In 2010 Jim & DeDe Wood launched a new campus of our church in Paxton, Illinois, a rural county seat town 30-miles north of our original church here in Urbana. On Easter of this year (2015) this vibrant campus moved out from under our larger church to become a church plant or independent church, Hope Vineyard Church. Now that he’s a few months into being a senior pastor, I thought it would be good to interview Jim about his journey from volunteer worship leader, to worship pastor, to campus pastor, to senior pastor. Here’s my questions (in italics) and his responses.
Jim, you started ministry as a volunteer worship leader, you moved to being a part-time then a full-time worship pastor. Then you launched a new campus and became a campus pastor. Now you and DeDe are the senior pastors of that church. Could you tell us a bit about how God called you to each of these?
All of these roles emerged through simply serving in small ways to facilitate the respective ministries. As a musician, I found myself serving right away in worship when we found the Vineyard. Through being willing to serve in little ways, God began to put more responsibility on my plate and as I continued to serve, I began to see my pastoral calling take shape. The same process happened for moving into the campus pastor role when our church began planting sites. Serving at our new sites in a variety of ways gave my wife DeDe and I vision to see us doing something similar. We simply had to say “yes” to God.
What advice would you have for people considering starting a new campus or church? How can they best discern or know if they should be a campus pastor launching a new location of their current church or a church planter beginning an independent church? Continue Reading →
When people come to your small group their hearts and minds are all over the place. Maybe they are afraid of losing their job, maybe they just had an argument with their spouse, perhaps they are concerned about a wayward teenage child, or they are just excited about their favorite sports team winning a crucial game. Or, maybe they are seeking a new relationship with God and this is their first time at your group.
Because people are thinking about all kinds of different things, it’s helpful near the beginning of the meeting to ask a simple, opening question to break the ice. Icebreaker questions, whether shallow or deep, goofy or profound, all have potential to help people to relax, learn to know one another better, and get ready for a great small group meeting.
Here are my current favorite ten small group icebreaker questions. Continue Reading →
Helping your small group respond to God as you dig into the Bible together is largely a matter of asking the right questions. The most common mistake that group leaders make is to ask too many questions. If you ask too many questions, you don’t delve deeply into any of them and the same two or three people answer the questions again and again. By asking fewer, more strategic questions, you go deeper and involve more people in discussing and responding to God’s word.
There are four key questions that will guide your group to encounter and respond to God’s word no matter what Bible passage you are studying. Give all four of them sufficient time, perhaps asking a couple of them in different ways. Taking more time on fewer questions takes your group deeper into the Scripture and allows your introverts enough time to gather their courage and step into the conversation with their insights and struggles.
The four questions are: Continue Reading →
Last month I started two new groups—a men’s discipleship group and an advanced leadership training group. When I launch a new small group, class, or training group, I like to ask several icebreaker questions the first meeting as well as casting vision and outlining expectations for the group.
Asking a few icebreaker questions builds community, opening people up to one another and what God wants to do through the relationships in the group.
Here are the questions that I used in these two groups. In the men’s discipleship group, I asked a modification of the “Quaker Questions”:
– Where did you go to school for the first grade?
– Who were you closest to when you were ten years old?
– What is something you are very good at?
– When did God become more than a word to you?
Notice how the first two questions deal with the distant past, beginning with a question that reveals something significant about the person yet it is very simple and non-threatening. Then things build to end with a very personal and deep question.
In the leadership training group, I started deeper right out of the shoot and ask: Continue Reading →
My favorite curriculum for small groups and smaller discipleship groups are the three books by James Bryan Smith entitled The Good & Beautiful God, The Good & Beautiful Life, and The Good & Beautiful Community. I have gone through the first book with five small groups and the entire series of all three books with three different groups. So I feel very qualified at this point to review them.
How Do We Grow Up into Christlikeness?
Smith claims the books are “a curriculum for Christlikeness” and he’s right. I have seen deep changes in people’s lives—including my own—as I have gone through them. They are built on Smith’s theory of spiritual growth which posits that growth into Christlikeness involves: Continue Reading →
One of the most significant findings from my research involving over 4000 small group leaders is that praying leaders have faster growing groups. I’ve always been intrigued by this. Why does something that no one sees—the leader’s personal time with God and their prayer for their group—impact a small group’s growth so significantly? I think there are four simple reasons why praying leaders have more magnetic groups.
- God answers prayer. Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” (Luke 11:9, NLT) Praying leaders ask God to do great things in their group and he loves to answer their requests.
- Praying leaders are compassionate. When leaders pray for their members, they capture God’s heart for them, and people are drawn to the concern and love that they feel in a group led by caring leaders.
- God directs praying leaders. When we take time with God, we can better hear his voice and more clearly receive his direction. Instead of just running with our own ideas, the Holy Spirit can begin to direct things and this makes everything go better.
- Praying leaders invite God’s presence. Have you ever noticed in the Gospels how magnetic Jesus was. Crowds of people always wanted to be with him. They loved to be touched by him, to hear his voice, and receive his blessing. The same thing is true today. People don’t need us, they need God. As we take time with him and invite his presence in our lives and our groups, Jesus becomes more central and he is the real secret to small group growth. He said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” (John 12:32)
I got new insight into that last week when I went to the Group 100 conference hosted by LifeWay at their Nashville offices. It featured a super line up of veteran small group experts including Bill Willits (of North Point Church), Bill Donahue (formerly with Willow Creek), Steve Gladen (Saddleback), Rick Howerton (LifeWay) and researchers Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger.
Three things stood out from me from all that they said. Here’s what you need to “get” to excel in directing your groups ministry. Continue Reading →
I’m writing this post to alert you to a new Vineyard small group worship DVD, which joins several great ones that are already available. The new DVD, the first of its kind from the UK Vineyard Churches, is called simply Small Group Worship Volume 1. It includes Continue Reading →
For years I was a strong proponent and practitioner of one-on-one discipleship. I loved working with new believers and emerging leaders in this way, watching their lives change in this powerful context.
I was not only a practitioner of one-on-one discipleship, I also taught others how to do it and I co-authored a best-selling and excellent tool for it that was translated into several other languages—Beginning the Journey, by Ralph Neighbour, Jr., and Jim Egli.
But then something unexpected and surprising happened. I was meeting weekly with a young man named Mark from my small group for coffee at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. We were working through Beginning the Journey. One morning Mark said to me, “I’m finding this so helpful. Could I invite my friend Brian to join us? He could really use this.”Without giving it a lot of thought, I said, “Sure.”
Brian joined us the next week and at the end of the session, said, “I love this. Could I invite someone?”
Before I knew it, I had a mini-group. What surprised me was Continue Reading →
A few months ago I was discouraged and struggling as a small group leader. I love leading groups and have led many over the last 36 years. But the one that my wife and I launched last fall has been our most challenging in all those years. Not too long ago the group seemed dead in the water—there was just a handful of people coming, we were doing all the work, and a key couple in the group were moving away. It seemed like our efforts to grow the group were not working. I felt like quitting.
Now, however, our group is going great and attendance has more than doubled. It’s a joy to lead to lead the group and to experience what God is doing in it. It was a matter of going back to the basics. Here’s 3 keys that we rediscovered to help revitalize a struggling group: Continue Reading →