By Michael C. Mack
July is the most important month of the year for the health and development of your small group. You may think I’ve spent too much time in the sun: Some groups are not even meeting through the summer; attendance is down in other groups; weekly meetings have been bumped by trips to the beach and baseball games.
I’m not as crazy as you might think, however. Over the years, I’ve noticed groups that are growing and making an impact are involved in at least five vital practices during July.
Research has shown the most successful groups have leaders who pray daily for group members. Even if your group is not meeting, your members still need your prayers. You need God’s guidance as you plan. Pray without ceasing for your group. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16, New Living Translation).
Whether or not your group meets during the summer, spend time this month planning for your next season of group life. Here are just a few of the items to put on your planning checklist:
• Share leadership. Leading with a core team of two or three others is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your group. If you do not yet have a core team, this is a great time to form one. If you’re already sharing leadership, get together with them this month to pray and plan.
• Repurpose. Discuss this question with your core team: Why does our group exist? Has your purpose changed? Do you need to update your group mission statement?
• Diagnose. Assess the health of your group this month. I developed a free small group health assessment and put it on the web at www.touchusa.org/free-small-group-health-assessment. Have each core team member take the assessment and then meet to discuss the results. This will help you determine which areas of your group’s health to work on first.
• Recovenant. Plan to gather soon with your group to discuss your covenant, if you have one, and to consider what changes to make. This is a timely opportunity to regear your group for God’s unique undertaking for you.
Leverage the warm weather for God’s mission. Here are some ideas:
• Barbecue. Get reacquainted by having a picnic in a backyard or a park. Invite new folks who might come to a barbecue before a Bible study.
• Roll the dice. Or deal some cards. Or draw some pictures. Invite your group, along with some friends, neighbors, and coworkers to a game night. Select games that get you interacting.
• Retreat! Spend a weekend with your group in an out-of-the-way place. Use the time to pray, plan, prioritize, and play.
• Be adventurous. Go on a group bike ride. Raft or kayak down a river together. Get involved in a charity event and help raise money and awareness for a group member’s cause. Invite a few non-Christian friends to join the fun with you. Make it a team event to build stronger bonds of camaraderie and community.
• Scramble eggs. Meet for breakfast on a Saturday morning, and then spend the day hanging out together.
• Get to work. Plan a workday with your group at the church building. Most churches have plenty of things you can do together—just ask! Or check with a community organization in your area. Working on a project together builds teamwork and a sense of mission.
• Do a Bible “do.” Put James 1:22 into practice. Find something the Bible commands . . . and do it together! Take food to the hungry. Visit prisoners. Encourage people who need encouragement. Give a cup of cold water (or a sports drink) to someone who is thirsty . . . at a park or parade perhaps! Discern the needs of the people around you and then do something.
• Love. Hold a free car wash. On a bike path, check bike tires for air and adjust pressure if necessary. Use your imagination. When people ask why, say, “It’s just our way of showing God’s love in a practical way—no strings attached.”
• Fill your empty chair. Use some of the ideas above to invite new folks to your group. Or just look around on Sunday morning and invite someone to attend.
This month your church leaders are undoubtedly working on plans for the fall. How can your group fit into those plans? How can you partner with the rest of the church to carry out the bigger vision? A healthy group is not a band of renegades. Each group should be interconnected with other groups and with the overall mission and ministry of the church. Your group is an integral part of the whole body of Christ.
As the time approaches for your group to relaunch or revitalize, be prepared by answering some vital questions:
• What are our goals? Talk about these as a group and put them in your covenant. If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t get there!
• What will we study? This is often the first question leaders ask, but it should be one of the last. The answer comes from knowing the people in your group, investing in them, and thinking as a shepherd. It involves prayer, planning, and partnership with church leadership.
• Who will do what? Assign core team members such tasks as calling people, finding and purchasing study guides, deciding on meeting places, and so forth.
• How will we carry out Christ’s commission? Don’t ever stop asking this question. Your response will help you be a kingdom-focused group.
Don’t lose momentum this summer. This July practice the five P’s of healthy groups: pray, plan, party, partner, and then prepare for God to use your group in powerful ways!
Michael Mack is the author of 14 small group books and discussion guides, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? (Standard Publishing). He also leads church training events and consults with churches through his ministry, Small Group Leadership (www.smallgroupleadership.com).