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Small Groups & Leaders
Audio from Chip's most recent Web Conference.More from this series
Annie: Hey, welcome small group leaders! My name is Annie Iskandarian, and welcome to Living on the Edge’s very first live webinar for small group leaders. We are thrilled here to welcome Chip Ingram. Thanks for being with us.
Chip: It is a thrill to be here, and I want to say, “Thank you,” for making the time, and I really pray God will use this to help you, either launch a group or really facilitate one in a way that brings life change.
Annie: That’s great. So, in our time together, we are excited to tackle some timeless principles of leading a group. Whether you are a first-time group leader or you have been leading groups for a long time, you may be in some type of pastoral position, we just want to come alongside you to provide resources for your church, or just encourage you today.
The second half of our time will be spent doing Q&A. And we have heard from several of you already. We asked you to send in questions. Yeah, we have done a little bit of homework together, getting ready.
Chip: Well, a lot of questions. It’s really exciting.
Annie: And we love hearing from you. We are so excited, as this is our first attempt to interact with you live, not just through a broadcast, which we love that ministry. But we are excited to delve into this today, in an interactive way.
One of the ways we get to do that is through our Q&A button. So as you are viewing live, there is a Q&A button on the top, left corner of your browser. If you have a question as you are listening to us talk today, please just take a moment and click it, and we are going to do our best to answer as many questions as possible today.
So as we get started, I thought it would be great for everyone, not everyone gets to touch and feel you and see you on a personal level. And I thought it would be great for them just to hear: What is your heart behind writing, launching, teaching all these resources, equipping small group leaders to take people through these resources.
Chip: I think the roots of it, for those who don’t know my story – I didn’t grow up as a Christian, I never opened the Bible. And then when I did become a Christian, there was a bricklayer that came and met with me, and I got in a small group and the life change that happened where someone would sit down with me and we went through the Scriptures, but I also ate in his home and I watched his marriage, and I got loved.
And what I realized, when I became a pastor is that teaching is really, really important. And it helps so many people. But about six years ago, or so, we realized that, literally, millions of people would either watch or listen. And my heart broke for people who heard God’s Word and really wanted to, but often it was a, Try hard, I want to be a good person, I want to be a good dad or a mom, or whatever. But they didn’t understand God’s power, because they had never experienced it in a group.
And so I long for people to experience God’s joy, be filled with His Spirit, really understand grace. And the commandments of Scripture can’t be fulfilled apart from community – real life.
And so our heart’s desire, and now I think twenty-five different small group resources, is to help you really walk with God. And then you facilitate discipling others and then, let me get this really clear, you helping some of them launch groups to disciple others. So that’s my heart, that’s our dream. At the end of the day, it’s Christians living like Christians, 24/7, wherever you live, wherever you work.
Annie: That’s awesome. That’s. Well, we are excited you are on that journey with us. Now, I know some of you may be first time leaders. Many times we have given you all challenges to say, Hey, you know what? We are committed to helping you grow and helping Christians live like Christians. So if it means we give you the DVD, we don’t want anything to get in the way of you starting a group. So many times you have heard us over the radio or through a letter say, If you commit to launch a group, we are going to give you the DVD. We want to resource you.
But many people may be there but say, I want to do that! But how? So, could you lay out for us just the basic pathway?
Chip: I will. I sure will.
Annie: How do you launch a group and how do you maintain it? How do you build group health?
Chip: Well, let me just say, for those of you who feel a little guilty, who have turned in a card and there’s a DVD sitting somewhere and it’s on the kitchen counter, I said I would do BIO but I haven’t gotten a group going yet. Let me just give you a few tips on how to get there. Okay, number one, people want to get in a group far more than you think. It’s your fear far more than anything else.
We just launched hundreds of groups in our church, and four hundred of them, no one had ever done it before. And I, literally, I had them on these big tables in the front of the church, I said, You come on down, and literally just like we do on the Internet or radio, Okay, here’s the thing, here’s the DVD, I’ll launch it. And we didn’t try and pair them up.
I said, “Your neighbors, your friends, start off with your family and one friend. You have a group of four or five people.” Or three guys at work. So you think, Sure.
Well, I walked by my favorite coffee shop this morning. A guy was out, I walked by, he said, “Hey, Chip!” I said, “Yeah?” And I walked by and we are taking all of our church through Holy Ambition.
And he was there and I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” And he said, “Boy, the group,” I said, “How is your group going?” And he said, “It’s going really well. It’s interesting.” I said, “How is that?” “I invited my neighbors, a couple of them across the street, they are not Christians.” So he invites non-Christians. One buddy at work and a person from church.
And I said, “Well, how is it going?” He goes, “You know what? I’m shocked. One, they came. Two, not everyone is quite doing everything yet. The one non-Christian, he wouldn’t take the book and he wouldn’t take a Bible.” And I said, “That’s okay!”
Annie: Hey, he came!
Chip: Hey, yeah! It’s okay. They are on number four: Developing a strategic plan. And he takes him to the side, he goes, “I know I haven’t been doing the book stuff or anything, but I have come back every week. I think God is speaking to me.”
And I just want you to know, if you will just ask, and who do you already know? And just launch out. Even if it’s two or three people. What will happen is you will see God work. In fact, we can’t take too long.
Annie: No, we’ve got it. We have a plan.
Chip: I know. But I’ve got to tell you. This is Annie. I’m so proud of her. She was in an apartment complex and remember this one? Remember Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships? It’s one of my favorites.
She and there were a couple of guys in our church, they all go to church here. They didn’t know of any Christians, right? We are in California. A whole apartment complex. They just went around and invited people, all non-Christians, Would you like to come?
It’s a lot of young, single people. Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships. What? Eight or nine people showed up the first time?
Annie: Yeah, maybe six. But it just grew.
Chip: And then the next week, fifteen. And, anyway, it was really interesting to see what God did. Here’s the deal…
Annie: That’s the preview!
Chip: That’s the preview.
Chip: We’ll tell them about it later.
Chip: You’re keeping me on track.
Annie: I’m keeping you on track. That’s my job. So I’m glad I’m here. So you were going to tell us, what are those timeless principles?
Chip: Okay, are you ready?
Annie: So, what do I do? What are some practical things that, when I get that, so we got that DVD on the kitchen counter and I decided to recruit people, what is the most important thing I need to do?
Chip: Number one, pray. And, I mean, seriously pray. Write down, specifically, in a journal; get alone with God; take a walk and say, God, I will ask whomever You bring to my mind. And then, when the people say, “Yeah,” or a lot of them say, “Maybe,” you set the time and then the most important thing you can do is really pray about your time with that group.
God can do miraculous things in people’s hearts. Your personality, my personality – I appreciate these different small group things. It’s content. It’s God’s Word. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t activate it, it’s useless.
Annie: It’s a meeting. It’s nice to get around and have head knowledge, but God always wants to take that knowledge and those relationships, and His Holy Spirit wants to bond us together and grow us. So that happens when we pray.
Chip: Second is prepare. So let’s say you decide to do Balancing Life’s Demands, it’s a fast-paced life, and you say to some neighbors, some friends, people at church, people at work, “My life was out of control and a couple guys and I, some couples are getting together, and we want to talk about biblical priorities. We really want to get our lives under control. And would you like to come?”
So you pray, then the next thing you do is you get your study guide, because sometimes people think, I’ve got the DVD. I don’t need that. In the back of the study guide, every study guide, we have resources for preparation. And then when you need to do is you need to listen to that first session, look at the back where we give you a lot of tips.
We’ll have a place where you can, literally, write the names of the people, where you take prayer requests, and it’s a step-by-step guide. But prepare the material, prepare the place, whether you meet in a place at work or in your home.
Get the place prepared and prepare your heart. Preparation is the key. You don’t want to be running around at the last minute. If you will pray and prepare, then you’re positioned for God to do some exciting stuff.
Annie: Absolutely. And I’ve noticed, if you look in your study guide, many of you, oh, what we should say is, I think if you don’t get the study guide, you’re missing out. I think that’s such an important piece to, if you have the DVD that’s great and we always do have the notes online, but the study guides, tell me a little bit about what we include in these, because it’s more than just notes.
Chip: Well, our study guides, and I mean this, there are all kinds of different small groups out there, okay?
Chip: People that I know and love who are great teachers, I have seen them everything from, I get the DVD and I get a little half-sheet of paper with three questions. Or ours are probably the other end, where we are really trying to take people deeper. So we have, built in, how to lead the group.
And then there are two things, here’s what I learned: People can hear teaching and they can be drawn close to God. They can discuss it and begin to get motivated to do it. But when the rubber meets the road, conviction only comes when the Spirit of God takes the Word of God, personally, and implants it in your heart.
And so we have an area called Accelerate, where no matter what I’m talking about, I take one clear passage and I ask the kind of questions that actually is teaching people how to study the Bible for themselves, inductively.
Because, at the end of the day, I want people to feed themselves. People who read God’s Word and begin to understand it for themselves, the Spirit of God brings transformation.
The other thing is, is that I think people get confused and overwhelmed. Come to this Bible study, do this, do this, go on a short-term missions trip. When I first became a Christian, after about a year, I thought someone was giving me another job.
Annie: Yeah, it’s a lot.
Chip: And so I think getting – here are three simple things that you will see in every study guide. We want to help you, number one, have life. Not duty, not obligation, not busyness. Life.
And the word for life is bio, like biology or biotech or biometrics. And the “b” stands for, we want everyone to come before God. And a brand, new Christian, ten minutes, something really small. Some of you who really walk with God, it might be forty-five minutes or an hour.
Annie: And this is in every section, so as you’re talking about this, you watch the DVD, you have your notes, and then as a leader, you have this BIO section and the Accelerate section that you’re talking about. And you are explaining that. So just to give them context, so you’re giving them, this is what they have every week that they get to do that.
Chip: I kind of jump ahead, don’t i?
Annie: It’s okay! Hey, we’re a team. We’re a team.
Chip: Yes, okay, it’s a personality defect. Some of you who hear me, that’s when I’m organized. This is live. In fact, the only thing that is not live, I have to have a cup of coffee next time, forgive me. Because I do Coffee Break with coffee, I’m going to do these with coffee next time.
Annie: Yeah, we need coffee. I need a latte.
Chip: We’ve got to have coffee. See, I don’t do those froo-froo things. But you’re young and cool…
Annie: I like black coffee too.
Chip: Do you? Okay, okay. Anyway, BIO. “B” for before God. “I” – in community. Weekly. And maybe it’s over a Skype call, maybe it’s a phone call. You’ve got to get with people. And the “O” is for on mission.
And if you only do those three things and simplify your life: I’m going to get before God, I’m going to do life in community, and I’m going to be on mission in my home, on mission at work, on mission at church. I will tell you, that’s the pathway to becoming what we call “Romans 12 Christians” or a mature believer.
To get started, we have a lot of questions to tackle. We are so glad many of you emailed us. So let’s, are you ready to go?
Chip: I’m ready to roll!
Annie: All right. So, question number one, Glen writes: Our home group has brainstormed: What would make us a stronger family? The number one point is being able to talk with each other openly, easily, and freely. Can you give us some direction on how to encourage this behavior? We have completed the R12 study and it really helped us grow spiritually.
Chip: Well, Glen, let me just say to you and everyone else: Vulnerability, there is something that happens in a group and you go from being a group to experiencing authentic community and it’s with this one word. And the one word is: Vulnerability. You’ve isolated it. You’ve got it.
Here is how vulnerability works. When, in that group, and if you’re the facilitator – speed of the leader, speed of the team. Groups rarely ever go deeper than who is facilitating or leading it.
And so what you have to do wisely is if you want that group to go deeper, then you all get together and we’re talking about our marriage and we want it to be more honest. You can talk about how you want that, then you, Glen, have to say, I’m going to make up your wife’s name, Shirley, “Shirley and I were talking about our group and we want to go deeper, and I don’t know if you all are aware of it, but we really had a difficulty in the area of…”
Okay, now, you’ve got to decide how deep that is. You probably don’t want to talk about your sex life at the first one. But it might be communication, right? Or it might be, “We are really struggling with…” or something out of your past.
And then you look around the group, and this is human dynamics. When that group acknowledges that you have shared something risky and accepts you, something happens and we can’t create safety. We can have boundaries. But when that happens, then what the other people have learned, Ooh, there was some risk there.
If it’s all safe, well, “We are having a little trouble communicating, but we are working very hard.” Well, what everyone knows is that’s phony. But you don’t want to go all the way deep, but you test it. Layer, layer, layer. And as you model that, great things happen.
Annie: That’s great. That’s a good answer. Thank you. So one of the questions that we kept getting, pouring in over and over again, there seems to be issues with dominating personalities in groups.
Chip: I can’t imagine.
Annie: So I will read you a few. I think this represents a half dozen people who wrote in. But Becky writes: What is the best approach to take with someone who dominates the group or repeats the same situation over and over again and doesn’t try different things to work towards resolution? Or a similar question, Homer writes: How do you keep people from taking over the discussion time and not letting others give their thoughts and comments? And over and over, people are saying the same thing. There’s a dominating personality, they talk over everyone, what do you do?
Chip: Okay, here’s the deal. If you have an agreement, it makes it easier. So those of you who haven’t used the agreement, next time.
Annie: Light bulb!
Chip: Yeah, okay. Now, here’s what you do. You cannot allow one person to ruin your group. You are the facilitator and, okay, rule number one, don’t correct them – unless this is like you have talked already, privately – don’t correct them publically. Don’t, in the middle of the group go, “Hey, hey, Fred. Would you just shut up?” That’s not a good way to go.
Although there are some people who you have to be really blunt with. So what you want to do is, this has happened, the group is getting ready to go, “Hey, Fred, could you hang back just for a minute? I need five minutes with you before you leave.”
And so everyone leaves. Or if that’s not possible, “I’ll meet with you later,” but usually you want to get it right then because your courage is up and your courage is up because you are pretty angry, because it has happened one more time.
Everyone leaves, you say, “Fred,” if you have the agreement you say, “We signed this together. And I know your heart. And you want everyone to hear the truth. And I really see your passion. But I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but when you talk for twenty minutes or you pray for fifteen minutes or after someone says something, you have to make a comment, what it does is it shuts down the group. I’m not sure you’re aware of that. And our goal together is to really help everyone grow, give everyone a chance. And you may know more and I know you’re fired up, but what we want to do is facilitate this for everyone.”
And then look them in the eye and say, “Do you understand? Do you know where I’m coming from here?” And, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then what you say is, “Now, next week when we meet, this is a bit of a habit, so you’re human, you probably won’t break the habit right overnight. So what is going to happen is next time in the group, I’m going to ask if you wouldn’t mind sitting next to me. And we’ll get in the discussion. And if this unconsciously comes out, I’ll just tap you on the knee or something and smile. And you know what I’m saying is, “Hey, Fred,” okay?
And you’d be surprised, people who do this, some are belligerent and no matter what you say it doesn’t help. Most people are unaware of group dynamics and what they are doing.
And then with a really quiet person, I think I normally would not do something. In the group, I would start like this and one group technique is different people have shared. And as a leader, let’s face it, you have to interrupt. Okay?
“We have been on question two now for a while. This is really good. What I have heard us say,” and you make a summary, “what I have heard us say is we all struggle with communication, we all need to be more honest in our relationships, and, Betty, I just noticed everyone has shared a few things and you certainly don’t have to, but you were listening very inquisitively. I was wondering, are there any thoughts or anything you want to share before we go on to question three?”
And so what you are always wanting to do is, introverts, that’s not a bad thing, you want to pull that out of them without putting them on the spot like, Oh my gosh. If they do that again, I’ll never come back here again. So does that make sense?
Annie: Yeah. And how about for people who don’t feel comfortable praying out loud? Because that happens in that same scenario with people who are quiet. How do you handle that?
Chip: Well, one of the things is is, again, I think one of the things we do well, and this happened because I was in some DVD, I can say that, driven groups that I wasn’t teaching them or they weren’t our DVDs. And they were really great teachers. And the person, whether it’s a Beth Moore or a Tony Evans, James MacDonald, someone you really like.
And they would get done teaching or something like that and in the early days then they would click off the TV and everyone would say, “Well, what do you think? What do you think?”
Well then five minutes later it’s, “Hey, what do you think about them Cowboys? Or those Forty-niners?” Or, “Hey, there’s a sale at Macy’s!” And what I realized, it was crazy, if I would lead the group, and so at the end of every DVD, I’ll stop and I will ask the first question, and early on, I’ll ask the facilitator, “Hey, would you go ahead and share what you are thinking?”
And then by group three, “We are going to pray together,” and I’ll just remind people, “No one has to pray out loud.” And then by group six or seven, I’ll say, “If you have never prayed out loud, maybe you’ll want to start with a sentence.”
But what you want to do is you want to create an environment where people take baby steps, but they are not put under pressure.
Annie: That’s good. That’s great, thank you. All right, next question. Aaron writes, Chip, I have led several Living on the Edge small groups and some of the groups have had believers as well as unbelievers. When I had this combination, it can, at times, make it hard to facilitate questions when certain questions would not apply to an unbeliever. For instance, how do you include them in on a discussion question that revolves around sharing your faith at work or something that applies to believers only? How do you handle that when you have a mix of believers and unbelievers in your group?
Chip: Well, first, let me say, if you do, way to go!
Chip: You are, that an unbeliever comes to a Bible study says he thinks a lot about you, and he trusts you or she trusts you. And part of it is I think we are more uptight about it than most unbelievers.
And I just, I would go through it. And if the person has declared, some of them you know they are an unbeliever, but everyone doesn’t know – I would try to give them a pass on some of those. But if the person has said, “Hey, it’s good to be with you all, and I don’t believe yet,” which is like the guy I talked about earlier.
I think a great question is, for a question like that is, “How do you share your faith at work? What’s most effective? And, Bob, it’s great to have you with us and we really love you and when we went to that ball game last week, that was a blast. But when people have talked to you about Jesus, what has made you want to listen and what has turned you off?”
Annie: That’s great. Turning the question and getting their perspective.
Chip: Exactly. Yeah. And just honor them as a person and they dignity and they have intelligence. And sometimes we have this idea like we are crouching around for that moment when they, ahh! You know? Just love them! Be their friend. Shoot it straight.
Annie: That’s great.
Chip: Pray, prepare, use the study guide. And then we have one in all the study guides,
We have what is called a…
Annie: It’s a group agreement.
Chip: Yeah. It’s kind of like, some people get scared off by the word covenant. But what you do is you have everyone read. These are some basic things that we agree on. Like confidentiality, spiritual health, I’m committed – I’m really going to come.
It’s a basic agreement here that you set the expectation so you say, As a group, can you all agree? And depending on your geography, depending on the culture of your group, personally, I like it when we all read that and you say, Would you be willing to sign that?
Annie: Yeah. I found it so helpful. I have led several small groups, been a Director of Small Groups, and the group agreement has been one of the core foundations of launching groups. So whenever you bring a group together for the first time, it is so important that everyone gets on the same page. I think it removes the tension that you will feel later on if you have someone who ends up dominating the group with comments or if someone is too quiet, or you have someone who doesn’t show up on time, repeatedly.
Chip: Or show up!
Annie: Or show up at all!
Chip: Or do any of the homework.
Annie: Right. Or you have someone share something really vulnerable and then it gets leaked out somewhere. So having that group agreement, it creates a safe environment where people can actually share in a safe environment. It sets up people to really grow.
Chip: And, by the way, just don’t be worried about making the group work all the time for everyone.
Chip: One of the questions someone said, “I am leading the group and my wife is leading a group and none of the women in her group do any of the work and none of the guys are doing it.” Well, part of that is setting expectations.
And so you want to just stop and say, Are we all really in or not? Because it’s probably better to have three, four people who are really willing to do something than nine that you have a different group every time, and people aren’t really committed.
And sometimes it’s they are unbelievers or they are just starting out. And you purposefully make it a little bit looser. But I will tell you, if you set the bar clearly, then when you have to have some of those hard conversations, you can say, “We all agreed to this,” and we are going to talk about how to do that a little bit later.
Annie: That’s great.
Chip: Pray, preparation, the agreement. And then there are three or four, these are really basic things. But I think one of the fears of leading a group is: Someone is going to ask me a question, and I don’t know the answer. Are you ready for this? Here’s the answer to that one: I don’t know.
Annie: Isn’t that freeing?
Chip: Yeah, it really is. And, “I’ll think about it, I’ll pray about it, I’m sure there are very godly people – I will check with my pastor. I’ll do a little research.” And, by the way, affirmation: “Wow, that is a great question. That is a great question.” You don’t have to feel like you are the end-all and you’ve got to say or know everything.
But I lead groups right now, I am in one currently and they think I’m a pastor and, You went to school, and they asked me a question, and it was something like, “You know that guy in Job and he was the last one to speak and he said…? What was his name, Chip?” And I went, “Uh, I just haven’t memorized the book of Job quite yet. I don’t know. I’ll look it up.” So I think it takes the pressure off.
Annie: And I think with saying, “I don’t know,” I think on the flip side too, it’s asking good questions.
Annie: Because I think as a group leader, sometimes you can feel that pressure that I need to have all the answers, that it’s my job to give everyone a lecture. And, really, groups are designed, especially with the teaching that is already provided in the notes, as a group leader, your job is to ask great questions. And I think that is how you allow people to come to conviction, you allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and so it’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” and it’s also to say back to them, “What do you think about that? How do feel like God is leading you in that way?”
Chip: I think asking good questions is super important, and I will give you even one that, I would write this one down: Asking the follow-up question is the key to the dynamics in a group. So someone shares something and you say, “Well, Annie, that’s really interesting. It sounds like you’re really having a big struggle at work,” and she shares a little bit and then instead of moving on, “Wow, it sounds like you’re taking some significant steps of faith at work. What’s the biggest challenge?”
So, now all of a sudden, we have gone from every group, by the way, are you ready for this? Maybe I’ll get a whiteboard next time too. But questions, all the questions are designed, the first questions are always: You can’t get them wrong. Even, What is your experience? Even how you feel. How you feel can’t be wrong.
And then we go from that, those are just informational questions. Then we might ask: What do you think? So there is some value related and we are moving from here to some content.
And then when we get down to: What are you willing to do? Or, What are your values? Now it gets more vulnerable. And so the questions are designed to lead people deeper and deeper into a process where there is vulnerability and where God can really work in the group.
Annie: That’s great.
Chip: Learn to say, “I don’t know.” And then another one, these are actually in the study guides as well, is: Share ownership. One of the questions was: What do I do? I have been a group leader; I have been through R12. I could picture them, they were saying, Look, I have been through a bunch of these studies. I am burned out and I feel guilty that I am not leading them, but I am fried.
That often happens because you have assumed all the responsibility for the group. As early as possible, I know I watched you do this because Annie’s group started out, this is an exciting story, I promise I’ll be quick, but this is exciting.
It started out in her apartment, and then it went and got too big for her apartment, so she knew the pastor of her church who happened to be her father. And so she said, “Father,” oh, I am that person, right?
Annie: The cat is out of the bag.
Chip: Yeah, and Annie says, “Hey, Mom! Dad! Can we use your house?” I said, “Oh,” what am I going to say, right? She’s doing what we are praying about. So pretty soon it’s twenty, then it’s thirty, then it’s forty. Then it’s, “Hey Mom and Dad, we need to break out, we need to sub-group.”
So they would watch Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships on the…
Annie: We took over your living room.
Chip: Well, the living room…
Annie: And the kitchen.
Chip: And then my study.
Annie: Actually, and then your master bedroom and garage and patio.
Chip: So there are fifty or sixty people in my house and there are nine groups meeting. From all over the world. It was so cool, because we are in the Silicon Valley. And then they grew to another home and then to another home.
But the point was, I think what made it go was, early on, I watched you say, “I’ll facilitate the group. Could you bring refreshments?” Then the next one was someone had come to Christ, “Could you share your story this time?”
I watched Annie, every time. You couldn’t come more than two times before you had a job.
Annie: You get involved. I think that’s what people want. If you’re not a participant and highly engaged then it’s like, Why am I showing up?
Annie: And I think the more committed people, when they feel like they need to bring something, it just helps them engage and makes them feel like they are part of the team. I think part of the group is not a leader who provides everything and you come to this event. It’s doing life together, it’s loving each other. And everything from even where you host the group, I encourage you, if you’re tired – just take turns where you host the group, who brings refreshments.
Even as a leader, if you have another mature member in your group, take turns leading, saying, “Hey, you know what? It would be great.” And do it together. It doesn’t mean just when you’re on vacation, but do it, take turns. It’s important to share that ownership, as it is mutual edification.
Chip: And for right now, just for that person who wrote that question, launch a group and you just go to it. And you don’t have to feel guilty, okay? Taking a break is not wrong. Go to a group and just be a participant. Actually, I do this even at our church. Last week, I didn’t teach. The other teaching pastor taught.
You know what I did? I came to church. I came to church. And you know what I did? [sighs] I could worship and not think about, When is the transition coming and when do I get up? I just came to come to church because my soul needs to be fed too. You need to have that in a group.
I think the final thing here is anytime I think about, This goes without saying, then we probably ought to say it. But love and pray for your group. And what I mean by this, anything you do, okay, let’s say your group meets every Tuesday night or every other Tuesday.
What happens between the Tuesdays is when your group knows whether you really love them or not. And it can be a text, it can be a phone call.
Saturday morning, I was taking a walk and a lady in our church was there. And when you’re the pastor and a lady from your church is there, they always ask you questions, which is great.
And so she says, “Oh, I just, I want to thank you.” She’s from another country; she has a really cute, little accent. She goes, “I just want to tell you something is really wonderful.” And she was excited.
And she goes, “I am going to my small group and my husband abandoned me and he left me and it has been very difficult. But I am in my group. And two women from my group, they came to my work this week. And they brought me, they baked cookies.”
And now tears are coming down her face. And what she was saying was, I’m not just a number in the group. They love me. And, yeah, you’ve got a job, you’ve got kids, you may have a lot of responsibilities.
But any small thing you can do to say, “You matter,” in between the groups, will create what you really want to see happen.
Because the goal is not how many groups we start or how many people are in the groups. It’s life change! It’s Christ being formed in us.
Annie: Yeah, it’s the relationship being built too. It’s hard to create a place where you share vulnerably, you share your life, you share your struggles, and you have people walk alongside you if you can’t get there.
Chip: I am guessing people are saying: If they don’t get to my question very soon, I am going to log off.
Annie: We might have some issues.
Chip: That’s right.
Annie: Yeah, so I have a question from a youth pastor in Texas. And he does groups with teenagers and he says, I keep running into how to keep things relevant with my teenagers. He said, Here are some of my problems. They don’t seem to care about the Bible or spiritual things. They argue every point to fit their current desire. And they claim to be saved but live and choose the world.
So his question is: How do I make it relevant to them and how do I keep them interested in the Bible?
Chip: Hmm. Boy, that’s the culture just really eating away at what is happening and you think about the average teenager, the media, and all the influences. One thing I would say is there are a handful of topics that teenagers are very interested in. One would be: Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships. And when I taught that, remember we taught that actually in Atlanta to about thirty-five hundred, four thousand from high school up to early thirties.
And when you start talking about love and sex and relationships, it’s a twenty-five minute teaching and then there is interaction. The other is, we are living in a world of media, now, and TV programming and movies and video games that has the occult everywhere. I will tell you, The Invisible War, I would encourage you, talk about spiritual warfare. And they will perk up.
Chip: And so I would say, take a topic that you can start, and then I would use the Bible. And talk about it, open the Bible, and then the key to any group is you’ve got to find two or three of the kids who are on the page. And they are influencers. And you spend time with them and you get them to begin to infiltrate the culture. And don’t get discouraged.
I have been there, done that. It is hard. Changing the culture of a group in what you described, and especially, I lived in Texas for twelve years. Eleven, actually. But there is part of that culture that they have been around and they heard about God so much they get a little cynical.
And so I think meeting with them personally, loving them, modeling it, and then taking some topics that really have some high relatability to their world.
Annie: That’s great. Great feedback. I hope that helps you. The next one, we got so many questions about: How do you do group with young families?
Chip: Oh wow.
Annie: This is a topic, I think we are always talking about, especially in the church role. How do we love young families? How do we help them get in groups when you have little babies or running toddlers or elementary kids who you can’t get to sit still. We have had several people write in.
And I’ll just read you a few of their comments and then maybe you can speak to all of them. So we have one, Colleen writes, another woman wrote, she says, It’s really hard to connect with other community group members in our stage of life with kids. We have twelve kids total in our community group and babysitters can get expensive. We meet once a month as couples and then men and women meet separately two times a month. So that’s about three hours total a month that we are connecting with our community. It’s really hard to know what is going on with each couple. Is there a better way?
Another woman writes: Childcare is always an issue and makes having deep conversations almost impossible. I understand that! I’ve got two little ones at home. So how do we get authentic time to make those conversations available?
And then on the flipside, writing from an older woman, she says, We have several young women in our church who don’t have time for Bible study. So it’s a young mom like me. Any ideas for how we older women can minister to the younger ones? So how do we do this?
Chip: If I had a really easy answer, I would write a book and tomorrow I would sell a million copies, and the next day, five million. This is, let’s just recognize, this is really hard. But let’s also recognize that it’s not impossible. Just because something is really, really hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it.
So let me share a few ways that I know people have done it and then, Annie, since you have a two-year-old and an eight-month-old…
Annie: I can relate.
Chip: Chime in here. One is, I think, we have done it, I will give you a few examples that have worked on our journey. We have done things, and they all have drawbacks. I am going to say this and you’re going to go, Oh, that’s great, but I wouldn’t want to do that. Fine. Let me give you three or four.
We have done it where we have had a group of couples and maybe you have four couples or five couples. And we would rotate and every five weeks, one of us would miss and we would watch the kids. And we would minister to the kids, get to know the kids, and do some things like that.
And realize that it may not be ideal, but, one, we were serving the other couples, we got to know their kids, and it probably was not the most exciting night for us, but it really built unity and love.
Second, depending on the ages of the kids, you can let the kids come in and let them see what you’re doing. Especially those of you who might do a little worship on the front end and when the excitement, and if you have a little snack on the front end…
And then if the kids are old enough, there are some great Disney movies. I’m not an advocate of TV being a babysitter, but I think there are some good things that, for ninety minutes, something really great, set them in front of that.
Now, don’t get your expectations up. Someone is going to come out crying, okay? Hug them, put them back, take them there. So that’s another option.
A third option is, a lot of our couples, they hire babysitters. And I like one of our young guys here, he said, “You know something? It’s nothing for,” different parts of the country, so filter this through your culture, “there are a lot of us couples who don’t think anything of spending sixty or seventy dollars for going to a great concert, a dinner out, going to a movie. We get a babysitter. What if your marriage, what if your walk with God was as important as saying, You know what? We are going to put sixty or seventy-five dollars a month or more in a fund just like we do for everything else for babysitting so that we can meet and have deep relationships.
And so we have money for lattes, we have money for movies. Now, for some of you, you’re going, Look, I don’t have lattes and I don’t have movies. That one may not work for you, remember? We are just trying different ways.
And, Annie, we were talking earlier. I think there are times where, to make the time go, more and more, we are getting a lot of our group life digitized where you can watch the teaching time so that when you come together, it’s all the discussion. Or realize, You know something? Maybe a small group is you and one other person. Maybe share how you are doing it right now as a young mom.
Annie: Yeah! Well, one of the thoughts I was thinking, speaking to young families is I think it depends on your season, and after each child comes, it changes. So when I was a brand new mom, I could just leave, after he was old enough, I could leave the baby with my husband and I was a part of an amazing women’s group. It ministered to me so much. I grew so much that year.
But then I had a second, quickly after that. And then I thought, Oh boy. I don’t know how to get to a group. I can’t even get dressed! I can’t even get my hair done or shower. And you’re just trying to survive.
Annie: And so I think you have to evaluate your season and there’s not always one answer. So I think we, my husband and I have just had to continue to evaluate, for a season, even with both of them, we would go to our friends’ house and we would put both of them to sleep in their master bedroom. We’d put them in different bedrooms and then come down and join the group.
Our babies were in a place where we could put them to sleep there. So that worked for a season.
And then our son broke his leg and we moved and things happened. So then right now, my husband and I, we are just being incredibly intentional to read through the book of the Bible together and talk about it. Our church, Venture, is doing Holy Ambition, so we are taking, we go to church while we have babysitting to listen, and we are talking about the questions.
Annie: So I think that’s not going to be where we are going to stay forever. But I think what is important is that you are sharing intentionally with another person. And to answer that woman who said, Hey, there are several young women in our church who aren’t involved, I meet with a mentor every other week. And so, for me, that I think keeps me connected in the church body and allows me to be mentored by an older woman.
And to change in different seasons, before I kids, we met at a coffee shop. Now she comes to me and she is helping me put them down for naps or helping me feed them. And sometimes it’s not the deepest conversations. Sometimes I leave feeling, Wow, I wish I could have gotten through that whole story. Or, I wish I could have gotten advice from you on that. But she is doing life with me and she is just with me in the thick of it. So if you are an older woman, I just encourage you, if you have that avenue, just come alongside a mom. Send her an encouraging text, say, “Hey, can I…?”
I have felt so loved when I have had someone say, “Hey, could I just come pick you up a coffee and say hello?” That’s what I need as a stay-at-home-mom when I have little ones at home.
Chip: Well, I think we get caught and lured into thinking certain paradigms are the only way to go. So let’s say, at our church right now, we have, I don’t know, my lands, three hundred women here in all kinds of different small groups doing different things. And you can unconsciously think, Oh, that young mother needs to come here. Well, some of them can, some of them can’t. Maybe it’s you going to them and saying, “You know something? Our group is here, but maybe I’ll come to you.”
Another thing you said, I think is interesting, at certain stages is you can watch the kids – her husband’s name is Ashot – and he can be at a men’s group.
Chip: And every season isn’t a couple’s group.
Chip: Last year, your mom, she had a women’s group, I had a men’s group. Right now, we are actually doing something with some young couples. So you can trade off the kids and realize, Hey, we are in a season where that beautiful picture of we go as a couple and have a small group together, that will come, but it may not be right now.
Annie: And God teaches us all different things in each of those seasons with the specific people we are with. Hey, I am really excited, I got notified. So, our COO of Living on the Edge, Andrew Accardy, he has been online and he has been filtering your Q&A questions. Andrew, are you there?
Andrew: I am here!
Annie: Oh. Andrew, welcome! We are so glad you are here with us. Hey, we have about ten more minutes, and we wanted to see how many questions that have been coming through online, live, we could answer in this time. Would you mind giving Chip his next question?
Andrew: I’d be happy to. There are a lot of questions here, so we will do our best to get through as many as we can. But, Chip, so here’s a question from Alan. So, we plan to have a first-time study at work, expecting somewhere between five and fifteen attendees who are primarily not Christians. Do you think “Culture Shock” would be an appropriate selection for a first-time study?
Chip: If you would like to get fired or beaten up, I think that would be the absolute best study you could ever do. Alan, hey, dude, I’m messing with you. That is so controversial, and you’re going to have people coming from so many different worldviews. They will get stuck on the symptoms.
I would start with something that is a really high felt-need that you know, let me just…
Annie: Like, a parenting series…
Chip: A parenting series, maybe a marriage series. For work, I will tell you, I have had a lot of business executives go through Balancing Life’s Demands. In fact, actually, one of our board members, Gregg Dedrick, was the president of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
And he was in that season: And, boy, the corporate world. What do I do with my life? He had retired like those guys do, really early. He went through this study and that was a game-changer. Because it’s about priorities and time and focus and vision.
So I would do something that really serves them and gets them acquainted with the Bible and builds a relationship with you and with me. Because a lot of people have had really bad experiences with pastors and preachers and I happened to grow up being like that.
But if we can build a little relationship before we start talking about those controversial issues, I think it’ll go a lot farther.
Andrew: So here’s another one, Chip, from Leo. He says that, We have a wonderful group started two years ago with about eight people, and by God’s grace, we have become a family. However, we are now at twenty. Should we consider sub-grouping?
Chip: Oh, great, great question. The answer is: Absolutely. Here’s the principle: If I don’t get to talk, if I don’t get to share, this group is no longer meeting my needs, because…and that’s not selfish. But we have to matter. I have got to share my story. I have to get to process.
So, literally, when I get to even eight or ten, I will start sub-grouping. And sometimes, if it’s an area where I think, Wow, men could talk about this, I might have five men and five women, once you get to twelve, you have to sub-group. Six and six.
Annie: We did a lot of sub-grouping.
Chip: Yeah, when she did it, they had forty-five or fifty people, but there were five in my study, six in my bedroom, six in the spare bedroom, five outside. And it really works out well, because the other thing it does, it allows for more community and social.
Annie: Yeah, you really have a chance to keep that family feel and eat dinners together or hang out together. And until you outgrow your home or your space, you can keep together as long as you have set aside time up front. And then you do.
Chip: Leo, but here’s the key. The group discussion is only as good as the group facilitator. So what you have, you can’t just go, “Okay, everybody!” Now, you want to, you don’t have to super-organize it, and it’s okay, maybe once or so to say, “Hey, Sally, could you take that one? Jim, could you take that one?”
But, if at all possible, what you say is, “Okay, we have listened to this. If they could come a half hour early and this is what we are going to do.” Or, “Hey, I have reviewed all of the stuff, I have sent it to them, let’s focus on questions one, five, six, seven, and then we have got to get to ten. And make sure you pray at the end.” Okay?
Annie: Yeah, get to a point where your sub-group leaders are the group leaders. You are, in a sense, leading the whole thing, but you want to empower them as they are really leading the group.
Chip: And then a feedback loop. So then you ask them, “Well, how did it go?” Because they have all the struggles that you and I have, right? And they are going to say, “Hey, that one guy wouldn’t shut up,” or, “This lady started crying. What do we do? And we only got to question two but everyone prayed for her and two people came to Christ, but we didn’t get through the questions.”
To which you say, “Great! Way to go!” Because the goal isn’t that people get through the questions. It’s that God gets through to them.
Annie: Great, we have about six more minutes. So, Andrew, let’s get a couple more in.
Andrew: This one is a little bit raw, but let me paraphrase it this way: I’m a leader of a small group, but my wife is really not interested in being part of a small group. How do I deal with that situation? How do I encourage her?
Chip: Let me just tell you what doesn’t work and I’ll say these because you’ll probably go, Yeah, I know. I know, I know. Nagging doesn’t work, making her feel guilty doesn’t work, laying out the study guide on the kitchen table hoping she sees it doesn’t work.
One, and I’m not trying to be trite, but you really have to pray for her and then I would ask, “Why?” And you may not know. I wonder what is going on with her that she is not interested in a small group, because not being interested just might be a symptom. And then I don’t know you at all, so I’m just going to be tender, let me go somewhere tenderly, and this may not apply. But if it does, then you need to really listen.
Could there be something about the way you’re treating her or something about what is missing in your relationship – could there be some unresolved anger or hurt or a wound that basically, what she is saying is, I know this really matters to you and I’m not going to do this, because I know you really want me to, because…and maybe she has never even verbalized it.
And I could be way, way off. But asking, “Why? What is going on behind it?” And it may be, some people can be very introverted and, I just don’t want to share among people. I would be gracious and loving and give her a pass and have your life demonstrate that this group creates the kind of husband that she would say, If I never go to a group, I want you to keep going.
Annie: That’s great.
Andrew: How about this one, Chip? How do you smoothly introduce new people into a small group? Should you inform the group prior to the addition?
Chip: Wow! Your sound is working; I’m thinking. There are two things that come to my mind. I think if you know for sure some people are coming, it might be nice if the group is…one, you want to create an openness where people aren’t barging in. And so praying for them, “Hey, I have a couple who are going to come,” or a guy from work or something, “his name is John. Could we pray for John so that he really feels comfortable?”
And something we didn’t get to is once your group gets started, the death of groups is ingrownness. And if you’re together two or three or four years and it’s all the same group, unconsciously, some bad things are going to happen.
And so what I would say is you need to start putting an empty chair, literally, all the people come and find a chair and it’s empty. And you need to pray that God will fill it.
And, now, there are seasons where, hey, these couples, we both have been through a divorce, these people, we need a closed group. It’s got to be safe for eight or ten or twelve weeks. I get that.
But otherwise, I think you want to have, you don’t want to have a new person every, single week where the dynamics change. But you want to be open for new people coming.
So I think it can happen either way. I think the key is the culture of the group. The group says, “I want people to come,” rather than, “Us four and no more.”
Andrew: Well, speaking of the culture of the group, let’s play the other side of that. And so here’s the question: If you have people in the group who don’t seem bought in and don’t come to the group consistently, don’t do their “homework,” do you eventually create an exit strategy for them? How does that conversation start and how do you navigate around people who seem to keep derailing the closeness of the group?
Chip: Oh man, this is so important, and I want to apologize to everyone, because what I am about to say may be the most important thing we say and we haven’t covered it.
You never have groups that have open-ended, We are starting a group and we are going to be in this group until Jesus comes. Every group has a beginning time and an ending time. And when we are done with it, we are done. And then we re-up. We are going to take a two-week break or maybe we are going to eat dinner together. And it’s the Thanksgiving holidays, we are going to start a group in January. I am going to pray about it. You all pray about it.
And then you invite people and say, “Now, this group, it’s going to really mean that everyone needs to come on a regular basis.” And just to address it before it starts.
But the other is groups have cycles. If you meet eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen weeks – it’s like this. There’s a curve and they peak and then they start to just…
Right after they peak, you want to stop the group, and say, “We have studied this, it has been great, take a break,” and then launch a new group.