Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Why Online Groups, During Unprecedented Times


“Unprecedented times” has become the standard phrase to describe the world of today. But fear not. While the devil has a history of using sickness and isolation as weapons against the kingdom of God, his methods are inevitably defeated every time he comes into contact with the person of Jesus Christ. It is because of this fact that we possess a hope that stands upon the mighty and powerful name of Jesus. True, we may be living in unprecedented times. But with unprecedented times comes the opportunity for the Church to respond by mobilizing and conducting ministry in unprecedented ways.

A Season of Change
The speed in which one may turn a boat is directly correlated to the size of the vessel. A fishing boat can make quick and precise turns, while a cruise liner requires a significantly larger amount of time to make a wide turn. The larger Church can be likened to the size of a cruise liner, where making large changes requires more energy and time. While Covid-19 slowly gained traction, the Church remained optimistic that it would be able to ride the wave of the virus without the need to change any existing cultural precedents. However, at this time we are confident that this is no longer a short period of inconvenience, but rather a season of change that we must now fully engage.

Online Mobilization
With many churches approaching their 4th week of streaming their Sunday services, this week has become the precise week in which the Church is called to fully embrace the mobilization of its online small group ministry. Indeed, congregants who may have brushed aside online groups a month ago may now be open to the concept to help combat the pangs of self-isolation. Simply looking at Psalm 133 may assist us in understanding why. David proclaims in this tiny 3-verse psalm, How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (NIV). In other words, true fellowship is the best of Earth intersecting with the best of heaven. It’s an experience as potent and close to God as was the ordination of the very first high priest, Aaron. It’s the very best representation of our relationship that we can have with the Lord, utilizing the best metaphors that our earthly minds can possibly comprehend. Without fellowship with one another, we lose the closest thing we have with God, save for our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Need for Online Groups Now
We are made in the image of God, and God perfectly embodies fellowship within the Trinity. The soul cannot be deprived of fellowship for prolonged periods of time, for God did not create us for this purpose. Even the Lord would not want to exist in this manner, and the only time He ever chose to experience this state of being was when He sacrificed His Son on the cross. We must remind ourselves of the finished work of Jesus at the cross. Never should we feel trapped to live in isolation, for Jesus took on this burden so that we would not have to!

Pastors, utilize your message this week to bring your church together and fully embrace the opportunity to meet online. Bill Donahue, author of Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry, explains that “there is always enormous correlation between what the person on the platform does and what everyone else in the church will do.” The tone and optimism in which church staff promote online groups during these critical weeks will directly affect the perception of online groups within the congregation. Now is the time for church leadership to help guide the community through this season of change and embrace the next generation of online ministry.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

6 Ways to Communicate During COVID-19 With Your Small Group Members


The Covid-19 virus has vastly changed the landscape of the church. In response to the stay-at-home mandates that are being issued, churches across the world have quickly been adapting and transitioning into online ministry. With the decrease of in-person interaction comes the incredible opportunity for a church’s small group ministry to thrive by using technology to help fill the gap. During these unprecedented times, the community looks to the response of the church and its lay leaders to assist in processing the events of national crises. Indeed, this is an incredible time for small groups to shine and help foster a sense of community that ministers to the spiritual needs of the community (even if through digital means!). Let us visit 6 different ways a group leader can reach out to their group members during this season of social distancing.

Online Meeting (Using  Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.)
Since face-to-face is not an available choice for small groups to make at this time, the next best option for an online church is to have groups meet through video call. Programs like Skype and Google Hangout have the great benefit of being free to use. However, since each attendee is required to create their own account and since each person would need to be on the friends list before the meeting begins, this may be a less-than-ideal option for inviting guests and/or individuals in the group that are not as tech-savvy. Instead, programs like Zoom have recently been identified as a more user friendly option where individuals do not need to have an account created beforehand. To attend, all they need to have is a link that is shared by the meeting organizer. From there, the meeting is able to be run from the browser (on a desktop computer) or through a free, easily downloadable app (on a mobile device). To help cut down on costs, some churches have taken on the role of scheduling meetings for their group leaders from a centralized account (The free version only allows meetings to last up to 40 minutes). Click here for more information on how to schedule a Zoom meeting for you and your group.

Facebook Group
An oldie but a goodie, this method has once again become highly relevant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through Facebook Groups, watch parties can be set up to encourage the group to watch their church’s online service together and be able to chat with one another throughout the length of the service. While the group reads a devotional through the week, members can post their comments on the Facebook Group page to keep the conversation going until the group’s next meeting.

Marco Polo
While Snapchat has certainly maintained a respectable amount of influence in the world of video messaging, its inability to retain a chat history makes the app less likely of a choice for small group members to use when communicating with one another. Recently, an app called Marco Polo has arrived on the scene and it allows groups to not only send video messages to one another, but also to retain the chat history. This app can be a great way for the group to send encouraging video messages to one another, or to share funny moments from within the home during this quarantine season.

Group Text
The most effective method for immediate communication, group text remains ideal to help spread the word on important news. In addition to the urgent “group is starting late” or “watch party is starting now on Facebook!” messages, group text can be an effective method to send a brief uplifting Bible verse, a prayer request, or a quick word of encouragement to the group.

Email
In the wake of today’s need to connect through online meetings and other social media portals, the method of emailing the group may temporarily take a backseat to the other methods mentioned. While typically utilized for conveying important information that would be too large for a text message, email is also a great way to connect at an individual level with members of the group. A wellness check can be the perfect personal touch for group members to know that their group leader cares about them on a personal basis, and the format of an email can provide a group member the time and space they may need in order to talk through the spiritual needs that they and their family may have at this time.

Phone Call
While the previously mentioned methods assist greatly in effectively communicating with the entire group, none of these methods say “I care about you” more than the simple act of picking up the phone to call and ask how someone is doing. Calling someone on the phone helps convey that they are important to you, and that you want to take time out of your day just to spend time with them. Not only is this an impactful way to connect with members on a personal level, it may be the only way to connect with some members of the older generations who are not experienced in using technology to meet online.


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Monday, March 16, 2020

A Short Guide to Leading an Online Group


This week we will be taking a break from our deep dive into Scripture and will instead shift focus to building community amidst the immediate need of Coronavirus preparedness. During unprecedented times like these, the community looks to the response of church staff and its lay leaders to assist in processing the events of national crises. Indeed, this is our opportunity to shine as a church and rally together and help foster a sense of community that ministers to the spiritual needs of the flock (despite social distancing!).

We live in a day and age where technology has allowed our church to continue building relationships through the power of online groups. I pray that this brief “spark-notes” version of online group preparation may be able to bless you and your groups in the coming weeks!

What software should I use?
  • Since both are free, Skype or Google Hangouts are generally recommended, although if you are comfortable in using other conference software tools (and if you have access to them), then please feel free to use your preferred program instead.
    • For Skype:
      • You may install this program on your computer or install the app on your phone.
      • However, there is a browser-version of Skype where the program does not need to be installed.
      • One important thing to note is that a Skype account must be made in order to log in.
    • For Google Hangouts:
      • There is no need to install the program on your computer, as it is browser-based.
      • If you choose to use Google Hangouts on your phone, there is an App that is available to download for free.
      • One important thing to note is that a Google account must be made in order to use this video conferencing feature.
    • For both Google and Skype, a few important notes:
      • Unless you have a large group, the max number of participants should not affect your ability to use the tool. Skype has a max of 50 for a video call, while Google Hangouts has a max of 25.
      • You have to be connected and on each other’s friends list before the video call takes place (So it’s good to work together at adding individuals to your friends list in advance of the day of your meeting so as not to scramble, last minute).
Things to Remember as an Online Group Leader
  • Folks will be late, just like face-to-face groups. Give grace!
  • Let your group members get used to using mute/unmute functionality of their microphones to help eliminate background noise.
  • The group is run just like an in-person group, where:
    • The leader takes care to welcome everyone.
    • Quick intro conversation takes place.
    • Typical small talk takes place, if any.
    • Group members are encouraged to take turns at answering the questions and discussing the evening’s content with one another.
    • The group is wrapped up with prayer.

How to be a good Online Group Participator
  • It’s best to participate in a private room at home where distractions are minimal (or where it is less likely for others to enter the room that we may be in).
  • We all have adorable children and pets, however child and pet care should be arranged to prevent moments like these, just as we would when going to attend a face-to-face meeting with our groups.
  • Be sure to eat before or after the group (Eating on camera is awkward and it just goes downhill from there if we forget to mute the microphone while chewing).
  • Multitasking prevents us from being in the moment and picking up on what the Spirit is attempting to accomplish during your meeting (Emails and social media updates on the Coronavirus can wait!).
  • Try to sit at a desk or table instead of a sofa or bed (Having the computer on our laps can cause us to be distractions to others as we shift in our seats and continuously enter and exit the frame).
  • If you must leave your seat for an emergency break, please mute your microphone before stepping away from your computer. Even if you don’t have a mic on your person, your mic still picks up sounds (even from the next room over).
  • Try to be in a room that is well-lit, but not seated directly in front of windows (The sunlight creates a glare and makes your image appear darker on the computer camera).

As an additional note, now is the perfect time to invite non-believers into your online group! Let us not forget that those who are not a part of a church group may be in a season of life where they are possibly the most receptive to the gospel than they have ever been. Prayerfully consider who in your friends list would be great to invite!

May the Lord abundantly bless your time with your group as you meet online! Let us pray with boldness that this virus is vanquished quickly. Let us give God glory, as we live in an age with the technology to address the spiritual needs in connecting with one another and the medical advancements to address the physical needs of our bodies. Stay safe, and God bless you!




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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Investing in the Eternal



The World and Its Desires Pass Away
1 John 2:15-17 “15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
One of the tensions that is commonly alluded to throughout the Bible is the tension between the eternal and the temporal. When reading our Scripture here from 1 John, we have a natural tendency to point out the principle of not loving the things of the world that do not come from the Father. While this practice is great and will yield blessing, let us not skip over the latter portion of the verse that explains why we should not love the things of the world. While we may be blessed in the temporal realm for not loving the things of this world, it is more important for us to understand that the reason for this is actually due to the eternal benefits: the things of this world pass away, whereas what comes from the Father remains eternal.

The Danger of Squandering Our Resources
Proverbs 29:3 “To keep company with prostitutes is to squander one’s substance.”
While this verse is easily understood if taken literally, the metaphorical interpretation is just as pertinent. Frequently in Scripture, the Bible uses the concept of prostitution as a literary device to make a striking correlation between humanity’s actions and spiritual infidelity. “Keeping company” implies that we are engaging with the individual(s) on a frequent basis. The usage of the term “prostitutes” implies that we are wooing the individual(s) with “gifts” and expecting to receive something in return. Ezekiel 16:1-34 can be a good example of this use of metaphor, and here we also see that the giving of “gifts” need not be restricted to just monetary advances. In other words, who are we keeping company with in such a way where we are squandering the precious “gifts” of our time, money, emotions, or our presence?

This isn’t referring to friendship where two parties give freely to one another without an obligatory transaction of services or goods. Nor is this referring to evangelism or ministering to the lost, where one party selflessly gives to another in the name of Jesus Christ without expecting anything in return. This is even different from casting your pearls before swine, for swine neither have use for your pearls nor find value in them (Matthew 7:6). Instead, Proverbs’ usage of the term “prostitutes” implies that these entities in our lives knowingly take advantage of our resources while also helping us sin in the process. Such resources and gifts effectively become “squandered” because they are not being sown in a soil that returns anything for the purpose of the kingdom of God.

Investing in the Eternal
Do we have a love so strong for the things of this world that we are willing to keep company with metaphorical prostitutes in order to seek out our temporal preferences and pleasures? Do we love our job so much that we ignore our family and squander excessive amounts of our time at the office to receive a corporate perk? Do we love adult entertainment and ignore our spouse when we squander our emotional intimacy on the tempting glow of our phones and TV sets? Or do we love our social status so much that we ignore the relationships we can build in the church and squander our time with other acquaintances just to keep up appearances? Allow us to make modifications to our spiritual portfolio and intentionally focus on investing in the eternal. Jesus is quite clear on this principle when He encourages us to store up treasures in heaven instead of focusing on the things that rust or rot or fade away on this earth (Matthew 6:19-21). Allow us to invest in the only stock that always increases in eternal value, regardless of what occurs in the spiritual marketplace of the temporal: stock in Jesus Christ.





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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Walking with the Wise


For the month of March, we will seek the heart of the Lord through His word and explore how He meets us within the relationships we hold. While this month’s conversation will certainly be applicable within the context of small groups, I hope and pray that it may bless your involvement in any other ministries that you may also be a part of.

Walk With the Wise
Proverbs 13:20 “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
Proverbs is a gold mine for one-liner nuggets of wisdom. 13:20 is an excellent stand-alone verse, however it becomes richer when viewed within the greater landscape of Solomon’s text. Throughout Proverbs we see a relationship between wisdom and a host of other values that he highlights, including discipline, knowledge, insight, and prudence (See 2:10, 3:21, 7:4, 8:1, 9:9-10, 13:1, etc.). According to the book The Habits of Highly Effective Churches, author George Barna explains that effective churches understand this principle in its prioritization of relationships. While they answer the call to the Great Commission and continuously pursue the practice of evangelism, churches that excel in community also have an understanding of the importance of who we are to keep company with (or in other words, who we share our lives with and who we spend the most time with). Barna notes from his research that effective churches assign an intentional hierarchy to their relationships: Jesus first, family second, fellow churchgoers third, and non-believers fourth.

Bad Company Corrupts Good Character
1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
While it would not be incorrect to share this proverbial verse on its own, we receive greater benefit when striving to understand its context. Right before this in verse 32, Paul revisits Isaiah 22:13, saying “If the dead are not raised, ’Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” By invoking this verse, Paul effectively brings with it the weight of Judah’s disregard for God’s dominion in all areas of our lives. Through Isaiah 22:8-13, we see a frenzied Judah that is scrambling to prepare militaristic defenses (They believed that they would soon be attacked by other nations after receiving word of Babylon’s fall). Through the fall of Babylon, the Lord was calling His people to a time of prayer and fasting. Instead, Judah dismantled its own city and then proceeded to throw a party with fatalistic flair, ignoring the Lord through the entire process.

So how does this tie in to 1 Corinthians 15:33 which reflects upon the overarching topic of the resurrection of the dead? If we choose to receive instruction from those who have no knowledge of God (15:34), then we will lose sight of the importance that the doctrine of resurrection holds within our Christian faith. If our own understanding of the resurrection and eternal life in Christ is abandoned, then we are inclined to live fatalistically and ignore the Lord amidst the ongoing struggles that we experience. And if we live fatalistically, then we have a flawed understanding as to why we are no longer condemned to live in sin, or why Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins (15:16-18).

Jesus Remains First and Foremost
When placing Proverbs 13:20 alongside this discussion from 1 Corinthians, Scripture shows us that as we continue to share our lives with bad company, we greatly increase the risk of adopting a life of sin. As a result, we resign ourselves to the spiritual reality of suffering harm, which inevitably impacts the lives of those that we care for as well. Let us implement a course correction now. Let us prioritize the time that we spend within the relationships we hold in our lives, making Jesus first and foremost.




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