G12: A Cautionary Tale?

I’m asked about G12 a few times a year…not near as much as free market, semester based, or sermon based…but often enough to have had many conversations over the past few years.  Here’s what I know about the G12 small group philosophy:

First, at it’s essence G12 works like this: the key leader forms a group with 12 members.  The leader invests in the members, holds them accountable, encourages them, shepherds them, etc.  Each of these members is then expected to form their own group of 12 where they’ll serve as the leader…doing to their members what has been modeled to them.  And then, those members are expected to form their own group of 12.  Pretty simple concept.

Second, there are other key ingredients in the model.  Encounters, or weekend retreats, are used to help jump-start leader development.  Groups are almost always separated into men’s groups, women’s groups and children’s groups.  You can find other aspects in this article over on Wikipedia.

Third, unlike most of the other small group systems I’ve referred to, G12 is really more of a church growth concept.  Where most small group systems are strategies to help members grow in Christ and be encouraged through community, G12 is the engine that drives the churches who use it.

Two Cautionary Keys:

There are two keys for me as I have observed churches in the United States and Canada attempt to implement the G12 idea.  First, I’ve found that the pace of life in developed countries (I’m probably misusing the term, but you get my meaning) is too fast to actually pull off the idea that I’m in one group as a member and another as a leader…and they meet simultaneously.  Generally speaking, the majority of adults have too much going on to actually make that happen.  If anyone can really do that they are in the distinct minority.  Anytime you base a system on what a minority will do…it is not likely to succeed.

Second, when you google G12 you’ll notice that the first page or so are negative articles about the system.  Just to highlight one, Joel Comiskey’s Concerns About the G12 Movement is much more developed than what I’ve written here.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Use the comments to let me know what you’re thinking.

Looking for information about other small group systems?  You’ll find more right here.

Finding the Flow: A Guide for Leading Small Groups and Gatherings

finding_the_flowLooking for a leader training resource?  Finding the Flow: A Guide for Leading Small Groups and Gatherings, by Tara Miller and Jenn Peppers, is one you should take a look at.  New from IVP, it’s full of great leader training ideas, practices, and philosophy.  This is a book length training guide.  At over 240 pages (including a very helpful appendix), it is not a skim through manual.

When selecting a training resource, practical, hands-on experience, is very important.  Written in a very conversational way, this is also the story of two group life practitioners.  The authors

This is a field book for spotting the patterns people use to connect. This is not a guide to clone groups. This is a guide to help you develop environments where people can connect in organically ordered patterns.' Joseph Myers
served at Pathways Church in Denver where Tara Peppers was the Small Groups Pastor and Jenn Peppers is an elder.  They’re also the co-founders of Flow, whose mission is “to resource emerging leaders who facilitate group conversations that lead people closer to God.”

Looking over the contents you can get a pretty good idea of the style.  Chapters on knowing yourself, stages of group life, listening to God and others, asking good questions, navigating group conflict, developing new leaders and spiritual transformation let you in on the fact that this is not really a book about technique.  In fact, in the forward by Joseph Myers we learn that, “This is a field book for spotting the patterns people use to connect.  This is not a guide to clone groups.  This is a guide to help you develop environments where people can connect in organically ordered patterns.”

The book is based on the idea that small groups are “like a river.”  Out of that idea comes the notion that like a river, small groups need a water source, they need help charting their course, there will always be undercurrents and times when the waters are stirred.  The metaphor works very well because Finding the Flow is really more of a travel journal written by two very experienced travelers.  In the stories that are shared on almost every page you can sense that the depth is based on hands-on participation.

In addition to a liberal supply of great stories and illustrations, you’ll also find a steady supply of “Do This” tips that are very practical and will easily move from great idea to implementation.  Paired with a really practical set of appendices you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of this resource.

If Finding the Flow has a downside, I think it’s that it will mostly be used by small group pastors and directors to develop training experiences and practices…as opposed to being used by group leaders as a work-through-and-discuss journal.  In my world of busy small group leaders, reading a 240 page journal is not high on the list of probabilities.  The upside?  You need this book.  Your coaches probably need this book.  It is the kind of reading that will inspire you to try a few new things.  And some of those new things will become part of your system and that will change the flow for groups in your church.

Open or Closed Groups?

I’m often asked whether groups should be open or closed?  It’s one of those questions that kind of defines you as a grouplifer.  Open or closed?  It’s kind of like Coke or Pepsi…but not very much.

There are those that are a little wild-eyed about one perspective or the other.   And then there are those that don’t really care.  I’m not in either one of those camps.  To me, it’s all about the purpose of the individual group you’re talking about.  And that begs a prior question.  Before you can determine if your group should be open or closed you’ve got to answer at least one preliminary question.  Here it is:

“What are you trying to do in your group?”

There are other ways to ask this question.  Two great alternatives are: “What will you call success?” and, “What will you call a win?”  Any way you slice it though, what you’re really asking is, “What is the purpose of this group?”

Why is this important?  Why does it come first?  It comes first because the values and norms of the group must be aligned with the purpose or you end up with a mess.  What are some possible purposes?

  • We exist to provide a safe environment to share our lives.
  • We want to help each other grow spiritually.
  • We want to be an easy first step for our non-Christian neighbors and friends.
  • We like to eat pie.

I can’t tell you what your group’s purpose needs to be, but I can tell you that without clearly defined purpose–a win–you can’t answer the open or closed question very well.

Here’s how I personally answer the open or closed question.

  1. The main purpose of our group system is to make followers of Jesus.
  2. A secondary purpose is to connect people relationally.
  3. Part of becoming a follower of Jesus is learning to set aside my interests for the sake of others (Phil. 2:4; Luke 14).
  4. Therefore, the group shouldn’t be just about me and my needs.
  5. “Come over to my house” is almost always easier than “come with me to church.”
  6. Therefore, setting my own interests aside might include inviting my friends and neighbors to my group.
  7. It is never easier to connect the friends and neighbors of the newest members of the congregation than in the first 3 to 6 months.
  8. Therefore, setting my own interests aside might include encouraging the newest members of the group to invite their friends and neighbors.

Those are my reasons for preferring open groups to closed groups.  Doesn’t mean all groups all the time.  Just means as a general philosophy of group life…that’s how I roll.  Need more?  Don’t miss my Top 10 Reasons I’m a Fan of Open Groups.

Formation: Building a Reliable Foundation

My review copy of Formation: Building a Reliable Foundation arrived a couple days ago.  New from LifeWay, the Small Group Life series was launched recently.  Formation is the first release of a four study series (the others to follow over the next few months).

Thumbing through the pages, reading the introduction, even diving into the format and questions of the first session, I noticed a few things that you’ll want to know.  Before I get into a list of observations though, let me just say I think you’re going to like the Small Group Life series.  This is good stuff!

A Few Distinctives:

  • The concept is presented in episodes, scenes, and takes.  Kind of like the production of a film or a play.  The book is an episode.  Sessions within each book are scenes.  And within each scene are a couple different takes.
  • Small Group Life launches with three core values: flexibility, affordability, and continuity.
  • Flexibility: Every episode (book) in the series is designed to be a 12 week experience that can be completed two ways.  Each scene (session) can really be separated into two “takes” on the same subject.  Kind of a second run at working through the same concept with another scripture passage.  Groups that meet twice a month may want to do both takes in the same meeting.  Groups that meet weekly can easily use the second ‘take’ as followup the next week.
  • Affordability: The pricing of the material is very affordable.  In fact, it’s even available on a subscription basis at $16.95 a member for a full year of group material.  That’s a great price!  If you want to check it out first, you can order Formation right here for just $3.50 and shipping.  12 sessions!  That’s very good.
  • Continuity: Designed as a three-year journey, Small Group Life will expose your groups to “basic doctrines of the Christian faith, foundational events recorded in Scripture, and traits of Christ.”  If you’re looking for a series that can take your members somewhere…this leads to a very good destination.
  • A distinctive that I really like (and I bet you will too) is the Serve/Go section near the end of each scene.  Connected thematically with the concepts of the scene are ways the group can put into practice the principles and ideas they’ve just learned.  Very nice!
  • Small(er) Group Life: Each scene has a companion children’s resource that is available as a free downloadable pdf.  You can check one out right here.  In addition, each scene in the adult study refers to what the kids experienced, includes two family devotional ideas and a possible family activity.  That’s huge!
  • Leader Notes: The Leader’s Guide is included in each book.  The notes are not extensive, but this is a study that is very simply designed, has built-in scripture notes, and takes very little preparation for a leader to pull off.  That said, including the Leader’s Guide in the book itself makes it easier to build in the value of rotating facilitation among group members.
  • Each session has a video that is referred to in the second take.  It can be downloaded or viewed online.  They’re short, to the point and intended to help fully expose group members to the concept being studied.  You can see a sample at the end of my review.

All in all, this is a great new series!  If you’re looking for a curriculum idea for your small group system, this is a very good one and I highly recommend it.  Good job LifeWay!

Episode 1 – Atonement from LifeWay on Vimeo.

Four Steps That Help Groups Survive the Holidays

Have you found a way to help your groups make it through the holidays?  You know how it is.  Groups start off with a bang in September, many times transition to a second study in mid-October, and then just before Thanksgiving reach for the pause button.

“We’ve got so much going on…it just makes more sense to wait until January to meet again.”  “With shopping, visiting family, and our kids schedules…we’ll be lucky if we can make it to the Christmas Eve service, let alone meeting beyond Thanksgiving!”

Sound familiar?  That clearly is the challenge.  And yet, groups that break too early often never get started again in January.  Not to say they never start up again.  Just that their chances are not near as good.

What can you do?  I’ve found there are some important things you can do to help your groups make it through the holidays…and they’re not hard.  You can do it.

  1. Help them transition from their launching study (whatever they were studying to begin the fall) to something that will keep them engaged through Thanksgiving (and ideally the first week of December).  This is important.  The key is to let your leaders know there is a next study before they finish their first study.
  2. Encourage every group to identify a way they can serve together in a ministry opportunity over the holidays.  Whether it is at a Thanksgiving dinner provided by a ministry to the homeless or simply serving as greeters together for one of your Christmas Eve services, helping your groups connect to do something is a key to helping them make it through the holidays.  It’s not hard to get this going.  A quick call to local homeless shelters, schools in lower-income areas, etc. will often surface easy ways that your groups can put a toe in the water.  At the same time, simply working with staff and key volunteers will uncover serving opportunities that a group can do together.
  3. Suggest a simple Christmas party as a final meeting of the year.  An ornament exchange done White Elephant style is a fun activity.  Food makes it great.  Sharing communion as a part of the evening is a meaningful touch.
  4. Have your groups schedule their first meeting of the new year at their last meeting of the old year.  Waiting until January to plan what’s next usually means starting later if at all.

These four simple steps will often be the difference between surviving the holidays and a “pleasant memory of the last time we were in a group.”  And they really are simple!  A little action right now will make a big difference in the survival rate of your newest groups.  Why not take action today, get this simple strategy rolling, and let me know how it goes?  I’d love to hear your plan!

Top 10 Reasons I’m a Fan of Open Groups

In terms of small groups philosophy of ministry, the open or closed group question is very big.  Both sides have some good arguments.  Like every other argument there is no problem-free solution.  Although I believe there are times when it is both appropriate and beneficial to “close” a group, for the most part I am solidly in the open group camp.  Here are my top 10 reasons:

10.  Eliminates the need to “card people at the door!”

9.  One less idiosyncrasy to explain to interested newbies.

8.  Adding a new person to a group often causes new details to be added to old stories.

7.  Gives an opportunity for includers to include, reach out, and help new members to feel part of the group.

6.  Creates opportunities for new friendships.

5.  It counters the “me-first” attitude of the culture when I’m willing to share what I have.

4.  A growing group opens new doors for putting the needs of others above your own.

3.  Without new blood, relationships can become stagnant.

2.  If grouplife really is essential to me, I will be most persuasive when I invite you to my group.

1.  The closest friends of the newest people in your congregation will never be easier to invite than in the first 3 to 6 months.

Admittedly, if you’re any kind of debater you can come up with counter arguments for many of my top 1o.  Let me be clear though.  I believe that reason number one trumps any potential good that can come from a closed group system.  Relationships that members of closed groups had with outsiders will almost certainly have faded once they’ve completed 12 to 18 months.  In the sense that there’s an upside and a downside to everything…that is a huge downside and solidly puts me in the open group camp.

Joseph Myers on the Small Group Fraternity Call

Joseph Myers has been one of the most interesting and disruptive voices in small group land in the last decade.  The Search to Belong shook up a lot of minds and introduced a new way to think about relationships.  Organic Community was no different, challenging many assumptions and provoking great conversations everywhere.

When Joe’s onto a next idea…who doesn’t want to listen in?  Right now he’s working on an understanding that will no doubt end up in a future book.  Technomadic is a Facebook page where he’s been collecting links and formulating the concept.  As usual, what he’s into stirred the pot when he was our guest on our Small Group Fraternity call this week.  You can listen in right here.

The Small Group Fraternity has been a subscription-based program for the first 2 years, but we’re setting it  freeClick HERE to listen to our recent call as our gift to you!  Don’t want to miss our upcoming call with Carl George?  Be sure and sign up today to get the update.

New from Lifeway: Small Group Life

Looking for what’s next for your small group ministry?  I like what I’m beginning to hear about Lifeway’s new line, Small Group Life.  Great topics, streamlined sessions, and the pricing looks great.  What’s not to like?  I think you’ll get the flavor from this video:

Small Group Life from Lifeway.SmallGroups on Vimeo.

Encouraging Group Leaders

Sometimes I trip across great ways to promote group life or recruit leaders and they’re so good I have to share them.  If you’re ever stumped about how to encourage group leaders, to let them know how much they mean to their members and how much of a difference they make…you’ve got to see this video from Buckhead.  I can only say, “Wow!  Nicely done!”

Thank You from buckheadchurch on Vimeo.

Unexplainable: Pursuing a Life Only God Can Make Possible

UnexplainableWhat in your life is unexplainable apart from God?   Is there anything?  Or is there a perfect explanation for everything do?  For your decisions about jobs, your finances, and your relationships?

If this is a question that intrigues you at all, you might want to take a look at a new 8 week DVD-driven study from David C. Cook publishing.  Unexplainable: Pursuing a Life Only God Can Make Possible, by Don Cousins, will not be for every group.  But if your group is looking for a challenge, almost a dare to move towards the life described so vividly in the New Testament, this is a study you need to take a look at.

Unlike most of the DVD-driven group curriculum you’ll find, this DVD features a series of interviews with real people who have begun a new kind of adventure and are living lives and making decisions that are unexplainable…apart from God.  Watching session one and the story of Lee Eilers I couldn’t help but be pulled in to a great story; one man’s story of a decision he made to follow a course that could only be explained by God.

Each of the sessions is designed to be watched after reading the assigned section of the book.  Each section is about 25 pages.  After viewing the DVD segment the group will tackle a discussion of the ideas presented and be encouraged to apply what they’re learning.  I found the questions for session one well written and could imagine a lively discussion as a group wrestled with the question, “What would you like to see God do in your personally that would qualify as “unexplainable apart from God?”

This is probably not a study for a brand new group or a group of brand new Christians.  But if you’ve got groups in your small group ministry, or unconnected adults in your congregation, who are ready for a challenge, Unexplainable may be just the ticket.  I can say that session one and the first chapter already has me mulling over the decisions I’m making and the life I’ve found myself living.  Is it unexplainable apart from God?  Maybe I’ll let you know after I’ve finished the study!  In the meantime, if you want to learn more or pick it up for your group you can do that right here.