Note: This article has been excerpted from Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen.
Setting the Scene
Encourage spiritual partners in your small groups. Ask your small-group leaders to instruct their members to find spiritual partners within the group. Train your leaders to encourage group members to share things they want to surrender and then help them develop a plan to do so. Set up your groups so this is done on a regular, ongoing basis. At Saddleback, we use the Spiritual Health Assessments and Spiritual Health Plans to do this. Talk about spiritual partners and the assessments from the pulpit, during small-group training, during small-group events, and in all your interactions with small-group leaders. Then encourage your small-group leaders to talk about them with their small groups.
Prepare your leaders by enriching their minds and hearts. Give your small-group leaders good books to read for spiritual development such as The Pursuit of God, by A. W. Tozer, and Desiring God, by John Piper.
Engage groups in the presence of God. Have a night of worship to bring groups together for corporate worship. There doesn't have to be a sermon, but provide plenty of time to reflect on God.
Share testimonies in weekend services of God moments. Ask group members to share their testimonies in larger services. There is nothing more powerful than a story from the heart. Be professional but be real and share what God has done through the group.
Basics of Worship in a Small Group
We have found it useful to think of group worship in terms of expressive worship and reflective worship. It does not have to involve music, but it needs to be more than just something to do. It needs to be an experience. Give your small-group leaders a list of suggestions to pass on to their groups that doesn't just tell them to worship but also gives them practical suggestions.
Prayer. Whether as a group or as individuals, make audible prayer a part of every small-group meeting. That doesn't mean forcing each member to pray out loud, but give every member the chance to do so.
Thanksgiving. Go around the group and ask members to say one sentence of thanks to God for something specific in their lives.
Music. This can be low-volume music played in the background during prayer time or an all-out worship fest right in your living room. The idea is to do something that works for your group.
In our small group, John is our unofficial worship leader. Not too long after he started coming to the group, I learned he loves music and plays the guitar. When I chatted with him about his passions, I learned he likes to lead worship. But when I asked him to lead worship for our group, he said, "No, I'm not qualified." This is where most people start, never believing they are ready. But through some encouragement and leading (okay, pushing), John agreed to give it a try. His first time out of the gate was a bit shaky, but over time he has led us in some awesome times of worship.
John grew by taking a risk, but his willingness to step out in faith also encouraged another guy in our group to step out and lead worship too. Now do the two of them think they are the worship champions for our group? No. But are they the worship champions of our group? Yes. Every role in the group has started out like that. In developing roles, just think crawl, walk, run. Everyone starts by crawling, then gradually he or she begins to walk, and before you know it, that person is off and running.
Encouraging John accomplished a couple of things: (1) Our group benefits from John's gifts because he is really good at what he does. (2) John's increased involvement in the group gives him a sense of ownership. He feels like he's contributing and making a difference with the gifts God has given him. He may not know the Bible well, and he may not really know how to share his faith yet, but he knows how to worship and love God.
Sharing struggles. Encourage group members to share their struggles with the entire group. As they do so, stop and pray for each other.
Sharing God stories. Tell each other how God is working in your life. Such stories can be a great way of not only adding depth to your relationship but also worshiping God for all he is doing in your lives.
One of the stories I share is about when Lisa and I were thinking about moving to Colorado. Soon after we were married, it became clear to us that our ministry in North Hollywood was coming to a close. Since my parents had always taught me to pray specifically, and we were going to be making a change in churches, I told Lisa that if we had to move, we should pray for a desirable geographical location. So we pulled out a map and said, "Lord, if we have a choice, we would like to pray for a ministry opportunity in San Diego, the Bay Area in Northern California, or because we both like the mountains, the Rocky Mountains." Not feeling the Rocky Mountains was specific enough since they run across six states, we narrowed it down to Denver.
Less than 30 days later I received a call from a church concerning a job opening. They told me what a great opportunity this new position was, that their church was poised for the next move of God, that they were looking for someone like me who wanted to do ministry, and so on. I honestly wasn't paying too much attention until they said they were located in Denver. My ears perked up and I asked them to repeat everything, because I was now listening with a different perspective. I agreed to explore the opportunity, and they agreed to send me an information package.
After I hung up with them, I quickly phoned Lisa and told her about the call. But we both quickly wondered if it was from God or just a coincidence. Later that week the information package arrived, and in it was a book the pastor, Charles Blair, had written, The Man Who Could Do No Wrong. In one section of the book, Blair writes about ignoring his wife's counsel on a certain situation. As a result, the church suffered a major difficulty. Well, I thought if it was good enough for him, it would be good enough for me too. So on Wednesday during lunch at Numero Uno Pizza in North Hollywood, I asked Lisa for her counsel. I asked her if there was something heavy on her heart about this potential move. If so, I wanted us to pray about it to see if this was God's leading. I fully expected her to say something about leaving her family, because they had lived for generations in the Los Angeles Basin and this move would be 1,000 miles away! Instead, her short answer was, "The snow." She was born and raised in Burbank, California, and was fearful about driving in the snow. So I said, "We'll pray about the snow," and we prayed God would calm her fears and make our path clear.
That evening in Lisa's small group, for some reason the leader changed the normal study and decided to explore a Scripture that deals with fear: "When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet" (Proverbs 31:21). Later that night Lisa shared with me what had happened. God or coincidence? Are you kidding me? Could God have made it any clearer?
God stories are just that—stories about when the supernatural God intersects with our lives. When Lisa had to tell her boss we were leaving, she was a bit nervous about bringing up the subject. As if to show God's sense of humor, when she approached her boss, he was wearing something that just had to be a sign from God—a Denver Broncos T-Shirt!
Silent prayers. Take time to be still and listen. Give group members time to silently commune with God.
Solitude moments. Have a small-group meeting during which members are asked to go away by themselves with their Bible for an hour. This can be done outside in a park setting or just in a home by allowing members to go to different parts of the house and then come back together and share with other members of the group. Or release members while they are still in a contemplative mood.
Meditation. Meditate on passages of Scripture. Perhaps provide gropu members with paper and pens to write their thoughts after meditation.
Fasting. Encourage group members to go on a two- or three-day group fast—whether from food or an activity. Be available to support each other during the week via e-mails and phone calls.
—Adapted from Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen, published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 2011. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.