Home groups: starting the year well
Just a week or two ago—actually, it was 1 December, but it feels like a week or two ago—I sent out an email with some suggestions about how to end the year well for your growth group/home group.
Now, all of a sudden, my church is doing the annual “home groups will be starting up again soon, so make sure you join one” pitch. And, sure enough, looking at the date on my phone, it is that time of year again.
But I reckon seeing it as just “that time of year again” when we get back into the same routines of life and ministry is a danger for two reasons.
Firstly, there is nothing routine about our COVID-weary context. It still presents its challenges: Can we meet in a home or are we best on Zoom? If we meet in person, who will be missing, and how do we care for/cater to them? If we stay on Zoom, how do we make it as relationally positive as possible? We need to give some thought to the specific opportunities and struggles of 2021 and not just start up as if things are normal.
But, secondly and perhaps more importantly, routine brings a high risk of complacency and an unhelpful tendency towards a dullness of purpose in meeting together. It’s so easy to drift along when you don’t have a clear and specific destination in mind.
So here are my three top tips for starting the year intentionally as you lead or participate in your home group.
Tip 1: Intend to be faithful
Committing to faithfulness starts with committing to prayer. We know in our heads that any spiritual growth that happens in our group comes from him. We intend to work hard to plant and water, and we build with care, but we know it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6-10). We therefore must ask him to be at work through his Spirit.
Yet it’s so easy for a week—or two or three—to go by without praying for the brothers and sisters in our group (outside of the group prayer time). Get organized, use a prayer list or diary (I recommend PrayerMate) and be intentional enough to plan to pray for people each week.
Tip 2: Intend to grow
If it’s not already clear to you, small groups have a goal and consequently we have a goal as leaders and participants. What is that goal? Amidst all the challenges of daily life in this fallen world, to move one another towards maturity in Christ by prayerfully encouraging each other with God’s word (Col 1:28). The goal, in other words, is transformation of our lives, so that we become the people God saved us to be and eager to see others make that same transformation. (For more on this, see our small group leadership course, The Small Group and the Vine.)
One of my friends calls most small groups ‘sheep pens’. He doesn't mean it as a compliment! Seeing home groups as nice cosy places where we try to stop people becoming lost sheep is a very limited view of what our groups can be. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to instead see our small group as a place of personal transformation and Copernican revolution as people discover and live out more and more the truth that the centre of their galaxy is not themselves, but the Lord Jesus and his kingdom?
Such a view changes the way we think about our curriculum plan for the year ahead. For sure, the staple diet will always rightly be expository Bible study. But how will we help our group to grow in prayerful dependence on God? (Tip: probably not by quickly dashing off a few prayers at the end of the night when we’re running out of time.) How can we help each other grow, not just in our character and convictions but also in our ministry competence and effectiveness? Should we do some sort of training course this year together (perhaps one of the Six Steps video courses for small groups)? Should we work out how to evangelize our friends together rather than as lone rangers? As a team, could we initiate a new church ministry together or take responsibility for an existing ministry?
Tip 3: Intend to get your group on board early
There’s nothing worse than setting out with exciting hopes for your group (like those I have just outlined) and then getting to week three to find that five out of nine group members are missing. And then the next week, a different four are not with you. It’s also dispiriting when group members don’t seem to share your goals for the group.
That’s why having an early discussion about group expectations, goals and guidelines is so helpful. It’s much easier to hold people to account for something they have discussed and agreed to! So have this sort of discussion early on in the term, perhaps even week one or two.
I hope these ideas have been helpful. If you’ve got other tips for starting well, please send them through!
PS By the way, if you’re looking for some help with that “staple diet of expository Bible engagement”, let me remind you that our Interactive Bible Studies and Pathway Bible Guides now cover a large proportion of the Bible and a number of important topics.