4 reasons our groups are creating covenants together this fall

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Fresh start for our groups

Our Community Groups at First Baptist Church are all relaunching soon, and with a fresh start comes new excitement and renewed commitment. I am excited for the energy people will bring to their groups after a couple months off. The desire for deeper relationships and further growth brings fresh motivation, and the initial momentum will carry groups a long way into the fall.

In an effort to bolster the initial momentum, our groups will be creating group covenants together this fall. I have observed that a number of churches do this for their groups and thought it would be a help to our groups as well. There are a number of reasons why we have chosen to develop group covenants this fall, and here are four.

4 reasons we are creating group covenants this fall

1. Create a shared vision for the group

Getting everyone on the same page and moving toward a shared vision of the future is vitally important. A team of 12 to 16 dogs pulling in the same direction can win the Iditarod, but the same set of dogs will get nowhere if they deviate from the correct path or try to pull in opposite directions. The covenant we are using is intended to help our groups create a shared vision of the future they want for their group. In the weeks and months ahead, a reminder of this vision will help them continue along the same path.

Getting on the same page and moving toward a shared vision is vitally important for groups.

2. Establish expectations for one another

This is closely linked to having a shared vision. The difference is that a shared vision is more about where we see ourselves going, while clear expectations bring clarity to how we expect one another to act on our way to that preferred future. It is about how we will engage with one another in the present. Having a frank conversation about these expectations now will enable us to hold one another accountable to those expectations when they are broken. Establishing clear expectations now will give us the ability to press one another to follow through on our commitment to those expectations in the future.

3. Increased commitment

Commitment can be hard for people. It can feel like we give up part of ourselves and our freedom when we commit to someone or something. I would argue that making a commitment to something (ie. a group) is not as much about losing freedom, but actually about making an intentional decision regarding where we will invest ourselves. Soren Kierkegaard makes an argument that when a person pursues freedom through limiting their commitments, they are actually giving up even more freedom, because they are being controlled by external circumstances rather than intentional decisions. One of the greatest sources of freedom is making a conscious choice about what commitments will impact you. When our groups sign their covenant together, they are making a commitment to one another. This commitment will become important in the future to help them continue to invest in their group, even when they feel like they may not want to anymore.

4. Create a healthy rhythm for the year

Life is lived in seasons, creating rhythms to our lives. As the weather changes throughout the year and we experience fall, winter, spring and summer, new emotions and experiences come. The cooler temperatures have already helped me anticipate the fall, causing me to think more about Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Apple Orchards - which makes me think of treasured date nights with my wife and special times with my family. Life has many different seasons in it and these changes help to orient our lives. New semesters in school, graduations, new jobs, getting married, having children, moving homes and other events create markers which help us remember important seasons.

The covenants our groups are signing will include a one-year commitment. This means that each fall everyone will have the opportunity to pray and consider whether they will recommit to their group, possibly look for another group or take a needed break from groups all together. My assumption is that the majority of people will recommit to their groups each fall, while those people who need to make a change will take the opportunity to do so. This rhythm of creating a covenant each fall and making a new commitment will help us maintain healthy group dynamics and fresh energy.

If you would like to download a copy of the form I have provided to our group leaders to help them create their covenants, you can download here.

Question: How do you think group covenants could help your own group this fall? If you have any experience with group covenants, please share that in the comments as well.

Investing in an apprentice

What happens when...

What happens when a community group grows beyond its capacity? What happens when too many people are sitting around the room, and intimacy and engagement begins to wane? Where is there space in our current church structure for new and growing leaders to be trained, equipped and empowered to lead a community group themselves?

Each of these questions is multi-layered, requiring answers that consider numerous elements. If you are leading a community group, you can provide a tangible step to help answer those questions in the form of an intentional decision to invest in an apprentice.

Why invest in an apprentice?

Investing in an apprentice within the context of your current community group serves our church in two primary ways.

First, it gives a place for new leaders to develop. Growing and thriving churches invest in the development of new leaders who can help us press forward in serving God's mission in our community and world. Further, if we do not have a place for young and talented people to express their leadership gifts, they will find a new church where they can serve.

Second, it provides additional leaders that will allow us to multiply our current community groups when they grow beyond a manageable size. The newly trained apprentice can venture out and start a new group with a few of the current members of your community group. This allows our groups to maintain a high level of engagement, because they are not too large. It also creates new groups that new people can join.

The perfect context for training

The context of a current community group is the perfect place for an apprentice to be trained and formed. For example, I could invest 10-20 hours with a person in my office in order to prepare them to lead a community group. They could certainly learn some beneficial skills, tips and techniques from me, but never get to see them play out in an actual community group.

Or, a current leader could provide mentoring, encouragement and tangible experience for the apprentice within the context of an existing community group. This actually mirrors most training protocols. How many people would want a dentist to attempt to stick a drill into their mouth without some form of an apprenticeship process? Without a bit of practice? Sitting in a classroom is not sufficient training for a dentist to learn the practical skills necessary to conduct the technical skills required in their profession. A dentist, surgeon, electrician, etc. often have some element to their training where they are actually practicing the skill in a safe and controlled setting, with the mentoring and support of someone with more experience. We want to provide the same type of experience to prepare our future community group leaders.

The model of Jesus

Even more, we see this modeled in Jesus' own ministry. After Jesus called the Twelve Apostles, he spent countless hours with them. He provided instruction to them, they observed him in ministry and eventually Jesus sent them out to do the same. In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends out the Twelve Apostles. In Mark's brief description of this process, it is noted that the Twelve Apostles preached repentance, casted out demons and healed the sick (v. 12-13). Upon reading the five chapters that proceed this passage in Mark, it is clear that these are the same primary activities Jesus engaged in throughout his own ministry. Jesus called his disciples, he gave them instruction, spent time with them, modeled ministry for them and then sent them out to do it themselves.

What next?

What do you do now? Before you rush off and invite someone to be your next apprentice. Take some time to pray about who God might be calling you to invest in as a future leader. The person may not always seem like the natural choice, or necessarily your first choice. Be patient, be in prayer and listen to the Holy Spirit's leading.

Once you believe you have some clarity about who you might want to invest in as an apprentice, then invite them into the process with you.