Lessons We've Learned Over 50 Years
LESSONS WE’VE LEARNED OVER 50 YEARS ON CONNECT GROUPS
These are short principles that we have learned over the course of 50 years of leading, growing and planting Connect Groups.
- IT’S OUR PRIMARY DISCIPLESHIP TOOL
Connect groups are our primary discipleship tool. We believe that in order for a church to grow in numbers and for us to effectively disciple individuals, people need to feel cared for and nurtured. In our experience, people flourish best when they are planted into connect groups and realize that church is also about doing life together. Although courses, programs and ministries contribute to the development of a person’s faith, connect groups should always be first priority.
- A CONVICTION OF LEADERSHIP
Leadership is neither a chore or, a favour, nor is it a charitable service. We are the Church of Christ and, as leaders, we are privileged to be involved in nurturing and growing His bride. It is imperative that we are arrested by the conviction that God doesn’t need leaders – He chooses to use leaders. Most church environments are driven by a need for leaders. When we release leaders as a result of lack or in a desperate attempt to fill a leadership gap, we are in danger of taking undue risks with God’s bride. The question one ought to ask is, “Am Icalled?” and not “Can Ido it?” In the Bible we can’t find many leaders that considered themselves adequate for the task of leadership. When leaders suddenly feel under pressure, their first reaction often is to rather deflect than assume responsibility. This may be because they lack the confidence to, or don’t feel equipped to handle the situation correctly.
At this point, a leader’s innate conviction of his or her calling to be in leadership ensures they will stay the course and not give up or back down, no matter what challenges they may be facing.
- LEADERS REQUIRE ASSISTANCE
Leaders value assistance when it comes to providing content and structure for a meeting. The majority of leaders lead because they love people and they love hosting people in their homes. It is important that this remains the major focus of our connect group leaders. To encourage this we provide a weekly Connect Group resource, complete with questions and discussion points, which facilitate conversation and provide a structure around which connect groups can gather.
- GROUP DISCUSSION
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinquish good from evil.” – Heb. 5:14.
This text gives us an important key in bringing people to maturity. This key is constant practice. To use a sporting metaphor, a good discussion is one that is well constructed, enabling every person in the group to “get-in-the-game” and contribute. No sitting on the sidelines- every person’s contribution is valid and meaningful. Those new in their faith tend to learn from those who have been serving Christ for years. The more mature offer deep, tried-and-tested perspectives that have weight. And the recent converts offer raw, real-life contributions that keep everyone stimulated and curb a group from becoming so “heavenly-minded” that they are no “earthly good’. With everyone “in the game”, contributing, discussing and wrestling real-life issues against biblical truth week by week, life transformation occurs a whole lot quicker than merely listening to a lecture. The power ofthis principle is not only seen in life transformation, but leadership development. Facilitating a group discussion is a far more reasonable step to take for an emerging leader than expecting them to emulate a typical “Sunday meeting”. Anyone can learn to facilitate a group discussion skillfully, not everyone has the gift to preach and teach.
- DOING LIFE TOGETHER
We live in a culture where human relationships are greatly influenced by, and often limited to, cyberspace. The result is that people manage relationships, bypass filters, protect their hearts and create an idyllic community environment that suits their life. The downside of this is that the world we live in is slowly losing the biblical idea of community that is reflected in the early church:
- a culture of sharing
- a culture of caring for those in need – a culture of hospitality
- a culture of devotion
- a culture of generosity
A connect group doing life together is an attempt to create community that is healthy and primarily informed by the Bible. Doing life together does have some challenges. Most groups live at two opposite extremes:
Extreme 1: Grow, multiply and split up:
In this extreme, the aim is to grow as quickly as possible and then split the group up into multiple smaller ones to cope with its multiplication. This is generally very exciting for the leader, as the environment is progressive, explosive and highly energetic. The challenge is often with the people in the group and their resistance to change. People don’t naturally enjoy a change in leadership too regularly. Groups are most often split down the middle and valuable friendships are torn apart. If this is the only aim of a connect group, people begin to guard themselves as they subconsciously wait for the next traumatic group split.
Extreme 2 – No growth, keep group exclusive and closed
In this extreme, the intention is to counter Extreme 1 by locking down in a closed circuit group that becomes inflexible and resistant to change. The group becomes ring-fenced at a certain size and dynamic. From here on, visitors are frowned upon and considered as no more than a nuisance, ultimately, giving the group an insular feel. The challenge is that the group is completelv dependent on one leader, and as a result the development of people and teaching them to take responsibility and lead, is put aside.
The happy middle ground is found when a group commits to doing life together, sharing their lives with each other and committing to long term friendships. However, additionally, a strong emphasis is placed on training and releasing every person to lead and engage in active involvement in the group and the local church.
To facilitate the natural progression of change and development in connect groups, one of two things is suggested:
- Start smaller groups out of existing groups – this minimises the trauma of breaking up many of the established relationships and celebrates the courage of a new leader pioneering with a minority group.
- New groups for New people – New membership classes are an effective place to start new connect groups. People that attend these classes all have one thing in common, the fact that they are unique. Integrating new members into a church community effectively can be challenging and invariably breaks down while attempting to place each person in a separate, existing and established group that suits their station in life. This one element of commonality provides a far more effective integration strategy for new members in the same group regardless of each individual’s diverse background.
Worship needs to be re-defined as connecting with God. There remains to be the misconception that worship equates to singing. If this was true, then every connect group leader would have to be a musician or have a musician in their group.
- Singing in intimate environments can be very awkward. It is not a mandate to sing.
- Worship can look differently from group to group. The aim is to connect with God at every meeting. This can be done in a variety of ways, be it through singing, praying, prophesying, waiting on God, listening to a worship CD etc.
- ONE KEY LEADERSHIP COMPONENT
The most popular argument against leading a connect group is that people feel they need more Bible knowledge. Yet, as important as Bible study and knowledge is, the question remains, “When does a leader ever know enough?”
Presuming our leaders qualify biblically, we feel the key leadership component God uses in Connect Groups is warmth. The rest can be learned or taught without compromising or diluting other leadership components.
- Spiritual warmth: This is a fervour and devotion for God above all else. Practically, this is reflected in how a leader talks, in their love for the Word, for the people of God, and whether they prioritise Kingdom activity.
- Relational warmth refers to the leader’s love and care for people and their well-being. Some leaders may not be especially strong in this area, but their spouse is, making them the perfect team.
Every group has cultures and sub-cultures that drive it. Intentional leadership will develop a group culture. However, if neglected, a default culture will emerge nonetheless. Cultures often grow around a few common factors, that often are the things we celebrate and talk about. Culture, rightly or wrongly, ultimately creates a sense of belonging.
Examples of commonality in a connect group
- Job sector: members involved in the financial industry
- Sport: a common interest in gym or football
- Family: newly married couples and children
- Members may have recently participated in an Alpha course, thus, every person is at the same stage, perhaps searching for answers to do with faith.
- New groups for new people often work well because the common ground is found in the fact that everyone is new regardless of other interests, jobs or stations in life.
As a leader, we need to look for commonality in our group. We need to find the relational connection point, other than Jesus, that will keep the group doing life together in the future.
- LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AND SUCCESSION
Every leader by association has the responsibility and privilege to raise up other leaders, in the same way a parent has the responsibility and privilege of bringing a child to maturity.
Good reasons to raise leaders:
- The harvest is never the problem:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matt 9:37. God intends to reach every village, town and country with the Good News of Jesus Christ. To enable this process, He chooses to use emerging leaders that are being carefully prepared, highlighting the fact that the only shortage there will ever be is with the workers.
- Wise leaders consider succession.
Change is inevitable, and it would be wise to consider that none of us will be around forever. Wise leaders build away from themselves and develop a leadership core around them.
- Natural family dynamics:
In any family, a parent’s primary objective is aimed toward their child’s progression and development in life. A particular moment comes when sons and daughters grow up, take responsibility and become independent. This can be painful, but it is a natural and godly progression.
In the same way, every believer is on a journey toward maturity where growing up and taking responsibility is a natural part of the Christian life. We call this raising and developing leaders.
- LOOKING AFTER LEADERS
Connect group leaders are at their best in community with other leaders. Discovering that other connect group leaders face similar situations and challenges is very comforting. In addition, leaders thrive when given periods of rest. To accommodate this, Connect Group closes down for some time at the end of every term. We have discovered that, generally, leaders are comfortable committing to ten-twelve weeks of constant facilitating before requiring a break. This also has a positive impact on the longevity of a leader.