Rick Howerton, “Multi-generational Small Groups” (Exponential 2010)

Rick Howerton has been a small group pastor, church planter, and senior pastor. He is the National Director of Events and Training and Small Group-ologist for Serendipity by LifeWay. Rick is also the co-author of Small Group Life Manual and the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual, an all-encompassing guide to creating a small group ministry and starting and leading passionate, life-changing small groups. I first met Rick through Lifeway’s Online Small Groups Summit a few months back.

Here are my notes on Rick’s seminar at Exponential:

Consider the necessity of intergenerational groups

What is a disciple? “A learner.”

What is disciple-making? There are different processes

Can children be disciples?  Absolutely

Can children be discipled?  Yes, but how?

In what setting are they best discipled?

The elephant in the room: are disciples best made in ‘classrooms’ or through ‘relationships’?

  • They go hand-in-hand, but…
  • We tend to go one way or the other…
  • “I am not convinced that sitting in a classroom with curriculum for 1 ½ hours/week will make disciples.”
  • Importance of relationship

Multi-generational Groups

Pros:

  • Modeling (children wathinc parents do biblical community learn to do so themselves)
  • Synergistic/Organic Mentoring (spiritual gifts and experiences of those in the group at work) – allows for opportunity for all gifts to be utilized
  • Single parents can connect children to role models (of the opposite gender)
  • Stage-up lifestyle learning (pre-schooler respects the grade-schooler, grade-schooler respects the pre-teen, the pre-teen respects the teenager, etc…)
  • Childcare is no longer an issue
  • Parents model communal spiritual disciplines for their children (prayer, studying the Bible, grieving, celebrations, partaking of the Lord’s supper, etc.)
  • The nurturing of spiritual gifts at an early age – providing opportunities now for children to develop their spiritual gifts
  • During the rebellious stages of life teens will seek out an adult they believe in and trust

Cons/Hurdles:

  • Language barriers
  • Adults don’t believe they can speak openly
  • Moms (especially young) need a time to escape parenting responsibilities
  • Meetings can be chaotic
  • Discussion must be dumbed down
  • Teens oftentimes feel very uncomfortable, especially in the rebellious stages

Overcoming the Cons/Hurdles

  • Language barriers
    • Utilize language understandable to all. When necessary, define for the children what you meant.
    • Do we see children as meaningful participants of the group, or just as the ‘little people’ of the group?
    • Adults don’t believe they can speak openly
      • Subgroup: plan for this ahead of time if the topic is not good for children
      • Meet with peers at a time other than the group meeting – “a great small group is not a meeting; it’s a friendship.”
      • Moms need a time to escape parenting responsibilities
        • Entire group together every other week
          • week 1 everyone
          • week 2 moms out
          • week 3 entire group
          • week 4 dads out
          • week 5 event and invite unbelieving family
  • Children with group for part of the meeting
  • Meetings can be chaotic
    • Make every parent responsible for their own child
    • Have agreed upon expectations of children during the meeting – at the same time, don’t let a group agree on total chaos.
    • Embrace the fact, it’s more important for children to be in the room than for the room to be in perfect order
    • Give young children coloring books, etc.
    • When possible, give the children a role to fill, a question to answer, or a responsibility to accomplish
    • Discussions must be dumbed down
      • Be willing to do this for the betterment of the children
      • Don’t overlook a child’s ability to learn. Welcome questions and answer them honestly
      • Remember that the role of the group is secondary to parents in the development of children. Parents may need to explain to children after the meeting. The group may be the catalyst for the fantastic conversation between children and their parents.
      • Teens oftentimes show their disgust with having to be with parents, especially in the rebellious stages
        • Give the teenager room to be silent, to be distant, to be themselves
        • When possible, give the teen a role that they are willing to fill
        • Be an encourager to the disgruntled youth – “a group that has created an environment of encouragement is a group where there will ultimately experience community”
        • Remind parents (privately) that their teenager doesn’t have to be deeply engaged to be transformed as they see others doing life together, really.

Q: Size of groups?
A: Up to a group of twenty will work

Q: How do you sell it to people who do not have kids?
A: Create a bigger sense of community and the goal of community.   Goal is not to get something, but to give something and in giving… receiving.

Q: How do you sell it to staff at your church?
A: Don’t demand it, if you’re not the lead pastor.

The Family Friendly Church

Quadrant for small groups:

Theological – Relational – Missional – Restorational (healing/support)

Groups have to choose which one is primary – get people on the same page about why the group meets

A healthy small group will shift from one quadrant to another at various times – this helps it to maintain health

Children’s ministry to define what they want to see with kids and then working alongside of that to accomplish goals.

[This is part of a series of note-posts from the Exponential 2010 conference.]

8 thoughts on “Rick Howerton, “Multi-generational Small Groups” (Exponential 2010)

  1. This is quite a target to shoot for. I am concerned, alongside Howerton, that spiritual formation by/for/with families isn’t being address by typical church ministry structures. I am equally concerned however that the Howerton’s proposed solution of “dumbing” everything down will sacrifice the value small groups presently offer adults. I think it could work, especially with an alternating schedule that essentially gives everyone one night a month where their needs are given primary attention. It’s still a huge change though!

    • I think this is definitely something worth exploring, Brian, but it’s hard for me to know what it would look like. I have to honestly say that I’ve never been a part of a group like this before, but I’m intrigued by the possibilities. I’d love to have my kids learn in their faith in the same context as me, but I wonder if it will be effective.

      What do you mean when you say “especially with an alternating schedule…”? Would that bee too forced? What Rick suggested was that we try to get at this multi-generational group experience by addressing things that are hard to understand along the way (e.g., kids don’t understand something so we help them to understand as we talk about things).

      One person in the seminar also brought up the challenge of kids talking about prayer requests in other settings that were intended to be confidential within the group. I’d hate to see trust diminish – or expectations of honesty diminish – because of the value of multi-generational groups. I think this could be bridged in my setting by focusing on the men’s and women’s sub-groups for deeper sharing.

  2. The “sub-group” concept is what I meant when I mentioned “rotating schedule.”

    To make this work, without sacrificing any strengths or goals, you’d have to have a different type of gathering for every purpose and every audience. Men would get their monthly gathering, Women theirs, and Children one-two times a month. Maybe you’d even need a separate thing for teens, couples, single, etc…

    That’s where I think this gets complicated: a thriving group for multiple divergent parties is going to feel a lot like balancing 3+ groups with a degree of harmony.

    • The way that Rick described one church’s approach, and I think I mentioned this in my notes, was that groups met all-together every other week, say weeks 1 & 3. On week 2, the women met together while the men did their own thing with kids or whatever individually (not as a group). On week 4, the men met together while the women did their own thing individually.

      This seems to connect at least in part with what you mentioned above. It means that the children are connecting with the entire group and then having some specific time with their mom or dad. Men and women are connecting with the entire group, while having once per month gatherings for deeper discussion in gender groups.

      What do you think about this?

  3. The arrangement makes a lot of sense for the desired goals. I’m sure there’s a lot of headache in pulling it all together, but the fruit stands a good chance of being there for the effort.

    • Yeah, I’d like to try it out somewhere at Brooklife, but haven’t figured out when/where/how yet. I’m going to approach some folks who are leading groups about the possibility.

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