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We live in a time where isolation feels more comfortable than living in community. We are used to living alone, running errands alone, and not sharing our hopes or fears with many people. But God never intended us to be secluded from one another.
Author and speaker Jennie Allen dug deep into God’s vision for community while writing her book Find Your People, which she recently developed into a series with the team at RightNow Media. We caught up with Jennie after filming to hear her hope for the series and how living in community has changed her life.
Jennie: The RightNow Media team—they are my people! So many of them are my good friends. We’ve worked together for many, many years. I feel like I can call Phil (VP of Production) with any idea and he’s like, “Let’s go, J!”
Phil has put together such an amazing team of people. Mark (Video Producer) has spent so many hours on my stuff; Courtney (Senior Producer) is awesome—I just feel like everybody has been so gracious and kind to let me build with them.
RightNow Media is a family and I feel like I’m the adopted member of that family (laughs). I’m really grateful that they create with me. I hope that the series we make causes you to love God more—they hope that too. It’s really special and fun that we get to be creative in a way that helps people get to know God better.
Jennie: Wow—it has been a two-year journey for me, which is how working on a book or Bible study goes. But this one has changed every single thing about me—the way I live, the way I think about friendship, the way I eat, the way I run errands. Everything about me is about pulling people in and not doing anything alone.
Even this project, I feel, was a big group project. Being on set with the big locations felt like being with family. Some bad things happened to me that week, and we were all crying together in a bowling alley, praying for my family. That is the way we were meant to live. We aren’t meant to cry alone. We’re meant to cry in each other’s arms and in each other’s presence.
My hope for this series is that it will cause you to rethink hiding anything, that you will live fully known, seen, and connected to others.
Jennie: I hope people walk away from this series with friends. I think we are doing life in a more isolated way than we ever have before. The scary part of that, as a generation, is we were already doing life more isolated than any generation before us. We already had a problem, then COVID-19 and the last couple of years exacerbated the problem.
I hope that viewers don’t feel any pressure when they watched the series. I hope that when you are working through the series a desire rises up within you—a vision and a dream for the way God meant for us to live. This series is all about building a foundation in your life for community that is different from the way we live right now in America.
This study has changed my life. I can’t imagine living any differently. I have a village; I have my people. It’s messy and imperfect, but it is a better, more rich and full way to live.
So, you’re about to lead a small group, maybe for the first time, and you’re sure your pastor made a mistake in asking you to lead this group. You may be feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and a little anxious at the thought of someone asking a question you don’t know the answer to. How can you, a normal person, lead a small group?
For some reason, we often think Bible study leaders have to be the smartest person in the room, armed with quick, charming, and compelling answers for every question. Good leaders host their small group in a pristine home or know the coolest place in town to chat over coffee. They’re stylish, funny, brilliant, put-together, and BFFs with Jesus. Now, we know small group leaders aren’t all of those things but—for whatever reason—we are sure we have to be that kind of leader.
The truth is you don’t have to be perfect in order to be effective. You don’t even need to be perfect in order to be a great small group leader. The best small group leaders are actually far from perfect, but they do share some traits in common that you can easily add to your own life.
Take a second to answer this question: What makes small group leaders different than the people they are leading?
Many of us think leaders are gurus—perfect, all-knowing, wise ones who know the Bible inside and out and can answer any question. But gurus make really bad small group leaders. They tend to make group meetings all about themselves, their knowledge, and their insights. It’s pretty hard to focus on Jesus when the leader is making the group about themselves.
The most effective small group leaders are guides. They have a map, know what trail they are on, and know where they are headed. Their leadership is not about getting everyone to focus on them but on avoiding dangers and making progress towards their destination.
Your small group time is not about you; it’s about Jesus. Your responsibility is to keep people focused on him, becoming more like him, and making him known.
But what if you don’t have the answer to a tough question? A guru would be threatened because it would challenge their status as the all-knowing leader. But a guide? Guides aren’t threatened because they have the “maps” of God’s Word, the support of church staff, and an abundance of great resources for answering tough questions at their fingertips. Guides actually become more helpful when tough questions come up.
If you don’t know an answer, be honest: “I don’t know, but I will try to find an answer for our meeting next week.” Which brings us to the second quality of effective leaders.
It’s like legendary basketball coach John Wooden said,
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Being prepared doesn’t mean you have to outline your meeting minute by minute, but you should know what you are going to cover in your group that week. Take time to look over the Bible verses, study questions, and any resources you will be using. Preparation will look different for everyone, so find a method that works best for you.
The most effective small groups aren’t thrown together last second; they are the result of a prepared leader prayerfully thinking through the time they are about to spend in God’s Word. After all, if you are a guide, you need to know your map!
But being prepared does not mean you have to teach your group because…
You don’t have to be a seminary professor or pastor to be a great group leader. You simply need to facilitate conversation. Think of your group as a community rather than a classroom. Your goal in the group is to help the church grow in spirit and in truth, not ace a Bible quiz.
Ask an opening question and wait for people to start talking (it’s okay to endure a little awkwardness). If your group starts running down a rabbit trail, gently point them back to the topic at hand. Ask open-ended questions. Try to get everyone involved in the conversation. At the end of your time, talk about ways to apply what you are learning.
More often than not, you will learn from the people in your group. They will see things you missed. They will have ideas you wished you’d thought of. But for a great small group leader, being a part of a community headed towards Jesus isn’t about being in front—it’s about leading people to Jesus.
Starting out as a small group leader can be daunting. But most of our anxiety comes from thinking we have to be spiritual gurus. Once we realize that we are guides, the anxiety to be perfect starts to slip away. When we prepare well, we will build our confidence. Shifting our role from “teacher” to “member of the community” will take away our self-imposed performance pressure.
Great group leaders are normal people, just like you. No matter your background or leadership experience, if you guide people to Jesus you’ll be doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.
In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his most famous sermon with a list of characteristics, commonly known as the Beatitudes, that offer us a glimpse at what it looks like to live “the blessed life.” But they’re not exactly what we might expect.
We sent a film crew with author and pastor Matt Chandler to Big Bend National Park to film The Beatitudes, an eight-session series examining Matthew 5:1–12. In this series, Matt teaches us what a blessed life really looks like. It may not look the way we imagine, but it’s better than we could ever hope.
While filming, our team asked Matt a few questions about his preparation for and teaching of this impactful series.
Matt: Going into the series, I was familiar with the Beatitudes. I mean, I’ve been a Christian for thirty years. I don’t know that I’ve ever explicitly taught through them but certainly understood them to be Jesus unpacking what the kingdom of God would look like. So, the thing that was in plain sight that really ministered to me as I prepared was that the Beatitudes aren’t a list of things that I need to work on, but rather the kind of person that Jesus is turning me into. And I think that was the big thing that stood out, that Jesus doesn’t show up looking for this kind of person, like “let me find the man of peace” or “let me find the meek.” But, rather, he’s saying, “my people that I’m going to work in, that the Holy Spirit’s going to—this is the kind of person they’re going to become.” So, it’s not eight different people, right, but eight characteristics of the same person. So, it honestly gave me a lot of confidence that God is working these things in me and that I will continue as long as I’m here.
Matt: If I think about people in living rooms or in church rooms and buildings, and watching this, the thing that I most want them to walk away with is a confidence that God is at work in their lives. I don’t want them to listen to a single one of these episodes and feel crushed by it or feel that it’s impossible. That by episode after episode after episode that they would grow in their deep and earnest belief that God is at work in the mess of their lives. That God’s patience is there, that his shaping power is there, and that he has not forgotten them, but is actively turning them into this kind of person.
Matt: So, the thing that always stands out when I get to shoot these things is it’s always done in just stunningly beautiful places. So, there is the team, of course, that you laugh with, and you have a good time with. But you’re getting to . . . I said to somebody, I think it was early this morning, “Can you believe we get to do this?” We’re up early, everything’s new, the sun’s coming up, everything’s beautiful, and then we get to talk about the creator God of the universe. We get to point toward the gospel. We get to marvel at his goodness and grace. I think that’s the thing, and really, through all my shoots with RightNow, that’s been the thing that always has stood out as I head home or as we wrap up, that in these really beautiful places, these really privileged spaces, that we get to just talk about and point towards the king of the universe.
I’d spent my whole life in stage-of-life groups with people like me—guys with similar interests and struggles. Those groups made connecting with other Christians easy, but this new group was a challenge. I felt I had little in common with the retired empty-nesters and college students in my living room. I struggled to ignore the chaos of the toddlers playing on the floor. And I had no clue how to counsel married couples.
The people in my small group watched movies I’d never heard of, inhabited various corners of social media, held opposing political views, and even had different ideas on how to live the Christian life. How was I going to lead this group, much less help them build friendships with each other across their diversity?
I was facing the big challenge of multigenerational groups: connection. Because we gravitate to people like us, diversity can feel uncomfortable. But if we stick with the tension of getting outside of our bubble, we can find the richness of the body of Christ in all of our unique gifts, experiences, and wisdom.
Every group is different, and leaders can try many strategies to help their group form good, lasting relationships. But, as the leader, you need a strategy to help people overcome feeling disconnected from other group members.
Leading a healthy small group is like gardening: we can prepare the soil and water the seeds but only God can make the seeds sprout and grow. You can’t force friendships, but you can create a place for them to grow.
Think about the times you have felt most welcome in someone else’s home—what did they do that made you feel comfortable and appreciated? You don’t have to throw a dinner party; sometimes people just need to be asked about their day. Find the person standing on their own and strike up a conversation with him or her. Or if there is a young mother in your group, think about setting aside a space for her infant to sleep or nurse. A little consideration can make everyone who visits your group to feel valued.
The people in your group have a wealth of experiences and wisdom—far beyond what you as a leader have on your own. Instead of worrying about what you need to teach, think about the questions you can ask the people in your group. What do you want to know about them? What insights do they have that would bless the rest of your group? What have they learned about God and his faithfulness
If you have a hard time thinking of good questions, that’s okay! Most RightNow Media Original series come with free study guides full of great questions so that you can worry less about preparing lessons and focus more on the people in your group.
Everyone is busy, and it can feel like a struggle to make it to small group every week. But if you want your members to share their lives with each other, you will need to spend time together outside of your small group meeting. Don’t make it too complicated—you could get coffee with one person in your group each week or coordinate group lunch after church on Sunday. The more casual interactions you have with people in your group, the faster you will build meaningful relationships with them.
Every church has different goals for their small groups, but we all share the same mission: to make disciples and build God’s kingdom on earth. And nothing brings a group together like working as a team. Talk to your group about the causes and groups of people God has called them to serve. What need can your group meet? If your group has little kids, consider partnering with a local non-profit that can be flexible in the way you serve and are open to family friendly projects. Or find a place to serve as a group in your local church—if you get stuck, ask your pastor or other group leaders for ideas.
No one wants the relationships in their group to remain shallow. Getting together week after week to talk about news, sports, or the weather is, quite frankly, boring. We want our groups to be hubs of deep community marked by friendships, support, guidance, prayer, and evangelism. But meaningful friendships don’t happen overnight. It can take months (or longer) for a group to feel like a community. Don’t get discouraged when relationships don’t progress as quickly as you would like. In time, God will weave people together in ways you had not imagined. Don’t give up.
The first few months of your small group will be the most challenging as people push through awkwardness and build friendships with one another. In my group, some of the most unexpected people—people who did not immediately click with one another—ended up best friends and were in each other’s weddings. They’ve built families alongside one another, leaning on each other’s wisdom and support.
Many times, we approach the Bible to get new information about God. There is nothing wrong with that, but God tells us about himself so that we can know him, not just so we can stockpile trivia about him.
Author and speaker Francis Chan accompanied our team to the Utah wilderness to film Jesus’s Farewell Message, a deep dive into Jesus’s last sermon before his crucifixion. In this series, Francis examines what it means to know and trust God deeply. God has far more for us than many of us dare imagine.
While filming, our team asked Francis about his experience filming this new series.
Francis: I learned so many things while preparing for this series. One is just the shallowness of my thoughts. I focus on this low level instead of all I have in Jesus. Like, I know him, and I have for years, but the depth of what it means to know him . . . it’s so hard to explain because it’s not new information but a depth in my knowledge of God.
Francis: I sure hope that [for] everyone who watches this that it doesn’t end here. Where [they say], “I need to experience this oneness with God!” That it actually takes them somewhere. It’s got to be more than [learning] information.
Francis: It’s pretty fascinating just looking at a place I’ve never been—all the ridiculous rock formations and different terrain. But the quietness has been my favorite. I just realized how seldomly I hear quiet in my life. With where I go and the things I do, it was just nice to be in a place where you heard nothing.
The Bible begins with God. In the book of Genesis, we see his power, creativity, and splendor in what he made. But we also see his mercy, love, and redemption through the flawed people he has made. While Genesis sets the stage for the rest of the Bible, it also helps us see God’s glory in his creation and teaches us that he can make something out of imperfect people like you and me.
Last year, our team traveled with Dr. Charlie Dates to the redwood forests of Northern California to film a series on the book of Genesis. After speaking at the 2021 RightNow Conference, Dr. Dates spoke with us about his experience on that shoot and his hopes for this series.
Charlie: Preparing for Genesis is very different than preparing to teach other books. Genesis is a genre of history that doesn’t really fit the Psalter, Judges, or the prophets. It doesn’t have to be decoded like apocalyptic literature. I learned about the genre sensitivity of the study—that is, wrapping our minds around what the point of Genesis is—is really the best way to see God’s activity so we can teach and preach it.
Genesis could tell us about dinosaurs, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and all that kind of stuff but it doesn’t. It has a view toward chapter 50, getting the scene set for a savior who is going to come. That’s something I came to appreciate while working through the book of Genesis.
It’s different. The Bible gives us varying shades of color in different sections. It’s not monochromatic. When we study the genre, we get to see God’s Word in the fullness of his color—it comes alive. Is there anything better than 4k resolution? If there is, I don’t know. God beats that high-def stuff. Genesis helped show me that.
Charlie: I want viewers to be like, “Man, the Lord is amazing, and Charlie Dates works for Jesus.”
[laughs] Okay, seriously, I want viewers to walk away with a bigger picture of God. If God really did create time, space, and matter and if he did choose one family, and through that family wove this wonderful narrative, then surely he can work through the matters of my life. Surely God can bring something out of nothing where I live. I hope when you see Genesis, you feel the power and presence of God.
Charlie: When you film with RightNow Media you need to do, like, four weeks of yoga. We were in the middle of nowhere—in the Redwoods with trees that looked like they were out of a Narnia book—and I climbed on a [fallen] tree and was walking on it, balancing. I was thinking, “If I don’t get home safely, my wife’s not going to be happy about this.” [laughs]
They go to great lengths to capture the most epic and beautiful scenery to match the picture of the text, so they can deliver what I think is the highest quality video content.
Now, here’s what else I learned: I’m jealous. I didn’t think I was jealous, that I was envious. But the fact that they don’t live in Chicago and don’t work for us at our church . . . I had to repent of some of that. Other than that, it was great. It was fantastic.
At RightNow Media, our goal is to provide churches and student ministries with access to a library curated with the latest teaching for youth Bible studies from premier teachers. Including series like Not A Fan: Teen Edition by Kyle Idleman and a number of RightNow Media Originals, we have thousands of options for your Bible study. Here are five video Bible studies that are perfect for your youth group or student ministry—plus check out our youth Bible study roadmap to make curriculum planning a breeze.
Christians today face all kinds of challenges when it comes to understanding who they are and what they’re meant to do. There’s no shortage of options that claim to offer “truth.” If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves chasing after popular opinion all the while neglecting the unchanging truth found in Scripture. In this four-session youth Bible study, pastor and author Francis Chan invites students into the power that comes from anchoring their identity in Christ.
Today’s world tells teens to walk around life with a mirror in front of their face. They question their looks, persona, and acceptance nonstop, thinking that one more post on social media might gain people’s attention. But God offers an alternative mirror. When God rules over our lives, he flips everything upside down. In this youth Bible study, Jonathan Evans will walk students through the parables in Luke to teach what it looks like for God to rule our lives.
Teenagers often feel trapped. They’re stuck in the same habits, depression sets in, and they wonder about their purpose. The lie that nothing will ever change pulls teenagers deeper into the rut. But Jesus offers us a way out. In this four-part youth Bible study, Nick Hall talks to students about how a relationship with Jesus changes everything—our identity, relationships, habits, and mission.
Have you ever felt stuck? Sometimes life feels rigid—as if nothing could ever really change. Maybe we’re afraid of taking a step of faith. Or maybe we’re too injured from the past to move forward. No matter where you find yourself, you can make the most of today. In this inspirational series, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow shares stories from his life to illustrate what it means to seize each day for God’s glory.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It was an easy question to answer when they were little, but life gets complicated for teen girls. When they get stuck in drama, discontentment, sadness, and shame, how can they even begin to look ahead to the future? In this four-part Bible study, Jennie Allen, founder of IF:Gathering, inspires teen girls to throw off everything that holds them back and be energized by God’s dream for them. Dreaming big starts now.
At RightNow Media, our goal is to provide churches and their members with access to a library curated with the latest teaching for men’s Bible studies from popular teachers, including series like Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman and 33 The Series from Authentic Manhood. Below are five video Bible studies that are perfect for your men’s group—and if you're looking for more ways to deepen your faith as a man of God, check out our men's Bible study roadmap and follow along throughout the year.
God has created men to have an incredible strength. But today’s culture has hijacked masculinity, distorting strength into passivity and abuse. In this five-part video Bible study, Joby Martin, pastor of The Church of Eleven22, invites men to embrace God’s definition of masculinity and step into his calling upon their lives.
Unpack what biblical manhood looks like and what it means to be a godly, courageous man in today’s world in this men’s video Bible series. Featuring teaching from Matt Chandler, Voddie Baucham, Tony Dungy and more, viewers will dig deeper into what it means to step up and live a courageous life.
Most of us have been on the receiving end of rejection, a broken dream, or heartbreak. And while this is not an easy space to go through, when we are grounded in the truth, we can endure the tough times. In this powerful series, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow passionately shares glimpses of his journey and what he’s learned along the way, building confidence in his identity in God, not the world.
Daily it’s getting more challenging to be a man. Our present culture is redefining manhood and confusing men in their pursuit of biblical manhood. Discover how to respond to today’s culture by rejecting passivity and investing in the eternal purpose found in Jesus. Let others see masculinity and manhood through the lens of Christ in your life with these seven characteristics and become a better man, husband, father, and leader.
In the church today, many men find themselves confused about what it actually means to be a man. Our culture does little to help. The result is a generation of men who struggle to embrace their responsibilities, roles, and the purpose for which God created them. In this series, Mark Batterson highlights seven virtues of manhood to offer clear insight into what it means to be a faithful man of God.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul gives readers the most in-depth, comprehensive explanation of the gospel in all of Scripture, showing us what it looks like to live according to the good news. And this good news is better than we could have imagined.
We sent a film crew with pastor J.D. Greear to Rome, Italy to film The Book of Romans: Part 1 and Part 2, a series examining one of the most important books ever written on the Christian faith. In this series, J.D. helps us see just how good the gospel really is. It exceeds all our expectations.
While filming, our team asked J.D. a few questions about preparing for this series and his hopes for small groups.
J.D.: One distinctive thing I think I re-learned as I was prepping for this series is just the distinctive message of grace that the gospel offers. The power of grace to transform our lives. Especially being on location here in Rome where you’re associated with so many different symbols of religion, and all the works-righteousness that goes into religion, and people doing things to try to earn God’s favor. Paul’s message in Romans is [righteousness] is a gift. Righteousness is not a standard that we obtain to; it’s a gift that God gives us. And then in response to that, out of love, we serve God, and we serve others. The power of the gospel, it was renewed in me, rekindled in me, not only as I studied and prepared for this but as I actually taught through it as well.
J.D.: One of the things I think I’m hoping—I’ve been hoping and praying for out of this study—is that this study of the book of Romans, which is one of the deepest and richest looks at the gospel anywhere in Scripture, would have this effect of not only getting us excited about the gospel and transforming our relationships but just burning in our hearts until we have to tell others. The gospel is kind of like a spiritual tornado, it never pulls you in without also wanting to thrust you back out. And so, I think just pressing into the beauties of God’s grace, it just does something to you that changes you so that you not only treat people differently and think about yourself differently, you just find yourself having to talk to other people about the things that you’re learning.
J.D.: So, the most memorable moment, spiritually, is probably going to be down in Paul’s prison. When we’re pretty sure it is the actual cell he stood in before he was executed, and just to think about that—that was amazing. I loved filming from there. You know, always my favorite memories with this are slow walking with Will (Senior Producer at RightNow Media). Just to follow me around with a camera, and just to kind of zoom in on my feet and to make me really self-conscious about my posture, "Am I walking crooked?" So, that definitely is what I’ll take away. Will’s got a special place in my heart.