Friday, December 19, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas Season - #6 & 7: Party and Plan

Today I'm giving my last 2 of 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-5 here.

Throw a Party
The holidays are an excellent time for a party with a purpose. Be creative: make it a story party, where each person comes prepared to share a short story about a Christmas past; or have a birthday party of Jesus with the kids. The main thing is to make this a party to which everyone can invite friends, especially those who don’t fully understand the meaning of Christmas. As Jesus did with Matthew’s friends in Matthew 9, simply enjoy the opportunity to connect with one another, and see what God will do.

Plan for a New Year
Sometime in December or early January, gather group members for a fun gathering that you use to plan for 2015. Start thinking and preparing for this planning party now, in December.

For many of us, the holidays are the biz, biz, busiest time of the year. Talk to your group members now to discuss some of the things you won’t do this year so that you can experience Immanuel—God with us—and be an Incarnational small group by taking the message of Jesus into the world around you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas Season - #5: Start Some New Traditions

This is Day 5 of my 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-4 here.

For most of us, the holidays are about traditions: taking a drive to see the lights, decorating the house together, going to local events, and, of course, going to church services. Why not invite those from your group or others who are lonely to join you in some of your traditions? 

One Thanksgiving, I got to know a young man named Mark who lived at a homeless shelter. I invited Mark to some our family and church events during the holidays, and he enjoyed spending time with us. Mark had many needs, some of which we could not provide for, but we could reach out to him and offer him friendship, hospitality, and the love of Jesus. My family and I also benefitted from inviting Mark into our family traditions. His presence with us made those traditions even more meaningful for us. It’s easy to sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain”; it’s another thing to go tell a homeless person that Jesus Christ is born.

Start new traditions with your small group. Each year several groups at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, help provide Thanksgiving meals for families who would otherwise not have a nice meal. They not only buy it, but they deliver it and pray for the families. Many of the groups at Northeast also work with Operation Christmas Child each year. One group basically “owns” this event, organizing it months in advance, helping collect shoe boxes and running the distribution center on our church property. Your small group tradition can be little or big; what matters is to do something together for the least of these.

Monday, December 15, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #4: Give Gifts

This is Day 4 of my 7 ideas your group or class or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See 1-3 here.

Years ago, I read +Dick Alexander’s sage advice about gift giving that I've never forgotten. “Gifts are an integral part of Christmas,” he said, “but they can either express or distort its meaning.” He suggested limiting our gift giving to one another (in the family or small group). Your family or group may usually exchange gifts with one another (even though is Jesus’ birth we’re celebrating!). Instead, give gifts to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

As the body of Christ in action, your group has the privilege of penetrating the culture by serving people. After all, that’s what the Incarnation is all about. Here are a few ideas:

+Eric Bingaman shared what his small groups at Batesville (Indiana) Christian Church (where he used to be the small groups minister) have done: “Small groups brought in residents of a group home for a Thanksgiving dinner. One group took a Saturday to watch the children of church members so they could get their shopping accomplished. Groups often adopt members of the congregation or community for the holiday. One group went door to door Christmas caroling in their neighborhood.”

+Chris McCall, Small Groups and Care Pastor at Watermark Church in Ashford, Alabama, said, “Our groups have connected with the local schools in our community to provide Christmas for needy families. Groups enjoy it because it’s more than providing gifts for the families; it’s about the relationships built with the families they provided for. A number of our groups have taken this opportunity to help them minister to the families outside of the holiday season throughout the year.”

Yes, Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #3: Love Those Who Are Struggling

This is Day 3 of my 7 ideas your group, class, or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See #1 HERE. #2

Remember the folks in your circles who struggle this time of year. Many people—inside your group and among your group members’ friends—are vulnerable during the holidays. Many hurting people find it difficult to be thankful at Thanksgiving and come to Christmas feeling like God is far away. They desperately want to know Immanuel—God with them—but he seems more like Exmanuel: God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me ... or, I feel like he is so external to my current experience.

This is one of the best times of year for a small group to reach out to these folks and love them, invite them into your celebrations, and invite them to know more than the “baby Jesus”—to develop a relationship with him who died for them and lives today. People are not only vulnerable, they are open to an invitation to connect during the holidays.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation: #2: Celebrate Immanuel

This is Day 2 of my 7 ideas your group or class or family can use to celebrate Christmas. See #1 HERE.

This Christmas, move past the historical Jesus who was born and lived 2,000 years ago. Consider the living Christ who is still Immanuel, God with us ... the One who is with us whenever we gather together in his name. As a group, discuss and prepare to celebrate the Event of events when the Creator of the universe made himself nothing and took the form of human flesh, a baby, a humble servant, a sacrifice for our sins.

Don’t reserve worship for your Christmas-eve services at the church building. Build up to that celebration by singing worshipful hymns together as a group and finding other ways to praise God for what he did by lovingly sending his only Son into the world.

What ideas do you have for worshiping Jesus as part of your Christmas celebration? Please share them in the comments! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

7 Ways Your Small Group Can Celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas Season: #1: Experience Christmas!

The holidays are coming. What is your small group’s plan?

Many groups struggle with meeting and studying over the holidays, and this can be detrimental to the health of your group. Not only that, but this is a prime time of the year to help your group members grow in their faith as well as to reach out to and invite new people. Perhaps your group will take a break from your normal schedule, but that’s no reason not to keep meeting. Over the next week or so I will provide 7 ideas for how your small group can get the most—and give the most—from now through New Years.

1. Experience Christmas Anew

This is one of the most wonderful times of the year to grow together in your understanding of the gospel story. The Christmas Experience, from City on a Hill, is a great place to start. This is more than just a nice Christmas study; I believe it will be an experience you and your group will remember for a long time. I wrote the study guides for The Christmas Experience, and I don’t want to sound overdramatic but I loved watching the videos for this study. You can also watch the full-length movie version of this as a group and discuss it. Get more information on the City on a Hill Christmas Experience web page.

Kyle Idleman brought out insights I had never considered and helped me see this very familiar story in new ways. More than that, however, as I watched the dramatic presentation of the Christmas story, I was moved in ways I didn't expect. As your group experiences this material, I believe they will be moved as well, and they will grow not only to know the story better, but to know God more intimately.


The Christmas Experience is a six-week, DVD-driven small group study that examines the Christmas story in detail, helping groups (and families) prepare for the Christmas season. Each episode focuses on how God chose each individual in the Christmas story for a specific purpose. Those participating in The Christmas Experience study will find themselves in the story as they learn that what happened then changes everything now.

While this is a six-session study, it includes several options for doing the study in, for instance, four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Leader’s Guide and Participant’s Discussion Guide are designed to help groups interact with this material and to grow together as they experience it together.

The Christmas Experience Small Group Study includes:
  • Six 30-minute episodes on 2 DVDs 
  • Subtitle options including: English, Spanish, and French 
  • Leader's Tutorial Video 
  • Printed Leader's Guide for facilitating dynamic group discussions 
  • Printed Participant's Guide (additional guides sold separately)
You can get more information, including an ability to watch the trailer, and you can purchase any of these materials on the City on a Hill Christmas Experience web page. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Make This the Best Christmas Ever

Alan Danielson and his friend Darren Currin have written a new Advent/Christmas eBook, The Best Christmas Ever, that releases November 26 and is available for preorder now. It's a devotional eBook that is designed to help people truly experience Christmas differently this year.

The Best Christmas Ever provides practical steps to find more joys and fewer pressures this advent season. This contemporary look at Advent is not for the feint of heart. In it you will be challenged to accomplish a task each week:
  • Create margin in your holiday schedule. 
  • Spend a week NOT shopping for gifts.
  • Avoid asking for any presents.
  • Make a gift for someone (Don’t worry, this is NOT an arts and crafts project…unless you want it to be).
Does that sound weird? Let’s face it, Christmas in our modern culture is too busy, too stressful, too expensive, and sometimes just too much! Worse yet, we’ve come to accept these things as normal. Maybe we should take some strange steps this season. Maybe it’s time to be a little weird because “normal” is pretty broken. Be weird with us and make this The Best Christmas Ever!

To give you a taste for this book, here's an excerpt:
The world is a mess: militant religious terrorists, school shootings, wars, natural disasters, politics and healthcare problems seem to make up headlines every day. All of these things hit too close to home. Then there are the things that actually do hit us at home: divorce, parent-teen skirmishes, illness, financial pressures, nosey neighbors, things that need to be repaired, personality conflicts at work and much more. Top off those things with the added stresses of the Christmas season: work parties, church events, school musicals, shopping, cooking, planning, mailing cards, decorating….Aaaaarrrrrggghhh! Is your heart rate elevated yet? 
God said something profound to His people when they were stressed: 
   “Be still, and know that I am God!
   I will be honored by every nation.
   I will be honored throughout the world.” 
              -Psalms 46:10 (NLT)
Be still. When life seems out of control, the solution is to be still. Only in stillness are we truly able to take in the sense that God is truly in control. We never feel a sense of peace in God when we are busy and stressed about everything that’s going on.
To make this The Best Christmas Ever take a breath this week. In fact take a few. Find God’s peace in the middle of the chaos by being still.
I know what you’re thinking, “I have too much to do. I can’t even slow down, let alone be still, because there’s not enough time!” Breath for a second and consider that statement: “there’s no time.” Consider the possibility that the previous statement may simply be untrue.
Each of us all has the same amount of time as everyone else. The difference between those who are “rich in time” and those who are “poor in time” is only a matter of how they choose to spend their time. Think about it: there’s only one thing we can do with time: spend it. We all get an allowance of 24 hours each day and we all spend every one of those hours. How are you spending them?
Being still doesn’t require more time, it requires a conscious decision to spend time differently…

Here are a couple ideas for using this book:
  1. Buy a single copy for yourself or buy as many as you need as gifts.  Here's the link:
  2. If you are involved in a church, business, or non-profit, you can buy a bulk "Distribution License" and give the book away to parishioners, clients, customers, and supporters.  Bulk prices are deeply discounted. The more books purchased, the deeper the discount.  Here's the link detailing the bulk "distribution license" purchases:  By the way, if you lead a small group ministry, this could be a great Christmas gift for all your leaders! 

FOR YOUR GROUP: The Christmas Experience

If you and your group are looking to dive deeper into the Christmas story this year and to experience the Christmas season in a new way, I recommend using The Christmas Experience video-driven study featuring Kyle Idleman from City on a Hill. I had the honor of writing the leader's and study guides. I think you'll like it.