplined is keeping a good work ethic, whether it is in your job or it is work you do for the ministry.  Avoid chronic tardiness which communicates to everyone that you’re your time and responsibilities are more important than everyone else’s, it is undisciplined and disrespectful.  Be honest about your work day, do not rob your employer of time and think that because it was time spent on ministry that it’s Ok.

We also cannot allow our ministry to cause us to neglect our families or treat them in a way that would leave them feeling insignificant or marginalized.  I believe that this type of neglect can cause some children to rebel against the church, because they blame the church when their needs are not met.  God has entrusted us with these blessings, it would be a sad thing if we pulled off the most fabulous retreat anyone has ever attended and our son or daughter rebelled against us and against God and His church.  We should never be the cause of our children looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places.  The same is true for our husbands, we can’t trade our accomplishments in the ministry for our marriages.  That is also a way to place a stumbling block before our husbands, and instead of encouraging them in their faith, it can cause them to turn away from their faith. 

~Laura

For the working women in our church, we set and example on how to balance our personal faith walk, as well as our commitments to church, home, and work.   There are ways as women’s ministry we can reach out to, or encourage our working women.

* Post daily devotions on your Women’s Ministry blog or website.  Use gifted writers from within your own church or access resources like Proverbs31.org

* Encourage a few women to step up and lead lunch time bible study groups in different areas of your city.  They can get lunch, talk bible, and fellowship during their lunch hour in a convenient location.  Due to time constraints consider a expository study that you can build on each week, or select a prewritten study that doesn’t require a long video before discussion.

*Embrace technology and have a Skype or FaceTime group style bible study where women in the church can join in directly from their office.

* Occasionally offer women’s events that start later in the evening, that can accommodate for working women to navigate rush hour traffic, change out of their work clothes, and don’t require potluck meals she may not have had time to prepare.