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The Power of the Weekly Small Group
January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
We were created for community, and that community “happens” powerfully in the small group setting. The opportunity for fellowship and sharing at the deep heart level occurs when we have the chance to get to know one another in a small group setting.
HomeBuilders Bible Studies
We recommend HomeBuilders small group Bible studies as well as a variety of helpful books addressing everything from marital instruction, to recovering from infidelity, to issues with sexual intimacy, to training with finances. HomeBuilders can be used in a home, chapel, other small group setting. And many of the titles are available in Spanish!
Each small-group study focuses on real-life topics, practical application, and biblical truth. ShopFamilyLife.com lists the following key HomeBuilders series:
- HomeBuilders Couples Series
- HomeBuilders Parenting Series
- HomeBuilders Military Series
- Preparing for Marriage
The Purpose of Military HomeBuilder Studies
We like to say, “Anything you do for a marriage will help a military marriage,” but the military HomeBuilder studies are specifically designed to give military couples the tools to help them cope with some of the unique stresses and challenges they face in their marriages. By participating in these studies, couples will strengthen their relationships and learn practical steps they can take to make their marriages more solid.
The intended audiences of these studies are active duty, reserve, and National Guard military members and their spouses. We also recognize that others who work with and for the military—DOD teachers or civilian employees, for example—would also benefit from the studies. Most people today enter into marriage with little idea of how to make the relationship work. If they happen to be in the military, they routinely face challenges that put an incredible strain on their relationship, such as:
- extended separations from spouses and families
- long duty hours
- fear for loved ones who may be in dangerous situations
- moving frequently to unfamiliar environments
- overseas assignments
Planning for HomeBuilders Small Groups
Leading a HomeBuilders group does not require an expert Bible teacher or a couple with a “perfect” marriage. The leader of the group is a facilitator, not a lecturer. The main function of the facilitator is to provide an environment of openness, warmth, and acceptance.
The facilitator is a fellow member of the group who has the added responsibility of guiding the group in the right direction within the set time period (sixty minutes). The best leaders are couples willing to share their successes and weaknesses while trying to foster a better marriage at the same time.
If you are unsure about your ability to lead, consider co-leading with another couple. You can divide the responsibilities. Together you can trust God to work in your lives and to help other couples.
Starting a HomeBuilders group
As a couple, commit to each other and to God to make the HomeBuilders group a priority for the time it will take to complete the study. (Remember, it only requires a short-term commitment. You may choose to meet weekly or every other week.) Decide how you will share responsibility for organizing and leading the group, preparing for the session, phone calling, and details of hospitality.
Inviting couples to participate
You may want to ask your chaplain if he knows of any couples who would be interested and if you could promote the group within the chapel (see below). Invite friends, neighbors, coworkers, and parents from your children’s school or teams. A personal invitation is always best.
These studies also can be used in Gateway Ministries as young men and women prepare for military duty. It would be appropriate for senior cadets at academies as they look toward their first assignment and possibly marriage. Engaged couples living in the United States or overseas who are considering joining the military would also benefit.
We should mention that the content is designed primarily for couples who do not know much about the Bible. Couples who are already mature in their Christian faith may find the content very basic; we advise them to see the group as an opportunity to reach out and help couples who are younger in the faith.
Show potential group members the materials and tell them about the discussion format. You will want to assure couples that the study will help make a good marriage better, and that they will be making a limited time commitment.
An ideal size for the group is four to seven couples—including you and your spouse.
Starting HomeBuilders in your chapel
If you are interested in starting HomeBuilders in your chapel, volunteer to lead a group there. Make it clear to your chaplain that you will do the work, and show him or her the HomeBuilders material.
Explain how the principles from the study have affected your life, and share how chapels can use HomeBuilders in a variety of ways. But if the chaplain is not interested, respect his or her wishes and start a neighborhood group instead.
Chapels most frequently use HomeBuilders studies in small groups or as an evening Bible study. If small groups already exist at your chapel, talk with the person who makes decisions on the curriculum. If there are no small groups currently meeting, you could offer to organize the first group.
A chapel or Sunday school class often sets aside a weekend to emphasize strong marriages. This provides a great setting to share a series of HomeBuilders sessions.
Starting HomeBuilders in a Sunday School
There are two important adaptations that will need to be made if you want to use these studies in a classroom setting:
- The material you cover will need to focus on the content from the Blueprints section of each session. Blueprints is the heart of each session and is designed to last approximately forty-five minutes.
- Most Sunday school classes are geared around a teaching format instead of a small-group format. If these studies are to be used in a class setting, the class will need to adapt to a small group dynamic. This will involve an interactive, discussion-based format, and may also require a class to break into multiple smaller groups. We recommend groups of six to eight people.
Consider the following ideas:
- Advertise in base newspapers, at Family Support centers, and through command channels.
- Send invitations to chapel members and neighbors.
- Advertise in the chapel bulletin, newsletter, or flyers.
- Conduct an introductory meeting to demonstrate the effectiveness and fun of HomeBuilders.
- Have your chaplain endorse HomeBuilders from the pulpit.
- Use sign-up sheets.
- Invite your chaplain or Sunday school teacher to observe an existing class.
It is important that your group focus on the study material without distractions and interruptions. Ask your group what works best for them. Childcare must be dependable. Some couples will not be able to commit to every group session if childcare is not provided. Here are some suggestions:
- Arrange babysitting in one house and hold the study in another.
- Pool resources to hire a babysitter.
- Ask if any couples have older children who would babysit.
- Use available childcare or chapel facilities when the nursery is already scheduled to be open.
- Hold your group meetings at the same time as chapel Awana or other children’s programs.
Leading Your HomeBuilders Small Groups
Coordinating with your spouse
Before you begin each session, agree as a couple how much you will communicate about your own marriage. Sharing openly will help others apply biblical truths to their own lives. Study the leader’s notes and pray regularly for your group. Also, discuss as a couple your leadership responsibilities for each session. It is also important to practice hospitality. Making friends is a key to creating an environment in which God will change lives. In our impersonal world, many couples are hungry for friendships. God will use your relationships in an atmosphere of mild accountability to encourage couples to apply the lessons to their lives.
Starting the session
Share the following ground rules at the beginning of the first session, and review them as needed:
- Share nothing that will embarrass your spouse.
- You may pass on any question.
- Anything shared in the group stays in the group.
- Couples should complete the HomeBuilders project between each session.
Simply read through the questions to lead the study. At first, you may need to wait for answers. Don’t jump in too quickly with your own ideas. Naturally, couples will wait for you to answer, and by doing so, you will end up teaching the material without their input. Ideas you can solicit from the group will mean more to the participants than those you teach. When discussion lasts too long or gets off the subject, just read the next question to stay on track.
Components of each session
- Warm-Up (5–10 minutes): The purpose of Warm-Up is to help people unwind from a busy day and get to know each other better. The questions also lead them toward the topic of that session.
- Blueprints (45 minutes): This is the heart of the study. In this time, people answer pertinent questions related to the topic of study and look to God’s Word for understanding.
- HomeBuilders Project (60 minutes): This is the unique application step in a HomeBuilders study. Before your meeting ends, couples are encouraged to Make a Date to complete this project with their spouse before the next meeting. Encourage couples to make this a priority—it will make the HomeBuilders experience twice as effective.
- Keep the focus on what Scripture says. When someone disagrees with Scripture, affirm them for wrestling with the issue and point out that some biblical statements are hard to understand or accept. Encourage them to keep an open mind on the issue at least through the remainder of the sessions.
- Avoid labeling an answer as “wrong”; doing so can kill the atmosphere for discussion. Encourage a person who gives a wrong or incomplete answer to look again at the question or the scripture being explored. Offer a comment such as, “That’s really close” or “There’s something else we need to see there.” Or ask others in the group to respond.
- Your best resource for communicating with others is your own life and marriage. Be prepared to get the discussion going by sharing things from your own lives. But as a couple, be sure you agree beforehand about the issues and experiences you will share.
- One thing to watch is the possibility of people in the group using the discussion as an opportunity to focus too much on their perceived shortcomings of the military. Though many questions call for couples to discuss the pressures they face in marriage because of the military lifestyle, encourage them to avoid getting sidetracked into “military bashing.”
- Take time during each session to encourage couples to work on the HomeBuilders project before you meet again. These projects are a vital part of the HomeBuilders experience.
Praying in the group
An important part of a small group is prayer. However, as the leader you need to be sensitive to the level of comfort the people in your group have toward praying in front of others. Never call on people to pray aloud if you don’t know if they are comfortable doing this. There are a number of creative approaches you can take, such as modeling prayer yourself, calling for volunteers, and letting people state their prayers in the form of finishing a sentence. A tool that is helpful in a group is a prayer list. You should lead the prayer time, but allow another couple in the group the opportunity to create, update, and distribute prayer lists as a ministry to the group.
Many groups choose to have refreshments because they help create an environment of fellowship. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- For the first session you should provide the refreshments and then allow the group to be involved by having a signup sheet.
- Consider starting your group with a short time of informal fellowship and refreshments (fifteen minutes), then move into the study. This way if a couple is late, they only miss the food and don’t disrupt the study.
Building new leadership
As you lead, look for potential leaders who might multiply your group into new groups. Someone may even express interest in leading. Here are a few pointers to help you build new leaders:
- Look for others who demonstrate availability, teachability, and faithfulness.
- Select a couple in your group who demonstrates maturity in their Christian walk and marriage, and whom you feel would be good discussion leaders.
- Invite them to try out the leadership role by asking one or two questions, by leading part of the session, and then leading an entire session by the end of the study.
- Challenge them to start a group after the current study is completed.
In the back of each HomeBuilders study there is a set of “Leader’s Notes and Tips,” additional notes about various Blueprints questions and possible answers. They are there to help you if you get stuck. These notes are aggregated by session and the numbers correspond to the Blueprints question numbers.
- Notes are not included for every question.
- Most questions are designed to help you make sure group members understand the correct scriptural principles.
- Many of the questions in the studies are designed to have group members draw from their own opinions and experiences.
- If you share any of these points, be sure to do so in a manner that does not stifle discussion by making you the authority with the final answers. Begin your comments by saying things like, “One thing I notice in this passage is … ” or “I think another reason for this is ….”
Thank you for your interest in leading HomeBuilders! We assure you that the experience will bless you richly as you lead others through discovering God’s blueprints for their marriage.