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Connecting with the Community: Sunday School and Small Groups

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Transcript:

Ken Allen:

Well again, good morning. Good to have you with us today as we begin, A Leader Care and Church Health Office Of begins a webinar. This is continuing in the series of the Connect Strategy for Church Health Pathways that Lead to Connection. And I’m gonna put a link here in just a moment in the chat area. So if you guys want to again look up that document you should be able to using that link. And so again, we wanna make that available to you in the broad way here of the whole connect process, the first one is connect with the Creator and that’s through renewal and worship. We’ve already had two of those and we’ve looked at connect with both renewal and worship. The next one is connect with the community and that’s what we’re gonna be doing today with Sunday school and small groups. December 8th we’re gonna do connect with the core disciple-making there’s also other elements of it, leadership development and serving. We also will end up with connect with commission. That’s both the local culture the big picture of that, as well as the individual personal evangelism approach as well. And there is one who is absent today, who is normally a part of our webinars and a big part of our webinars and that’s Doug Rogers. Certainly when we wanna be in prayer for Doug and his family in the passing of his father, Dr. Luther R. Rogers, they’ll have a service tomorrow in Tallahassee. So we certainly want to remember Doug in our prayers. Grateful to have with us too, George Yates as a part of our office and Mike Jackson, our director and grateful for his leadership and Mike if you would lead us in prayer as we begin our time together and praying for Doug’s family as well.

Mike Jackson:

Be glad to do that. Let’s pray, Father we’re grateful that you love us that you’ve called us to yourself and Father we realize that we have been chosen as your children. Thank you for loving us enough that you gave Jesus Christ to die for our sins, to die in our place. Father help us to learn to share that love with others in effective means as we live out and as we connect with others the call to the commission, the great commission. Father we do wanna lift up our colleague Doug Rogers and his family, minister to them, care for them, give them a peace in the midst of this grief path and journey that their on. Father just bind their broken hearts and give them all they need as they celebrate the life of their loved one. And we thank you again for Mr. Roger’s life and for his influence in his family. And no doubt we who know Doug see that has been a great influence. Father, bless these men as they share today, may we lift up the name of Jesus. May we make much of Him and may we advance the kingdom because we realize that this is all about the Kingdom of God. Again Lord, we love you. Thank you for loving us in precious name of Jesus we ask these things. Amen.

Ken Allen:

Thank you, Mike. Again, to give you an idea of the connect process, again, much prior to my time coming on State Board of Missions, across our offices is the Church Revitalization Taskforce. And so as we begin to look this past year, both at what was going on with COVID and wanting to really get a pathway that people could follow to begin to think through, going forward connect was kind of an outgrowth of that. And again, one of the great things about connect is it connects all of our offices together. You can’t have church health and leave out evangelism or leave out Worship or leave out our small groups and disciple-making so on and on it goes, even church conflict, as I’ve looked at it you know, just last week at a conference one of the major things that will keep a church from having conflict is to have a clear mission, vision and direction. So everything works together. Again, thank you Daniel for putting today’s webinar together with our panelists. And so please introduce them and you guys take it away, brother.

Daniel Edmonds:

Okay, thank you Ken for the opportunity to be a part of the taskforce but also to be able to speak to this subject of a pathway to connect to community. Before I introduce the guys kind of as a way of why I chose them. In some ways I see us having connected in community you know, you can reside in a community and not live in community with those that are around you. And one of the problems I think that COVID has exposed is that we’ve had a lot of people residing in the community that were not living as community. Whether it’s Sunday school or whatever you’ve called your group strategy that medium size gathering many people’s names were on a list somewhere but they never really connected with the community. And so quite frankly, we’ve seen a lot of those not return not out of fear of what’s going on with COVID and those type things but because they were never truly connected, we didn’t have a strategy, a pathway to connect in community. And so there’s a key invitations these guys have looked at with me that would help us to have connected people in community. So I asked these fellows to join me because they’re going to be with us both as we talk about connecting in community, and then getting connected to the core that then moves you toward commission. So the pathways that we’re talking about in church revitalization, all three of these pastors have been with us training with us in church revitalization and then applying what they’ve learned and what they gained, the insight that they already had and that they gained through this process in their local church. So I’m delighted to have them with me today and we’re gonna kind of walk through together what we’ve learned together about helping people to connect in community. So I’m just gonna kind of introduce them in the order that they follow my screen. The first is Reverend Andy Frazier. Andy is at Grace in Sumiton and has served there as Intentional Bi-vocational Pastor. He is a farrier, meaning he shoes horses as his vocation and has gone to Grace Sumiton at what was really a critical time in their life. And it was a true church revitalization, really very close to closing the doors. And so Andy has come in and done a yeoman’s task of helping them. And then Mark Gainey is at Fultondale First Baptist church. And I could say both of Mark and Andy they have had church planting in their background before coming to what we would consider normative size churches and Mark and Andy also do Church Leadership Podcast together. They’re good friends. And one of the things that Church Leadership Podcast does is help people grow. And I think they would say they’ve been as equipped as others who have listened because they call on some leading experts as well as friends and others to come and share insights. Mark has been at First Fultondale and leading it in some transformation at a time and really getting focused on developing a clear path. Why are we here? What are we trying to do? And how do we get there? And so a while he’s been at Fultondale First he’s finished his doctorate. And I told him he’s one of the few that I’ve had any part of their doctoral experience that I would have awarded a doctorate too. And because he developed a clear pathway for his people and so delighted to have him on. And then probably among the guys here, the one that I have the longest relationship with is Robert Mullins. We go back to the dark ages just about. I know that I’ve met Robert, at least by the time he was a student minister at First Baptist Decatur and have kind of walked with him in his ministry through those years, having left Decatur going to Tennessee, then Mississippi, back into Alabama and staying connected that whole way. And then began to work together on a ministry that he started here in Alabama Super Summer which is a disciple-making a camp for students tremendous experience there. And so we’ve had a good time working together. And then as he came to pastor Crossroads Community back then it was called Mount Hebron West, now Crossroads Community Church. Robert and I worked very closely together on how to transition the church to become reflective of a biblical community that’s oriented toward disciples, making disciples, who can make disciples. And so we walked together and I think learned together and grew together in so many ways in that experience over several months and now, over several years of working together. So I’m delighted to have these guys with us because the pathway that we’re gonna be talking about is a pathway that they our on. No one here will say they have arrived, but they’re on the journey and they’re on the journey together. And I think that’s what they would all encourage you to get with others who are on this journey and connect with them and walk together because it is a narrow path, if you will. And so you need that experience. Robert has helped us tremendously in networking leaders around our state. He operates PassionTree, which is a network for pastors while Andy and Mark have Incite Ministries which is designed to coach you along that path. And so delighted to have them here for so many different reasons today, as we speak to what I believe is one of the critical subjects. And the reason is that there are several things that Baptist churches do not have in common but virtually all Baptist churches have worship and then they have a group strategy. Now that group strategy may be on campus and on campus it may be called a life group or Sunday school or connect group or something else but they have an own campus strategy. Others have an off-campus group strategy some operate with both on and off campus. And so in one fashion or another that is a common link that we have as Baptist is we do believe in the value of groups. We know that groups matter. Well, the issues that we’re gonna discuss today is the fact that we not only agree that groups matter but maybe we’ve confused it because we’ve layered groups, on top of groups, on top of groups. And I think it’s essential that somewhere we stop and we pause and ask the question, why? Why does this group need to exist? Why does this fit into this pathway that we’ve created? And so we need to look at that very closely and that’s some of what we’re gonna do today. If you ask Baptist today, why Sunday school? They would probably answer with more of a what than a why. They would talk about we have Sunday school because it’s a Bible study fellowship that we hope helps people learn the Bible and apply the Bible to their life. But inside that, there’s basically three components. And if you look at your group strategy on campus or off campus, you’ll probably see these three components reflected in every group. They come together, they have a time they call fellowship, then they have prayer, and then they have a time of teaching the Bible. At least we hope it’s a time of teaching the Bible but if you go inside most of these groups and watch what happens, the reality of the fellowship is it’s not Biblical fellowship. It’s usually talking to the same one or two people that are your buddies while waiting for everybody else to show up. And so it’s not the idea of developing a fellowship where we’re walking together and we’re bearing one another’s burdens or we’re learning to love one another and being kind to one, all the one anothers of scripture that are reflected in a fellowship a lot of times our fellowship is talking about sports politics or the weather and not the deeper meaningful things of the Christ like walk. And so they have that time of fellowship. Some groups that time is longer than other groups. A lot of times on Sunday morning those groups, that fellowship time goes 15 or 20 minutes. And it usually concludes with somebody saying, well it looks like most everybody’s here, let’s get started. Which is an admission that it wasn’t really fellowship. It was the lay of game, if you will. And then they have a time of prayer, but honestly in most places, it’s a time of prayer request and prayer requests could go on endlessly, not because of the number of people that need to be prayed for but the matter of details that are being shared that most likely did not need to be shared. I teased my medical doctor friends about I don’t know why you went to medical school. If you had attended Sunday school you’d know about every disease and how to cure it. And so, you know, sometimes that prayer request somebody gets to chase in a rabbit. And the next thing you know, we’re talking about when sister Sue had that same disease 20 years ago. And the one thing that doesn’t happen out of our prayer request is we don’t talk about the people and how we should respond to their need, the idea of fellowship and community. And so at best we have 30 seconds where somebody says, well God, you heard what we were talking about, do something about it. Thank you, Lord. Amen. And so, we’re really not focused on what we should be focused on when it comes to prayer and that is the ministry that God calls us to as we pray for those who are part of our community. And then the Bible teaching quite often takes on the form of teaching a lesson. And I tell people, I don’t even like that phrase ’cause my daddy used to say, “I’m gonna teach you a lesson,” and that was not a good thing, okay? And really the objective of our groups is we teach people the Bible and the way we teach people the Bible is we move them from the milk of the word, to the meat of the word. So if we’re not causing people to dig into the word of God and be transformed by its truth. Then we’re doing maybe a pretty good job of lecturing or a discussion which quite often is a sharing in a lack of knowledge rather than experience of God’s word at work in our lives. And so there’s no sense of accountability for living out the word that goes on. And because of that, quite often we struggle. And I wanna have Robert before long begin to share a little bit about that struggle that was going on. But traditionally this is what takes place. And so you’re gonna hear these men today talk about making a shift from a Bible study fellowship to more of a relational, missional approach in your group strategy. And I’m gonna ask Andy Frazier if he will speak to that issue.

Andy Frazier:

Yeah, I think what you were mentioning earlier Daniel is what is the ultimate purpose of our Sunday school or small group strategy? And if it is not geared toward us making disciples then it really doesn’t fit into the overall mission and purpose of what God has called us to do. Sure, fellowship is great and sure getting together and and sharing prayer requests and having someone teach us a lesson, as you say now those things are good, but we need to, I mean from the top down, from the leadership of the church needs to communicate this and model this and be intentional about this, the strategy, the mission, what we’re supposed to be doing in our churches overall is making disciples. So it’s not, how do you get Sunday school to just fit in to that process, but how is it in that pathway of intentionally moving people along to become disciples? So you can’t make disciples without having genuine community. You can’t make disciples without learning God’s word and discussing it and trying to live that out together and having encouragement and accountability in those things. And we know that happens in a smaller group. Like we’ll probably be talking about on the next webinar but it can be fostered. It can be built and learned in Sunday school or life groups or small groups. So I mean, we ultimately at our church our mission is to glorify God, love people and make disciples. I mean, that’s the two commandments boil down to everything. So we want our Sunday schools to reflect that. We want people to understand you’re not just coming to a class to gain more information but you are coming to learn how to become a better disciple who makes disciples.

Daniel Edmonds:

Okay, thank you, Andy. And what you really pointed out is when we talk about a why Sunday school? Why should that be any different than the overall why of the church? So the church expresses that we’re here to make disciples, love God, love people, make disciples however they go about doing that. And then they create groups that go in a different direction or they just kind of wander not even having direction. So right now, if we ask most of our folks, the why of Sunday school, they would answer with a what not a why. They’re not saying, well we’re there to make disciples who can make disciples. They’re not saying we’re here to respond to the mission God has given to this church or to the that God has given to the leadership of this church. And so the response there is rather threadbare. And so there’s no real why. So you’ve established a why there at Grace and Mark and Robert have done so at their churches as well, that’s supposed to be. And you’re being intentional about saying that it is reflected in your group strategy. Left on their own with no response to a why here’s what invariably happens. And I’m gonna have Robert share a little bit about that because if you’re not making disciples, one of the areas that your group strategy will suffer or struggle is in finding new leadership. I had a pastor friend asked me one time related to a church I served, how did you make all those teachers? And my response was, I don’t make teachers I’m not even called to make teachers. I’m called to make disciples from whom God calls teachers and leaders and ministers and so forth and so on. And so when Robert and I got together shortly after he came to Mount Hebron West, now Crossroads, Robert you described the situation, as I know that we need to strengthen our groups. We need more groups but we lack bench strength is the phrase you used because it grew out of this group strategy with no clear why. So share with us a little bit about what you discovered as you came to Mount Hebron.

Robert Mullins:

Sure. Well, I think it’s very typical in what is going on in most churches. I would almost say all churches, that the typical way that you add a group is to walk into the group and say you guys over here and you guys over here and then you have two new groups. Well, we know what that does. That just makes everybody mad. Okay? And they’re not gonna do it, okay? You may have this like, they may be in a couple of different rooms for different weeks or something but they’re coming back together and you might even have some folks leave for a while. That’s not gonna end well, and a better way to do it is to have your leader understand the fact that one of their responsibilities, one of their opportunities is to multiply themselves. So they get to build relationships with the people. And if, and one thing I think is important to say here, and I know that Andy and Mark have worked a good bit on pathway and on the fact that you have to write a plan down, okay? One of the things that God has been all over me with this COVID is that we need to pray. We need to plan. We need to prepare, and we need to press on. So part of planning and preparation right now is kind of a plan A and a plan B, right? And so if one thing doesn’t work out you do the other thing, but then line up with what God says. Well, the big thing about this issue is when you’re not intentional in training your leader to train others which would be disciples by the way, when you’re not intentional about making disciples you’re not gonna have leaders, okay? Because you’re never asking someone to take that next step. You’re never challenging them, inviting and challenging them to take that next step up to become a leader. And so the way that we’ve seen it work is literal relationships. And in those relationships, what happens it’s like you just mentioned Daniel, it’s in Ephesians chapter 4: 11 and 12, where Paul talks about the different roles of different personality types. One of those being a teacher one of those being in that equipper. And so my phone of course is gonna ring right now. So, anyway, sorry about that guys. But so we have to be intentional to do that. You’ve got all sorts of people in there and what you do is you, I put a visual out there for them because I want our people to see that one of the most important things that they can do is to replicate, multiply themselves. I even try to model it. And I know this may sound crazy, but right now this Sunday is our youth pastor’s last Sunday as a youth pastor and over the last two years has been a very intentional multiplication of another pastor. And Jeremy Jones is going to pastor another church starting this next week. And so we’re, that’s kind of one of the, I think you have to celebrate things, make them core values. So you celebrate what you value. And one of those is multiplying leaders, multiplying disciples.

Yeah. That’s excellent. And Robert, I remember one of the things that ultimately you decided to do was that you went at least temporarily and I think you still do this with some groups to sermon based and we’ll talk a little bit more.

Oh yeah.

But in these groups and so what happened was you modeled for them here’s content, but then you took five or six and made them smaller groups, put a leader at each table and then you modeled for them for about I think it was seven to 10 weeks. How you lead a group.

Let me explain.

You walked with them through that. Share a little more about that.

Yeah, because this is important to know that during COVID you have most of us in churches have space issues. Okay? Listen, space issue, one thing you always wanna do when you create change is you wanna create a sense of urgency, okay? That’s the first step to creating change is you wanna pass on that sense of urgency that’s there, but you’ve got to be able to communicate it with other people. Well, obviously multiplying disciples is our mandate. So that’s the urgent thing we’ve got to do. So the way you do that is you have to be creative sometime. We didn’t have COVID we just had this God’s calling us to kind of revamp what we did. That was seven years ago and five years ago whatever it was seven, seven something. And then, but now we’ve got COVID. And so we don’t have the spaces in our buildings. So we’ve got this fellowship hall, but we have small rooms. So what we did was we combined two classes, okay. Two of our life groups, right? Sunday school classes. And we combined them with the intention, the intentionality to multiply leaders out of that, therefore multiplying groups. So instead of two groups leading leaving that environment, we’re gonna try to have four groups leaving that environment and that’ll help us a lot. And that’s what we basically did in the past was we pull groups together and then out of that teaching for six, eight, whatever the season was that many weeks we multiplied groups out of that starting new units, which I mean, obviously in technical terms, that’s what we’re trying to do when it comes to Sunday school is start new units. You and I understand the why is because we’re making more disciples. We wanna do that. We wanna make more leaders when we do that. But here’s the thing. And I would say this, this is the bottom line for me. We cannot think in systems of tradition anymore. Like, we’ve got to start being creative. I heard earlier we mentioned like home groups and doing things at different times and different slots and things like that. We realized recently that we’re using one portion of our building right now during COVID for three groups for one hour a week. Now that is terrible stewardship of heating, cooling, lights all of the things, clean up crew all of the things that you would do for three small groups very small groups by the way, one hour per week. Okay? And so we’ve got to start being creative rethink things, and y’all look have blue sky sessions, have dream sessions with your people grab some of who you would call leadership and go for it. There are no rules right now in how we do this. Okay? And so I say go for it.

Daniel Edmonds

Yeah, it’s a good point that ultimately what you’re looking at is your group strategy falls in line with your why, your pathway. And if it does, then you’re not limited by space. That’s what, another thing that happens is we don’t have leaders, then we have space. And I tell people you’re never out of space, you’re out of creativity because you only think inside four walls and the reality, the more leaders that we can develop, the more flexible we can become. And you took the reins of I’m gonna develop five or six leaders by modeling for them exactly what we’re looking for. What does a group look like when it’s attached to our disciple-making path? And you are love God, love people, make disciples. That’s your why at Crossroads. And so you showed them in a very hands-on way, what would our small group look like? What would our group strategy, whether inside or outside this building look like if it’s connected to purpose, if it’s connected to the why, the mission of our church. And Mark I wanna throw it over to you a little bit, because we’ve talked about this even in terms of invitation, as well as being on the pathway. And one of the things to create community is to teach your people that you’re inviting others to be with you on this journey. And so it goes even beyond that, but talk to us more holistically, even about a disciples path and how this group strategy fits in that.

Mark Gainey:

Sure. I think it’s so important. And you know, everything we’ve talked about up to this point, sets what we’re gonna talk about from here on out up, because the why matters. The purpose matters. If you’ve got, if you’re meeting in small groups, Sunday school, life groups, connect groups, whatever you call them, and if you’re doing that, just because that’s what your church has always done or because that’s the expectation or because you’re trying to teach information and pass information along, the bad news is that is not going to be effective. Even if you’re trying to accomplish a purpose that you shouldn’t be, it’s still not gonna be effective. And here’s why, because for, you know, for a long time I think the church did have it, right. We had this map mentality, this pathway mentality, we called it scope and sequence back in the day. And we knew for three years where we were going and where we’re leading our people what direction we were heading in. But you know, with the advent of attractional church of a seeker whatever you wanna call it, we’re not getting to those word wars today but with the advent of those kinds of churches consumeristic churches where we’re just trying to draw a crowd, right? The goal is let’s just get them in the seats. We changed it from that approach to a menu of options. Okay? So here’s what we did. And this is reality. We invite people to come in, they show up we give them a worship guide, or we have it on the screen, or somewhere on campus we tell them, here are the 35 things you can get in in our church in serving or learning or groups or whatever and take your pick. Now, I guess from one perspective that that’s good because people want options, right? But if you really step back and think about what we’ve done, man we have created a mess. I tell a story a lot, but if you’ve been to Birmingham if any of you are familiar with Niki’s West, okay it’s an awesome restaurant just outside of Fultondale where I pastor. It takes me seven minutes from my church to get to Nikki’s West I’ve timed, that’s how often I go there. But the first time I ever went, I went with Tasha. We had small kids, at the time we had two small kids. We went through there. And if you’ve ever been in there it’s cafeteria style atmosphere where you show up and they ask you, what do you want? What do you want? What do you want? There’s like six people in line. And they’re pressuring you to tell them what you want from their part of the line. Well, my wife does not like to make decisions. And so she was absolutely freaked out. So when we got at the end of the line, she realized she got the food for our kids, but she totally forgot to order food for herself because she was overwhelmed with the options. I mean, there were literally 30 options of food to choose from. And I think that’s what we do with our people. Think about I know for a lot of us, it’s been a long time since we’ve been new to church, but imagine a newcomer to church. And if our goal is to make disciples and they show up and they have 30 options, how in the world are they gonna know what to do? If they choose your small group, it’s almost a miracle that they do because you haven’t shown them how. And so think about what Jesus did. Jesus gave clear directives, right? Great commission, make disciples. But then He said, you Know, Daniel mentioned those invitations. He said, “hey, follow me.” I mean, He was clear, follow me. He was clear when he said, “be with me, abide in me.” And so that’s kind of the part of the map we’re talking about, He gave clear directives, make disciples, follow me, be with me, all these things. And what we’ve done is we said, “well we’re gonna forget the clear directives and the direction and the map, we’re gonna provide a menu.” Well people get confused, they get discouraged. And here’s what they ultimately do. People think that when you give them 30 options they’re supposed to be in all 30 and they feel discouraged and they feel defeated. And like they’re not successful when they can’t be involved in everything. And on average, this is before COVID, okay? So I’m sure it’s changed since COVID, but before COVID on average, people will give you committed members of a church will give you three hours a week, three hours. Now you think about that. If they only give you three hours a week what three hours do you want them to give you? Well, certainly worship, right? Certainly you want them to be in some environment where they’re in connection with a community and then hopefully you want them to make disciples as well. And so we need to be rethinking what we do so that it’s a map, not a menu because when you give them a map and you say, okay if you’re only gonna be three hours or four hours or two hours, here’s what we to prioritize for you. We wanna make it easy for you. You know, less is more, right? It’s not just a slogan for makeup. Okay? It’s less is more, we provide less so that it’s a simple structure and they know this is where I go to build community. And so again, I will say this I’ve learned more about how to do this by doing it wrong. Okay? So I’m not the expert with all the answers. And I’ve learned the hard way that that we provide one avenue in our church for people to connect in community and it’s life groups. And it happens right now for us on Sunday morning at 9:15, we’re gonna have some off-campus groups too but that’s what happens, right before worship you’re gonna connect with the community. And certainly they studied God’s word in that environment. But the main thrust is doing life together and building those relationships. And so I think, I think what we do is if we take that scope and sequence approach away if we take that map approach away, what we’ve done is, we’ve created a consumeristic culture where people are trained to be attenders and participants rather than disciples who make disciples. And I think that’s why it’s so important for us to focus on it and think about it like that.

Daniel Edmonds:

Yeah Mark, you just made a, I think a really key comment. We go back to the issue of why. The why can often be seen in the desired outcome. And when we moved from map to menu the desired outcome became attenders not disciples.

We’re not called to make attenders, we’re called to make disciples who can then go and make disciples. And that’s why I like to use that invitation with my groups. I’m saying, look you’re not telling somebody to go to a group. You’re not telling somebody to get into a group. You’re inviting somebody to be with me and why did Jesus invite them? Number one, he invited them because in Mark 3 it says He wanted them. So you ought to have some people that you want to come to know Christ and you ought to invite them to be with you. And He invited those He wanted to be with him why? So he could send them. There’s the picture of a map. I want you to be here so I can send you there. It’s there’s another step. So we’ve gotten to where there’s no clarity whatsoever as much in no alignment with our purpose as a church. And so it’s difficult. Well, part of what we look at in this in church revitalization, for those of you that have that sheet in front of you is we also talk for a moment about curriculum. Now, LifeWay offers three lines and all of us you’ve been on a call with Ben Mandrell, they’re even addressing some other issues. There may be a fourth line or an add on to help us with some of our pleas as pastors to curriculum resource. But one of the other things that is out there is a there’s smallgroups.com which allows you to go to sermon-based. Now you may not really need that to help you but it is there, but Andy you’ve had more experience with sermon-based. And I want you to speak to us a little bit of how that helps really align your people whether you do it short term or longterm with your mission strategy, your pathway.

Andy Frazier:

Well, it’s a lot of work. Let me say that but the work is worth it. Most of the time, Sunday school is people pull a curriculum out of a box and if you have a good Sunday school teacher they will study it and then they will lecture and then they will ask somebody to close in prayer and then they will either go to lunch or they’ll go to into worship. And that time is really great, but it’s another lesson. It’s another passage of scripture. It’s another theme it’s, you know, something else. And I love what LifeWay has done with things like the Gospel Project, where from, you know bed babies to senior adults, every age is on the same page. So you’re studying the same things. And that’s the kind of mindset of doing sermon-based small groups is you’re taking a passage of scripture that the pastor or the lead teacher in your church is emphasizing and asking you to respond to. And then you are building on that. You are recognizing that making disciples is a lot easier and more laser focused when you’re all talking about responding to studying and discussing the same passage of scripture. So you as the pastor have a guided direction of where you want that sermon to go and then your small groups then it’s more of facilitating a discussion based on what that sermon is. Rather than someone having to spend a lot of time preparing for themselves as the teacher to be the lecture. So it really helps in that. And it’s kind of like the flip classroom, instead of going in to the class and studying the lesson and not having enough time to go deeper and discuss and ask questions, because most of us, if we have an hour for Sunday school we’re only getting about 15 or 20 minutes of teaching in any way, because of like you’re talking about, you have a fellowship time and prayer requests, and then somebody teaches an oh, a lot of our class has to leave early to go to praise team or to go serve in the kids area or whatever. So you only get those people in there for just a small amount of time anyway. With the flip classroom, basically the teaching, the brunt of that work has already been done so you get to unpack it and you get to talk more about it amongst yourselves. So you’re really facilitating something where you can go deeper. And then on top of that you can even utilize the advantage you have from not having to take that extra time to teach that you get to unpack and talk about it. You can even say, all right, now what are we gonna do about it? Because that’s obviously what we want to ask is what is God saying? That the first question and hopefully the pastor in the sermon is answering that. And then what are we gonna do about it? How are we going to live this out in our lives in our homes, in our office and our schools, you know how are we gonna react to what God has told us? And you get to even discuss that. Or even as a group, you can even do something together. You can even transition that missionally.

Daniel Edmonds:

Okay. I heard Robbie Galtee mentioned that a lot of times gonna sermon-based helps you do teaching by multiplication rather than by division. And what he meant was a lot of times they come Sunday morning, they hear one thing in Sunday school, they hear another thing in worship and then five, six, seven times a week if they come to all those things, it’s kind of like they’re being challenged in another direction. And no one’s ever saying anything to them about accountability or how we can walk together or how you can teach this at home to your children those kinds of things that go along with making disciples.

Andy Frazier:

Yes, absolutely. Hey and Daniel, the other thing too is I know Robert and Mark also do this. Our churches are on a reading plan together. So we utilize a church wide annual reading plan for the whole year. We’re reading through the same passages of scripture not only for devotional purposes personally but also in our groups we’re discussing these passages. So overall we are just really, really honing in on key passages of scripture to look at, rather than like you said, Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, Sunday night programming and classes, Wednesday night. And then if you have other small groups and things meeting you’re in the week you’re going in so many different directions. If you can really keep your church laser focused on certain passages of scripture it helps them in memorizing and meditating but also in applying those passages.

Mark Gainey:

Yeah, it helps them engage the word, which is the goal when we’re talking about God’s word. And you know, so all three of us actually have been using the same Bible reading plan this year. And Robert and I are preaching through the same scripture every week. Andy did for most of the year. And you know, I won’t speak for Robert, for our church it has been transformational that our small groups are studying what I’m preaching on. It’s fantastic.

Robert Mullins:

Yeah not only that Mark, but also cross communication. Okay? Like in the different age ranges and the different life groups, all that sort of stuff it has created community in a sense that you’re able to go to lunch and have conversation. It doesn’t matter who’s at the table because everybody had the same stuff that they discussed and talked about what it does in essence again, watch this, so you’ve preached it. You’ve talked about it in your life group. Now you’re sitting around the table talking about it. You’ve multiplied it three times.

Daniel Edmonds:

Excellent. And all of y’all also do another thing too because we are talking about connecting to community. And I think because you each saw a weakness in the current organization if you will, that you’ve had to come along at least at different times where you create a community group just for the purpose, not necessarily trying to get deeper in the Bible, but just to get connected to people. Robert, why don’t you give us a quick word about what that looks like?

Robert Mullins:

Well I’m gonna share, I’ll just give a brief history. There’s a buddy of ours who lives in Denver, in Colorado Springs his name’s Alan Briggs, and he’s an author. And he wrote a book called “Staying is the New Going.” And when I read that book it really affected me to the point of really doing some research on how to use like literal, my outpost is my house, okay? And go from there to reach the neighborhood the community and all and all around. And so one of the challenges for me was, hey I’ve been a youth pastor for so long, all I ever did was have kids over to the house. You know, I mean all I ever did was we just did life together. And the Lord just challenged me on that. So my wife and I started with four couples and we started meeting at the house and all we did Daniel was we started at Acts chapter one. Actually we started at Matthew 28, started at Matthew 28. And we walked all the way through Acts and COVID hit. And so we got to pick up and we can start really gathering together again. And, but the point is we would have just this life giving community that we were that God was building through that attempt. We weren’t eating meal together. We would occasionally have cookies or coffee or whatever but it wasn’t like we had to put this production on. Okay? It was y’all come over. We’re gonna just study God’s word for an hour. My wife is an elementary teacher, she has got to go to sleep. You know, she gets really tired about 8:30 she’s done. So we literally try to keep it to an hour. We’d have great discussion. And we would get through, I’m talking about verse by verse word by word, we’re going through this thing. And it was just awesome. It was beautiful. And the whole point was, I would always say, hey look you know, here’s Acts 16, you know where they’re meeting in their homes. So the challenge is gonna be, when we get through this the challenge is gonna be for you to take it to your house, do it with whomever. And so that was our goal was to get kind of move from this discipling stage of them to get into our neighborhood have couples over from our neighborhood and just hang out, you know, just build that relationship. Not to, and this is a big thing for the church because this is hard. I don’t wanna manipulate them to the gospel. Okay? I wanna build real true relationship with them and the gospel will do what it does, right? Now, I’m not saying I don’t preach or teach the gospel cause I do. I speak it. I love it. I live it, but I’m not trying to manipulate anybody.

Daniel Edmonds:

Right. Well, again, that’s another type of group that can help facilitate. I’m gonna ask Mark to kind of wrap us and then we’ll take some questions. I know we got one or two, but there is a problem for a lot of us that we form all of our groups right here in this one area. And we can have, though we’re supposed to multiply. We multiply the same thing. And we’ve got people in five different groups doing the same thing and it’s almost layered. So to move along the path, keep it focused, Mark share with us a little bit about the problem that can happen there and the solution as well.

Mark Gainey:

Absolutely. And here’s the thing we multiply what we know. We multiply what we experience. I just had a conversation with a small group leader yesterday about that very thing. And so if we have Sunday school plus a Bible study, plus a men’s group, plus women’s group and now we have all these things and we wanna multiply what we ended up doing is every one of those groups is doing the exact same thing. And so, you know, Daniel and I laugh about this all the time what we’ve done at least as Baptist and this is really an all church circles but at least as Baptist, Bible studies in LifeWay let me tell you, I love LifeWay, but man, they made a killing on this idea that Bible studies are like the crack cocaine of Christians. Okay? And here’s what I mean by that. You can’t get enough, right? So you got a Beth Moore study. Oh man. And it guys you’ve got some other study. Oh, it’s so good. I love the way they say this. I love that video. I love the way they word it. I’m gonna sign up for the next one. And then you signed up for the next one and the next one. And so you multiply lots of different groups but you’re all doing the same thing. And nobody is any closer to being a disciple that makes a disciple than they were before they enlisted in that, you know, that drug program of Bible study, after Bible study, after Bible study, it’s an addiction. And so rather than feed the addiction, I think as Christians, we need, you know, we need a recovery program and that recovery program is exactly what we’ve been talking about. We need to create a map that says okay, this is the direction we want to go to be disciples that make disciples. We need to first, we need to connect people to God. Okay, they need to know God. Secondly, we need to help them know each other and build true authentic relationships, not just a 15 minute quote unquote fellowship time on Sunday school. And then we need to get them to really grow spiritually engage God’s word, multiply as disciples and then change the world for Christ. And so I think we need to avoid the temptation to offer Bible study, after Bible study, just because people are gonna show up for it they will show up for it. But is that really accomplishing our mission? You know, Andy talks about all the time is that mission critical? And we need to step back and say, okay what few steps do we need to put in place? And what direction do we need people to go in in order to be disciples that make disciples?

Ken Allen:

Yes sir. And again, there was one originally talking about the links and over in the chat or the links to Incite and PassionTree. And so that’s been done. There, both of these questions are related to a sermon-based groups. So in sermon-based, do groups follow worship time? Is this what you mean by flipped? Robert was that something that you said, flipped?

Andy Frazier:

The flipped classroom basically came out of a Ted talk a few years back, a gentleman who was working with Inner City Schools in Detroit, they had huge numbers of people either dropping out of school or failing. So instead of doing lectures in class and having homework assignments basically what they did is they gave them a YouTube type videos to watch at home. And then they unpacked those and did their homework in class. So that’s what I was referencing to is kind of flipping that instead of the majority of the teaching time being in the classroom you can unpack, discuss, and learn how to apply that. So you can make better use of your time. You can do that together as a group and build community rather than trying to do that on your own. So, and I was gonna say I think a lot of what we’ve talked about today really applies to where we are right now in the fact that we’ve got to kind of think that way, we’ve got to think differently than just in-person groups or in-person gatherings. We’ve got to utilize technology. So the sermon-based and even our small group strategies can be reflective of that.

Robert Mullins:

Can I answer that question too? Can, because this is important. They asked the question about timing. So flip the schedule. One of the first controversial things we did at Mount Hebron was we flipped the schedule. Daniel mentioned us walking together. What we were doing was we had actually written our own curriculum for, I am a church member the Thom Rainer tool that came out and what we did was all walked through that book together. I preached a sermon and then we had written the life group lessons according to that sermon. And what we wanted them to do was to hear the sermon have the worship portion. And then we went into life groups Sunday school classes altogether, typically our senior adults did not wanna do the lesson that was out there. They wanted to have their LifeWay curriculum but we asked them for the season of eight weeks or so to do this church wide. And at the end of it, we had a hey, we had a commitment form. You know, we are all on board and being church members and that sort of stuff. So it was a real good thing. I did have, ironically enough, I had somebody and this may this may be where the question is going. I had an older gentleman come back. He came in my office one Sunday and he said, “when can I have my church back?” You know, because to him church was life group first or, you know Sunday school class first, then you go to preaching, okay? And y’all look, that’s the point we as leaders have to begin to take our people where they need to go, not where they just want to go. We have to begin leading them and being the shepherd that we’re supposed to be. Because again, to go back to the point we want to multiply their learning. We want to multiply their opportunity to grow as disciples not divided. So if I’m teaching on Jesus, you know, talking about that or the point of the woman at the well and all that unpacks there, and they wanna there’s a story in the Sunday school curriculum about Noah arch, we’re on two totally different things ages that day. And what you do with the learning is you literally split it and divide it so with the life group based off the sermon, it really helps. I have always found now you can’t do this all the time because of your schedules and all that but it is so great to be able to preach first and then go into unpack that with your group. It’s just what we’ve found even during COVID is we had to so we previously had a life group first a worship service altogether, and then a life group. Well, during COVID we had to change that. So we’ve had two worship services now and one life group. Okay? Because remember I told you, we used our big room for life groups. So it was okay ’cause we brought two or three classes together. And so what we found now is we’re having more people attend the 9:00 AM worship because they wanna be in that life group after worship and discuss those things because they get more out it as disciples when they’ve done that, so.

Ken Allen:

Real quick for us, we can’t schedule wise, we can’t do it. We have a Hispanic church that worships after we do it’s on our campus. So you know, to flip the classroom, we still have the order of the same life group and then worship but you can study the life group lesson based on the sermon the next week. So it’s still the classrooms still flip.

Daniel Edmonds:

All right. Thank you. There’s nother question that is there is about do LifeWay offer a sermon-based curriculum. The closest that they have to it is to go to smallgroup.com where you can access really, like if you wanna preach through the book of Acts like Robert mentioned earlier, you can access all of these lesson plans that go along with that. You can even customize a little bit to your liking. So that smallgroup.com is a LifeWay product. Some others take curriculum that LifeWay has like if you use Gospel Project you look at what the overall theme is. And though you don’t necessarily preach the exact scripture week per week, you develop a sermon series that goes along and will speak life if you will, into that a theme. So you can do that to some extent with any of their curriculum, because if you get to the point that you try to do it yourself, like Andy said that can be a whole lot of work. You have to be began to build it around some questions for discussion, and then some logical applications of it. And don’t forget to build back in what our friend Jay Gordon says, some soft accountability. No matter when you have a group, conclude your group time with at least them turning to somebody else in the group and stating something that they feel convicted that they need to do as a result of having heard God’s word this week and then maybe allowing that person to come back the next week and say, share with me what happened because of your time spent in the word with us today. And usually Jay just throws out open to the whole class prepared first to say because of this study last week, here’s what happened in my life this week. A little, it doesn’t have to be anything grand and glorious but just a little bit of a challenge that came from hearing and doing God’s word because ultimately we’re not supposed to be hearers only but doers of the word of God. In fact, Jesus’ methodology was with his group was flipped because Luke said in the beginning of Acts, he wrote of those things that Jesus began both to do and teach. And so understand that, that design that is there when people can see it and understand it then they can replicate it. They can do it and teach others is whatnot.

Ken Allen:

Yeah, amen. This is really just a shift to God’s design for his church is what it comes down to. We’re not to be attenders. And we have such an ingrained pattern that Robert was talking about with that older gentlemen that we’ve lost sight, that we’ve lost sight, that we’re in such deep weeds that we can’t even see that we’re in deep weeds. So and that’s a place where you have to begin to gently begin to pull the weeds and get out of that pattern that’s been established for decades. Thank you guys so, so much. I appreciate, I was writing notes. I love the map not a menu, a lot of good things that you guys have shared. And again, remember that with that link that I shared earlier the outline that you heard today is in that link. So the entirety of that outline is there. Plus this video is recorded, we’ll send it out once it’s edited and you can please share it. Maybe even with your small groups as well be a good opportunity for training. I’ll give you guys a final, if any of you guys have a final word here in just a second too. So remember the connect document is there we will be doing a disciple-making, core, connecting with the core next month, Daniel. And so we look forward to that. I look forward to guys being able to hear the details of how to do a one-on-one, a one-on-two, one-on-three and them hearing that this is not rocket science. That’s what I’m looking forward to for our folks to hear that. Also, I saw that Randall Stoner was part of our participants. Just wanna give a shout out to Randall and his years of ministry as a pastor that’s S-T-O-N-E-R Randall Stoner. All right, for those Andy Griffith fans out there. Years of ministry as a pastor, as a director of mission, social mission, strategist whatever you would like to call him, just call him to eat whatever you call him. So we’re so grateful for your brother. And I know you’ll be shifting and continuing to do ministry following retirement here at the end of the year from the association. Appreciate you very much. Any final word guys before we end our time?

Daniel Edmonds:

I hope some folks deal with that idea of map and menu that Mark shared a little bit about. ‘Cause even as we talk about the elder gentleman that came into Robert’s office, you know if he had been in Sunday school back in the day and wanted in his church back, back in the day is when we did use the map. It’s in the modern times that we got off the map and went to a menu. So one way to respond to it is we’re trying to get back to what we used to do, in context of the culture in which we now live. So it is gonna look a little different, but the heartbeat of it, is all the way back to what Jesus showed us.

Robert Mullins:

Yeah, I wrote this down earlier in our comments and I don’t even remember exactly which point but this is something God is doing in my life as a disciple maker right now and as a pastor, I guess, and that is that often what we do and you speak a tradition. We even have things in our bylaws that you can’t teach a life group, or you can’t do a thing until you’ve been there a certain amount of time that sort of thing. Look at the book of Acts, look at what was happening with the new converts and how the new converts were doing amazing things. And I think that we need to make sure that we don’t write the new folks off. We better be plugging them in immediately, putting them in that second chair to start learning how to be a first chair and all that sort of stuff because you strike while the iron’s hot and those new folks are excited and they’re ready. And I’ve got a huddle right now where I’m discipling five new members of our church. And the whole point is to set them on fire. They’re already on fire, but to set them loose and let them go do their thing and about in a season after we do that. So anyway, I just think that resonated in my heart. And I think it’s important to remember.

Andy Frazer:

I wouldn’t be where I am today without a lot of the mistakes that I’ve made and by God’s grace allowing me to see how to correct those things but also thanks to these guys. And let me encourage you if you are an Alabama Baptist to be in touch with Daniel and the Sunday School Discipleship Office there they have so much to offer. His experience and his ability to communicate and relate to people in whatever situation you’re in, whatever size church you’re in that is, we have a wonderful blessing here in our state to have him as a resource, but also that office. So I thank him for how he’s poured into me and Robert and Mark. And I know he would do the same for anybody else who would call on and ask him to help. And the other thing I’d like to say is don’t be discouraged during this time, our country, our culture everything is going on. Listen, we can still do exactly what God’s called us to do and make disciples. We can have a great small group and Sunday school strategy pre, in the middle of, or even post pandemic. So all of these things we’ve talked about today they work no matter what’s going on in our culture. Amen, anything else?

Ken Allen:

All right, again, generally, it’s the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month that we do our webinars and also later Karen Church Health, we’ll continue this after the Thanksgiving break. Second Tuesday in December, that’s December the 8th for our next webinar on continuing this idea of connecting with the core. So please be a part of that, get word out. So folks, it will be a great webinar to be a part of as we get down to the nitty-gritty of making disciples. All right? So again, thank you guys for being a part of today’s webinar, appreciate your insight and your years of ministry and the experience that you’ve had related to connecting with the community and small groups.

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Hello, Alabama Baptist and belated happy new year. I know you’ve galloped into the new year, but as we well know, turning

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