Tag: Small Groups

Two Questions to Find Deeper Relationships

Who would you say is the greatest friend you ever have? As you think about that person, you felt like you clicked. Proximity played an important role. You might have gone to high school or college together. No matter where you are today with them, you feel like you can pick up where you left off.

For some people, you have a close friend with whom you remain close to this day. Yet, many of us build a bond with a person or group of people and for various reasons we relocate or they do. Sometimes, we lose touch due to changing life stages.

On a regular basis, I help people try to get connected into small groups. My job title is even called Belong Director –the guy that helps you BELONG at a church. You and I pursue community to engage the Bible, pray together, and serve, but our larger hope is to find our tribe, the people with whom we can share life.

Let’s be honest. This process of finding deeper and more meaningful relationships is tricky. It’s far more art than science.
Each decade of our lives has more complications through changing life stages.
The effort it takes to meet new people can feel exhausting.
Even when we intentionally commit to a new group of people, we’re not always convinced it’s the right one.

An observation that I have seen in myself and others is this: we measure our new relationships by our best old relationships.

What do I mean by that? Remember the friend you answered in the first question? When you set out to find deeper community, ultimately you are looking for something similar to the good you had. Don’t get me wrong; there are consistent characteristics of great friendships that are universal. But there is a line of wanting to over-replicate something you already had.

When we measure our new relationships by the old ones, we will have a difficult time letting the new friendships grow naturally. In many ways, we’re asking for duplicates rather than originals. Our expectations could be ruining the beautiful reality of growing relationships.

You might find yourself in this spot. You moved to a new area or you long for deeper relationships. I want to leave you with two questions to pursue deeper relationships: What’s realistic to your life stage right now?

1. What’s realistic to your life stage right now?

Many people tell me that their most meaningful relationships came during their time in college and 20’s. Both these eras of our lives had copious amounts of availability and invites. Then our career responsibilities and family life changed. Start with what’s possible to develop now and manage your expectations.

2. Who are two-three people that I want to invest more time into?

I think we have to start with the people already around us. Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, we can either meet too many new people or not enough. Start with two-three people. Perhaps you meet with them one at a time and then move to a group setting. Begin by building the proximity so a deeper relationship can happen.

What insight can you give about finding deeper relationships? Share in the comment section below.

Photo produced by Phil Coffman

Why Personality Tests Matter

You can take the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, Strength-Finders, and the DISC test. There’s an endless amount of these personality tests. Each one of them provides their own unique insight into how a person sees the world and acts in community.

Skeptics can argue that people assign their type based on what they hope to be, rather than reality. Also, some people manipulate the results to box a person into certain behaviors. At some level, these tools can amplify narcissistic tendencies that make individuals the center of attention.

Why do these personality tests matter? Why should you and I engage these tools with those close to us in our lives?

One reason is that we need more bridges to connect us to our friends, family, and coworkers. Personality tests can provide the opportunity for healthy conversations. They bring us into the world of another person: seeing what they see, feeling what they feel, and thinking what they think.

In mature relationships, personality tests are less about us knowing ourselves, and more about understanding others.

  • Knowing when to give space vs. leaning in.
  • Recognizing how to encourage, rather than exacerbate.
  • Amplifying strengths instead of pointing out deficiencies.

Think about what would change your relationships if you could better understand the people around you. Personality tests create starting points for these important dialogues with others in your life.

How can you get started? Here are a few resources for you to initiate the conversation with people in your small group, coworkers, spouse, friends, and the important people in your life:

What have you learned from participating in personality tests? Share your answers in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Ben Duchac

Meeting New People in Church

You have a choice. The Sunday morning routine begins. You find yourself in the same seat of your section. Next thing you know, a person who you have not met sits next to you. The internal questions begin to race through your mind. Should I say hello? Will I scare them off? What if I say something weird? How will they respond?

The choice comes down to greeting or letting them move on quietly. What choice do you usually make?

This situation can conjure up a host of emotions like fear and anxiety. Your response can result from having an extroverted or introverted personality.

Consider the role reversal. Whenever any of us walks into a new space, we hope someone will take the risk of meeting us. It alleviates a little of our anxiety and can help us get to know other people. This situation full of unknowns becomes more known.

Acknowledging the presence of a new person speaks volumes to what you believe about the Gospel. We welcome people warmly because Jesus has done the same for us. When you take the time to meet a person, you communicate their value as one created in the Image of God.

The next time you encounter a new person, rather than letting fear and anxiety keep you from meeting them, consider these steps:

1. Introduce Yourself and Find Out Their Name.

The first step can take the most courage. Take the time to not only find out their name, but remember it. You may want to use it two-three times in the conversation to help you remember it. You taking this first step helps a person feel noticed.

2. Ask Questions and Listen.

Once the introduction ends, carrying the conversation can become difficult. Start by asking, “Where are you from?” Most times that question will open the door to get to know a person. Then you can move to the question, “How did you find out about the church?” You might find similarity in your story. Most importantly, listen to what they say. You validate people by giving them the space to share their story.

3. Watch for Cues.

Most conversations happen before or after a worship gathering. If the gathering begins, be cognizant of a person wanting to get to service on time. At the end of service, a person may have to pick up their kids or go to another event.

A couple of cues to end a conversation: checking their phone, nervous tapping, looking around, and mentioning they need to go. Cues for staying in conversation includes eye contact, positive flow of conversation, and a relaxed posture.

4. Avoid the Pass Off.

You know the feeling of getting your phone call transferred. Sometimes in our exuberance to help someone connect at church, we immediately want to introduce them to other people. Remember how participating in a new setting can become overwhelming. You are a living human being talking to another living human being.

If a person has a specific question and they want the answer, then that would be an appropriate time to connect with a church leader. Recognize the next steps the person wants to take. Often, they want to start by getting to know a few people before taking a next step.

5. Invite follow up.

When you end the conversation, offer to exchange emails. Making a connection can make the difference between coming back to a church the following week – or not. People feel welcomed when you follow up with them. It speaks volumes to them feeling important if a person takes the time to make themselves available.

Also, invite them to events at the church. Think of the groups, classes, or gatherings that could be a good fit for them.

The time you take on Sunday to meet new people communicates far more than you can ever realize. Jesus not just saw people, but He welcomed them. He calls us to do the same.

How have you helped people feel welcomed at church?

Photo by Nina Strehl.

When People Frustrate Us

You’re frustrated. The conversation goes horribly. Tardiness becomes the norm. A person nitpicks our actions. You and I have a list of what frustrates us.

Frustration raises the levels of our emotions and defenses. In the heat of the moment, some of us want to retaliate. Others of us avoid the situation while slowly seething with anger. Some of us utilize passive aggressiveness.

Proverbs 14:29 says, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” The key to overcoming frustration is seeing the big picture. Patience invites us to realize the grace God has given us and therefore have the wisdom to respond well to the other person.

Today, you might get frustrated with a person. Ask yourself these four questions before you take any actions:

1. What’s my preference vs. problem?

It’s important to categorize our frustration. Preferences emphasize opinions. Problems deal in terms of facts and guidelines. When our preferences get mixed up with problems, we focus on how we want to change the person to fit our needs rather than helping them mature.

2. What’s my role vs. theirs?

Often, our frustration comes from a lack of communication. We have not shared our expectations. Frustration causes us to assign motivation to a person with them filling in the blanks. Deciphering our roles helps us honestly assess the situation clearly.

3. Where are they on their journey of growth?

Our frustration with people can cause us to forget their growth. A person may have come a long way on an issue, but they have triggered us to forget. Subjective grace overlooks issues that do not bother us, but can magnify the ones that do. The conflicts we have with people may not adequately understand their journey.

4. How ready is the person to hear what I have to say?

We play over and over in our mind the conversation we would love to have. You could have the perfect argument to the person in their place. If our frustration causes us to confront, then the person may miss what we have to say. Ultimately, this has to do with trust. Can the person see that you are invested in the well-being of their lives to hear you?

When you get frustrated with a person, take a moment to pause and see the situation. Asking one of these questions could make the difference in how you approach the person. What other insights have helped you when you get frustrated with others?

Photo credit by Josue Bieri.

7 Tips for Listening to Sermons

I sat across my wife, Robyn, at Sunday lunch a few weeks ago. As we started to eat, she turned to me and asked, “Could we talk more about the sermon this morning and each week?” The question seemed straightforward. Then she added, “I would like to hear what you think and some Sundays we rarely mention it after service.”

Recalling the last few Sundays at lunch with Robyn, my mind raced from the morning sermon to the next part of the day. She rightly pointed out a missed opportunity. We could share about areas God challenged us to grow in a setting both of us experienced.

Listening to a sermon invites to a community conversation and can deepen our understanding of a passage. It allows us a chance to talk to each other about spiritual matters in our lives because we can respond to a shared experience. It calls on us to process how the Bible relates to our lives.

You may want to understand the Bible in deeper and more significant ways. You might desire to have a more meaningful dialogue with others about following Jesus.  Listening to sermons can bring these opportunities to you. Here are seven tips to for listening to sermons:

1. Take Notes.

In the last couple weeks, I have started taking notes on YouVersion. This app allows churches to input the points from the speaker. I have found myself focusing on what the speaker says about the point, rather than trying to write out the point. Other people using the app like having online storage rather than paper.

Whether you use paper and pen or an app, you retain more by taking notes. You can go back to your notes during the week or in conversation.

2. Focus in on the Reading of the Passage.

When the speaker or pastor begins to read the Scripture, follow along. You may want to highlight or underline verses that you have questions. Certain words or phrases might jump off the page. I like to add a date of the sermon in the passage, so when I come back, I can recall it.

3. Recognize the Cues.

At certain points of the sermon, the speaker might signal an important insight in understanding the passage. Here a few cues to identify:

Definitions – The speaker unpacks the original meaning of a word in Greek or Hebrew.
Biblical References – Note the additional passages mention and the idea associated with them. You can go back later and re-read the passage.
Context – Consider the back story of the passage and what other events surrounded it. Why did the author write this? Who is the audience? These insights can help a passage become more relevant.

When you hear these cues, make note of it. You might even want to highlight the verse associated with it.

4. Utilize a Group Guide.

Often, churches will provide group guides for small groups. You may want to have one with you during service looking at the questions. After the sermon, you can even answer the questions personally before going to a group.

5. Post on Social Media.

Social Media invites us to a further conversation. A point or Scripture passage might have come alive. Posting can reaffirm the same point that others have heard. It adds to the community element. Share a picture on Instagram. Use the series #hashtag in a Twitter post. Check-In to the church with Facebook.

6. Re-Listen to the Sermon.

Take time to listen to a podcast or watch the video. You can do this in the office or when driving in the car.

7. Discuss the Sermon.

Just like Robyn encouraged me to do, talk about the sermon. You might listen to the sermon with a family member or friend. Use this opportunity to share and hear from them. Small groups give you an opportunity process the passage together. You can use these two questions to start a conversation:

What questions did you have?
What point stuck out the most?
What challenged you?
How will you respond to this passage?

What tip would you offer for listening to a sermon? Share in the comment section below.

Photo by Aaron Burden.

The Beatitudes of Church & Social Media

Today’s guest post comes from Benjamin DeCastro. He lives in Warren, RI with his wife Susan, and is a Marketing & Social Media Strategist.  He spent 15 years working for the largest furniture retailer in Southern New England as the Director of Promotions, Events & Media Relations which included marketing, creating ads, media planning & buying as well as the company’s spokesman.  Ben is also a musician, having played drums, keyboards & accordion for a number of bands – presently the drummer for the 2016 New England Music Awards Country Act of the Year – The Annie Brobst Band, based out of Boston, MA.  Read more about Ben at benjamindecastro.com or follow him on Facebook.

If you’re a small group leader, media volunteer, elder, pastor or staff person at a church you already know that Social Media is a great tool to use for connecting and outreach, however – there needs to a strategy behind how it’s implemented. It’s something that takes time. Regularly scheduling 2-3 hours per week to manage your various social media channels will keep your pages looking fresh, exciting, and inviting.

When I was thinking about this recently, I came up with this list of helpful tips that you can use to improve your Social Media plan.

Blessed are those who Like, they and their organization shall be liked.
Logistical Note: This can only be done via your laptop or desktop computer. For a page you want to like as your Church Page, right click over the “three dot photo” on the far right of the pages cover photo and select the option to “Like as your page.”
If you’re going to like a photo, status, link or event – you’ll need to select who you’re liking by clicking on the small image on the right side of the item you wish to like and change who you like from there – specifically for that event.

Blessed are those who respond to comments and messages on Facebook, for they shall be considered responsive.
Thoughtful, appropriate comments are always great! Jokes that need an explanation just don’t work, so don’t waste your time.

Blessed are those who regularly post, for they shall inherit engagement.
But remember – it’s got to be part of the plan – too much and you’ll get blocked!

Blessed are those who take photos for Facebook and Instagram, for they get the picture.
Be sure parishioners in the photo are ok with having their image posted in social media.

Blessed are those who Tweet relevant content, for they shall receive retweeted.
I know they’re important, but 10 individual tweets of each of the 10 Commandments has been done, many times before… just saying.

Blessed are those who utilize Facebook live during a Sunday morning service, for they shall be considered not-dead.
Be sure the person who does this uses a stand for the device they’re going live. Save people the trouble of purchasing motion-sickness pills.

Blessed are those who create events on the church Facebook page, for those events will be remembered and attended.
Even if you’re not getting a ton of RSVP’s – it will show up in the notifications of those who follow your page – it’s like the weekly bulletin you can’t throw away!

Blessed are those who boost posts thoughtfully and responsibly, for they shall see growth in a multitude of ways.
Be a good steward of the financial gifts that God has entrusted to you and strategically plan if you’re going to boost. Also, before you boost, be sure you take the time to review all the details before you place the order- this will help you maximize the potential for the budget you allocate as well as the audience you reach!

Blessed is the Pastor, who encourages check-in’s on a Sunday Morning, for he challenges people to virtually open the doors to their network in a very real way.
Not everyone will do this, but some will – and that helps boost the organic reach your page has!

Blessed is the multi-media team who actively recruits those of the congregation to share a testimony on video with permission to share it on the various platforms, for they shall be seen as approachable and not considered “Apple Geeks”
Do I really need to go into detail on this one?

I hope you found these both humorous and helpful. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and almost every other social media platform can certainly be useful tools for outreach and ministry. Take the time to formulate the guidelines of how you’re going to utilize social media and seek out help from trustworthy sources when you need it!

Stay Social!
~bigBEN

Photo credit by Jaelynn Castillo.

Breaking Bread

My Grandma grew up in New York City during the Great Depression. She developed a toughness in speaking her mind and defending what she considered right. Her life changed when she began to follow Jesus; radical grace complemented tough, gritty truth.

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The church I grew up attending had a special communion service. Fresh loaves of bread sat out in the front of the sanctuary. The pastor gave instructions to take the bread and find a person who you might have offended or needed to forgive. It became a tangible way for the church to practice forgiveness as Jesus taught.

On that particular night, Grandma approached the front. She took the loaf and turned to the pastor, “I have felt bothered and upset at you, and I would like to ask for forgiveness.” As they broke bread together, tears began to roll down their faces.

I have heard that story from my Grandma a dozen times. When she talks about that pastor, I can hear her admiration for him. It has become a powerful picture to me of forgiveness.

Consider the night that Jesus gave communion to His disciples. He broke bread with a man who would betray him. Another person would deny him. Almost all of them would abandon him. After Jesus had resurrected, he broke bread with these very same people for their reconciliation. The Savior, who taught on forgiveness, practice it to the people who hurt him.

The Gospel motivates us to break bread because Jesus has graciously broken bread for us. Breaking bread means putting aside our desire for revenge. It moves us from bitterness to compassion. And in a simple act of eating to stay alive, we come to see that we all need grace from our Savior.

Imagine a community of people who sought reconciliation instead constant bickering. People would see the love of Christ at dinner tables and perhaps the literal act of breaking bread like my Grandma. Sometimes before our tough conversations, we simply need a meal together.

Who has God called you to break bread with today? Maybe, you can take the first step of reconciliation like what Jesus has done for you.

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

4 Questions Towards Authenticity

Authenticity brings tension. This quality can become a license for a person to say whatever comes to their mind. In reality, saying whatever you want may never get to the heart of the issue. On the other hand, authenticity takes time. Some use that fact as a way of prolonging getting known by others. We walk a tightrope in a community of people of not enough and too much.

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In my role, I receive the regular feedback that goes like this, “My friends or group don’t go deep enough. We remain on the surface level.” The desire of realness wells deep within us but getting there means becoming vulnerable. You and I want the right people who will not shame us in our weaknesses, accepts us where we are and challenge us to grow. If we face this, how much more can we understand others in this process?

The Apostle Paul makes a radical statement in Ephesians 4:15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Paul places truth and love hand in hand. The previous verses of this section speak of the reality of Christ in us. Followers of Christ experience His grace in growing maturity. That means authenticity comes out of the motivation of love and expresses the truth for the benefits others. Two seemingly contrasting actions brought together by Christ at work in us.

In a healthy community, we create safety, not comfort. Safety looks to create an environment for people to get challenged, but they feel protected. Comfort esteems keeping the status quo. Authenticity becomes as much about what people say as we leave unsaid. Saying versus not saying comes out of the wisdom of safety, not the hope of comfort.

Craig Groeschel speaks about authenticity in regards to social media in #Struggle. What he says here about taking off the veil and experiencing authenticity can extend outside social media and apply to our relationships with each other:

So yes, we should remove our veils, and tell the truth. But social media is not the place to bare all! Be yourself, but don’t feel like you have to share everything you’re feeling. Being authentic is not about being brutally honest and confrontational about everything on your mind. But by all means – at the right time, with the right people, and when you’re face to face – drop the veil completely. If you don’t, you’ll always be longing for something more (pg. 81)

As you look to experience authenticity and depth in your community, I would offer four questions to start the discussion:

1. How do I process my life?

Process means understanding actuality. Some of us run from that, so we distract ourselves or even stifle ourselves. Other’s of us vent out the problems of our lives too much. This question starts with prayer. Beginning with prayer allows to slow down in quietness first. Then we can look to journal or even find helpful ways to get perspective. The heart of this question attempts to understand how we respond to the positives and negatives of life in regards to ourselves in others.

2. What needs to be said and when does it need to be said?

We can vacillate between sharing too much and not enough. This question gets the motivation of the what and when. Sometimes you and I need space for people to listen to our frustrations. Other times we need to process on our own first and then speak. It works the same with others. Often, people want us to listen first and talk later. God’s grace gives us the wisdom to see the perspective of another so that we can create safety and build authenticity.

3. Who do I have permission to speak the truth in love?

Relationships take intentional investment. A person has to know that we love them and want the best for them before we speak the difficult truths. If we need to say the challenging truth, we need permission from the person receiving it.

4. Who has permission in my life to speak the truth in love?

A question like this acts as a litmus test. Many of us have no problem speaking the truth, but we have a difficult time receiving it. Authenticity forms when people feel that you can accept the challenging truth. We model this for each other and build trust.

How have you experienced authenticity in community? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Martin Wessely.

Reads of the Week

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These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

What We Miss When We Resist Change by John Richmond

John Richmond shares about a radical change in direction of his life. Then goes on to draw out from this experience what he learned when he began to embrace change.

Why You Shouldn’t Call That False Teaching a Heresy by Justin Holcomb

Justin Holcomb underscores the difference between heresy and theological disagreements. Through the perspective of church history, he helps us with grasp the meaning of heresy.

What’s Your Weakness? by Scott Savage

Scott Savage details how weaknesses connect us better to each other as opposed to strengths. He outlines four steps to figure out our strengths our of our weaknesses.

Jesus is My King Not My Concierge by Fred Liggin

A phenomenal example causing us to recognize how we see Jesus in our lives. Fred Liggin writes a poignant article that will cause us to reflect on how we see Jesus.

We Need Both Networks and Communities by Henry Mintzberg

Janna Moss shared this article on my Facebook profile. Henry Mintzberg communicates the importance authentic communities in the workplace. Small Groups matter.

What articles or posts would you consider your read of the week? Share the link in the comment section below.

Photo credit to Alex Wigan from Life of Pix.

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