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Getting Connected

The best way to be connected to any church is through a small group. They can be called small groups, Bible studies, life groups, cell groups and many other titles. We call our small groups “Connection” groups because it fits our C-3 vision statement of being Centered on God, Connected to one another, and Compassionate for our city. The language fits us because we tell our people the best way to get connected at Cornerstone is by being a part of one of our connection groups. We even call our first time visitor cards our “Connection” cards.

Our connection groups are referred to as our first responders to help minister to our people’s needs. As first responders the connection group leader is one of the most important positions in our church because they make sure that the people in their group are properly ministered to and cared for. Pastor, it’s not your responsibility to care for every member but it is your responsibility to make sure they are cared for. There are many reasons we need to get people connected to a connection group because of how it facilitates spiritual care and growth.

First, a connection group is a small group because of its size. The larger a study group grows the more difficult it becomes to really connect. You will not have enough time to really get to know one another, answer the questions that really matter, or enjoy a healthy amount of discussion plus it forces the delivery system to become a lecture model. In Real-Life Discipleship Jim Putman says, “Most of us do not choose lecture as a preferred way to learn, but unfortunately the lecture model is how most Christians receive much of their teaching.”

Second, a connection group provides shepherding and cares for its members. When the group is smaller it enables the group to help care for one another. Caring for one another is seen as a core value and is done willingly because we become family. Sheep stray and a connection group notices much sooner when someone is missing. When a connection group is committed to doing life together they are also more aware when a member is struggling physically or spiritually and it provides a system to confront sin and hold members accountable.

Third, a connection group needs to build a safe environment. Transparency needs to be modeled but it will never work if trust is not built into the culture. Two key elements of a safe environment are authenticity and mutual accountability. The larger the group the harder it is for people to share their struggles and believe that everyone believes in confidentiality. Quoting Jim Putman again, “Real relationships are an essential part of God’s plan. The world’s need for relationships is God’s opportunity to build disciples.”

Forth, a connection group is not a watered down Bible study. This accusation is made but usually unfounded. Yes, one element of a connection group is healthy dialogue. Jesus repeatedly used questions to facilitate thought and discussion. He also would answer questions by telling a story. There you have two key elements in how people learn. Make sure you use Bible stories to teach God’s truth and then dialogue how that truth applies to their lives. Jim Putman says it this way; “You are not making disciples if you are doing all the talking.”

Fifth, a connection group requires an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process. Remember, your connection (small) group leader is one of the most important positions in your church because they help shepherd the congregation. Their intentionality requires that they know, and are passionately following, Christ. They do not need to be Bible scholars but they do need to be in love with Jesus. They must model what growing and maturing in Christ looks like to those in the group. The goal is not perfection but progress.

Sixth, a small group models and displays what it looks like to become self-feeders. Every disciple must take personal responsibility for his or her spiritual growth. When we work on our own spiritual maturity then our church will become the automatic beneficiary. We have built an unhealthy expectation that the church drives our spiritual walks when actually our spiritual walks should drive the church. Yes, the church has a responsibility to assist in our spiritual growth but disciples must be shown how to feed themselves.

Seventh, a small group shows its members how to sustain their passion by taking care of their hearts. They learn that the journey will not always be easy and that it takes effort and determination. Zeal and passion comes from an intimate personal walk with Christ. If our heart is full then our walk with Christ will be natural (actually supernatural.) If our heart is empty our walk with Christ will be forced and our passion will diminish. If a disciple is walking with Christ it is apparent and if they are not they need to be shown how.

Connection groups provide the biblical vehicle that promotes spiritual growth! II Timothy 2:2 makes it clear that discipleship happens in relationships. It is not a mistake that these plural terms are used: many witnesses, reliable men, and others. A connection group provides support, encouragement, and the necessary accountability. Act 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35 make it clear that we are to spend time together, care for one another, meet one another’s needs, practice grace toward one another, and be in unity on their purpose.

Circles of Influence

Circles

     Several years ago I picked up a copy of Concentric Circles of Concern by W. Oscar Thompson Jr.  It was a good read but more importantly it reminded me of the influence every believer has and our responsibility toward those God has placed in our lives.  We are accountable to share the gospel with every man, woman, and child within our “circles.”  Have you identified your circles of influence?  Have you shared Christ with your family, friends, neighbors, and associates?  The spreading of the gospel happens most effectively through close relationships.  It is vital for us to focus on those God has placed closest to us that we may have a godly impact on their lives.  

     In a book review by Brian Foulkes he says, “Concentric Circles of Concern is a dynamic plan of specifics through love to develop disciples for Christ.  Through the entire book Thompson links the importance of relationship, love, prayer, and organization as a fortified team to accomplish discipleship.  He states that there are seven stages in this process: get right, survey, pray, build bridges, show love, make disciples, and begin again (Pg. 30-31). He makes a stance of declaring that the word relationship is the most important word in the dictionary.  That word alones provides a stem or basis from which everything else can and will grow.  He is very adamant about relationships being the glue that holds everything together in the area of discipleship.  He states the premise throughout the entire book that if you do not have a right relationship with those close to you, how can you have one with those far away?  He goes even deeper by saying that you can’t have a right relationship with God and then treat others adversely (pg. 93).”

     Relationships take time and require commitment on our part.  Who do you know that needs Jesus?  Can you identify by name people in your “circles” of influence who need to be saved?

  • First, make a list of your natural circles of influence. Take a sheet of paper and draw seven to ten circles and then label them by who belongs in that circle.  These are people, places, and points of interest where you can personally make contacts.  Examples: Immediate Family, Relatives, Close Friends, Neighbors, Co-Workers, Acquaintances, School, Frequently Visited Locations, Clubs, etc. 
  • Second, once you have your circles drawn and labeled then begin to list names in each circle of those who need Jesus. Hopefully, you will be able to list twenty to thirty people within your circles.
  • Third, be challenged to build relationships with people who are far from God.  How did you do?  Were you challenged by how many lost people you know or were you burdened by the realization that you really do not know anyone lost?
  • Fourth, begin to brainstorm ways you can expand your circles of influence. If you were disappointed by your lack of contact with those who need Jesus begin to brainstorm how you might be able to meet them and build relationships with them.  Invite your neighbors over for steak, take that guy at work that tells dirty jokes fishing with you, join a club, volunteer your services, or simply begin building a relationship with those you see every day.  There are a lot of places where you can build relationships to show others Christ.  Examples: Home Owners Association, Service Clubs, Sports, Music, Neighborhood Watch Programs, Chamber of Commerce, Health Clubs, Parent Teacher Organizations, City Government, Block Parties, Golf or Country Club, etc.
  • Fifth, get started! Where do we begin?  If you don’t know anyone lost go find someone who is and begin building a relationship with them. 

     If you were able to write down several names then here are a few suggestions for you: 

  1. Pray for them daily asking that the Holy Spirit of God would begin drawing them and working on their hearts.
  2. Ask God to show you a way to strengthen your relationship with them so that you might be able to have a conversation with them about Jesus.
  3. Do whatever it is that God asks you to do as you are sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit to not go too fast or too slow. All of us have circles of influence and God has placed these people in our lives for a reason.  We need to love them the way Christ loves us and let them know what an awesome God He is!!!   

     Begin by listening to their story.  Once they know you are someone who cares about them then you will have earned the right to share your story.  Then you will be able to tell His story!