Remember the classic TV show "Cheers"? My favorite character was Norm, the perpetual and popular barfly who didn't have a care or a career. Norm represented the "norm" for that environment. He was a nice, lovable guy—the kind of guy you'd want to be friends with—but he had no vision.
Who is the "Norm" in your small group? Better yet, what is the norm for your group?
A norm is simply what becomes normal for the group. Another name for norms is values. Values are the virtues that come from a standard of truth. Values are never relative. They are the principles you live by and thereby keep you on the right path to effectiveness and success. Values are what guide or drive an individual, group, or institution. Values are foundational. For Christians, our values come from Scripture, and once they are in place, from those values flow attitudes, which result in right behaviors and actions.
Unfortunately, many small groups have either a weak or nonexistent value system. That being said, groups that do live by a set of values could be called "abnormal"! My observation is that many small group ministries in churches have no value systems either. And so they say, "Oh yeah, we tried small groups for a while, but they didn't work." Of course, they didn't work because they were not built on the right foundation (see Matthew 7:24-27).
Vision comes directly out of your values. In fact, vision not rooted in values is distorted vision and will lead you to wrong behaviors and actions. "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18, KJV). Vision literally means sight. It is the ability to see a picture of the future; for a Christian small group, it is a picture God has drawn for them. (In the Proverbs 29:18 passage, the New Living Translation translates vision as "divine guidance.") Vision is not a utopian dream. It is realistic because it comes from God and it is based on Biblical values.
Norm had no vision past his next sip of beer. Way too many small groups have no vision past their next meeting. Without values and vision, a group will be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Eph. 4:14).
At Northeast Christian Church where I minister, we have worked hard at instilling five values in every small group. These values are:
- Upward—Connected to God
- Inward—Connected to Each Other in Community
- Outward—Making Disciples
- Forward—Maturing Disciples
- Onward—Mobilizing Disciples
The first two of these come directly from the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-40) and the last three come from the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). They are evident in Acts 2:42-47 and throughout the New Testament. As a ministry, we teach these to all our group leaders during training, and use them constantly in everything we write and teach in order to keep these values fresh and alive. We even give awards through the year to groups carrying out these values. We stress not only that groups must utilize these values, but that they keep them in balance. The values then become a strategy for bearing fruit. They lead to carrying out our vision. They lead to groups that are doing the right things so that they can be effective and productive. Everything a group does must be tied into one of its values.
We take this one step further by using "Value Leaders" in each group. That is, we urge group leaders to involve everyone in the life of the group by having them lead at least one of the values. We ask that group members simply utilize their spiritual gifts and passions in at least one of these ways.
Upward Leaders are involved in organizing and/or leading the worship times and/or prayer times of the group. They look for creative ways to keep the group connected to God. In some groups, they keep the prayer journal. In others, they are a musician who plays the guitar or another instrument. They might use the monthly Worship Works on SmallGroups.com for ideas.
Inward Leaders can carry out many different individual functions or one or two people can do all of these. The Host might host the group in their home all the time or be the person who organizes where the group will meet each time. The Host or another individual may also be responsible for having refreshments provided at each meeting. One person might be a greeter who welcomes people warmly when they arrive. An individual may be in charge of asking the icebreaker question at each meeting. (They often use the monthly Barrier Breakers on SmallGroups.com.) Many groups have a social person who plans social gatherings for the group. They may also be a person who is responsible for caring for group members between meetings, sending out email of prayer requests, organizing one-another ministry, and so forth.
Outward Leaders are responsible for two facets of group life: evangelism and service. They help keep the group outward-oriented by asking for prayer for non-Christian friends and neighbors, keeping a list of lost people the group is praying for and reaching out to, organizing outreach events such as Matthew Parties, organizing serving opportunities for the group, getting the group involved in church-wide service projects, and even going on short-term mission trips together. Outward Leaders get ideas from our Pastor of Evangelism and Outreach as well as from SmallGroup.com's monthly Outreach Options.
Forward Leaders assure that people are growing spiritually in the group. They may help administer assessments to see where group members are in their spiritual lives, they are involved in curriculum selection, and they might help organize mentoring relationships between individuals in the group. Forward Leaders want to see the truth applied to life and see real life change and maturity happening in the group. Bible Bytes is a great tool for Forward Leaders to use.
The Onward Leader is responsible for leadership development and deployment in the group. While this is usually the Group Leader, it does not necessarily have to be. For instance, sometimes a person who used to lead groups successfully and has developed many leaders is now a Coach in our ministry and a member of a group. They make great Onward Leaders! Onward Leaders watch for signals of spiritual growth in group members that might lead to their stepping up to be a Leader-in-Training (a.k.a. Apprentice or Intern) in the group. They watch for the heart attributes a Leader must have rather than skills and talents. They are especially watching the Value Leaders for these attributes, because they are often the next Leaders-in-Training to emerge. At Northeast, they utilize a book I wrote for them called Onward: Developing & Deploying Leaders-in-Training and they can also use the articles in the Apprentice section of the SmallGroups.com Library at http://smallgroups.com/ … /Apprentices/.
Regardless of what you call these "value leaders" in your small group, this is a fundamental principle for making your small groups effective and productive.
Don't let Norm be the norm for your group! Get everyone involved in your values and vision; let everyone have an opportunity to lead in their areas of giftedness and passion, and as you do, develop and deploy these emerging leaders to become abNormal leaders of new groups!