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Like nothing else, small groups have the power to change lives. They're the ideal route to discipleship—a place where the rubber of biblical truth meets the road...
Like nothing else, small groups have the power to change lives. They're the ideal route to discipleship—a place where the rubber of biblical truth meets the road of human relationships.
For six years Bill Donahue provided training and resources for small group leaders so that Willow Creek could build a church of small groups. Now he is committed to creating tools that will help church leaders pursue the same goal—to provide a place in community for everyone in their congregation. In Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, Donahue and his team share in depth the practical insights that have made Willow Creek's small group ministry so effective.
The Comprehensive, Ready-Reference Guide for Small Group Leaders
The unique, ready-reference format of this book gives small group leaders, pastors, church leaders, educators, and counselors a commanding grasp of: · Group formation and values · Leadership requirements and responsibilities · The philosophy and structure of small groups · Meeting preparation and participation · Discipleship within the group · Leadership training . . . and much more
From an individual group to an entire small group ministry, Leading Life-Changing Small Groups gives you the comprehensive guidance you need to cultivate life-changing small groups . . . and growing, fruitful followers of Christ.
Author Biography: Bill Donahue is the Executive Director of small group ministries for the Willow Creek Association. He previously served on the staff of Willow Creek Community Church, helping to develop and launch the church-wide small group ministry. Coauthor with Russ Robinson of Building a Church of Small Groups and The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry, he has edited or contributed to many Willow Creek small group Bible study guides, including the interactions and New Community series. He currently leads a small group and lives in West Dundee, Illinois, with his wife, Gail, and their two children.
Mission Statement and Ministry Philosophy for Small Groups
A mission statement and ministry philosophy are key to the success of your ministry because they function as navigational tools necessary to chart an accurate course toward a worthy destination. The statement used to launch small group ministry of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, serves as an example. Below, and on the following pages, you'll find our view of small groups outlined and explained. As you read it, consider how you might shape and articulate your church's vision and values.
The overriding mission at Willow Creek is to "turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ." In order to accomplish that mission, a variety of ministries exist at Willow Creek. From the weekend service to the midweek New Community believer's service to the various subministries throughout Willow Creek, we are committed to moving people toward Christlikeness. Since small groups have become our way of doing ministry, it is essential that we understand the role they play in carrying out our overall mission.
Below, you will notice the mission statement for the purpose of small groups at Willow Creek and how small groups are used to accomplish our overriding mission. Thequestions "Why do small groups exist?" and "For what purpose do small groups exist?" are answered in the mission statement. Following the mission statement you will find a philosophy of ministry structured around five key values we believe will shape the way Willow Creek does ministry for the coming years. These five statements are beliefs or values, based on Scripture, that undergird our ministry philosophy.
5 Core Values
* Mandate: Spiritual Transformation
Jesus Christ, as Head of the church, intends His followers to become like Him
"... I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
Romans 6:12-13, 17-19;
Colossians 1:28; 2:6-7
1 John 2:6
It is God's plan that those who call on His name should be like Him in attitude and behavior. The church exists not just to collect followers, but to transform them.
Church life is the sum of all the activities that promote Christ's work of transformation. Programs and subministries in a church should be designed to serve His goal of changing lives, and should be surrendered as obsolete when they fail to achieve this end.
We describe the life change the church exists to produce with "The Five G's": Grace (to personally appropriate and extend the saving work of Christ), Growth (pursuing Christlikeness), Group (connecting with others in significant relationships), Gifts (serving Christ's body according to spiritual giftedness and passion), and Good stewardship (honoring God with our resources through what we give to the church and what we keep).
The Five G's
Grace Growth Group Gifts Good Stewardship
* Method: Small Group Community
A small group provides the optimal environment for the life change Jesus Christ intends for every believer
"He appointed twelve-designating
them apostles-that they might be with him."
Significant relationships (including one-to-one) occur best in the context of a small group. Connecting people in a small group is not an optional subministry of the church-it is essential for growth. Without this connection, people can, at best, attend meetings, but they aren't truly participating in church.
A small group of believers who love one another with God's love will experience the life Christ promised at the deepest level possible. This love radically transforms them and demonstrates His power. A group that by design does not contribute to this goal of spiritual maturity may well be a collection of Christians, but it is not a successful small group.
A variety of small groups are necessary to meet the individual needs of believers, as well as the diverse needs of the body as a whole. People can grow in Christlikeness, care for each other, and make a contribution in any group, whether it be a disciplemaking group, task group, nurture group, Christian twelve-step group, counseling group, or any other type. However, ministries in a local church that don't have small groups built into their structure generally can't produce optimal life change for people looking to that ministry for growth and service opportunities.
* Mobilize: Strategic Leaders
The most strategic person in the life-change process of the church is the small group leader
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people [average believers] for works of service."
1 Corinthians 16:15-16
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Hebrews 13:7, 17
The priority of church leadership is to help small group leaders succeed through support and training. To that end, the best resources of the church should be employed to make sure the small group leader has everything necessary for effectiveness.
Small group leaders cannot flourish in a vacuum. Leaders need to band together periodically with other leaders for encouragement and accountability (huddling). Additionally, church staff and other leaders must provide training in skills necessary for group life (skill training) and reminders of the purpose and goals that drive the ministry (vision casting). Basic skills necessary for effective leadership of a small group are the same whether one is leading a task group of volunteers, a youth team, or a couples small group.
Leaders need oversight from coaches who can offer them encouragement and accountability. Coaches should not violate an appropriate span of care (1 coach for every 4-5 leaders). This holds true throughout the entire church-everyone must be cared for by someone.
The ultimate goal of a leader is life change: to help group members grow in Christlike character through learning, loving one another, and contributing of themselves and their resources. Yet leaders must also help their groups grow in size and eventually birth new groups. (We acknowledge that some groups are closed to address specific issues or cover a specific curriculum.) The leader takes responsibility for this growth by recruiting an apprentice, attending training, and by planning for the eventual birthing process.
* Multiply: Span of Care
Groups must expand and multiply so that eventually every believer can be connected to others
"And the things you have heard me say ... entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."
2 Timothy 2:2
A small group does not ultimately exist for itself. Christlike people resist the urge to be selfish-they desire to include other unconnected people in such a way that they too may experience group life. Small groups therefore must have a viable strategy for growth and reproduction so that someday everyone who gathers as a part of the local church is included in some kind of identifiable relational connection.
Apprenticeship fosters new leaders and must be an integral part of group life so that emerging leaders continually gain on-the-job experience and can be ready to lead groups of their own as soon as they are ready.
When a group gets too large, its leader cannot provide the care necessary for life transformation of each individual. Though groups must grow, the appropriate span of care of approximately one leader for every ten people needs to be maintained. The next step for groups that grow above ten members is to birth new groups.
Success in leadership of a small group is ultimately seen in the viability of daughter groups. The goal is not just to start a new group, but to birth a group that is healthy and creates life change. The new group can only be considered viable if it eventually births a new group itself. In this model, a senior leader is someone who's birthed additional groups, which in turn have birthed new groups-in other words, a leader with small group "grandchildren."
* Means: Seek and Celebrate
Effective ministry happens in an atmosphere of prayer and celebration
"And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."
Acts 2:46-47; 8:4-8
Luke 10:17, 21
God is sovereign, and He sovereignly declares that we should pray. Great ministry follows great praying-believers who talk to their heavenly Father receive because they ask; when they knock, He opens. Leaders are to pray as Jesus prayed: publicly as well as privately, authentically as well as powerfully, specifically as well as continually. Those who seek God's blessing on their work must seek His presence in their work through prayer.
Observe, share, value, and celebrate God's activity. A climate of fun and festivity should permeate gatherings related to ministries.
Leadership successes should be a source of public as well as private rejoicing. Small group gatherings do not take the place of many people coming together for public exaltation of God, catalytic teaching of scripture, and telling stories about what He is doing among the members of the church in small groups. What happens at the small group level should transform the large gathering, and vice versa.
Developing Fully Devoted Followers
The ultimate purpose of small groups is to move people toward a greater relationship with Christ and to transform them into His image. But often the question is asked, "What does it mean to be like Jesus?" Below, you will see how we define a follower of Christ in terms of the local church. As you read, think first about your own development. Then, decide how you will develop as Christ followers in your church.
* What Is a Disciple?
In the simplest form, a disciple is an apprentice to Jesus
"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master."
At Willow Creek we define discipleship as "living as Christ would if He were in my place." Discipleship-in these broad terms-implies a life of transformation and dependence on the Holy Spirit.
* How Does a Disciple Function in the Local Church?
With the definition of a disciple in hand, let's describe the activity of one in and through the local church. As one functions as a Christ-follower in church, one becomes a "participating member" of that local body. A participating member at Willow Creek (that is, a Christ follower or disciple) is described as one who is maturing in grace, growth, group, gifts, and good stewardship. Our elders have shaped them this way: grace, growth, group, gifts, and good stewardship.
The individual appropriation of the saving work of Christ.
Christ followers understand and have individually received Christ's saving grace. They have abandoned all attempts to earn God's favor through accomplishments of their own and find security only through Christ's sacrificial death on their behalf.
In obedience to Christ's command, they have undergone water baptism as believers, giving outward witness to the inner cleansing and renewal experienced in Him.
Christ followers also desire to extend the grace they've received to others through personal evangelism and participation in the collective ministry of the church in their community, their country, and around the world.
The ongoing evidence of a changing life in pursuit of Christlikeness.
2 Peter 3:18
Christ followers know that the grace of God that saved them is only the beginning of His work in them. They gratefully respond by actively pursuing a lifelong process of spiritual growth in Christ and by seeking to become conformed to His image. To this end, they consistently nurture their spiritual development through prayer, worship, and Bible study.
They regard the Bible as the final authority in all areas that it teaches about and desire to be wholly obedient to it. Christ followers honestly confront areas of personal sin and engage the Holy Spirit's power in seeking to turn from sin.
Connections with others in significant relationships.
A Christ follower honors God's call to participate in community in order to grow in Christlikeness, express and receive love, and carry out the ministry of the church.
For this reason, they give priority to attending the corporate gatherings of the church for the purpose of worship, teaching, and participation in the sacrament of communion, and are connected relationally to a small group for the purpose of mutual encouragement, support, and accountability.
Christ followers also
• pursue Christ-honoring relationships at home, within the church, and in
the marketplace, and are committed to pursuing the biblical pattern of
reconciliation when conflict arises;
• support the leadership of the church and are biblically submissive to it;
• affirm and uphold the fundamental truths of Scripture (as summarized in
our Statement of Faith) and refrain from promoting other doctrines in ways
that cause dissension.
Serving Christ's body according to spiritual giftedness and passion.
Christ followers recognize that the church is composed of interdependent members, each uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the body and furthering the ministry of the church. They therefore seek to discover, develop, and deploy those God-given gifts and to seek a place of service within the church with the support and affirmation of the body.
Honoring God financially through what we give to the church and what we keep.
Christ followers realize they have been bought with the price of Christ's blood, and that everything they are and have belongs to Him.
In light of this, they desire to be responsible caretakers of the material resources with which God has entrusted them. They recognize the tithe (ten percent of one's earnings) as the historical standard of giving in Scripture.
Excerpted from Leading Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue
Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted July 2, 2000
If you need a format for getting started on developing small group leadership, this is a great resource from those who have been there and done that. There are a number of great references to other resources on developing small groups. The biggest message is the level of commitment that is required of the larger organization in order to make the small group concept successful.
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Posted January 2, 2011
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