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Develop a Group Covenant

One of the most important things you can do as you begin a new group is to develop some form of covenant with your group. Doing so may seem awfully formal or even stuffy, but in the long run, you will find that a covenant will help you function together as a group.

What is a Covenant

A covenant is simply an agreement that defines the way your group agrees to work and function together. It can be as formal as a written document (I have seen examples where all of the group members have signed the document) or as informal as just a conversation about group direction. (I recommend at least putting down in writing some sort of summary of your discussion. You will be surprised at what you do not remember 6 months down the road.) It is the result of a group sitting down and asking questions like:

  • How often will we meet?
  • How will we handle the practical arrangements of group, such as where we meet, how we engage the children, how long will a group session last, etc.?
  • What do we agree to contribute to our group? This can include hosting and providing food, but should also point out the need for everyone to read and discuss the chosen curriculum.
  • Speaking of curriculum, what will we use as a curriculum and who is responsible for leading the group discussion.
  • What happens when there are problems or tensions between members? How will we handle this?

These questions originate from the idea that people choose to participate in a group for selfish reasons. By selfish, I mean for reasons that benefit themselves. There may be exceptions, but the vast majority of the time people join a group to meet some sort of need they see in their lives, such as:

  • To find a place to connect in the congregation
  • To grow deeper in their knowledge and understanding of God
  • To ease a sense of guilt that they are not “going to church” on Sunday evening (Sounds harsh, but it is a true reason for some.)
  • To grow in their faith
  • To find a group to serve the less fortunate
  • To enjoy fellowship with others

I do not list these reasons to say they are good or bad, but to simply point out that people have a wide variety of reasons for being a part of a small group.

Trouble begins when the reason people join does not match the activities happening in the group they attend. Let me give you a real-life example. We had a man attend our group (at a different place) for the first time on one of our Game-Night Meetings. (About once a quarter or so, we would bring board games or cards and instead of having a formal study time, we would all gather and play games.) This man came to game night, loved it, so came back the next week and then the next. It was during his third or fourth meeting that he finally asked: “So when are we going to play games? That’s why I am here.” Obviously his first taste of group fulfilled a need he felt, but the ongoing group life did not.

The same sort of principle can apply to Bible study groups. If you want to be a part of a group that spends large amounts of time in study, then everyone in the group has to commit to this idea or it will not work. There is a reason why Bible Study Fellowship has a successful model of study groups and has very explicit guidelines about what you will do as a participant in a BSF group.

How to Form a Covenant

The process is fairly simple. Spend a few moments during a group meeting and ask the following questions (or some like them):

  • Why are you a part of this group?
  • What do you hope to get out of participating in this group?
  • Based on what you are hoping to get out of this group, what sort of things/activities do you want to see happen as we meet together on a regular basis?
  • How will we handle the practical logistics of the group (hosting, leading, curriculum, childcare, communicating with members, etc.)?
  • If there is a conflict between group members, what course of action will we take to address the problem?

Take notes as people answer questions and discuss. Then, during the week following this meeting, draft a document that summarizes what you heard. Email it to your group members (or bring a copy the next meeting) with instructions that they are to review this and then either agree with or make corrections to the plan they have made. After everyone has agreed with the document, copy it for everyone to have.

Why is a Covenant Important

Let me tell you why I think this process is so important.

  1. It allows you to hear what others desire from their participation in group. As much as we hate to admit it, people vote with their feet and if they indeed join group for selfish reasons, they will leave group when those reasons are not being met. Some may not even quit coming—they still attend but have disengaged to the point they have “left.” When you know their desires, you are better prepared to meet or reshape those desires.
  1. At the same time, a covenant allows you to motivate and stretch the group as a whole. You also have a say in the direction of the group and in most groups, the leader carries more weight than others. This is an opportunity for you to define some healthy practices within the group, practices that group members may not have thought of or had to courage to bring up.
  1. When a problem arises in your group, your covenant enables you to address the issue with a group-determined plan in place. If your group has agreed that conflicts will be addressed within the group meeting, not via email, then you are able to say to the group: I have seen emails about issue X and because we said we would address problems together in group, I want to take a few moments to talk through ways to resolve this issue.
  1. Finally, a covenant is a great motivation tool down the road. We all get into routines and become complacent, even with our group schedules. So, let’s say one of the practices your group decides to undertake is a meeting a month in which you just pray, nothing else. But due to the busy-ness of the group, you miss a couple of months in a row. You have a tool—the covenant—to pull out and say: “When we started this group, we agreed to pray monthly. We haven’t been doing that. Either let’s agree to start again or let’s agree that this is not an activity that we deem as important to each of us as we meet together as a group.” What you decide may not be as important as being able to all come together and make a decision that helps everyone feel like their desires and goals were addressed.

Forming a covenant takes some time and may feel too wooden to be comfortable, but from years of experience—both positive and negatives—taking the time to form some sort of covenant is worth it.

Questions? Comment below, email me here or find me on Twitter at @sp1groups.

When a small group begins, it is a time of excitement mixed with some trepidation. If the group is a brand new group with new individuals and new relationships to be formed, assume the pendulum may swing further to the trepidation side. Much further. Even if your group is simply starting a new year with the same members, there is a sense of anticipation that may create some anxiety. Because of this, do not overlook the opportunity you have to create a strong group dynamic from the first meeting.

Every small group needs to start strong. Be intentional about the activities of your first few weeks and you will find it paying off dividends down the road. Three things in particular I would focus on during my first month of group meetings.

Know Your People

First, know the people involved in your group. Do this in a couple of ways. On the one hand, take the time in your group to allow members of the group to share with one another. Too often we assume that because we go to church at the same place, we know one another. This is not always true, so go into your meetings with the idea that everyone is somewhat of a stranger.

Along with this, I would spend time as a group leader checking in with the individuals in your group. A quick email or text, just to follow up and say “Thanks for being a part of our group” will help that person know you really are excited for them to be making this journey with you. You might also encourage individuals to offer some feedback to you personally. Sometimes people are more willing to say “Here is what I am hoping to see in our group time” when they do not feel like they are going against the group’s collective wishes.

Develop a Covenant

This brings up the second thing I would do. Develop a covenant with your group during the first few meetings together. While a covenant may sound very formal, it is merely a way to state collective the desires each individual has for their involvement within the group and the goals they hope to see accomplished. I will write more about covenants later, but for now, know that individuals join a group for selfish reasons. They want to get something out of their time investment. If your group fails to live up to those expectations, individuals will pull away or even leave the group. This is not to say every expectation carries the same weight, but a covenant allows you to state clearly the purpose of your group. When individuals know those and have a hand in setting the expectations, they are better prepared for what is to come.

Find a Co-Leader

Last, I cannot encourage you enough to have a co-leader designated for your group. Even if your group is made up of individuals who all chip in and make sure things get done, a co-leader is invaluable for the ongoing health and longevity of this group and groups to come. For you as a leader, a co-leader gives you the opportunity to share in ministry with someone else. Doing so allows this person to grow in their own spiritual journey, to step in and help you not be overloaded, and to be ready to help lead another group as we attempt to provide more opportunities for individuals to be involved in the small group ministry.

Most importantly, a co-leader helps you be a better leader in your own right. They want to same goals as you do and are willing to work with you to make that happen. Having a co-leader may be more the willingness to add another person to your efforts at helping grow disciples within your group than it is about giving up roles and responsibilities.

Enjoy the first few weeks of group, especially the excitement of something new, but do not miss the opportunity to prepare your group for health and vitality for the long haul.

I was reading Michael Frost’s Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement (You can find it here). Frost describes a prayer exercise that I think would fit well with the lesson in which we talked about praying scripture (Find it here).

Frost describes a prayer cycle based on the prayers of Luke 1-2. The daily cycle goes as follows:

Upon waking, read/pray Mary’s response to Gabriel: Luke 1.38.

This prayer serves as an opening of your day and prepares you for those activities of the day.

During the morning, read/pray the Magnificat: Luke 1.46-55.

Frost rightly claims that your morning is often the busiest time of the day and so Mary’s praise of the power of God serves to focus us on the one who is important, when compared to those things we might claim as such.

Midday read/pray Zechariah’s song (often called the Benedictus): Luke 1.68-75.

Zechariah’s prayer focuses us for the rest of the afternoon to come.

In the afternoon read/pray the response of heavenly host: Luke 2.14

After a busy day, this response of the angels reminds us of the Lordship of God.

Close your day with Simeon’s pray to God: Luke 2.29-32.

Although Simeon’s prayer is a reflection of the end of his life, it serves us well as we close down our day and rest in preparation for the next.

I found this cycle beneficial and wanted to share it with you as you spend time praying scripture.

As we begin a new series in our groups, we have updated our Current Lesson page (find it here) to include those lessons. This page will be updated as more lessons become available.

Gospel of Matthew Lessons

We have updated the “Current Lessons” tab above to include the One Group Lessons over our study in the Gospel of Matthew. You can click that tab, or go there directly by clicking here.

Here’s how I know we are doing something right.

Our group said goodbye tonight to one of our members. He is moving on to a job opportunity out-of-state. His fiance will stay behind for a couple of months until they get married, then will join him. They are both fresh out of college, starting their careers, and beginning their life together. While we are sad they are leaving, we see that this opportunity is good for his career and so we are happy for them. They have been such a blessing to our group and to South Plains over the last several years and so it is hard not to rejoice with them.

Well, most of us are excited.

My son is not.

As he talked to me tonight, saddened by and trying to come to grips with this loss, he said these words: “They were supposed to get married, and have jobs here, and have kids, and our group would be able to help their kids grow up and follow Jesus.”

While I personally never thought they would stay here for their entire adult lives, I love that my son did. I love more that he saw his small group as a place where older children (we call them “1 Older” at South Plains) would help the younger (“1 Younger”) children follow Jesus. I am also thrilled that he could bravely (I say bravely, because like many of us, he was fighting back the emotions) pray during our prayer time: Lord, help them be the light of Jesus in this new place.

Yes, I think 1 Groups are doing something right.

Michael Mack, over at Small Group Leadership, recently posted a blog about things to do this summer with your small group. I would recommend checking it out here.

As I look at Michael’s list, commitment seems to be the most important item. Anyone can say they want to get together—it takes commitment to actually follow through and do it. What is preventing you from planning something—and then following through with actually doing it?

Take a look at his list. Is there anything your group might do this summer off that list? What other things would you add as a helpful way to keep your group in regular contact?

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