You might be familiar with the usual 4 W’s agenda in small group meetings. Click here for the explanation for each item in the agenda. They are as follows:
Sometimes a fifth or sixth W are added, Webbing or Warfare.
This kind of approach has been very useful for many cell groups. It’s also user friendly for many pastors who want to teach their cell leaders how to have an effective cell group meeting.
I would like to suggest a different approach. The 4 (or 5 or 6) W’s approach is basically very leader-centered. It has to do with the agenda or purpose of the leader, or the church. Usually cell groups become (maybe not as intended) little churches with little pastors. The cell leader goes through the 4 W’s with the intention of evangelism or discipleship, i.e. to evangelize or disciple the members of the group. Although not evil by intention, this approach falls short of the biblical ideal of having instead a “one-another” atmosphere, where the focus is not on the leader per se but on the work of the Holy Spirit in and through each one.
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn,or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:26)
To facilitate this, I would like to propose a 5 P’s approach instead. They are as follows:
- Praise items (thanksgiving)
- Personal insights
- Practical application
Allow me to explain.
The first item in a small group agenda should be praise. But how do we do this? Usually, in most cell groups, they start with singing praise songs. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it does not provide the proper context for true praise to occur. Worship is a response to the initiatives of God. It’s not simply trying to start with an upbeat mood. So the best way to do this in a small group is to allow each one (after welcoming everyone) to share some praise items first. These are things that happened during the week that are positive. As the praise items build up (Note: it’s not necessary for everyone to share something but that is okay), the group will be in a position to truly worship God. Praise becomes authentic when we are simply responding to the goodness and love of God in our lives. The leader can simply transition to prayers of thanksgiving and praise, or even lead the group to sing songs of praise, etc. This can also lead easily to the opening prayer (if it was not done earlier).
Although it may sound counter-intuitive, sharing each other’s problems is a good way to start the actual learning process. The goal of the whole meeting should really be to hear God’s voice (through one another, see 1 Cor 14:26) and to respond in obedience to what God is saying (again, through each one as well, not just through the leader). So the best way to do that is to provide a context where it would be necessary to hear from God. Besides, each one (although not necessarily everyone) may already be focused on their own problems to begin with. They may come to the meeting with heavy hearts. Now, of course, it’s also true that not everyone may be ready to share their problems (this depends on the trust atmosphere in the group). The group must be gracious enough to allow everyone to share only what the Holy Spirit is prompting them to share. No pressures please. A group must be a place for authentic, life-giving relationships. But once real problems are shared, it becomes the natural context to learn what God may be saying to each one or as a group in the context of those problems. Normally we are content-oriented in our approach to teaching, i.e. we want to teach the group some information or curriculum. This is not effective. In reality people don’t remember facts; they remember experiences and emotions. So teaching a passage of Scripture (without the context of real life application) may sound interesting at first, but in the long run it will not be retained. Memory is the key to learning. In other words, no one will learn just because they were exposed to some information. We only learn when there is an immediate application to a real situation.
In addition, it is important to put the problem situation in the proper context. We must not just identify the problem, we must also frame a possible solution statement. In other words, to solve this problem, we must be able to think, feel, or do something. So the leader must be able to do this, or at least some of the members of the group, if they are already familiar with process, can help frame this statement. Take this case as an example…
The problem is that one of the members are struggling with pornography. The solution statement can be: To solve this problem, the person concerned must be able to avoid “triggers” (i.e. events that starts the process of temptation, James 1:13-15). This may be your conclusion after talking about it for a while. Now how can he or she do that? That is the learning context which can allow the Holy Spirit to use each one to come up with a practical solution, which brings us to the next item in the agenda, Personal Insights.
NOTE: Sometimes several members of the group have problems of various sorts. The key is to prioritize. Let the group now that you cannot tackle all the problems in one meeting. So the group must choose. The goal is to help each one in solving their problems by the grace of God. But this can only be done by focusing. In other instances, no one has a problem. In this case, the leader must learn to create a fictional problem or a scenario (i.e. simulation) where it would be necessary to have God’s wisdom in order to solve it. This is called Real Life Learning. In other words, you do not discuss God’s word without a context or a real life application. There must be a goal/mission in any learning event. We must ask, “Why are we learning this information?” before we can really learn it. So if no one has a problem, the leader can simply say, “Let’s imagine this situation… what would you do…, etc.”
After a person has shared a concern or issue in his or her life that he or she is struggling with, and after the group has agreed that it is a priority, then it’s time for each person to share personal insights. Now, depending on the composition of the group, some may share humanistic insights, or even worldly insights. The leader must not be afraid of this. God’s truth can stand the ultimate test of all wisdom, reality. So, if no one shares God’s wisdom from His word, the leader must take this opportunity to share “a hymn,or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” In other words, the leader (although he may not be the only one, especially if there are believers in the group) must be prepared to share the word of the Lord. Therefore, he or she must take the time to pray before the meeting, so that he or she can hear from God concerning what He may want to say to the group. At the same time, by living each day in the kingdom of God (i.e. practicing the presence of God), the leader will be in a position to hear God’s word on a daily basis. This, after all, is what is required whenever we speak in any context.
“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11)
Now, it may also be helpful to lead the group to listen to some kind of resource, if it is helpful. This may be a sermon or a talk. It may be in some form of media (live, video or audio). Or maybe the group can commit to read a book, etc. In other words, if no one has a word from the Lord, the group can prayerfully search for God’s answer for the problem. Sometimes, if the leader is well prepared, God would use a recent experience (of listening, watching, reading, etc.) to reveal His word to the group. In other words, there is no more need to search for answers. What is important is that, if ever there is a need to research, there is a reason for it (i.e. the problem). One of the most ineffective methods in the church today is studying content (e.g. bible studies, sermons, etc.) for its own sake. The result is lots of knowledge with no application. Jesus said, “Teach to OBEY everything…” (Matthew 28:19)
After hearing what God says concerning the problem, the leader must challenge the group toward practical application. The first one to answer must be the one who has the problem. What would he or she do now that he or she knows God’s wisdom? The others can listen and affirm as needed. But each one must also try to imagine their own application, if they are in that similar situation. What would they do? In other words, the leader must challenge everyone to become doers of the word, not just hearers.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)
As always, it would be good to end in prayer of thanksgiving and praise. But first pray for those who are facing the immediate challenge of applying God’s word. They need courage and grace. You may want to lay hands on each person. You can also end with a hymn or a song. This is called Real Life Praying. You are praying for actual situations and actual concerns, not just praying in general.