"What you draw them in with is what they'll be committed to" ... So true!

In Organic Church, Neil Cole writes, "What you draw them with is what they'll be committed to."

Wow. Truer words have never been written, even if the sentence structure isn't the best!

I see this truth play out over and over across the USA in small group ministries. Church leaders become fatigued with the fact that the consumer Christians in their congregations aren't interested in participating in Christ-centered groups (where the members are challenged to lay down their agendas for the cause of Christ). So, they retool their small group ministry and sell the sizzle of "Designer small groups" where the drawing topic can be anything from emergency preparedness to scrapbooking to dealing with cancer.

My dad pioneered the use of these kinds of groups for evangelism years ago, because "Type B" unbelievers (furthest away from trusting Christ on the Engel scale) aren't drawn to the message or the messenger, but to a secular interest. He called them Interest Groups or Share Groups.

However, there were a number of differences between Dad's Interest/Share Groups and what's going on in today's small group ministries:
  • Interest/Share Groups were subsets of a Christ-centered group and run parallel to the mother group. 3-4 mature believers in a group would form an interest group and report back each week as to how it was going and how to pray for the spiritual condition of each person in the interest group.
  • Interest/Share Groups were 8-12 weeks in length, which was the amount of time necessary for deepening friendships to form.
  • The goal of Interest/Share Groups was to relationally bridge the unbelievers to the members of the Christ-centered group... during the weeks of the interest group gathering, the unbelievers were invited to meals in the home of one of the leaders of the Interest/Share Group and members of the Christ-Centered group would also be at that meal.
  • After 8-12 weeks in an Interest/Share Group, the unbeliever would learn that Christians aren't what they initially thought they were like. A paradigm shift was the goal.
  • After the Interest/Share Group concluded, it often created an empty place in the weekly calendar and a relational void for the unbeliever. This was very good because they had made friends with the Interest/Share Group leaders and the members of the Christ-centered group, and would be far more open to visiting the Christ-centered group.
Now let's contrast this with Designer Small Groups:
  • The goal is to get church members to meet around a topic of interest off church property between corporate gatherings. Big church meetings aren't relational, and this fills that sociological void.
  • Congregational members are far more likely to sign up to lead a Designer Group because they get to choose the focus of the meetings. They're motivated to market their idea and fill their group!
  • Church leadership usually require that prayer requests are taken and prayer or worship is present in the group to legitimize it a bit with a spiritual element.
  • The hope that God will move powerfully among the members as a result is certainly present, and I have no doubt that it does happen. But one could argue that it's not strategically intentional for the members of these groups. Most don't know it's anything more than a church sponsored Designer Small Group.
The church that my wife and I were a part of for nearly ten years abandoned Christ-centered groups a while back for Designer Groups. Due to a number of problems in the Christ-centered groups (no discipleship pathway, lax relationship-driven leadership development, and the groups were not the missional thrust of the church, etc.) they decided to give this a try to battle group member fatigue.

And the members of the groups were indeed fatigued. As a member, if you're not growing spiritually toward group leadership and beyond AND seeing personal transformation in yourself and others in the group and some success with evangelism and one-on-one disciple making, fatigue will set in fast!

After six months of designer group participation, I've not seen a lot of fruit from this diversion at the church. More people are in groups, but walking into a garage doesn't make you a mechanic, just a guy standing in a garage. Neil Cole was not wrong. It may not be easy, but drawing people into a small group whose sole focus is Christ makes for a powerful group experience when the members of the group shed their agendas and Christ's presence, power, and purposes are experienced.

So tell me, dear blog readers... what has been your experience with Designer Groups long term? Have the members of the church seen lots of spiritual fruit from it? Has it transformed the minds and hearts of those who have participated?

Victim or Victor?

Each day, everyone chooses to be a victim or victor in one or more areas of life.

A victim…
- Is passive, feeling as if they’ve already failed.
- Is highly resistant concerning personal change.
- Views challenges as unsurpassable brick walls.
- Does not typically set personal goals that are vigorously pursued.
- Works overtime in making excuses for the current situation in which they find themselves.
- Often feels entitled to special treatment and scoffs at victors who are rewarded “unfairly” or seem to get everything they want easily.
- Battles loneliness.

A victor…
- Is active, and chooses to view failures as stepping stones to success.
- Ignores fears surrounding personal change, choosing to adopt change instead of avoid it.
- Views challenges as speed bumps to move over or move past.
- Maintains personal growth goals with milestones for success.
- Works overtime to achieve goals and remain victorious in weak areas of life.
- Enjoys the hard-earned rewards of a victor.
- Attracts new friends easily...because they're not a victim.

Lots of small groups play the victim it seems. They don't make goals. They don't like change. They're passive.

So is your group more a victim or more of a victor?

Do you drive by multiple small groups to get to your small group meeting?

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of breaking bread with a discipleship/small groups pastor in a suburb of Northwest Houston whose personal vision was kingdom-driven. He had just completed a survey of other area churches and mapped all their small group meeting locations, overlaying them on his own church's group locations.

From what he gathered, five different churches in the area had small group members who were driving by 1 to 3 other small groups to get to their own group. His conclusion? "This is crazy! We're all part of the family of God. Why should we drive past CLOSER small groups in our own neighborhoods just to get to the one that belongs to our church family?"

I quickly asked a couple of question that I was sure he'd asked himself: 1) Are the other area churches similar in theology? 2) How does your lead pastor feel about the idea of his members going to a small group belonging to another church?

This staff pastor said that it was his lead pastor's idea and that he didn't mind if his members went to other small groups if a network could be established and all the pastors and the members agreed to participate.

When I discuss this concept with other pastors, they are quick to point out that they might lose members (read leadership and tithes into that concern) to other churches if they did this. Of course, they might gain new tithing lay leaders too, but they weren't as confident in this happening as they were concerned that the loss would happen!

This is some serious out-of-the-box kingdom thinking here. It's certain to kill off a castle protection mentality if it takes hold.

So what say you? Do you think a handful of independent churches in a geographical area could overcome their fears and do this?

Matthew 26:40: A recipe for an hour of small group prayer

Challenge your groups to pray for an hour together sometime this summer. Spend ten minutes praying about each of the six topics below.

Praise and adoration to your Creator
Begin your hour of prayer by praising God for his holiness and purity, which he freely shares with you through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank him for his goodness and desire to bless you. Praise him for his patience and loyalty, even when you don’t deserve it. Give him honor for the gifts and talents you posses, and be specific! Thank him for protecting you in ways you know about and those you will not know of until you meet him in glory. Finally, thank him for the privilege of being his representative in this dark and hurting world.

Pray for our federal government and its officials
As you pray for the U.S. Congress, Federal Court Judges, the President, and his cabinet, and other government officials, ask God to pour out his Spirit on each person or position. Use this time to intercede on their behalf, asking God to protect them, their families, and their relationships. Refrain from complaining to God about their positions on specific issues or party affiliation.

Pray for our city and your neighborhood
Take a few minutes to thank the Lord for this town and the things you love about living here. Praise him for the opportunity to be a positive influence on the many who live around us. Then, ask for a fresh understanding of how you can make a difference with your time, energy, and talents to make the people of our town feel loved and appreciated. Use the balance of your time to cry out to God for the unchurched in our town, asking him to give you a great awareness of their needs so you can respond in love. Pray for safety in the schools in your area and the children that are taught there each day. Ask the Lord to bring to mind the businesses in your area and ask him to prosper each one. Then, pray for your neighbors by name, asking God for open doors to deepen relationships with them and serve them.

Pray for our church, the staff members, and their families
Pray for protection for your church. We’re working hard to reach people for Christ and Satan is never happy about that. Ask God to protect the members, family units, small groups, and leadership. Take your time and think through each family, group, and lay leader and lift them up by name. We also need pray for the missional direction of the church as it moves forward, increasing relationships with one another, the Lord, and unchurched families in our community. Pray for each staff member by name and ask God to give them encouragement and joy in their work, peace in their families and homes, and wisdom as they serve God and the congregation. (Add the names of your church’s staff members here.)

Pray for yourself
Petition God to be the kind of fellow small group member, friend, husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, ex-husband, or ex-wife that he would want you to be: slow to anger, quick to praise, full of wisdom, and to become a person of greater patience and grace. Thank God for each person in your small group and family by name, highlighting one or two ways you see God shining through them, including skills, abilities, and talents. Then petition God to be the kind of supervisor, employee, co-worker, or student that is a ray of hope, refreshment, and encouragement to those around you. If you are willing to be specific in this area when you pray, you'll run out of time!

Pray for the lost
Pray for deeper connections with unchurched friends, relatives, co-workers, fellow students, and neighbors. Thank the Lord for each person by name, highlighting one thing you love about that person. Then ask God for boldness with those you just prayed for and a new or stronger desire to tell them how Christ is working in you. (If you don’t have any unchurched people in your life, use this time to ask God to show you the people on the landscape who are desperately looking for a friend like you.)

Tips for an hour of prayer as a group:

• Invite everyone to drop to their knees and face the outside of a circle of chairs.
• Invite everyone to pray aloud and ignore everyone else around them. This way, everyone gets to pray for a whole hour instead of listening to the bold people pray while the timid ones remain silent.
• Start praying on time and end on time.
• After the hour, ask your group what God spoke to them during the hour.
I thought I'd post a really great blog article by my good friend Mike Mack, author of Small Group Vital Signs since I don't have time to blog at the moment.

For those of you who are "cell group" snobs, just replace the words "small group" with "cell group" and the article will still have significant meaning for you and your group!

Small Group Idols. Do you or your group have them?

Feel free to come back here and discuss the content of the article if you like. Mike will surely chime in as he's a reader of my blog...