And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)
One of my favorite of all-time church jokes goes something like this: There once was a man stranded on a south Pacific island after his ship sunk during a storm. After 5 years as a castaway, a cargo ship passing by the island found him. When the captain of the rescuing ship came ashore to take the castaway home he noticed three huts that had been built using materials from the island. Impressed by the resourcefulness of the castaway, the captain asks him: “I see you built three huts while you were stuck here. You’ve done some impressive work. What is the one on the left used for?” The castaway replied: “That’s where I eat and sleep.” Intrigued, the captain then asks: “What is the hut in the middle for?” To which the castaway responds: “That’s where I go to church.” The captain nodded in approval but then was puzzled by the third hut. So he asked, “Then…what’s the third hut for?” While gathering the rest of his belongings, the castaway responded matter-of-factly, “Oh…that’s where I USE to go to church.” (Please tell me you thought that was funny because that’s the only church joke I know.)
I love that joke because it contains a nugget of truth that we all need to be reminded of: We all find it easier to blame THAT church or THAT small group for our disappointment when we actually may be part of the problem.
I recently spent half a Saturday training some new vGroup Leaders on all the best practices they can implement in order to help their groups get off to a healthy start. As I reflected further on why some groups thrive and others struggle, I realized the leaders at best only have half the influence on the group experience. Group participants also play a significant role in how things go. Thus…
Your attitude will play significant role in the success of your small group.
After training our leaders, I thought it might be helpful to provide some best practices or tips for the other person in the vGroup relationship: you. Here’s a few small things I have seen make a big difference for small group members.
7 SMALL HABITS THAT MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
1. Make it a priority. In Acts 2:42 we’re told that the believers in the early church were “devoted…to fellowship”. This means the early church knew they needed fellowship to survive spiritually so they made it a priority. A priority is something we deem more important than other (often good) things. Priorities are written in pen instead of pencil. Priorities get told ‘yes’ even when something seemingly more attractive is dangled in front of us. Priorities emphasize what is important long term instead of in the short term. Is it more important 10 years from now that your child is in 2 sports or that your child is in 1 sport so you could be in a vGroup growing in your walk with the Lord? I think you know the answer.
2. Minimize your absences. The author of Hebrews tells us some had formed a habit of not gathering with the church and this was not a good thing (Heb. 10:24-25). In other words, they were out of church more than they were in the church. A habit is a pattern established through repetition. Hebrews is telling us we need to do the opposite of the believers being described here by making small group attendance a habit instead of missing a small group becoming a habit. We all get sick, have to work late, need to visit family out of town or take a vacation. However, most of us can avoid missing 2-3 weeks in a row with discipline and time management. When you’re absent from your vGroup, you miss what the Lord is doing in the group and the group moves on relationally. If you miss a few group gatherings in a row, it will feel awkward when you return because trust was being built and struggles were being shared while you were gone. Spreading out your absences as best you can and guarding your small group night on your calendar can avoid this awkwardness. Can you take 2 vacations instead of 3? Can you take the kids to see Grandma and Grandpa next month because you already missed small group once this month due to your kid’s soccer game? Of course you can.
3. Arrive early. Arriving 5-10 minutes earlier gives you time to greet others and get settled without interrupting bible study. Arriving late occasionally because of a work meeting, car trouble or some other schedule conflict is certainly acceptable. But habitually arriving late disrupts what the Holy Spirit may be doing during bible study, is disrespectful to others and causes you to miss out on ministry you need.
4. Notify your group leader when you will be absent. When you absolutely can’t make it due to sickness or some other conflict that you could not avoid, please be courteous by notifying your leader. This lets the leader know how many to expect (determines number of seats to put out) and that you’re ok. Being absent without notifying your leader raises concerns and questions such as: Are you hurting? Are you uncomfortable with something or someone in the group? Are you not coming to our group anymore?
5. Do your homework. Most of our groups will be doing a bible studies that require a couple hours of homework during the week. Members that grow the most in groups incorporate the homework into their schedule and then come prepared to discuss it with the group. The discussion in the group is designed to help you better understand what you’ve already studied in God’s Word and how to best apply it to your life. You’ll get the most out of the study if you work on it during the week.
6. Focus on commonality instead of diversity. If you have an analytical mind and struggle with having a critical spirit, you’ll want to be on guard against this by not dwelling on differences between you and other members. Instead, focus on what you have in common: You all love Jesus Christ, want to grow in him and want to be used by him in your sphere of influence. Because stage of life is one of the strongest retention factors in small group ministry, we try our best to assign people to groups that will be similar in age and/or have the same age of kids. However, it would be impossible to put you in a group in which everybody is like you. Besides, you probably wouldn’t like that group either as we learned from the castaway earlier.
7. Adopt the mindset of a minister. Group members that get the most out of their group take on a minister mindset by asking themselves, “What can I do for the group?” instead of “What can the group do for me?” They find that when they focus on meeting the needs of others (Phil. 2:3-4), their own needs get met and so much more.
At Vanguard, we’re committed to doing everything we can to make your small experience positive and life changing. We’re applying the best practices in small group ministry from churches that have a proven track record. With your help, I’m confident your vGroup will be a blessing and you will be a blessing to your vGroup.