1. People need community.
a. We live in a culture that craves relationship.
b. Four Spaces of Life:
i. Public: 100+ people.
ii. Social: 20-50 people.
iii. Personal: 3-12 people.
iv. Intimate: 1-2 people.
c. In our culture of instability and uncertainty there is a great need for traveling companions, people to do life with. Spiritual formation groups provide the place where we do that.
d. Connection Groups @ St. Paul: Hold us up to live at a higher level; hold us together when our lives fall apart; hold us accountable to be who God has called us to be.
i. Most focused groups with defined, accountable leaders usually a three to nine month commitment.
e. BRIDGE Groups: Build Relationships, Identify and Develop Gifts, Equip to Serve. Short-term and/or less intense groups for short-term studies, Sunday school classes with less personal “risk” and act as a “bridge” to Connection Groups.
2. Leaders need clarity.
a. Clarify the goal of your groups.
i. Personal or Social sized?
ii. What does success look like?
b. Clarify the Characteristics of good leaders:
i. Character—are they accountable?
ii. Competency—are they able to lead the group?
iii. Chemistry—will others join their group?
iv. Capacity—are they willing and able to make the commitment?
c. Clarify expectations of the groups: BLESS Pattern for great groups—
i. Bless—group members are expected to be respectful and look for opportunities to be a blessing in the lives of those in their group. Spend time in prayer with and for each other.
ii. Listen—to God through acts of worship and prayer and each other with loving acceptance.
iii. Eat—fellowship is a key to great groups. Our groups share “snacks” every week and we encourage a monthly or bi-monthly meal and social evening together. God does great work when we break bread together.
iv. Study—spending time in personal devotion and group scripture study that reinforces personal devotion brings life transformation
v. Sent—at least once every eight weeks or so do something missional as a group to stretch yourselves beyond your group and into the community.
3. Churches need strategy.
a. Leader recruitment—leaders should be recruited personally and intentionally.
b. Participant gathering—group members should be invited personally. Pulpit invitations are a waste of time.
c. Find your “word.” St. Paul’s is Connection. All of our ministries are about making one of three essential connections: Christ; community; or calling. What is done in our groups facilitates making those connections.
d. ABC’s of a great group: accountability; belonging; and care.
e. Place for the groups—we encourage our Connection Groups to meet in homes. We do have some who meet at church due to convenience, but what it gains in convenience, it loses in intimacy. Our BRIDGES groups meet at church.
f. Open groups, closed groups, or combination.
4. Connection needs simplicity.
a. Create steps not programs. Entry or BRIDGES groupsàConnection GroupsàAccountability triads. (BTW, this is not new, it was Wesley’s system)
b. Make steps and expectations them clear, clean, and simple to understand.
c. Begin with short-term groups. Maximum 8-10 week commitment. Then you can give folks the chance to opt out or others to jump in.
5. Process need reality.
a. Be realistic. One great group is better than three bad ones.
b. Process for training leaders and “huddles” to support them.
c. Annual commissioning of spiritual formation group leaders.
6. Steps to make it happen:
1. Identify key leaders: identify two to five key leaders and "tap them on the shoulder" with a special invitation to participate in their own spiritual formation. Personal invitation is essential to participation, pulpit invites are usually unheard and unheeded.
2. Instill a sense of hope: a solid reminder that Jesus started with twelve and changed the world. Spiritual Formation can be the catalyst for total church renewal. The leader must buy in with prayer, presence, and participation.
3. Initiate action steps: provide training, whether its a day, an afternoon, or a weekend should provide three things that will make it worthwhile for those leaders:
· Equip: provide them with tools and resources they can begin reviewing and using immediately in their local churches.
· Educate: provide a training process for them so that they know how to use the tools.
· Evaluate: sometime in the next three to six months follow up really needs to be done to insure they actually learned from the education process and used the tools provided. Evaluation should NOT be done at the training, but should be done after they have been "back home" for some time to see if it actually made a difference.
a. Model the group process with potential leaders for at least eight weeks preferably using “launch” cirriculum.
b. Decide how many groups is reasonable, responsible, and realistic for your size congregation. Anticipate about 40% of worship attendance in a group as an ambitious goal (50 in worship means 20 in groups which ideally would be two groups of 10).
c. Set a group launch date and begin reinforcing importance of spiritual formation as a scriptural, historical, and practical method of faith development at least four weeks before “launch Sunday.”
d. Get commitments from leaders.
e. Have leaders begin “shoulder tapping” their friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors to be part of their group. Church participation or even attendance is NOT a prerequisite to be part of a group!
f. On Launch Sunday “commission” group leaders and have them exit greet all worshippers, inviting worshippers to join their group.