Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three Easy Mistakes Facilitators Make

Contributed by:
Eric Dunaway
small groups pastor

Facilitating your group discussions is an art form that can take some time to really master... and even as I write that, I wonder if any of us really master it. Regardless, there are some practical things you can do to hone in on this craft, and make the most of your group discussions.

Mac Lake has provided a short video where he lays out three common mistakes we tend to make when facilitating our group discussions. Mixed in there are some very practical tips on how you can keep the conversation flowing in your groups. Take a few minutes to check it out!

How Can I Improve My Facilitation Skills? from Seacoast Church on Vimeo.

Check out this post where Mac gives some helpful advice on how to deal with problems in our groups.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Adventures in Childcare

Contributed by:
Eric Dunaway
small groups pastor

About 10 years ago, Amanda and I were part of a small group of young adults that met every Tuesday night in our home. We were newly married, in our early twenties, had just purchased our first home, lived close to the campus where we graduated from college, and were excited about hosting and leading this group. For a little over two years, this group was thriving. We did annual camp-outs and trips to Cedar Point. We had deep Bible studies that challenged us to grow. We were growing and seeing as many as 25 college students and twenty somethings coming each week. We loved it!

And then something happened. We started having kids. A couple who were a little older than us started coming with their infant son. Soon after, Amanda and I had our first, Breanna. Shortly after that, another couple had their first. Suddenly we faced a whole new dilemma in this once care-free and spontaneous group: childcare. How were we going to handle this? We tried just letting the kids join us and play on the floor... bad idea. Didn't work. We tried having parents rotate and watch the kids upstairs while the rest of met downstairs... didn't work. We tried several other things, none of which worked well.

I wish I could tell you that we eventually figured it out, everyone was happy, and the group continued to thrive. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. We struggled through this issue while we continued to have more children. Eventually, after about four years of being together, the group ended. Now, I don't want you to think that it was our children who brought on the demise of this group... but that particular issue certainly changed the dynamics of how we did life together. And without a clear strategy on how to handle it, the impact was detrimental.

I'm finding that the dilemma with childcare is a very common one. In fact, in our Keynote meetings when facilitators huddle together and begin to share challenges and struggles in their groups, this always comes up. And we've experienced the same challenges in every group we've been a part of, from the first one to our current one. And we all know that this is a very delicate issue, and should be handled with extreme sensitivity. At the same time, however, we need to consider what's best for the group. So the challenge is to be sensitive, but still assertive with what is believed to be the best course of action for the group. If you're a married group, this will be an issue in your group - and any group you're a part of - so it's important to establish a precedent early in the life of your group.

First, I want to set the record straight regarding children in Journey Groups. If you're on the fence as to whether or not your child could, or should, be a part of your meetings, you need to consider a few things. When children are present in small group meetings:

1. They become barriers to general conversation and discussions. Infants and toddlers are demanding, and require constant attention. Even older children have difficulty recognizing boundaries, and often interrupt their parents who are engaged in conversation. They don't understand the seriousness or sensitivity of some group discussions.

2. They are exposed to adult topics of discussion that may not be appropriate for them. As group members become more familiar and more deeply connected to one another, the intimacy increases. This creates an opportunity for members to share more openly and honestly about their faith, marriages, temptations, struggles, etc. This is good. It opens the door for accountability, and that's a big part of what group life should look like. However, when children are present at these meetings it puts them in a position to hear things from their parents, or other adults, that are simply not appropriate for them.

3. They are expected to sit contently and quietly in an environment that was not intended for them. Children need an environment that's designed for them. We know that children require more interaction, have shorter attention spans, and aren't on the same wave-length as their parents. Their frame of understanding simply cannot comprehend what adults need to discuss in their groups. Married Journey Groups are not an environment intended for children. When children are present, it not only hinders the group, but it places unfair expectations on the children.

4. They are a distraction to the group - bottom line. It doesn't matter if they're being noisy or especially active. Most children (which I'm sure includes yours) are just cute and fun to watch, and are therefore a distraction. The bottom line is that when children are present in a group meeting, they will ultimately dictate the course of a meeting. They will determine how deep the discussion goes, how intimately the members are connected, the extent to which Biblical truth can be applied, and the depth to which members can grow together.

I don't want to sound like I don't like Children - I have four of my own! But these are simply things I've observed as I've led small groups over the past 10 years.

Here are some childcare options that some groups have considered:

1. Onsite childcare. This is what our group does, and it works very well. Our group has 13 children, soon to be 17, ranging from infant to 8 years old! Our host family has a basement, and we hire 2 teenage girls to come and watch all 13 children downstairs while our group meets. And we're not just trying to get them out of the way so that we adults can have our discussion time. We've actually tried to create a structured environment for them downstairs that includes video time, play time, snack time, and so on. Our group decided early on that this was how we were going to approach this. We also agreed together that we would pay the sitters $4/child for the evening. That means Amanda and I pay $12 for two hours of childcare for our three children (the fourth is still in the oven), which is very reasonable. Obviously, this approach means that you need a host couple with space to do this. It doesn't have to be a basement, however. It could also be a bedroom, playroom or family room that is separated from where the adults will be meeting. And the sitters need to be very careful about not letting the children leave their area.

2. Offsite childcare. We've been in previous groups where we did this, and it also worked pretty well. Maybe your host couple doesn't have the space to provide onsite childcare, but another couple in the group would be willing to make their home the childcare location. You could hire a sitter or two (or three depending on how many kids you have) to be at the offsite childcare location, and group members would just drop off their children on their way to group meeting. The downside, obviously, is that it requires more time to and from your meetings. And obviously, it helps to have a group who's members all live in the same general area.

3. Everyone on their own. We used this approach in our first Journey Group at Pathway because we were the only couple with children at the time (now they all have children... some of them now have 2!). We just knew that every other Tuesday we'd bring a sitter home to watch our children while we went to group. The downside with this approach is that several times we had to miss group because we couldn't find a sitter.

Here's something else that I think has been helpful for other groups who've gone through this. Your group may have already filled out a group covenant. However, it may be time to do a new one. The covenant actually addresses the issue of childcare specifically, and allows you to decide together as a group how you're going to approach it. Again, you may have 15 kids, or only one couple with children, but if you're a married group it will only increase the longer your group stays together. The covenant can provide a neutral discussion starter on the topic, as well. That way, hopefully, no one feels singled out.

As we know, this is a delicate situation, and we may need to accept the idea going into this that some couples may leave their group over this issue. We don't want to see that happen. At the same time, we don't want to see group life hindered because of an issue with childcare.

What's your group doing to tackle this issue? Where have you failed, and where have you found success? Share your stories with us so we can learn with you. Post a comment to let us know what you're doing with childcare in your group.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Envelopes and Water Pumps

Contributed by:
Eric Dunaway
small groups pastor

The more I continue to grow in my understanding of authentic, Biblical community, the more I'm confronted with the reality of it's power. I'm learning that community is so much than just relationships... but what can be accomplished through those relationships. Let me recap a few things that have happened recently as a direct result of community here at PCC.

  1. Over 1,000 shoeboxes were collected for Samaritan's Purse.
  2. Nearly 60 families were provided with groceries to feed them through the holidays.
  3. Hundreds of coats were collected, most of them brand new.
  4. $45,000 was raised to pay for Feed My Starving Children.
  5. 1,000 volunteers stepped up to pack meals for Feed My Starving Children.
  6. As a body, we packed over 206,000 meals, which is enough to feed over 500 children for a year!
I look at those statistics, and I realize that any one of us can do only very little to make an impact on those who are hungry and in need, here and around the world. But when we as Christ-followers come together in community, God begins to move through us, and the impact is so much greater than it could ever be on our own. Those stats aren't about what Pathway did, but about what God has done through us. What a blessing to be a part of it!

As we wrapped up our series entitled "Bring the Love" several weeks ago, we saw a video that featured one of our High School girls Journey Groups who had committed to do something together as a group. So they created a "Love Box" where they would collect money that would go towards filling shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse. Our Journey Group had already been talking about what we were going to do in response to these challenges. After seeing this video, we were inspired to start our own "Love Box," though we called ours the "Love Pouch" ... it was an envelope.

We still didn't know exactly what we were going to do with the money we would collect. We felt that we'd all be more inclined to really give if we knew what we were giving towards. One of our group members had some interesting connections that intrigued us: 1) pump parts that we could purchase at cost - roughly $60 for a part that would cost $300 in a store. 2) a man who digs wells in Africa to supply local villages with clean water. 3) means to ship these parts overseas. So, as a group, we decided to commit to raise money so we could send water pumps to Africa that would provide clean water for the people. Our goal was 10 pumps.

The following week, we collected our money. After everyone had made their contributions, we opened the envelope and began counting... and what we discovered was that God had far exceeded any of our expectations. We had raised more than enough money to meet our goal of 10 pumps... in fact, we had enough money to send 20! As a group of six couples, we had collected more than $1,200!

As I reflect on that, it strikes me how shocked all of us were... there wasn't one couple there who wasn't utterly blown away at what had happened. I believe that God moved in a powerful way... I believe that he used our individual gifts, and then multiplied them in ways that were completely astonishing to us. What we were able to contribute was a small portion of that. But as a community of believers, the impact of our contribution was much bigger. And again, I don't share these things with you to draw attention to ourselves, but to celebrate what God did in our tiny little community of believers. That's the power of the community!

One of the values that we have for our Journey Groups is to serve inside and outside.
Focusing on ministry partnership mobilizes us as active members within the body of Christ. This moves us to serve together not only those inside our group, but outside as well. In community, we're aware of the needs around us, and we work together to meet those needs. As a community, we're resourced to address the needs outside of us, and we work together toward that endeavor, as well. Journey Groups connect us to this purpose.
I'd love to hear what your group has done to serve inside and outside. In what ways are you working together as a group to meet the needs around you, and beyond? And again, this isn't about you and your group, but about what God is doing through you. Let's celebrate those things together, and inspire others to jump in and do the same!

Please post a comment to let us know what you're doing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Committed Volunteers

Contributed by:
Eric Dunaway
small group pastor

We have a running joke with the young adults at Threefold about the "maybe" button on Facebook event invitations. It's amazing how many of them always seem to check "maybe," which we all know really means "no." ... well, most of the time it means "no." Ultimately, it seems to be an aversion to commitment.

This past weekend at Pathway, my wife and I showed up at our third service - we even showed up early... that's worth blogging about in and of itself. Especially considering that we had our three children with us, including our 2-year old son, Gibson. Part of the reason we were sure to show up early was because we were meeting some friends from out of town, and wanted to make sure we caught up with before the service started. 

So I took the girls to their classrooms upstairs and hurried down to the lobby to meet Amanda after she dropped Gibson off in the two-year old class. When I found her, however, Gibson was still with her... the 2-year class had reached the maximum child to adult ratio, and they were waiting on more volunteers to show up... no one ever did. 

That meant that Gibson, along with several other children at Pathway that morning, had no class to go to while their parents had hoped to attend the worship service. At that point our options were to take him into the service with us, roam the atrium (along with several other families who were turned away), or go home. We opted to take him into the service with us, which brought on a whole new series of consequences. Gibson was bored (though he did pretty well - at one point, however, he did ask Amanda in a loud whisper if she had to go poo-poo), our ability to engage with the teaching was diminished, and Gibson was a distraction to others around us. On top of all that, in the midst of wrestling with Gibson and keeping him quiet, I forgot my Starbucks coffee thermos under my seat... I have a feeling it's gone forever. 

While I found this whole situation pretty frustrating, I realized it wasn't really about our children's ministry's crazy classroom ratios. Those ratios and policies are put into place to protect our children and create a safe place for them. I appreciate that. These things are not unreasonable... that's not the issue. At the root of this issue is their need for committed volunteers. I found out this morning that several volunteers in KidCity had decided to just not show up on Sunday morning. No phone call... no reasons... they just didn't show up. This sent the KidCity team into a frenzy as they moved volunteers where they could to try and fill some holes. They were able to do that to an extent, but obviously it wasn't enough. And as a result of even just a few volunteers shirking their commitment, several families weren't able to plug into the service this weekend. 

I decided to write this in an effort to raise your awareness to the need for committed volunteers. KidCity needs them; Student Ministries needs them; Journey Groups need them; Worship Arts needs them; First Impressions needs them. And when you serve in one of these areas, it not only enables these ministries to happen each week, but it also becomes a vital part of your spiritual development as you play a key role in the body of Christ. Unfortunately, we find that - when it comes to placing volunteers in these roles - we're competing with a culture that too many times doesn't honor their commitments. And what makes it even worse, they don't see anything wrong with that. 

What can you and your group do to begin serving at Pathway? Could your group - or even part of your group - serve together in KidCity one Service a month? Could your group serve together as greeters for just one service a month? ... or serve communion together? ... or serve students together?

Part of building authentic community is serving together, and I encourage you to take this back to your group. If you're not already serving together in some way, make that a topic of conversation. How will you serve as a group? Where will you serve as a group? When will you serve as a group? And when you do, stand back and watch the impact it will have on the relationships in your group, but also the body as you engage a need together. 

Here are some things to consider as you seek to serve at Pathway - as a group or as individuals:
  1. Prayer: Ask God where He wants you to serve. If you have a specific area in which you'd like to serve, ask God to open those doors. Pray for his guidance and direction. And when that guidance and direction comes - when the door is opened - follow it. 
  2. Passion: Don't just plug into a role out of obligation or guilt. Pursue a role in an area you're passionate about. Serve in a role that will bring some excitement and fulfillment. 
  3. Pace: Don't commit to a schedule that you know you can't honor. Pace yourself. Serving once a month is sometimes an ideal schedule for people. Something else to remember with this is to not let your ministry involvement take you away from being able to participate in a worship service. Pacing yourself means you serve during one service, and you attend a different service on the same weekend. 
  4. Promise: Don't say you'll do it unless you mean it. When you step up as a volunteer to serve, that's a commitment. People are counting on you. Honor those commitments. When you don't, that's really just a broken promise. 
  5. Phone: We all know that things come up unexpectedly, and sometimes we have no choice but to back out of commitments. When that happens, just pick up the phone and contact your ministry leader. Let them know you won't be able to serve your shift, let them know why, and if possible find someone to replace you.
Here are some people you can contact for more information on how you and your group can get involved by serving together:
Have other thoughts, questions or suggestions? Post a comment! We'd love to hear what you have to say.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Weekend Reflection: The Lord is My Shepherd

Contributed by:
Eric Dunaway
small groups pastor

This past weekend, Ron challenged us with a message out of the 23rd Psalm that reminded us that God's still in control even though my world feels out of control. When our world feels out of control, how can we rest in the assurance that God is in control? As I listened to his message, I jotted down just a few things that I think would be great for you to take back to your group for further discussion.

Reflect together on Psalm 23

1. What are some things that have happened recently that have reminded you how little control you have in this life? How have these things impacted your experience with God?

2. How well do you know God? What images come to mind when you think of God? In what areas do you think God might be urging you toward growth?

Reflect on this quote together, and discuss what this means for you:
Never trade what you don't know for what you do know. 

How did this message impact you? What steps do you feel God leading you to take in light of this message? How can your group encourage one another to follow through and take those steps?

Did you miss the message this weekend? Check out the podcast.

Questions, thoughts, or suggestions for further discussion? Post a comment!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Resources to Continue Bringing the Love

Contributed by:
Eric Dunaway
small groups pastor

This past weekend at PCC we closed out a series that challenged us to be the church, and to bring the love to the hungry, the orphan, the poor and our neighbor. We saw a powerful response in the body as we explored each of these things. But as we said last weekend, God isn't finished with us. Bringing the love to those in need around and the world and across the street isn't a five week series, a campaign or the pet project of a compassionate pastor. Bring the love is an ongoing call to be the church as God has called us to love him and love others.

One way we can continue this journey of exploring what this means for us as individuals and as the body of Christ, is to continue the conversations at home and in our Journey Groups. Here are a couple of resources to consider for your group that will challenge your socks off:

Crazy Love 
by Francis Chan

My group is more than half-way through this study, and it has sparked a lot of challenging discussion. It will compel you and your group to consider things like how you view God, is your love of God lukewarm, what does it mean to love God and what does salvation really look like?

The book is an easy read. 10 chapters that you discuss together - one chapter per session. There is also a DVD that features the author himself teaching for 6-8 minutes on each of the chapters. Following the video, Francis leaves you with two or three questions that will spur 45-60 minutes of deep discussion.

Learn more about this resource by visiting:

The Hole in Our Gospel 
by Richard Stearns

Several months before our pastor, Ron Williams, started the series Bring the Love, he handed me a copy of this book. As I read it, God began a work in me that has ruined my perspective on my possessions, my resources, and my role in the Kingdom... it's still ruining me, today. The book is about Richard's journey to faith, and his call to become the president of World Vision. It is also his challenge to the American Church to stop neglecting the parts of the Gospel that teach on caring for the hungry, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the destitute, and the oppressed. His stories and experiences will devastate you with the reality of atrocities that are happening all over the world - and his message will challenge you to do more than just look the other way. Rich's hope is not that we will just give more, or do more... but that our hearts will break for the things that break the heart of God.

The Hole in Our Gospel is now available in a format that is ideal for small groups, and it's called the Gospel Quest. As I write this, I haven't yet had the chance to review this material. But I know that it is a six session study that includes a DVD, and is directly tied to the book. I'm confident that it will be an excellent resource for any group that is looking to continue the journey of bringing the love.

You can learn more about Gospel Quest by visiting:

Part of the journey is continuing the conversation, and that's what these resources will enable you to do in very intentional ways. But as we said last weekend, we're not called to just talk about these things but to do something about it. Each one of us can do something. What will you and your group do to make a difference in this world together?