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...

It's been a while since I blogged here. So you'll know I didn't lose my hands in a freak accident and been unable to type, I've been forced to take a hiatus from blogging and writing for about a year now to jumpstart a new career. Not to worry though, TOUCH Outreach is still alive and well! I just needed to create a better income stream so Etna and have some income in our retirement years. As you know, ministry work doesn't pay enough to live AND save for retirement...

But frankly, there's not a lot of new things to say about small groups and cell groups that hasn't already been said here. HOWEVER, there's a lot to read if you're here for the first time. Use the links on the right or the search box to find your topic of interest.

Here are some quick thoughts I've had since I last blogged:

• The vision for Christ-centered small groups meeting in homes instead of rows in a building appears to be something God gave the Christian WORLD, but America has watered down missional living to showing up at a megachurch once a week and attending a self-centered small group meeting midweek for self-improvement. Seems like believers in just about every other country on the planet understand that church is about the presence, power, and purposes of Christ and cell groups are the norm now, not the exception. Thank God he has crushed the traditional religious nonsense sent out by Western missionaries at the turn of the century and the real church survived and has flourished abroad.

• The Boy Scouts of America: Folks, do not be surprised when churches and denominations join the Boy Scouts by compromising their God-given morals to retain their tax exempt status. This decision had nothing to do with being open minded and going along to get along and being accepting of people who don't think like us. This was about money. California would have denied their tax-exept status if they didn't change their policy on GLBT participation. 

Well, that should stir up enough emotion to get some comments, so I'll close there. 

Keep it (increasingly) Simple for the Saints

A few years ago, I endured six straight months of participation in a personal healing ministry (which shall go unnamed to protect the guilty). We met for three hours every Sunday evening for 26 straight weeks. Well, we did get Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Super bowl week off. But there were 26 topics that we were forced to endure. If this wasn't bad enough, we were given a 2-inch thick spiral bound book (8.5 x 11) as our course material. The ministry's president had obviously added to it year after year to shore up weak areas of each topic. Moving through the week's material to prepare for the teaching and small group experience required at least two hours of reading per week.

While the healing I received through the process was amazing and I recommend the process for anyone and everyone who will listen to me, I invested a few minutes of each week griping about "project creep" and how the ministry's president had no accountability in this area. He was left unchecked to add and add and add whatever he felt the material needed each time he taught it or reviewed it. In case you haven't figured it out, "project creep" is when you decide to replace the sink in your bathroom and by the time you're done, you've put in a sink that's three times the price of the one you actually could afford and you swapped out the toilet to match the sink and the lavatory handles on the bathtub to match as well. And then you had to buy all new towels to match and keep it looking fresh. Project creep.

Small group/Cell group ministry is often guilty of project creep. Training for leaders becomes more complex and bloated year after year in hopes it will create better leaders. The forms the staff ask the leaders to complete about their group began as five simple questions and now are two full pages. Truth be told, it's MUCH easier to bolt on another book to read or process or qualification to meet to most anything. But what is needed is constant refinement and the whittling down of what we have in place to remove the wasted time, redundancy, inneffective bits, and so forth. This is hard work and sacrificial. Many pastors have labored tirelessly on the development of a process and it's their beautiful creation that should only be embellished, not violently cut back to the bare necessities.

Guilty as charged!
In the late 90s, TOUCH developed a year long course for pastors that required five weeks of on-site training to transition their churches. The weeks together were precious for many pastors who participated, but the depth of the training did not create hundreds of success stories in America. Now overseas where the cultures are more relational and people aren't as frenetically busy, it was a perfect fit. But not here.

What we didn't do in our second and third year of offering this training was to simplify it. It was not until three years after we stopped the training that we took out a clean sheet of paper and said, "If we were to distill all that the pastor's training offered in those five weeks, just how little would we end up with that was indispensible? And looking at the indispensable bits, how could we make each one easier to adopt or more simply communicate?"

Years ago I was asked what an implementation team was to do with their time together after they'd helped a church create groups and the support systems needed for them to thrive. My answer? "Go back and examine everything you do and why you do it and see how you can do less and get better results. If the results suffer, you've oversimplified. If results are the same, you've removed the fat and that's a good thing."

Ministry project creep. Don't remain guilty of it now that you know about it.