How can I help my congregation become stronger spiritually? For the large church pastor or lay leader, this can be a particularly challenging question. The pastor of a large membership church (defined by some as over 300 in worship on Sundays) may have little personal contact with the members of the congregation. There simply isn't much time for one-on-one contact; and even a small group only reaches eight to twelve people. How can a pastor or lay leader help the congregation grow spiritually?
Companions in Christ can have significant impact on a church seeking spiritual growth among its members. Here are some ideas as to how this can happen:
Establish a goal for your congregation. Have your church’s leadership set or affirm the goal. A realistic goal is to have one Companions in Christ group for every 100 persons in worship, at least on an initial basis. That would mean that a congregation with 500 people in worship would have five groups (or about 50 people) going through Companions in Christ during the first year. Fifty people, alive in their faith! That sounds like Pentecost!
The value of having a goal supported by your church leadership is that it places this vital ministry before your congregation in a way that all can affirm. Companions in Christ resonates deeply with the mission of the church "to make disciples of Jesus Christ."
Plan to recruit established, long-term members as well as newcomers to your faith community. As you think about who may respond to Companions in Christ, know that it will revive and deepen the spiritual life of your congregation’s leaders. Many who are weighed down with heavy committee responsibilities will find that Companions in Christ helps them remember why they are doing the work of the church.
Companions in Christ is also an excellent resource for helping newcomers "bond" with the congregation. Mixing newcomers who are reasonably grounded in their faith with long-term members will provide a starting point for many new relationships.
Recruit leaders and provide training. Select the people you want to recruit as leaders of Companions. Brainstorm a list of people who have experience with small groups and/or spiritual formation work. Those who have gone through Emmaus, Academy for Spiritual Formation, Disciple Bible Study or Stephen Ministry training may be good consideration. (Larry Peacock offers other ideas in the Companions in Christ Getting Started Guide.) Send a delegation to one of the training sessions scheduled to help launch this resource. One-day and three-day trainings are being offered around the country. Attend one if you can.
Going through the training prior to leading Companions in Christ is highly recommended but not mandatory. We believe that the Leader’s Guide is sufficient for those who have previous experience leading small groups. But a training event provides an important "rallying point" for helping the leaders of a congregation focus their ministry for the coming year.
Schedule an evening to launch Companions in Christ. The first session provides a way for people to check out the resource before committing to it. You may want to schedule this first session for a Sunday evening, with groups then free to select the best time to meet. There is power in having 50 people gather with a common desire to grow in their faith, even as they then move into small groups to begin their journey.
Provide for the spiritual life of the leaders. One model is to select someone (pastor, staff member, experienced lay leader) to serve as the spiritual guide for the group. This person could simply be available for leaders if they feel their group is "stuck" (a common experience during the first five weeks). Another possibility would be to have a monthly encouragement gathering with the leaders.
Let the Spirit work. The Companions in Christ resource is strong enough to carry people into a deeper relationship with Christ and with one another. Groups will go through various stages in their own development. Companions in Christ focuses on the spiritual formation of the participants. Participants will be able to bring their faith back into the life of the church at a deeper level. Companions in Christ does not foster a "groupie" mentality or take people away from the heart of the church’s ministry. This resource will provide a way for individuals to formulate their own faith in keeping with the spiritual core of any Christian church. Companions in Christ focuses less on information and more on formation — though strong content and scripture reflection are part of it. The guiding principle is the formation of Christian disciples as they listen deeply to the Spirit at work in scripture and in their lives.
Actively link with Companions Groups. These groups provide mutually enriching support for leaders as they share insights, experiences and challenges. These communities offer practical and inspirational Tips & Tools, a discussion room, updated information on training opportunities and more.