Learning to Lead a Small Group - Lesson 1

Introduction to Small Groups

Dr. Ron Pyle, a teacher at Whitworth University, begins by discussing the importance of a theology of small groups, noting that God is the author of community and created humans with a capacity for community. He explains that small groups are a way for people to participate in the communal life that God has already begun, and that there are practical reasons, such as meeting social and psychological needs, for engaging in small group life. Small groups also offer a way to extend ministry and allow for flexible, lay-led opportunities. Pyle offers a definition of a small group as a voluntary, intentional gathering of 3 to 12 people regularly meeting together with the shared goal of mutual Christian edification and fellowship. The text emphasizes the importance of small groups as part of a larger Christian community, with a purpose that is larger than the individual gathering.

Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Introduction to Small Groups

I. Introduction

A. Ron Pyle

B. Small Group Ministry

II. Theology of Small Group Life

A. Definition of Theology

B. Biblical Story and Salvation History

1. Creation and God's Community

2. Human Rebellion and Resistance

3. God's Grace and Restoration through Israel

4. Jesus Christ's Redefinition of Community

III. God's Authorship and Perfection of Community

A. God's Invitation to Communal Intimacy

B. God's Establishment of Community Boundaries and Identity

C. Future Establishment of a New Jerusalem

  • What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? What does the Bible have to say about the importance of small groups and what participation should look like?

  • In this lesson, you will learn the importance of small group theology, and it starts with an understanding of God's role in community. Dr. Ron Pyle explains that all of history is essentially a history of God's communal activity with humankind, starting with creation. God is the author and perfector of community, and God establishes its boundaries, identity, and future establishment of a new Jerusalem where God's people will dwell in community with one another and with God.
  • In this lesson, you learn effective small group leadership, fostering spiritual growth and supportive relationships, handling challenges, and developing future leaders.
  • What are small groups? Why do we have them? What does a healthy small group look like? People support what they are part of creating. Plan your first meeting carefully. Different distances invite different types of communication. The behavior you want to sustain, make sure you enact the first time.

  • By studying this lesson, you learn how to effectively create and implement a small group contract to establish clear expectations, improve group dynamics, and foster a supportive and productive environment.
  • Gain insight into effectively leading small groups through the five stages of group life, while learning to adapt your leadership style and navigate changing group dynamics.
  • By promoting honest sharing in small groups, you foster trust, facilitate spiritual growth, and learn effective techniques to create a safe environment, ask open-ended questions, and practice active listening.
  • By leading effective small group discussions, you foster spiritual growth, encourage participation, and create a safe environment for open sharing and deeper connections.
  • You gain insight into power dynamics in relationships, specifically within small groups, and learn to foster healthy power dynamics, ensuring a balanced, inclusive, and constructive group environment.
  • By understanding conflict management in small group leadership, you develop the skills to foster a healthy group dynamic, resolve conflicts, and maintain a positive, collaborative environment.

What relationships are important to you? How do you develop trust? How can you share in a meaningful way with others? When you experience conflict in relationship, how can you manage it in a way that will grow your relationship? What does the Bible say about the importance and purpose of a small group?

Dr. Pyle leads you through the process from planning a small group, creating a contract, the beginning meetings, leading discussions, stages of group life and managing conflict. You will benefit from his training and experience as he gives you insights into the skills you will need and the commitments you can make to lead a group well. He will also give you insight into interpersonal communication dynamics in a group situation that will help you effectively guide and motivate the people in your group to share at a deep level.

Anytime there are people involved there are no guarantees, but there are few activities more rewarding than cultivating authentic relationships in a community of faith. This is class gives you the information and motivation you will need to get a good start and finish well. Don't miss this opportunity!

Dr. Ron Pyle
Learning to Lead a Small Group
Introduction to Small Groups
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:00] Hi, I'm Bill Mounce, the president of BiblicalTraining, and I wanted to do a quick introduction to Ron's class. The class is part audio and part video, and I want to explain kind of the background as to what happened. Ron did this class for us quite a few years ago when back were recording just audio and he did a really, really good job. The future of the church, I think is largely tied up in small groups, is tied up with people in smaller numbers, getting together, discussing, working through the issues that they've been learning. So I really believe in small groups and Ron is a master at small groups. It's what he teaches at Whitworth College or now with the university, and it's something that's been his passion his whole life. We approached Ron about redoing it in video, but Ron's schedule is really tight and he had just done a video series on small groups at his church and his church kindly let us use it as well. And so this class is a combination of it's mostly the video from his church, but he discussed some things in our audio version that he didn't discuss on the video, and we didn't want to lose that. So we did a bit of a mix and match for this class, so that's why it pops around just a bit. But most of it is video. Ron or Dr. Ron Pyle is a genuinely good person. We met him, I think probably two decades ago, maybe even three, at our church in Spokane, Washington, where he and Julie attended. He is a a calm, very kind of gentle kind of person. You'll see that. But he's very, very good at what he does and he likes to share on this particular topic.


[00:01:44] So we're thankful that we're able to produce this kind of a hybrid class, if you will. So let's see going into the first lesson. This is Ron Pyle. I have the privilege of teaching at Whitworth University in the Departments of Communication and Theology. One of the courses I teach is called Small Group Ministry. That exciting topic is what we're going to take up together today. The Scripture says in Psalm 133 how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity. Any conversation that we will have about small group life has to start with a theology of small groups. To do a theology of something is made up of two routes. The first theory is about God and the origins about words. So to do a theology is to use words to talk about God, to do a theology of small group life is to ask what does God have to do with this venture of community in small groups? So we're going to begin with a theology of small group life. A theological basis for community has to take into account the entire biblical story, what we call salvation. History is, in essence, a history of God's communal activity with humankind. It begins with creation. Before anything, was God existed in community. God's the author of community. Humankind made in God's image, male and female, are made with the capacity for community. This is part of the reflection of God's image in us. Sadly, from the beginning, humans have decided to rebel and resist intimacy with God and with each other. When we break those bonds of community dysfunction and death result in God's grace, God attempted to restore a relationship with God's community through creating Israel. Later, God redefined a community in Jesus Christ to accept the entire world and all people.


[00:04:05] In Jesus, God makes the ultimate move of reconciliation of community. If we choose to embrace God's invitation to communal intimacy, we can live into some measure of God's created order. God will someday bring together God's entire community, which spans both distance and time. God will establish a new Jerusalem and His people will dwell in it in community with one another and with God. So in essence, God is the author and perfector of community. God establishes its boundaries, its identity, its membership, and its future. In this respect, we don't create community in small group or house group life. We reflect it. We live into the created order by which God made us in his image. So why have small groups or house groups? The first and most efficient answer is because God, the creator of community, calls us to participate in the community that God has already begun. The Scripture promises in Matthew 18, verse 24, where two or three come together in my name. There I am with them. Our participation in God's communal life is not simply for our own blessing. Ultimately, smaller groups are called out from the larger church to be a blessing to the church. We exist not for ourselves alone. So why have small groups? First, because it reflects part of the communal nature of God, in addition to the foundational theological reasons to have groups. There are other practical reasons to engage in groups. Also, small groups or house groups meet social needs, such as the need for belonging and inclusion. We all have a need to feel like we fit somewhere, like someone knows us, like we are included in something larger than ourselves. Smaller house groups also help us meet psychological needs. Our need for self-understanding, for example, is partially addressed, at least in small group life.


[00:06:28] I understand myself better when I'm in community with other people helping me have a perspective. There is new and interesting research that even suggests there are physical benefits to small and house group life. Recent research shows us that relational health is related in some very important ways to physical health. For example, people with healthy social relationships tend to have a lower incidence of hypertension, stroke and heart attack. So small group life is good for you physically. Small group life also has an impact on extending ministry. Small or house groups provide a wonderful way to have flexible mobile lay led opportunity for ministry. They're flexible. They can meet at any time of the week, any time of the day, their mobile. They aren't tied to any particular location and their lay led. One of the blessings of small or house groups is that they're often led by laypeople. God designed from the beginning for ministry to belong to the Saints small group. Life is a way of fulfilling that design. So there are many reasons to engage in small group house group life. It might be appropriate at this point to offer a definition of what we mean by a small group or a house group. Neil McBride in his book Real Small Groups Don't Just Happen, offers the following definition. He says a small group within the church is a voluntary, intentional gathering of 3 to 12 people, regularly meeting together with the shared goal of mutual Christian edification and fellowship. What we'll do next is to walk through some important aspects of that definition. First, it specifies a small group within the church. Within the church tells us that there is a larger Christian entity than ourselves in this small or house group. We are part of a community larger than ourselves, called out from that larger community for a purpose under the direction of the Holy Spirit and embracing biblical standards and values.


[00:09:07] We have a purpose that is larger than our individual gathering, and we're part of a family much larger than the house or small group of which we are a part. The definition also specifies that such life is voluntary. People can't be forced to join. Their decision to be part of the group is one freely made by them. The definition, says small group, is an intentional gathering to have a healthy small group. That group must have a clear purpose and clear design. Groups become groups by an intentional process. Next comes the issue of size. The definition says from 3 to 12 people. If you have fewer than three, you don't really have a group. You have a pair. And the number 12 is somewhat arbitrary, but it's a rough estimate of the upper limit of what a healthy small group will involve. If you have more than 12 or perhaps a maximum of 15 people, some aspects of interpersonal relationship will be difficult. For example, if small group life involves some sharing of what's gone on in that week and you have 15 people as part of the group, you'll use 45 minutes of your group time. Just hearing from 15 people, even if they speak for a very short amount of time each. The definition goes on to say these groups have regular meetings. Some groups exist on paper only. They say they're an entity, but in practical life they aren't. To be an actual group, there must be some sort of regular meeting. That regular meeting will express a shared goal. The group's purpose has to be clearly stated and mutually shared. Later in this first session, we're going to talk about how you create a sense of shared ness in the goal. The definition continues to talk about mutuality.


[00:11:33] Here we mean that every member assumes responsibility for group functioning and is accountable to the relationships with the other members. In this respect, the group doesn't belong to the leader. It belongs to the group itself and their mutual support. The definition says these groups exist for the purpose of Christian edification. The notion to edify means to build up. So what happens in small group life is we build up the members of the house or small group of which we are a part. We also build up the larger church as we encourage one another. Admonish, pray for support one another. We build up the church and we experience fellowship, sharing things in common based on mutual relationship through Jesus Christ. So here's our privilege task to consider how small groups, house groups function most effectively. At this point, I want to give those of you listening a task. I want you to meet in smaller groups of two or three. If you're processing this tape in a group to describe characteristics of a group experience that went well. Think about a time when your group experience produced a good outcome, and I want you to name the characteristics of that group. So take a moment now to do that. Welcome back. I hope your group meeting was helpful. The next piece I want to do with you is to talk about what Roberta Heston has describes as seven keys to healthy small groups. These will be a description of characteristics that tend to accompany healthy small group life. I'll be interested to see the extent to which the characteristics that Heston has talks about are mirrored in your experience. The first of the seven keys that Heston describes is Covenant. A covenant. In this context is a shared understanding of the group's purpose and the means used to achieve that purpose.


[00:14:09] Covenant is one of the most important moves that happened in small group life. Later in this series, we're going to talk at some length about how you establish a covenant and some questions that ought to be addressed. But for now, just know the covenant is a shared understanding of what the group's purpose is and how that group will attempt to achieve that purpose. A second key to healthy small group life is helpful leadership. Later in this teaching, we're going to talk about the nature of leadership and some of the characteristics of helpful leaders. But healthy small groups have a helpful leader. A third characteristic is caring. This is the quality of life in which group members learn to love one another. This is God's command to us that we love one another in small groups or house groups, we have the privilege of sharing life in Christ. A fourth characteristic of healthy small groups is meaningful content. Groups will meet typically to study and reflect, usually on a passage of Scripture in order to know God. Know ourselves and know one another better. The quality of that content invites people to be engaged in the group. A fifth characteristic of healthy small groups is healthy communication. Communication is how we create and share meaning together. Communication is the thread that binds all relationships together. Healthy communication in a small group will involve issues of clarity, understanding and expression, both using words and without words. A sixth characteristic of healthy groups is healthy management of conflict. Conflicts involve the authentic expression and management of thoughts and feelings. Whenever human beings come together, there will by nature be times that conflicts arise. In the final session of the teaching, I'll be involved and we're going to talk about the nature of conflict in group life and how one manages it So healthy Management of conflict is a sixth key.


[00:16:53] The seventh key to healthy small groups is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the center of community. Without Jesus, a meeting can be held, but no godly transformation will occur. The group life that we're talking about is rooted, located, focused, and for the purpose of building up the body in Jesus Christ.