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Starting a Group
Since you are reading this workbook, we know that you have caught the vision of a mobilized Church going out into the world and making "disciples of all nations," permanently changing that world for the better (Matt. 28:19b). While the Church has spread organically around the world, on an individual level it seems to be failing to "make disciples." About this, philosopher and writer Dallas Willard says, "Our existing churches and denominations do not have active, well-designed, intently pursued plans to accomplish [fulfilling the Great Commission] in their members.... [Y]ou will not find any widely influential element of our church leadership that has a plan-not a vague wish or dream, but a plan for implementing all phases of the Great Commission" (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 167).
We at Renovaré believe that the strategy presented here Spiritual Formation Groups where Christians meet to learn the Six Traditions of the Church, to do the related disciplines, to hold each other accountable, and to encourage one another makes disciples. And incorporating the Renovaré materials into an existing group or starting a Spiritual Formation Group is much easier than you might think.
The following guidelines will help you put a group together.
Working With An Existing Group
If you are already meeting in a small group not formally affiliated with a church (or affiliated with a church but independently guided) and would like to see this material used, begin by praying about the idea. Trust God to guide you for the right time to approach theleader or (if you are the leader) the members and ask if they would like to try out a nine-session Spiritual Formation Group. If the leader or group answers no, relax and thank God that you are in a small group where you can have fellowship and companionship in your Christian walk. If the answer is yes, thank God for the opening and ask the leader if you can help get the materials together; if you are the leader, start making plans for the first session. (Alternatively, you could simply integrate individual aspects of this program into your existing structure and format.)
Starting A New Group
Starting a new group is a little more complicated, but we hope the following guidelines will help you. Again, begin by asking the Lord for guidance. If the answer is no, continue to pray for a door to open that will bring other opportunities for spiritual growth into your life. If the answer is yes, thank God for his faithfulness in providing spiritual nurture for you and start working through the following steps.
Involve Your Church Staff
If you want to start a group in your own church, the expertise and encouragement of the pastor or priest and other leaders will be invaluable. They are responsible for the spiritual health of "the flock" and are therefore very concerned that members take part in helpful programs. We suggest that you ask them to look over this workbook and any other Renovare materials you may have.
Doing this is not merely a common courtesy; it is essential if the plan is to have a positive effect on your church. The pastoral staff is ultimately responsible for the programming of the local church. This is in no way an obstacle; rather, it is an opportunity. If church leaders endorse the start-up of your Spiritual Formation Group and possibly other groups y ou will have taken a major step toward your goal.
If possible, arrange a time when you can sit down and discuss the program with the pastor or priest and other leaders, after they have had a chance to look over your materials. Should they voice concerns or point out potential problems, discuss them thoroughly. They may have small-group plans that do not currently include Spiritual Formation Groups. Try not to leave the meeting before reaching a consensus.
Remember, your task is to get permission to start a Spiritual Formation Group. We have yet to hear of such a request being denied. Most clergy and staff who have become acquainted with the program not only have allowed groups to start but have endorsed them (and sometimes have been involved themselves).
Having gotten permission to begin a group, you are off to a great start. Of course, if you are starting a group not affiliated with a church, you can skip this step and go directly to the next one.
Find One Other Person
The next step is to find at least one other person who wants to form a group. Perhaps you have a close friend, a person at your church who might like to be in a group of this kind. Arrange a time to explain the Spiritual Formation Group and answer any questions (see "The First Meeting" and "Basic Answers to Basic Questions," below). The general rule is this: be enthusiastic but not pushy. Your eagerness to start a group is invaluable. A positive attitude is infectious, and others will be drawn by your excitement alone. But keep in mind that the group will not be for everyone. At this point you are looking for a person who wants to be a part of a group that will challenge him or her.
Once you have found a partner, you have actually established a group. Although many Spiritual Formation Groups involve only two people, you may wish to include others-perhaps friends drawn by your excitement or people who are merely curious. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone will feel comfortable in a Spiritual Formation Group. Do not be surprised if ultimately some participants choose not to commit to the group. If you want to invite others, go on to the next step.
Invite Others to join You
Do you know other people who would like to be in a Spiritual Formation Group? We have learned through experience that many people would like to be in this kind of small group but have never been invited. The following approaches are effective in finding people who are interested:
Put an announcement in the church newsletter andlor bulletin.Ask the pastoral staff if you may put a notice in the next issue of the church newsletter and/or in the bulletin. Feel free to use the following wording as a guide: