In 2006 I was asked to do something that I just knew would end my career as a small group pastor at LifeChurch.tv. My senior pastor’s wife started a women’s ministry that had been meeting on campus for 8 years and I was asked to kill it and move all the women involved into off-campus small groups. As a man, I was certain that I was toast!
Fortunately, God was gracious and my senior pastor’s wife was on board with the change. She helped lead the charge and in the first semester of off-campus women’s groups we saw the number of women’s ministry participants double! It was a huge success, but it came only after much preparation.
One of my favorite stories from that change in women’s ministry strategy is the story of my wife, Stacey. Stacey started a women’s group and had a blast, so I’ve asked her to co-write this article and share her insights. This article is about the biggest challenge facing women’s small group: division. Satan loves to destroy the unity of women’s small groups and he does it in primarily two areas: childcare and cliques.
Knowing what to do with the kids can be a challenge for ladies groups because many of them will be made up of stay-at-home-moms and/or single moms. It’s critical for groups to decide up front how they will handle childcare. There’s a great article called “The Childcare Checklist” at SmallGroups.com that will help your group navigate the childcare conversation. In addition, below are some ideas we used at LifeChurch.tv that you can discuss with your group.
- Utilize local “Mothers Day Out” programs. Other churches in your town may offer Mother’s Day Out Programs where ladies can drop off their children for a few hours. Check around your area to see if any MDO programs are available.
- Meet outside the home. Get together at local coffee shops, bookstores or the park after the kids are in school.
- Work around naptime. Buy some nap mats, meet at naptime and have the kids all take their naps together in another room. (This works in daycare centers, other children are doing it so will yours if that is what is expected of them.)
- Coordinate home-schoolers’ help. Arrange for a home schooled teenager to come to the host home to watch the children in another room.
- Contact local colleges. Local colleges have information on students interested in childcare.
- Drop in/hourly play childcare center. See if there are any childcare centers in your area that allow parents to drop off their children on an hourly basis.
- Use two homes. Some goups will drop their kids off at one group member’s house with a sitter or volunteer from the group and then have the group gathering at another home a few blocks away.
- Bring them with you! This is a wonderful way for children to see their moms living their faith. Here are some ideas for having kids present with your women’s group.
Cliques are not just a middle school phenomenon. They can be a big problem in women’s small groups. Let’s start by saying right off that cliques are not intrinsically bad. God created people to gather and group. We naturally like spending time with people like us. In the small group world we call it the “homogeneity receptivity principle”. That simply means that people are receptive to others that are like them. Thus people bond more closely with some people and less closely with others. In other words: human beings are cliquish.
Not only are cliques not intrinsically bad, but they can be good. We’ve all heard people say, “We just really clicked.” That’s modern slang derived from the word clique. When people “click” they are hitting it off and they feel a deep connection. God created us this way, so when people “click” it’s a beautiful thing!
One of Satan’s sneakiest strategies is to take God’s beautiful creations and pervert them. Cliques are no exception. Satan wishes to distort them and make them ugly and divisive. Thus, cliques in small groups can be very harmful when someone feels left out. Of all places in the world, God wants small groups to be a safe place where everyone can come and experience His love through each of us so make every effort to have your group be one that is not “cliqueing” but one that is “clicking”!! Confused? Here’s what we mean: let’s categorize the connections formed within a small group as “cliqueing” when they have a negative effect, dividing the group and alienating people. Let’s call the connections “clicking” when they have a positive effect, bringing unity, safety, and encouragement. Below are some characteristics of groups that “clique” (negative) and groups that “click” (positive), followed by some ways to help your group “click.”
> Hurt feelings
> Don’t know where you stand
> Always know where you stand.
Ways to Help Your Group “Click”
- Welcome all newcomers. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to neglect new people when you’re catching up with your best friend.
- Alienate the right people. Of course you don’t really want to alienate anyone, but if you’re not sure who you should sit next to or talk to ask yourself, “who is less likely to be offended if I don’t talk to her?” This means I shouldn’t always sit with my best friend, but intentionally sit by new people or people I know less-well so I can get to know them. When this behavior is demonstrated, it will be imitated by the others in the group.
- Communicate with everyone. When an email goes out, make sure everyone gets it. Ask group members to “reply to all” with group emails so everyone is in on the conversation. Make sure that all email addresses and phone numbers are up to date. Email is a great way to share prayer requests discussed each week. You might even consider setting up a facebook page for your group where you can share with each other.
- Group outside the group. Encourage the ladies in your group to get together for extra activities like going to dinner, catching a movie, going shopping or meeting for tea. Just be sure spell out that these activities shouldn’t just be for “best friends”. They should be inclusive activities as often as possible so everyone in the group is able to form new bonds.
- Remember birthdays and/or anniversaries. Keeping a calendar with everyone’s birthdays (even kid’s birthdays) and/or anniversaries is a great way to show that you care. Sending a note or a small gift makes people feel loved and remembered. However, make sure to use this information if you are going to ask for it. It’s terrible to ask someone for their birth date and then not remember them on that day!!!
- Ask everyone to help. Try to include everyone in helping with the group with food, drinks, etc. Don’t put people on the spot however. You don’t want to ask someone to bring food only to find out that they are embarrassed by their inability to cook. Instead create a signup sheet that allows people to sign up as they feel comfortable.