Spring Small Group Checkup

Is it still Spring?  It feels like Summer to me.  Only in SC does the temperature fluctuate from 50 to 90 from one day to the next.  Nevertheless, let’s call it Spring and take this opportunity to do a Spring check up on the health of our small groups.  I find this time of year, after the rush of a big outreach weekend and Easter Sunday, to be a great time for going back to the basics of what makes Sunday School work.  As we’ve said before, Sunday School small group life is not complicated.  There are simple principles that lead to health.  If we work constantly on these things, we will grow and thrive with healthy small groups.

check up

To that end, here is a small group check up for you to consider.  I am available to meet with classes/teachers that are struggling in any of these areas and help them develop a plan to improve.  There is no shame is understanding that we can get better in certain areas.  I’m here to help, and I want you to feel free to call on me anytime.

Sunday School that W.O.R.K.S. will reflect these values:

Wants to grow

Organized to serve

Reaches out to new people

Keeps people connected

Studies God’s Word together

  • Does your class exhibit a genuine desire to grow and reach out?   Is there a sense of purpose and excitement?
  • Does your class have a plan for service?  Have you participated in group service projects?
  • Is your class struggling to reach new people?
  • Is your class struggling to keep people connected?  Are you losing people who “fall through the cracks?”  Have you been scheduling regular fellowships?
  • Are you struggling in the area of quality Bible study time?  Are you experiencing problems with curriculum?  Do you feel like you are growing as a teacher, or is it a struggle to prepare and deliver the lesson each week?  Are your group members growing as disciples; can you see growth in their life?
  • How does being a part of your group bless the people who come each week?
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To God be the Glory…

…For the things He has done!

I want to say thank you to all of our teachers and leaders who worked so hard during these past weeks to make last weekend a success. I’d like to consider the weekend for a moment in two parts, and debrief our experience a bit.

Spring into Action

One of the things that excites me so  much is seeing the servant’s hearts of our people.  This is one of the key places that we see real spiritual maturity and discipleship in action.  Too often, the church is like a power weight lifter who can bench press 500 lbs., but who drives right past a man trapped under a telephone pole everyday on his way to the gym.  It does us no spiritual good to study the Bible for years and years if we never become the hands and feet of God in service.  James 1 says, “22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

This past weekend, we were doers of the Word.  Here is a list of many of the things our small groups accomplished in Jesus’ name, and for His glory:

Fed and cared for the needy at a soup kitchen.

Cleared fallen trees for people who needed help.

Cleaned and performed yard-work for those who couldn’t do it themselves.

Home repairs for those who needed assistance.

Donated a chest freezer to a needy family and filled it with food.

Completely remodeled a portion of a needy family’s home that had terrible water and mold damage.

Cleaned and organized at a children’s home.

Visited nursing homes and hospitals spending time with the sick and elderly.

Much of the above work happened in the rain as people served regardless of the weather.

And this weekend we will put a new roof on the collegiate ministry house at USC Upstate.

We have so many gifted, talented, and willing servants.  When we create moments to serve together those people have an opportunity to put their faith and gifts into action and see lives changed.  I am so thankful to be a part of such ministry.  Truly, that is the church in action.  After all, Changing Lives is written on the sign out front…

Bring a Friend Sunday

Sunday was a wonderful day at Poplar Springs.  I loved seeing the unity and friendship, the community, that comes from having served together.  It adds a richness to our worship and small group time that is priceless.

I met so many new people who were brought as guests to Bible study and worship.  We have many guest cards to follow up on, and new friends to reach out to.  I met several new families that said what drew them to come to PSBC was the excitement of their friend who invited them, and our testimony of being a church that serves in the community.  I also met families who said that they were visiting because they had seen what a difference our family ministries were making in the lives of others, and they wanted their family to be involved as well.

We also identified a few places in ministry on Sunday mornings that we can continue to improve.

We have a developing parking lot ministry to provide care and guidance to those coming onto our campus.  We need people and ideas to continue developing it.  See any of our ministers or Robby Robinson for more info.

We continue to need someone to step up and volunteer to make our bathrooms more welcoming and hospitable throughout the campus.  Research shows that the bathrooms are a key factor in the first impressions of guests.  There’s clean, and then there’s “wow.”  We’re going for “wow!”  See any of our ministers to get turned loose on that.

As always, we were reminded that our strength as a church lies in the genuine warmth of our people, the care and creativity that our small group leaders of all ages show, and the excitement of our worship experience.

Our call from God through the scriptures and the testimony of our hearts, is to Worship God, Strengthen Families, and Change Lives.  The vision is alive and thriving at Poplar Springs Baptist Church!  Thank you for your work in making such a healthy weekend happen, and To God be the Glory for the things He has done!

 

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The BIG weekend is here!

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Hey everyone,

I have been out of the loop this week with family issues.  Mom was taken to the hospital Sunday early and as of today is still in ICU. I appreciate your prayers for healing and guidance for she and Dad.  God is good and we rest in Him.  I want to address a couple of issues that I know some of you may be wondering about Saturday.
If it rains we will still have the breakfast at 8:30 at the Fellowship Hall.  Some groups have inside projects planned and of course those will still go on.  Other groups with outside projects will need to reschedule their work on an individual class basis.
Please make sure that someone from each class emails me with the basic information about your project, just so I can have a list.  Also, please be sure to email me pictures.  Thank you!
Lets work hard reaching out and making invitations for Bring a Friend Sunday!  I know that God is going to move in a powerful way, and that it will be a great day. Think BIG!  Reach out to your group members and encourage everyone to invite someone! Thank you for all that you do!!1939610_10203496657845192_416682542_n
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A new tool for guests

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As you know, we believe that becoming connected to a small group Sunday School class is essential to 2 primary things. The first is that being connected in small group bible study is essential to fitting the New Testament pattern for discipleship. Discipleship without small group connection is impossible. Second, there is no better way for new people to become connected to the life of the church than to get connected to a small group. We have seen over and over that new people who go to worship and never join a small group eventually fall away from a vibrant faith life.

With this in mind, I believe that we need a better publication tool to assist people in finding a small group that fits them.

I would like to publish a small group directory that includes teacher name, contact information for the group (phone, email, and social media), room location, and a 3 sentence paragraph written by each group describing themselves.

Organizing groups by age or department is increasingly problematic for adults. Preschool and children must be arraigned by age and grade, but we need to provide new adults with a more creative and useful tool for choosing a group. This directory will be available online and in print at the church.

I would like to ask each group to provide the information highlighted above to Clint or myself by the first teacher training meeting in March. The goal would be to have such a directory available before our big outreach weekend at the end of March.

Group descriptions should sound welcoming and inviting. Describe your group in broad general terms, but let people know what the makeup and personality of your group is. Keep the gospel central to your identity. (This is a great group exercise for remembering our purpose!) Is your group mostly made up of empty nesters, or parents with small children, etc.? If you were new to a church and looking for a small group, what would you want to know about the groups you were considering paying a visit?

Contact me if you have any questions!

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What thinking big looks like.

One of the most exciting concepts regarding growing a group of people is the power that “one person inviting one person” holds.  It creates the potential for exponential growth.  Think about it.

It’s as simple as this; if everyone in your group brought one person next week, the size of your class would double.  If they got excited and the next week everybody brought another person, it would double again.exponential_growth2

Rick Warren suggests that the power of this kind of thinking means that whatever size you think your group has the potential to be, you should add a zero.  I know.  That’s thinking big.

The point of this kind of thinking is not “church growth” or applying a pyramid sales growth scheme to church.  It’s not a scam or quick shallow growth emphasis.  The point is Kingdom growth.  This is how the first church in the book of Acts grew.

We have some exciting plans for the Spring that include a major outreach celebration, and community service emphasis.  You’ll be hearing about it in the coming weeks and at the teacher training meeting tonight.  Please make every effort to attend.  If you as a teacher can’t be there, send someone else from your class.  The more people at these meetings the better.  In fact, I would love it if every class would appoint someone to be at the meetings which occur on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month, and let me know who that person is.  I’m referring to someone in addition to the teacher.  It’s that important.

Le’s think in God size terms.  Let’s share that vision with our groups.  Let’s get started tonight.

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What’s new in your small group?

Anything?  Nothing?

There’s wisdom in the old saying, “If it’s not broke don’t fix it.”  That may the be the case in your class experience.  If so, then press on and may God bless you.

More often than not though, if we take an honest look at the way we do things, we find that they can be done better.  There is always a benefit to honest evaluation and some freshness in the way we do things.

You can do that evaluation alone, or you can do it as a group.

Some important things to consider are:

  • Are our lesson times conversational enough, or should there be more discussion?
  • Do we have care group sharing time often enough, or too much?
  • Are we having the same fellowships over and over?  Should we try something new?
  • Is it time to redecorate our classroom space?
  • Should we have our chairs arranged in rows or circles or curves?
  • What do chairs in rows or circles communicate about the class structure?
  • Am I teaching a lecture to a class set up for discussion?
  • Am I asking for discussion when the room is set up for a lecture?
  • Should we use more visual aids in the lesson?
  • Should some new people read, or take prayer requests?

The new year is a great time to ask some questions that may lead to refreshing our Sunday School experience.  In any case, a little evaluation is always a good thing. Did any of these questions lead you to consider something new?

 

 

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What does a healthy small group look like?

Brandon Cox has written a great article on the signs of a healthy small group.  Take a few minutes and read these indicators, thinking about your Sunday School small group.  Are there any of these that represent growth opportunities for your class?  Are there any that you feel much more confident about than others?

Knowing and understanding your small group’s strengths and weaknesses are crucial to your ability to lead and get the most out of your people.

7  Signs of a Healthy Sunday School Small Group:

1. There is a consistency within the membership, and a desire to meet.

When a group is healthy, there is a desire and a delight in getting together. It doesn’t feel like “one more thing” but rather “I can’t wait to meet next week” And healthy groups have people who are intentional about meeting if at all possible. Illness, travel, weather, and other events can get in the way, obviously, but for the most part, healthy groups get together regularly because they want to do so.

The metric: Does the small group have a majority of people on role who consistently attend several times per month?  What did the classes learn from all their contacts for the Better Together Weekend?

2. There is genuine authenticity and transparent sharing.

The beauty of small groups is that it’s a place to be real. Many Sunday School experts say that it takes about four weeks for people to start opening up and actually sharing more than “we’re doing fine” when sharing time occurs, or to feel comfortable contributing from their heart to the group discussion.

The metric: Do group members know enough about their classmates to pray and care for each other effectively?

3. People are growing in knowledge, but they are also growing in grace.

This is the difference between a traditional classroom setting for Bible study and a living room setting. We need to grow in knowledge, but knowledge does nothing but puff us up unless we’re applying what we’re hearing and becoming more like Jesus.

The metric: Do people who know our group members recognize a more gracious attitude and response to others in everyday life?

4. Real community and friendship is increasing.

A small group might start out as a Bible study group, but if people respond by opening up, it usually doesn’t take long for group members to start understanding the spiritual, family relationship of each member to the other members. This is where real community takes place – a kind of eternal bonding called fellowship.

The metric: Do people get together outside of Bible study times and show up in crisis moments for each other?

5.  There is an intentionality about serving together and developing as leaders.

Bonding can happen watching football, but it usually happens more effectively in moments of serving others as part of the same team. There is a reason why groups that go on mission trips together know each other so much more intimately afterward.

The metric: Are needs within the group being met? Is the group meeting needs in the community together? Are leaders stepping forward out of the group for other areas of serving?

6. There is a culture of inclusion and inviting.

I’m a big believer in allowing people to belong before they believe. To put it another way, people need a family to adopt them before they “fit in” or look like everyone else. And a small group is an excellent place for this belonging to happen. Healthy small groups have an excitement about welcoming newcomers and they rejoice together to see a friend make a spiritual step forward.

The metric: Is anyone in the group inviting someone or sharing their faith?

7. New leaders are stepping forward.

This is where multiplication happens. Out of the atmosphere of a church with healthy small groups, the inevitable outflow is a stream of new people willing to host groups and set the table for life change to happen for others.

The metric: Are our groups experiencing the kind of growth that produces new leaders.

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The Jumpball Question

Josh Hunt provides some of the best small group lesson prep material you will find anywhere.  I know that several of our teachers use some of his resources.  I came across a great concept he uses called the “jumpball question”  he borrows the phrase “jumpball” from the game of basketball.  The jumpball is a play used in basketball when there is no clear direction as to which way the ball should be going, and it’s a fair way to get the game action started.  The ball is thrown into the air for both sides to pursue, and then things take their natural course.  Essentially, the jumpball question in a small group bible lesson would have the same effect.  It’s a starting point.  Throw it out and let it get the action started.  It’s a question that will get people thinking, talking, and engaged in the lesson.  Here is how Josh Hunt describes it:

The jump ball question is the heart of the lesson, but it is not the whole lesson. I write lessons for a living. I think I’ve written more lessons that any human, living or dead. Here are some question types I often use:

  • What does the text say?
  • What does the text mean?
  • Who can locate Ephesus on a map?
  • How does your translation have Romans 12.1?
  • What are 10 ways we could serve our community? (Note: I am not asking for commitment at this point; just brainstorming.)
  • How do you think the son felt as he approached the father near the end of the story? It is always a good idea to read the Bible with an emotional question.
  • Can you think of any other verses that speak to the same idea?
  • What does this passage teach about God?
  • What does this passage teach about us?
  • Why don’t we do this more often?
  • How do I become a person of faith and confidence?
  • Yes, but how?
  • How will it benefit me to serve? To give? To forgive? To be obedient?
  • What will it cost me if I don’t serve? What if I don’t give? What if I don’t forgive? What if I am not obedient? What will it cost me if I don’t?
  • What do you want to recall from today’s discussion?

Interestingly, jumpballs don’t only happen in the game of basketball at the beginning.  They can happen at any point in the game when needed.  In the same way, these kinds of questions can be used at any time during a lesson when the action slows down and people need to get engaged.

Perhaps you can assimilate some of these examples of jumpball questions into your bible studies, or come up with some of your own!

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The world doesn’t need Superman.

Neither does your Sunday School class.

superman

They need you.  More precisely, they need Jesus as His strength is revealed to them through your weaknesses.

The reality is that you teach a small group full of people who struggle.  No matter how much pressure you and I (as church leaders) place on ourselves to be super human, super spiritual, or super anything…that’s not what the world needs from us.  The world (and especially the small groups we lead) need us to be authentic, honest, and real.

The Bible promises that where we are weak, God is strong.  In our weakness, His strength is perfectly sufficient.  It doesn’t bless the people we serve to make them think that you and I have our act together.  It blesses them to see that we don’t, but that Jesus loves us, has purposes for us,  and redeems us anyway.

Consider the following words from Rick Warren, as he shared about one of his long time weaknesses:

One of the things I’ve figured out is that God has used this to build a praying church at Saddleback. I wouldn’t think of preaching without having my prayer team praying for me during the message. And they pray for me during each service through the entire service. What’s the lesson? God uses weak people! Paul had a handicap and he said, “I glory in my weakness.” It is an absolute myth that you must be a super human being to be effective in ministry. The goal is to last. What kind of ministries last? Ones that are real and authentic and vulnerable and honest and non-hypocritical about our weaknesses.

I believe that there are two great pillars of ministry. Paul’s confession and Peter’s confession. These are the two great pillars of ministry. Peter’s confession was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Obviously, ministry is built on that one, which is found in Mark chapter 8. But Acts 14:15 is just as important, which is Paul’s confession at Iconium where he says, “We are but men.”

I have met many pastors who are very interested in declaring their spirituality. But I haven’t met too many pastors in my life who are interested in declaring their humanity. But your humanity is actually one of your greatest strengths.

God loves to use weak people to work his life through and work His work through. Why? 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to put the wise men to shame. And what the world considers weak in order to put powerful men to shame. He receives glory.” God puts His greatest gifts in ordinary containers so that He alone gets the credit.

You can read the entirety of his comments here.

So my encouragement for you today is not to worry about being super spiritual, or super human in front of your small group.  Be honest, real, and sincere.  Give God the glory for doing the things only He can do.

I leave you with this wonderful word from Jesus about his expectations of us:

Matthew 11:28-30

The Message (MSG)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

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3 reasons why it’s not a bad thing that we missed our goal on “high attendance day”

Our Better Together weekend at Poplar Springs Baptist Church was a tremendous success.  On Saturday morning, our Preschool Sunday School leaders provided childcare, and Children’s leaders provided breakfast for our Sunday School small groups who mobilized into service all around our community. We had as many as 12 adult small groups who got up early and went out serving on Saturday morning.  Every age group from preschool to senior adults were involved.  Here are just a few examples of some of the projects we accomplished:

  •  landscaping at the local fire department and providing food for the firemen.
  •  visiting elderly and physically struggling families, doing yard work for them and home improvement projects.
  •  visiting a local children’s home and organizing their clothes closet.
  •  visiting a family in need and covering their home with love by doing laundry, deep cleaning, painting, and organizing.
  •  putting together care baskets and delivering them to elderly shut ins and spending time with them.
  •  doing a huge yard sale and raising over $200 for missions.
  •  deep cleaning in the church sanctuary
  •  yard clean-ups (bushes trimmed, leaves blown, trees cut, buildings painted, etc)
  •  visiting a nursing home and sharing hope and quality time with residents

All day on Saturday I received feedback from people who were blessed by the service projects, and from people who were blessed to serve.  Here is an example from one message I received:

DUDE!!! I cant even describe how awesome today was for our small group. Life changing for us and the family we were helping. Our people serving and coming together was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Turnout was unbelievable, which was good because we needed all the help we could get. Can’t wait to show you the before/after pics. The impact we made is hard to measure with words… But we will sleep soundly and know that we literally changed someone’s life completely.

You can’t measure that kind of impact in the way we have traditionally measured success in church.

We served together on Saturday, and then worshiped and studied the Bible together on Sunday morning.  The energy in both worship services was amazing.  Here is an example of just one of the comments that was shared on social media Sunday afternoon:

I had the most awesome time of praise and worship today at PSBC ever. My soul just opened up and soaked it all in. Jarrett McNeely reminded me that we need to let Jesus rub off on us…amen. And Julie Putnam McNeely sang about The Blood and I thought I was gonna exlpode, then my Pastor spoke from Proverbs about bringing up a child in the way he should go and he won’t depart from it….it has been rough year and today just helped me put so much in prospective. Thank you PSBC for loving God and loving me…..

I think there were moments in both worship services when we all felt like we were about to explode.  The presence of God was overwhelming.  That kind of unity in heart and spirit is a work of God that man cannot manufacture.  We also had a wonderful morning in Sunday School, with more than 20 visiting families in attendance.  In the past 2 weeks our Sunday School average is 643, with 668 in Bible study yesterday.  Our attendance numbers are steadily climbing from week to week over yearly averages.  The energy and morale of our small groups has never been higher.   I believe we need to plan another weekend similar to this early in 2014.

But there was a moment before the second service when I felt deflated.  Clint and I usually meet in the sanctuary before the 2nd service.  Sunday we met and I asked about whether we had met the attendance goal.  Clint responded that we had fallen short.  We stood there for a moment letting that sink in, and then it was like we both looked at each other and realized that it didn’t matter.  We resolved to share the joy and excitement of the weekend with the congregation, and give God the glory for all the great things happening around us.  Why should anyone feel deflated or discouraged?  Clint did a wonderful job of celebrating God’s work and placing the number in context. “We are having church in here today” he said, “and we had church out there yesterday!” I could not agree more.

In light of these thoughts, here are 3 reasons why it’s not a bad thing that we missed our goal on “high attendance Sunday”:

  1. It provides us with an opportunity to rethink our scorecard for success.  I am not opposed to setting number goals.  I think they can be helpful.  But we can never make them the bottom line.  We are a spiritual family and we ought to measure success by spiritual standards.  Attendance numbers can be affected by lots of variables, and while they should not be ignored, they can’t become the bottom line for measuring spiritual health and growth.
  2. It creates a moment that we can learn from.  By every conceivable standard, we had a great weekend experience serving, worshiping, and being in small groups together…except one.  We set a number goal and fell short.  Perhaps we should seek God’s wisdom and pray for his leading in how we plan special emphasis weekends.  In the past we have set number goals, taken commitment cards, created incentives for meeting the number goal, and had success with that model.  This time we did it differently.  We set a number goal, but we planned other activities and created spotlight moments on service projects and included the worship service in our emphasis.  The service projects were a tremendous success, and the worship service full of energy.  Sunday School attendance was very high, even if it wasn’t at the goal level.  It’s my observation that we had a rich and meaningful weekend that will leave deep spiritual impressions in a variety of ways.  In light of the contrast however, we may be able to learn that there is a broader and better vision for special emphasis weekends than driving high Sunday School attendance alone.
  3. We are reminded to value people over programs.  We are not here to build a big Sunday School.  We are here to build healthy disciples.  The danger always exists as we create special attendance drives, that as people are invited they may feel used, or like a statistic. “Well, its ‘high attendance Sunday’ again and they’re inviting us back to church so they can have big numbers.”  Obviously that is not the point of what a high attendance Sunday is.  And I have confidence in our people to communicate more effectively than that as they make invitations.  But the bigger a deal we make of the goal number, the more pressure we create to live or die by it.  We must be a church that cares about what God cares about.  God wants us to grow, and wanting to grow is one of our core values.  Healthy things will naturally grow, especially healthy churches. Today however, I am considering the best ways to express that desire to grow, and what modes of growth really matter to God.  There is deep spiritual and real physical value to the things we accomplished TOGETHER this weekend.  Our people grew in ways that a number cannot express.  We didn’t meet the number goal, but I am thankful to God for what was accomplished.

You did a great job this weekend Poplar Springs.  You expressed in beautiful ways that we are Better Together.  There is not a single thing that I want you to feel deflated over.  Give God the glory for the great things He has done, and let’s pray together about what we might learn from our wonderful experience together.

Categories: Keeps People Connected, Organized to Serve, Reaches Out to New People, Studies God's Word Together, Sunday School, Uncategorized, Wants to Grow | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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