Five plus five marks of a great group

What a time to be alive!


I am constantly amazed at the number and quality of resources for churches. From training resources, to outreach resources, to music resources, to books to curriculum. Whatever our reasons for not taking our world for God, lack of quality resources is not one of them.


I just ran across a great new resource that I thought you might like to know about. It is called Re-Group and is produced by Townsend and Cloud (authors of the best-selling book, Boundaries, as well as many others) and Bill Donahue (the small group guru for Willowcreek, and author of many books). This is a great resource for any group. If I were a Minister of Education today, I would ask every one of my groups about going through this training.


Re-Group is made up of two DVDs. DVD #1 features four sessions that train your group on how to do group. This is not small group leader training; this is small group group training. This piece trains the group as to how to do your group effectively. There is about twenty minutes of video, leaving time to discuss the points covered. During these four sessions, this DVD is the curriculum for the group. The four topics of these four sessions are:


    • Getting connected--God's purpose for Small Groups


    • Five Habits of Life Changing Groups


    • Setting ground rules


    • Determining your groups purpose



DVD #2 consists of thirteen extended tips. Each tip is a five to ten minute segment that can be shown in class to augment whatever curriculum the group uses.


The thing that really makes this teaching come alive is that the teaching is interspersed with a dramatization of group life. I found these dramatizations to be really true to life. They make group life come alive.


David Frances told me his research indicates that many Southern Baptist Sunday Schools are not small group life at all; they are mid-sized groups. They are more like mini-congregations than they are like big small groups. It occurs to me that many Sunday School classes have likely never experienced group life. They have experienced sit-in-straight-rows-and-listen-to-a-teacher-teach. This video will give you a great taste of what group life is like--both the good and the bad.


It seems to be there are three ways you could use this training:


    • You could use it as it is intended, where it becomes your curriculum for four weeks, then you spend thirteen weeks viewing and discussing a short piece from disk 2


    • You could go through the whole thing on a Saturday morning with just your teachers. This would give them a good feel for the content without having to disrupt your curriculum plan. The downside, of course, is your class doesn't get to benefit from the content.


    • You could have each teacher go through it privately. There are obvious limitations to this, but I suspect many teachers are never going to do #1 or #2 and this would get them some help. This is the way I went through it and definitely felt like I got something out of it.



Probably some of you are going to find this training a little too psycho-babel; a little too touchy-feely. For some of you I would say: that is why you need it. Not that you need to become a therapy group, but a step or two in this direction probably wouldn't hurt you any.


The best training is somewhere in between this in  ReGroup piece and what I have long considered the best teacher training ever: Bruce Wilkinson's Seven Laws of the Learner. As  good as that piece is, my only complaint is that it is a little too lecture oriented. Still, an excellent piece and every teacher ought to go through it.


This new piece would be great for every group to go through as well. I think your group would forever be a better group if you did. Here are some of the things you would learn.


How to grow


How do Christians grow? We know that Sunday School is supposed to help us grow in Christ, but exactly how does that work? How do we grow?


Townsend and Cloud have long taught that we grow by being in the right environment. Just as a seed needs water, soil and sunshine to grow. We need three ingredients as well:




The Bible says, "It is your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance." We only grow in an atmosphere of grace. We need to feel acceptance. We need to feel acceptance by God and we need to feel acceptance by people. The group needs to be a place of acceptance and grace.




But, grace alone will not change. We also need truth. The truth may be biblical truth, or, it could be the truth about us. We need to be confronted with the reality that is truth.


It is easy to imagine a group with grace or truth, but not both. If we have grace but not truth, we feel accepted, but are never challenged. If we are exposed to truth without grace, it tends to just make us mad. We grow in an atmosphere of grace and truth. But, we need one more ingredient.




Change takes time. There are no micro-wave saints. There are no instant Christian leaders. Change takes time. Growth takes time.


But, it must be time in the right atmosphere. It is not discipleship by hanging around. The atmosphere must be charged with truth.


Session two contained five marks (or habits) of great groups. Getting these to be part of your group would be worth the effort of going through this training.


Five marks of a great group




Sunday School is not a School. It is not just a place of learning. It is not a place where we make smarter sinners. Groups are a microcosm of the church. They are a place where we care. The Bible commands over and again that we are to love one another. This is where it happens. This is who we should love.




Groups need to be a safe place. It needs to be a safe place for me to share who I am and what is going on in my life. It is a place of grace. It is a place where I don't have to be perfect. We grow as we confess our sins, one to another. Not just to God, but to one another. This can't happen if there is sarcasm or biting humor. Groups must be a safe place.




Good groups are honest groups. We honestly talk about what is really going. We get beyond the word "fine." To everyone else, you can be "fine" but the group needs to know, "How are you really?"




Groups love each other as they are, but they love each other too much to leave each other the way they are. They push one another to go to the next level--to higher and higher levels of grace and truth. We push each other to become a little more loving, a little more kind, a little more joyful, a little more forgiving, a little more at peace, a little more like Jesus.




Groups help each other. They fix meals, they mow lawns and they babysit kids.


Five more marks of a great group


As I went through this list, I thought, "This is great. Every group needs to hear this. Every group needs to be a little more like this."


But, then I thought, there are a few other things every group should do. That is the topic of next week's article.