Thinking Out Loud

September 9, 2013

Preview A Dozen Small Group Resources at One Low Price

A few months ago I reviewed a unique small group resource from Hendrickson Publishing, The Best of Small Groups DVD with host Brett Eastman. You can read that review here. Last week Hendrickson kindly sent me a copy of the second in the series, The Best of Small Groups Volume 2. Once again I was able to sample the first group session in DVD curriculum series from a variety of independent filmmakers and distributors. The DVD is also an end in itself, as home study groups can cycle through the material with a study guide that is sold separately. I really wish Zondervan or Thomas Nelson had a product like this. Failing that, I honestly can’t understand why they aren’t striving to get their product included in video samplers like this one.

Best of Small Groups Volume TwoThere are three repeat teachers from the first volume, Francis Chan, John Piper and Chris & Kerry Shook. Piper’s contribution, like the one in the previous edition is simply sermon video from a conference. It’s indicative of the range of the quality of material you find in a mixture like this, with variances in audio and video quality and overall length. I’m never sure that the Shooks know which camera they’re talking to, and at about four minutes, the Pete Wilson segment is less than half of the shortest video clips in the package and really isn’t fair to users who would be expecting something longer.

There are also variances in the amount of scripture content. On this front, I really enjoyed Bill Hull, author of The Disciple-making Pastor, one of two clips I would watch again. The other one was Nancy Guthrie, one of the three women featured in the DVD, ostensibly teaching on Genesis, but opening the first session from the perspective of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples (not among The Twelve) on the Road to Emmaus. Like Piper’s sermon, it was filmed with her standing in place for 30 minutes, but later I wished I had been paying more attention.

In terms of production values, it’s hard to beat Mark Batterson’s segment. He tracks with someone hiking across Antarctica against all the expected weather challenges. A little light on scripture, but we have to remember that (a) these are simply first episodes, and (b) we don’t know what is covered in the various study guides or leaders’ guides.

The strangest segment is by Dr. Byron E. Crute teaching on the opening to the Lord’s Prayer. People seem to get up and leave in the middle, and the segment ends with someone teaching a song, giving the whole thing the appearance of an outtake from a Christian television network. Mind you, it’s a nice song.

Tom & Chaundel Holiday from Saddleback have a segment on energy management, and Eastman’s wife Dee, also from Saddleback Church, teaches on health. James MacDonald doesn’t miss a beat in his segment, and after all these years, I finally found out who Cynthia Heald is, after being aware of her books for several decades.

Would I seek out the full curricula for some of these? Definitely the Bill Hull, Francis Chan. I’d recommend the Nancy Guthrie for women’s groups and for a younger demographic, possibly the Mark Batterson. Although I have mixed feelings about the whole patchwork quality of this and the first volume, I have to admit I hope there is a third edition, as these form a valuable service.

September 4, 2013

Wednesday Link List

peanuts

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a link list without any links!  To see the interactive page, click over to Out of Ur.

The interwebs were moving slower over the Labor Day weekend — and we stepped outside our rolling 30 day window — but hopefully what we lack in quantity this week we make up for in quality…

  • A pastor leading a Financial Peace University course realized that along with everybody he was teaching, he and his wife needed to create a budget.
  • “In the Church…”  is the definitive blog post for anybody who finds themselves planted squarely in The Church, but at the same time wanting to distance themselves.
  • In most jurisdictions, kids need to be vaccinated to attend school, but if they’re home schooled… Furthermore, if immunization is dismissed for fear of autism, is spreading measles a valid trade-off? (Also, a related opinion piece at Religion Dispatches.)
  • Yes, you can write a song. Here’s a primer on the form and structure of modern worship compositions.
  • Essay of the Week: Perhaps instead of looking at the five points of Calvinism as dry doctrine, we should think of TULIP as a narrative.
  • There’s always been a campus version of The Alpha Course, but now a Canadian group has completed Alpha Youth, scheduled for January release across North America.
  • So exactly what can be extrapolated “just because the bloggers of the Gospel Coalition happen to be in agreement with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and authoritarian Russian boss Vladimir Putin”?
  • Considering we usually think the ethnic churches have it all covered, it’s interesting to read an article concerned with the ‘white church’ looking for a Latino evangelism game plan.
  • Carlos Whitaker has five or six things he wishes worship leaders would stop saying, followed by 200 more reader suggestions.  (Somewhat related quotation.)
  • It’s small group start-up time again, making this the link you should most want to forward this week.
  • Flashback – One year ago: Psalm 42 in the Pirate translation.
  • Jamie The Very Worst Author talks about a book project that is apparently having trouble getting off the ground.
  • Niche blogging reaches new heights of narrowcasting (Oops! Mixed visual image) with the blog edition of Bearded Gospel Men. Possibly related piece at Christianity Today.
  • Interview of the Week: A Vancouver, Canada journalist talks to Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about intentional, New Monasticism communities.
  • A Mormon websites trumpets the new stat that a majority of Latter Day Saints now live outside Canada and the U.S, where the religion began.
  • The artist who gave us the 2011 song “Blessings” (and “Indescribable”), Laura Story has a new album on the way.
  • Here’s a blog archive ‘find’ from earlier this year at Adorate: You hear a lot about ‘sheep stealing,’ but not so much about ‘shepherd stealing,’ or ‘pastor prostitution.’
  • It’s a frequently covered topic, but if you’ve got time, this is one of the better articles on taking a social media fast.
  • At a blog for pastors’ wives, a book promo video for Speak Love also becomes a lesson in journalism for Pete Wilson’s son Gage Wilson. (The Zondervan book by Annie Downs sounds good, too.)
  • Just in case you’ve never heard the music of Johnnyswim, enjoy Heartbeats.
  • We leave you with this weekend Tweet from Church Curmudgeon: “Headed over to the seminary barbecue this afternoon. Otherwise known as casting a pig into a herd of D. Mins.”

Hope you enjoyed today’s selection. Our goal is to celebrate people you know and people blogging in relative obscurity. Suggestions accepted by 5:00 EST through the contact page.

Peanuts on Theology

July 21, 2013

An Excellent Small Group Resource

You have three small groups doing the same curriculum, but one of them had to cancel one week due to illness and another is two weeks behind. So the problem is, how do you fill in the space for the groups that are ahead?

You find the glut of DVD study resources a bit bewildering and you want your individual leaders to be able to select their own studies, but the challenge is, how do they gain familiarity with the different authors, pastors and speakers?

Best of Small Groups DVDEnter a product from Hendrickson Publishing called The Best of Small Groups. This weekend I’ve been watching and listening to Volume 1 in the series. (Volume 2 is now also available.) The DVDs contain 12 samples — the full first week’s episode — of a number of DVD curricula from a variety of producers and publishers and can also be used with a study guide that is sold separately or available in a single copy in a packaged edition with the DVD.  Brett Eastman serves as a host creating continuity for the series through is introductions and closing comments for each one. The actual DVD presentations range from 16 minutes to the dramatic story of 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which is 38 minutes.

Some of the videos are recorded before a live audience, some are shot on location, one is done like a Christian talk show format, but all represent the finest Bible teachers including Francis Chan, Kyle Idleman, Max Lucado & Randy Frazee, Chip Ingram, Erwin McManus, John Piper, and others.

The “cut and splice” nature of the product means there are some mis-matched audio levels, and not all the material is going to be of interest to every group, but generally speaking, this is a resource that deserves much broader recognition.

I’ve watched eight of the twelve sessions as I’m writing this and looking forward to hearing the rest, and hopefully somehow getting my hands on Volume 2 at some point in the future. Even if you’re not involved with small group ministry in your church, this product represents excellent value-for-money in terms of inspirational teaching and getting to know some great writers and speakers.

March 3, 2013

House Concerts, Only With Preachers

So you invited a few friends over to watch a movie on DVD this weekend. Comfortable chairs, popcorn, refreshments, right? But what might have been the equivalent in the 18th century.

Victorian ParlourWhile reading the forthcoming 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, I encountered the term parlor preaching, or if you prefer, the more Anglicized spelling, parlour preaching. Apparently William Wilberforce’s family would have John Newton over for the evening as a guest speaker. If magicians can do parlor tricks, I suppose pastors can parlor preach.

A short trip to a few search engines later, I am not a whole lot wiser on this subject. How widespread was this type of social event? Was it the province of the aristocracy or upper class, or could anyone commission the pastor for a thousand words of exegesis and exhortation?

Though it seems to harken back to a long bygone era, I love the concept. I just can’t see anyone pulling this off successfully today, especially if you get the kind of preacher whose voice raises when he gets passionate. The sermon, as an art form is slowly fading. Rhetoric in general is getting lost in a world of txt msgs and 140-character Tweets. Most people would rather arrive at your home to find an Amway ambush than to be made to feel they’re at church.

With the absence of information we have to do some guessing. My money’s on this phenomenon as being more home church than small group. A theological education was highly prized and respected, so the type of interactive format we enjoy in small groups wouldn’t be as likely to occur. You certainly would never offer an alternative view and you might not feel comfortable asking a question, either. At best, you’d save it until afterwards when tea was served.

More likely, it would have resembled house church. There would be a piano in the parlor (aka ‘front room’ or what we would call the ‘living room’) so probably there would be some singing, with the latest worship songs being transmitted from place to place via printed sheet music  (no doubt, CCLI song # 12) followed by something the preacher had prepared. Start time and dress would be less formal than Sundays and probably children (if present) would be free to sit on the carpet.

Again, I’m making all this up because there is very little corroboration online for this. If you know differently, please fill the rest of us in.

We do this today, sometimes inviting friends over to watch a sermon DVD. But we don’t expect our pastors today to be suburban circuit-riders, in fact pastoral home visitation in general is going extinct.

Still, I would love to travel back in time to be part of one of those informal house meetings; a kind of house concert with a spiritual orator instead of a singer. I’ll bet the preaching would be first-class.

July 11, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Here’s our deal:  I find ‘em, you click on ‘em.

  • Pants on Fire Department: Apparently Perry Noble may have fudged some stats on church attendance in his home state when he was trying to justify some church expansion.  
  • This is a must read, especially for women who have a man in their life (father, brother, son, friend) who is going where he shouldn’t go online. Check out Four Reasons Why Men Like Porn.
  • Two quick posts about actor Andy Griffith who passed away last week: Ron Edmondson on how Andy was prepared to die;  and a Christianity Today post on the secret to understanding life in the Town of Mayberry.
  • If Solomon* were alive today, instead of the Proverbs 31 text we know, he might have written something like what Dennis Muse posted about what makes a girl beautiful. (*Or Lemuel; see comments!)
  • An eight-year old girl discovers that the dinosaur pictured in the brochure for the IMAX show at the show at the Smithsonian is actually from (gasp!) The Creation Museum.
  • Is this religious persecution? An Arizona man’s weekly Bible studies at his home have cost him $12,000 in fines and two months in jail, because he was violating the building code.
  • Christian bookstores may be disappearing, but according to Rachel Held Evans, their influence isn’t. She thinks their conservatism is choking author creativity.
  • Lisa Robinson thinks that having a “life verse” isn’t a good idea for four reasons, including that it isn’t a nice thing to do to the verse.
  • This one was found linked on Rachel’s blog this weekend: If you are feeling in a silly mood or need to entertain the junior high youth group this weekend, here are The Top Ten Zombie Scenes in the Bible. And here’s a transparent look at the subject of repentance.  Good explanation of the phrase in Matthew, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
  • Darrell at SFL explains why, in fundamentalist circles, many people have the calling but only a few have the job.
  • Blog Discovery of the Week Department:  Caleb Jennings Breakey, an author with two books slated for Harvest House Publishers in each of 2013 and 2014.
  • An internal link here back to 2009: If you’re planning small group ministry for the fall, here’s how National Capital Church (Mark Batterson) allows free-market principles to guide the birth of small groups.
  • This one will be eight days old when you read it, but it supplies some background into the injury suffered by author and missionary Steve Saint.
  • Apparently not all scientists are happy with the term “God Particle” for the Higgs-Boson. But you saw that coming, right?
  • And if the universe is the answer, what is the question? Answers in Genesis weighs in on Higgs-Boson.  (Link is correct, go to the second item.)
  • Yes, we saw that piece about the “whites only” Christian conference, and no, that could never happen in Canada (at least they wouldn’t be able to advertise it.)
  • Christian Piatt shares Ten Clichés Every Christian Should Avoid. I guess every blog post happens for a reason.
  • If you happen to be in my part of the world on Sunday, August 5th, Canadian male vocalist and storyteller Steve Bell will be doing a rare appearance here — the only one on the current tour — with the Steve Bell Trio.
  • Matt Chandler is offering a free chapter preview of his newest book, Explicit Gospel.
  • Check out the growth of the YouVersion Bible app — click the image to see the app’s blog, or click here to go straight to YouVersion.

September 14, 2011

Wednesday Link List

In case you’re wondering, the reason I’ve never done a pun here based on sausage links — even though we’ve done lynx cats and cuff links and chain links — is because the necessary pictures are all really disgusting.  Just so ya know.

Here’s where my epic adventures took me this week, though after the gazillion links posted here on Monday, I am a bit worn out…

God remains our source of courage when we’re traumatized by terror.
When we’re haunted by the headlines and the violence everywhere.
Hear God whisper in the silence, “Don’t despair, I’m in control.
Hurting hearts and broken cities will at last one day be whole.”

God recalls that tragic Tuesday when twin towers disappeared,
when 3,000 people perished and our hearts were numbed by fear.
Yet God whispers 10 years later, “Justice will in time be done.
I will stand with those who need me ’till my Kingdom fully comes.”

God invites us to be trusting when we find that faith is hard.
When we’re fearful for our safety and our nerves are frayed or jarred.
Still God whispers in the silence, “Even when your faith is weak,
I will keep your feet from stumbling when your way is dark and bleak.”

Greg Asimakoupoulos as quoted at Pilgrim Scribblings

June 13, 2011

Not a Fan: The Fall Kickoff Study DVD You’re Looking For

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve reviewed the book by Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan.  If you haven’t read that, you might want to start with a general understanding of the major outline of the book, so just click here, and we’ll wait for you to get back.

…This, on the other hand is a review strictly of the six-part DVD-based study package available from City on a Hill Productions, and from retail stores which can order product through STL Distribution.

Since I’ve already devoted a lot of space on this blog to the H20 course, I want to make some comparisons, but again, if you’re not up to speed about H20 — which I always refer to as “the Alpha Course meets NOOMA” — you can click here for my review, and we’ll wait for you to get back.

…Wow.  Everybody back? So much to learn and we’re only four paragraphs in. But don’t let my meanderings cause you to miss my full endorsement:  This is a very high quality DVD production that is going to generate serious discussion and bring about some equally serious life change in people willing to take the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23 seriously and put them into practice.  In fact, I’d say that if you’re looking for some adult, college and career, or senior high curriculum to kick off the fall schedule, this is the the product to very seriously consider at the top of your list.

The similarities to H20 are many.

  • Same high quality of cinematography
  • The same mixing of storylines and teaching segments, some of which directly overlap
  • Same length per segment, at least 23 minutes min. and 34 minutes max.
  • Kyle Idleman, who has the ability to look at the camera like he’s looking at you, and you’re the only person in the world at that moment

The differences are worth nothing:

  • While H20 is ten segments, Not a Fan is six mini-movie segments
  • While H20 films present a variety of stories, Not a Fan is one continuous story
  • While H20 segments can be shown in a variety of sequences, Not a Fan episodes should be used in the order they are presented

Time for some of the DVD creators summary:

Jesus is NOT looking for fans…

He’s looking for followers.
Followers who understand that…

There is no forgiveness without repentance.
There is no salvation without surrender.
There is no life without death.
There is no believing without following.

Twenty times in the New Testament, Jesus Christ issued a compelling and challenging invitation: “Follow Me.”  Jesus is not interested in mere fans.  He doesn’t want enthusiastic admirers.  He wants completely committed followers.   Built around the engaging approach of Kyle Idleman, Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, this one of a kind small group study examines what it means to deny one’s self and truly follow Jesus.

…Participants follow the journey of Eric Nelson, a man leading a compartmentalized triple life as a pleasure-seeking rebel, a cutthroat corporate executive, and a nominal Christian.  But when confronted with a near death experience, Eric embarks on a spiritual journey that transforms his commitment to Jesus Christ and tests the faith of his friends and family.

The storyline mentioned above with Eric Nelson is unique to the curriculum and not found in the book.  It’s safe to say here — it’s not a spoiler if it happens in the first five minutes — that this is a movie that is centered around a death, and as such it is a much more emotionally weighty production than H20.  The subject matter, the use of background music, even the fact that Kyle Idleman wears black throughout most of the production; all these combine to create a number of extremely evocative moments, playing perhaps on our past memories or our greatest fears.  Maybe for some the first episode will be an unexpected “downer;” but to do otherwise is to miss the whole point of the scripture verse on which the teaching is based.

Personally, I don’t think anyone can do this series and ever read Luke 9:23 the same again.  (My youngest son and I had both read the book cover-to-cover before watching the DVD, so we’re twice as aware of all that is implied in denying yourself and taking up your cross on a daily basis…)

The series comes with a leader’s guide and a 42-day, 160-page participants (followers) guide, of which extras may be purchased individually for $9.99.

I want to end this on a different note, however.

Because the Not a Fan DVD is essentially one two-and-a-half hour movie, I want to suggest an alternative way that this could be used effectively.  I’d like to suggest that, using the material in the leader’s guide as a discussion guide, Not a Fan would also make an excellent retreat program in lieu of a guest speaker.  For example:

  • Friday night: Session one
  • Saturday morning:  Session two
  • Saturday after lunch: Session three
  • Saturday after supper:  Session four
  • Saturday later evening: Session five
  • Sunday morning: Session six

I know this isn’t what the creators had in mind, but I think there could be some serious impact by showing it all at once, while the storyline and segments are all fresh and memory, and everyone in the “group” is in attendance for all the various  parts.  Of course, the traditional and intended format — using the 42-day guide — will work well, too. 

…I just finished re-watching some of the final episode before completing this, and was reminded of the multiple story lines I didn’t realize I’d been following.  Again, I’d write more, but don’t want to spoil anything.  Best just to say: This is a really well produced resource that shouldn’t be overlooked by churches, if for no other reason than that it has, at its heart, the core of the gospel.

Click this link to see a preview, and a message from Kyle to pastors and group leaders.


March 28, 2011

Building Community Through Church Directories

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings.  The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was.  The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment.  Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.”  A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back.  When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically.  I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags.  Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type –  I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times.  But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here:  The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship.  Or name tags themselves.  If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests.  (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Black family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups.  You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group.   And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number.  It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP.  (U.S. readers: Think FBI.)  So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy.  There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week.  You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake.  You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox.  I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication.  However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos.  They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online.  A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers.  No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship.  No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of that system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all.  I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group.  (“You’re not really part of our church family.”)  It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication.  The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children.  Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64″

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them.  I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience.  Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay?  Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing.  And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

July 23, 2009

Free Market Small Groups: National Community Church

In a few weeks churches will be starting to promote the fall season of small group ministry.  In the part of the world where we live, the dominant model is one where the pastoral leadership determines a course of study for the whole church, regardless of when and where the group meets, often consisting of material based on the sermon the previous Sunday.    So I was intrigued by a comment in the book unChristian by David Kinnaman, where guest Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington says something to this effect:  ‘We have a free market approach to small groups.’  I wondered how this plays out and asked them for further clarification.   Does it always work out or are there liabilities?   Heather Zempel, Discipleship Pastor at NCC was good enough to write back and include a link to her blog, where she defines “Free Markets” more clearly.   You can link here to read the article as it appeared in 2006 at her blog, Wineskins for Discipleship, or simply read it reproduced below, with a special greeting from Heather.

I’m the discipleship pastor here at National Community Church… The bottom line is this: we encourage our leaders to get a vision from God and run with it. We don’t have a structure and a system that we ask leaders to come serve. We don’t have a set of curriculum we ask them to cover. Instead, we encourage them to leverage their gifts, abilities, interests and influence to create community and make disciples.

I view my primary job as not to give our leaders direction on what to do or study in their groups but to discover and excavate the God-given disciple-making DNA he has placed inside our leaders and then equipping them, encouraging them, and empowering them to go make disciples.

Free Markets

A free-market small group system allows for a high degree of relational connection and creativity by allowing leaders to turn their existing relationships, gifts, interests, passions, and hobbies into disciple-making small groups.

Oswald Chambers said, “Let God be as original with others as he was with you.” So why do churches force people into little clusters that all look alike, slap the label “small group” on them, and then promise that they will grow exponentially in their faith as a result?

For any small group or discipleship program to be successful, you need leaders who burn white hot with a vision for making disciples. That’s why we implement a free market small group system at NCC. We believe discipleship happens best within the context of shared interests, and it flows naturally out of leaders who are driven by a passionate vision from God.

Too many churches establish a vision and a small group model and then ask their leaders to come serve that vision and model. At NCC, we have reversed that by encouraging leaders to get their own vision for discipling others and then equipping them to do it in whatever relational context they find themselves. The NCC vision for small groups is specific enough to give direction and focus, but broad enough to give latitude for leaders to get their own vision from God and run with it. Leaders are motivated when they see where their passion meets a need.

We only have 2 basic requirements for NCC small groups. One, there must be opportunity for connection and relationships (relational). And two, discipleship should be the primary purpose (missional). And of course, the leader must also meet the leadership deployment requirements as specified by NCC to be an officially recognized NCC group.

We want to encourage innovation and creativity. We believe that God has designed each person uniquely, and he can use that uniqueness as a catalyst for disciple-making.

Examples of some groups that have come out of our free market system include:

  • Fantasy baseball
  • Spiritual warfare
  • Sign language
  • Inductive Bible Study
  • Acting
  • Evangelism
  • Running
  • C.S. Lewis’ Writings
  • Women in Leadership
  • Weight Training
  • Church History
  • Crown Financial

For more reading on this particular topic, see the following resources:

Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century (Ted Haggard)

Small Groups That Buzz (Heather Zempel)

  • So how are leaders and topics for small groups (cell groups, house church, etc.) chosen where you worship?
  • Does your church allow a free-market approach to midweek groups, or is the course contented dictated to house leaders by senior leadership?

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