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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.

Lets Get Connected

Connecting pic

 

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our giftedness is partially by design (the way we are created) and partially developed (the skills we learn). We are born with certain talents given by God’s grace to everyone but we also receive spiritual gifts when we are born again. Particular personality types describing us as a lion, an otter, a golden retriever, or a beaver have also defined our uniqueness. You can learn more through tools such as DISC profile, Briggs-Myers, Strength Finders, and others.

Interestingly, as you look at these tools and observe people you begin to notice two primary types of people: relational and task. Usually there is a combination of the two in each of us but it is good to know if you are primarily relationship oriented or task oriented. Ask yourself if you naturally focus on the “whom” you are dealing with or the “what” that needs to be accomplished. Another way of analyzing your primary nature is asking if you enjoy “conversation” more or “completion” of the task.

The task-oriented individual, if not careful, can become a hostage to tangible things such as meetings, appointments, projects, schedules, and budgets. They want to make sure that every “i” is dotted and every “t’ is crossed. These people are doers and they will get the job done but the danger is they may not give proper priority to the intangibles. They can become so focused on the goal that they will walk right by people and not even notice they are there.

These (the task-oriented) are the lions (king of the jungle) and beavers (busy workers) that have been described as driven and competent. These are the Marthas who are busy in the kitchen wanting to make sure they are the consummate hostess to their guests. In all of their activity they can lose sight of the important relationships in their lives. The person who is primarily relational is all about the journey and the fun along the way while the task-oriented individual is all about getting to the destination, quickly!

We cannot forget that God is all about relationships. Yes, there are tasks that need to be done and accomplished but not at the expense of relationships.

Bill Hybels has defined community as:

  • knowing and being known
  • loving and being loved
  • serving and being served
  • celebrating and being celebrated.

People may come to a church for a lot of different reasons but they usually stay because they are loved.

In 1980, Win Arn spoke about a relational principle, “It takes six to stick!” He said that people must develop six meaningful relationships within six months if they are going to stick at the church. This is 2016 and people probably are not going to stay around that long waiting for relationships to develop.

Hal Seed, pastor of New Song in Oceanside, CA, expresses it this way, “Someone must recognize my face if this is going to be my place.”  Guests need to find at least one meaningful relationship in the first three weeks!

Assimilation is the system that follows up on your guests and it must include enough meaningful and personal touches for someone to remember your guests when they return. If you tell someone, “See you next week!” then you need to be looking out for him or her when they return.

Everyone loves to be remembered and as Hybels has said so well about community, “Knowing and being known!” There is nothing like going back and seeing a smiling welcoming face that you recognize and they recognize you!

This is why connection groups are so important to the health of your church. These are the small groups, Sunday School classes, Bible studies or other mechanism where people can get plugged into the life of the church. This is the circulation system of the church, which sustains the growth of new families when they come your way. Remember, it is systems that enable you to maintain and care for the people that come your way because of all the relational effort you have put into getting to know them.

Hal Seed describes three aspects on the importance and purpose of connection (small) groups.

  • First, from a practical standpoint, your small group system is your connecting system. That is why I love calling them “connection” groups. Their purpose is to “enfold people into meaningful relationships.” This gives everyone a group of people to do life with that they know are making the journey with them. It reminds us that we are not in this alone and we have others to do life and ministry with.
  • Second, from a spiritual growth standpoint, connection groups are your primary discipleship engine. Whatever structure you have, (time, day of the week, location, etc.) you will need to have clarity about how and what these groups study. There are several excellent resources (Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladden; Sticky Church by Larry Osborne; and others) on small groups that you could read and then adapt it to your ministry context and what works best for you.
  • Third, from a pragmatic standpoint, it can be your front line for crisis care. Growing churches struggle and pastors burn out when he is the primary (often the only) caregiver. Connection groups accept the responsibility of making sure they are the first responders to the needs of their group. Others can be called in but they have the pulse of those in the group and are usually the first to be notified when crisis hits anyone in their group. This adds to the definition of community: loving and being loved, serving and being served.

Healthy churches have a circulation system (connection groups) that clearly describes the path for new people to become connected to the church family!

Connected to One Another

Small Groups

Our first priority is to worship God and keep Him as the focus of our lives. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” We must remain centered on God by protecting our relationship with Him through the practice of spiritual disciplines. If we are going to lead others, we must remember to lead ourselves well first. The speed of the leader does determine the speed of the team.

Yes, centered on God but we can’t stop there. We must also focus on how we will treat others around us and those closest to us. Jesus went on to say in the great commandment that we are to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.” How connected are we to our spiritual family? How connected are we to a local body of believers? How connected are we to a small group that challenges us to continue in the faith and holds us accountable? We must develop daily habits and practices that create community!

We must remember I John 4:20-21, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” The book of Acts details the journeys of the early believers for us and we see God’s people meeting in large groups and in small groups. Fellowship with other believers is a part of God’s plan for us to grow spiritually.

How do you connect people in your church to a small group that will love them, care for them, challenge them, encourage them, pray for them, and hold them accountable? That is what biblical community looks like! Yes, we all need to worship together and that is great but we also need to connect with one another on a much deeper level. That usually cannot occur in a larger setting but it can in small groups. It seems that Jesus choose 12 for a reason and Jethro told Moses to divide into groups of ten.

There is nothing magical about a particular number nor should we become legalistic but it is hard to open up individually in groups of 40-50 or larger. There are many benefits of small groups but the overall motivation is helping people move from being consumers to becoming contributors. This is not about finances but rather giving our lives to serve others. Individuals who only attend the larger events, if they stay there too long, will be tempted to function as spectators and not vested participants.

Circles of commitment were introduced by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church and focused on us moving people from Community, to Crowd, to Congregation, to Committed, and then to Core. The idea is helping a person to spiritually mature from a very low commitment level to a very high commitment level. Small groups are where they can connect more intimately with a fellow group of Christ followers who are facing the same challenges and are willing to help one another along the way.

Small groups are one of the best ways to minister to people and make sure they are being properly loved and cared for. Here are some of the benefits of small groups:

  • It builds community! Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The smaller setting gives time for sharing blessings and burdens. Community is defined as, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
  • It provides a place where you are safe! You have an awareness that everyone is broken and has challenges. You are able to be open and transparent with one another, knowing that your group will practice confidentiality when needed. There is a spirit of grace and forgiveness present that promotes Gal. 6:1-2, “Brothers,if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
  • It is a family! You are brothers and sisters in the family of God and a small group begins to function as a family unit. Oasis Church in North Little Rock, AR, says it this way in their core values, “We believe in talking to people not about people. We value resolving differences with one another. We believe that gossip and slander are toxic to our church family. We encourage talking to those who have offended us with the goal of reconciliation. We value speaking to the person in the right way, with the right motive, and at the right time.”

Small groups provide an excellent system to make sure people are being cared for spiritually first and also physically, emotionally, and relationally. They stay connected and cannot fall through the cracks unnoticed by the crowd. When they are sick, the members of the small group are the first responders. When they need prayer their small group is their prayer warriors. When they are struggling and need encouragement their small group is their cheering squad.

We must remain centered on God by loving Him more. Then we must stay connected to one another through meaningful spiritual relationships that build a sense of camaraderie. This is defined as, “a feeling of good friendship among the people in a group.” Friends of God and friends to one another that you can count on. Loving God more and loving one another more!

When you think of community and being connected to one another here is how you can describe it:

  • People Knowing and Being Known
  • People Loving and Being Loved
  • People Serving and Being Served
  • People Celebrating and Being Celebrated