Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Greetings! If you came here to find the outline for small group start-ups that i offered in my Saturday Nov. 5 "Faith Works" column for the Newark Advocate, i've moved it over to:

The material is about five pages long as a document, and i didn't want to confuse people scrolling down to find old columns. Thanks to all who used it and passed along comments, and it is still free for the use of any group or congregation that wants to try it -- you just can't sell it or put your name on it!

In Grace & Peace, Jeff Gill
Faith Works 11-5-05
Jeff Gill

To Grow Larger, Get Smaller

A church with a million members: not a denomination, but a congregation. In Seoul, South Korea is such a church. Paul Yonggi Cho is the pastor, and while cultural factors of Korean life no doubt play a role, he says the key factor is the realization "to grow larger, we must get smaller."
In New Testament Christianity, the house church and the small gathering is as common as large assemblies in public spaces, and those moments of worship and corporate life inspired Pastor Yonggi Cho’s insight, which has been picked up by megachurch leaders in America like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.
Congregations like Willow Creek and Saddleback may be tens of thousands in total membership, but both Hybels and Warren affirm the necessary place of the cell group, house church, or study circle in making such growth, or any growth, possible.
To grow larger as a worshiping congregation, you must get small as a church.
Rolling Plains United Methodist Church south of Zanesville has grown dramatically along with the development of "life groups" with special interests like quilting, motorcycles, caregiving, or prayer. Whatever the specific issue that brought the five to ten together in the first place, they meet regularly (it could be weekly, biweekly, or monthly). Brian Law, their pastor, notes "And they have leadership which is both accountable as well as supported by training and guidance from church staff, and they ground their work in prayer and sharing."
The principle at work is that you can’t effectively share the Gospel until you are ready to share your story with a small, safe group – and listen well to their stories, as well. So a small group might spend 25 minutes with some prayer and study resources, and then spend an hour knitting afghans, or repairing porches for the elderly or disabled in the church area, or cooking dinners for the homeless. Reflection and action, in a context small enough to allow some personal sharing, but with support from a larger structure so no one feels as if they are dealing with the big issues when they come along all by themselves.
Many churches have small groups and don’t know it, or have systems in place that could support a vital group structure. Choir practice, if grounded in some prayer and sharing, can become a small group time; fellowship groups, if the gossip is kept secondary to heartfelt communication, can become a life circle; work groups or mission teams are easily able to facilitate some personal discussion and reflection if given some basic tools along with their standard toolbelt.
Small group life is considered by many church health and vitality consultants as the single best indicator of where congregational life is heading. Ideally, there should be one functioning small group per ten in your average worship attendance. If you average 100 per Sunday over the year, there should be about ten small groups among adult classes, choirs, fellowship circles, and support groups. If you have 11 or more, and they really are providing space for sharing and support along with prayer plus their "official" purpose, you’re likely heading in a positive direction.
A warning, and an offer: for every three new small groups you start, two will likely not survive a year. That’s considered normal, whatever the planning that went into starting the groups. There is an alchemy poorly understood to put a group of people together and build community among them; the best sign is when a gathering occurs around a common interest and they come to church leadership and say "How do we make this a small group?"
The offer is simply an outline for a six week study that any kind of group can use to explore sharing one’s story in a safe, secure small group environment. This can be six one hour gatherings over whatever period of time, or twelve 25 minute sessions tied to another hour spent on . . . needlepoint, carburetors, or home repair.
Send me an e-mail to and I’ll send you the outline, as text or an attachment. Two groups in the area are using it already, and I’m delighted to offer it to anyone trying to improve their group process!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send comments or questions (or requests for the small group outline) to

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 11-6-05
Jeff Gill

Feeling at Home

One thing that lets you know you’re at home is being able to play your own music.
For some of us, that means we feel most at home in our cars (which is another column, I suppose), but whether it’s Bach or "Roll Over, Beethoven," we make a space around us by the tunes we fill it with.
"Phil Dirt and the Dozers" are a popular act in the central Ohio region, with regular gigs farther afield. I’ve heard them compared to a Jimmy Buffet concert or listening to a Little Feat show, with dancing down front no matter what the venue. But while I’ve heard about them for years, I’ve never heard them.
That will change for me, and maybe some of you, on Friday Nov. 11. They are doing a benefit concert for the Licking County Coalition for Housing that night at 8 pm in Adena Hall of OSU-N. It will wrap up "Homelessness Awareness Week" which will again mark Courthouse Square with some informational displays including "Shoes On the Square" (of which more in a bit).
For $25, or a table of eight at $200, and refreshments you can buy there which also serve the Coalition’s cause, you can have a great evening of boogeying to the music that makes you feel at home even in Adena Hall, and help provide housing for people from Licking County who need a transitional time and space to get back into a home of their own.
Fiberglass Federal Credit Union is the sponsor of this great evening, and they have tickets available . . . or call 345-1970 and ask at the Coalition for assistance not in finding housing, but in getting your ticket!
You do know that the pollworkers will be waiting for you Tuesday, don’t you? From 6:30 am to 7:30 pm the polling places will be open and the candidates want to hear from you, as do many ballot questions having to do with funding or maintaining a number of important civic institutions. Do your research, ask questions, and vote on what you know – and you can skip stuff you just have no idea about. This isn’t a test, y’know.
What would make an interesting ballot initiative is the deer situation. A few days ago I was passing Fackler’s Garden Center, and a field across the road had, near sunset, at least 47 deer. I had to speed up and couldn’t keep looking, or I may have passed 50; a few hundred yards further I saw eight deer on the other side of the road. These deer looked scrawny and parasite ridden, as well as traveling in literal herds.
Along Newark-Granville Road alone we’ve had numerous car-deer encounters, and the next fatality is only a matter of time; that would be a human fatality, not deer, who already litter the shoulders of Licking County roads from I-70 to Rt. 13 heading to Utica.
While there are refined ethicists like Peter Singer of Princeton and no doubt a few locally who would say I commit a grievous moral error in placing human life higher than animal lives, I’m here to blunder my way into a further offense: I say we shoot the deer.
Shoot the deer. Yep, Bambi’s mom. There are so many, legs propping up the weight of the carcass right at windshield height, and don’t tell me there won’t be many, many asking why we didn’t do this when the first child is killed in a car seat by a hurtling deer smashing through the passenger compartment.
If we had a vote on how many are willing to take the small chance of a crew of carefully screened and selected hunters sent into municipal woodlots to shoot the deer, I think it would win in a landslide. My wife is a trained environmental educator who worked for the National Park Service, and I lead all kinds of nature hikes and woods-walks in parks around Licking County, and want to respect nature. But . . .
But we need to shoot the deer. Not wrap bushes with netting or plant birth control in feed for the packs of cervids who trample through the fields, nor do we need to study the "human-deer interaction" any further.
We need to shoot the deer. Not all of them, but quite a few. We tried importing lions into the wild (wait, that wasn’t a deer management plan?), and we’re spraying gallons of coyote urine around our gardens (how do they collect it, anyhow?), but it isn’t working. They have no predators but radiator grills and windshields, and that ain’t gonna solve the problem without taking quite a few drivers and passengers with them.
Until we get to vote on that one, would you thank any hunter you know getting ready for deer season in a few weeks, since they may be saving your life?
And sure, send your angry "don’t kill the deer" e-mails to I’ll open them with an asbestos mouse . . .