104: Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead 01: Starting with the Spice of Sex

    OurLent inspirational stories are over here. ON THIS PAGE
you’ll find our daily ReadTheSpirit stories.

    Here’s where things get fun for all of us at ReadTheSpirit — and especially you and me.
    What I’m going to tell you in a moment is worth its weight in spiritual gold. That’s because, starting today, we’re going to begin sharing specific “Great-With-Groups” ideas that will help you wake up even the sleepiest small groups.
    We know that’s how millions of us relate to friends in our communities. You, too?
    For example, over at the Our Lent landing page, our co-sponsoring pastor, the Rev. Steve Andrews, is the leader of one of America’s biggest churches: the four-campus Kensington Community Church that draws 11,000 worshipers. The true pillars of Kensington Church are the more than 700 small groups in which the members live out their spiritual lives together, day by day.

    BUT, before we share with you our first idea for “Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead,” let’s run a few numbers on ReadTheSpirit, shall we?
    It has taken us this long to develop a kind of “critical mass” of readers and online materials to begin knitting this all together in creative new ways — all to help you enliven your own spiritual communities.

In less than 5 months, we’ve logged:
1,000’s of readers who’ve visited us from around the world.
1,000’s of miles we’ve traveled to report for you.
100’s of stories, reviews, quizzes & reflections we’ve published online.
76 friends (and counting) on a brand-new Facebook page.
19 newsy stories posted to our new “Digg-It” feed.
14 videos posted to our YouTube channel.
10 Founding Principles that guide our work.
4 lively “landing pages” online: Daily stories, Our Lent, Our Bookstore and Interfaith Heroes.
2 ReadTheSpirit books published: “Interfaith Heroes” and “Our Lent.”
1 person we think about every day: That’s You.

So, here’s our first edition of …
Sure-Fire Groups You Can Lead

GROUP No. 01: “The Uncensored Bible: How Bible Scholars Wrestle with Even the Naughty Bits of the Good Book”

     When you list this new short-term group in your newsletter (or post it on your bulletin board), print a little box right under the title that says: “You must be 18 or older to attend this class.” That little box, alone, will double the size of your group.

When to Schedule the Group:
    Start this summer. Or, better yet, start the group in September when you’re trying to reassemble your crowd after the summertime lull.
    You can’t start immediately, because the book on which the class is based won’t be available until June. But, when it is released, people will be eager to talk about it. The book was researched and written by serious Bible scholars. The book’s full title is, “The Uncensored Bible: The Bawdy and Naughty Bits of the Good Book.”
    I am not kidding about this! It’s a real book and it’s destined to be a hit.
    HarperOne is publishing the book. This summer, you’ll hear the authors on National Public Radio and you’ll read about their book in newspapers and magazines. It’s virtually guaranteed to become a best seller and, even though the idea sounds half crazy right now — by summer and fall, you’ll have people asking you to organize this group.
    So, get out on the cutting edge here — and schedule your group now.

    (Note: With all of our ReadTheSpirit stories, you can click on book and film titles — and you can click on cover images, too — and you’ll jump inside to see our more-detailed reviews. Plus, you’ll be browsing in the pages of our online Bookstore, where you can order copies directly from Amazon. NOTE that the cover for this upcoming book hasn’t been finalized, so you won’t find an image with our review, just yet. The image of the book’s main title, above, is from an early-review-copy and it’s likely that the final cover will look different.)

Length of This Group Series:
The book has 23 chapters with titles such as “Did King David Have a Potty Mouth?” and “Did Jacob Use Ancient Viagra?” I suggest you pick your own 8 chapters, schedule 8 sessions and leave class members eager for further discussion at the end of this two-month group. If it’s a huge hit, wait until the following spring and run another 8 sessions, based on 8 different chapters — and your class size is likely to double once again.

And the Point of This Group Is …
    To wake up jaded Bible-study junkies — and to invite new people into a small group that will talk about the biblical relevance of topics that millions of Americans tune in to HBO every week to watch unfold in a half-dozen hit series. Even though Bible-study classes rarely talk about these subjects — they’re actually right there in the ancient, earthy stories of what Christians call “The Old Testament.”
    In addition, beyond learning new aspects of the lives of biblical men and women — the class also is a fascinating window into the way that Bible scholars at universities around the world “do” their scholarship. Each of the 23 chapters is based on provocative research by some legitimate Bible scholar — even though the authors debunk some of the research, along the way.
    Another way to think about this class — and this book — is that it could very well wind up as one of those mesmerizing Discovery Channel series in which scholars with a clever sense of humor show us, week after week, some gee-whiz new aspect of their profession.

How Can We Spice Up This Group?

    With this particular group — you won’t need to add much spice, right?
    But, seriously — I’ve worked with small groups for many years and here are two keys to making your group a success: People love to mix media, these days. And, second, you’ll have a livelier, more-committed group if you invite a few volunteers to become “resident experts” by “reading more,” so they can add to the discussions on a weekly basis.

    The multi-media options with this group run in several directions:

    One major theme of the class is discovering surprising new aspects of people, in this case biblical figures, who we thought we knew. So, you could emphasize this theme by watching a movie together that explores this theme — like “Crash.” If you haven’t seen “Crash,” it’s an excellent, thought-provoking film about the deeper levels of human attitudes that often remain hidden. It’s been recommended by many religious leaders, including a salute from the film office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
    Or, instead of watching a drama together — your group may want to explore the theme of contemporary biblical scholarship. You could invest in the documentary series, “Corpus Christi.” Most Americans have never seen this superb European series, now available on DVD. Plus, if glimpsing a segment of this series intrigues your group’s participants, then you could schedule a second group, later in the year, to explore “Corpus Christi” from start to finish.
    In watching the scholars talk in the “Corpus Christi” series — you’ll be watching the same process that the authors describe in “The Uncensored Bible.”

    Finally, if you’ve got Bible-study veterans who’ve logged, let’s say, more than a decade in the trenches — you may want to wake up your weary discussions by investing in one of the terrific new audio Bibles and letting class members really hear the passages proclaimed! My own recommendation for this is “The Bible Experience.”

    So, what can we offer our “resident experts” who are willing to “read more” and help fire up the flavor of group discussion?
    Here are two terrific choices for this particular class:
    First, buy a copy of David Mandel’s “Who’s Who in the Jewish Bible.” It’s not expensive. It’s easy to read. And it’s a comprehensive guide to 3,000 people in “The Old Testament.” In “The Uncensored Bible,” you’re going to encounter most of the really famous figures in this portion of the Bible — but you’re also going to meet people like Ehud, Eglon, Abigail, Jael and Nabal. Your “resident expert” can tell the group more about these figures from Mandel’s handy guide.
    Second, because the central book you’ll be reading is such a heavy-duty slice of contemporary biblical scholarship — you may want a little reassuring antidote in your group. While your group members will enjoy the colorful stories and new approaches to Bible study — I’ll bet that they’ll want someone in the group to remind them of more “orthodox” readings of the texts.
    A great choice for that dose of reassurance is N.T. Wright’s “The Last Word,” which is a terrific overview of a more traditional, mainline approach to scriptures.

What If I’m Not Christian?

    More than 4 out of 5 Americans say they’re Christian — so most of the group-study materials published in the U.S. are aimed at Christian audiences. Over time, we’re going to offer some interfaith and cross-cultural group ideas, as well. But the 2 billion Christians around the world make up most of the small discussion groups — so that’s where most materials are aimed.
    However — today’s Idea No. 01 easily could engage Jewish congregations. That’s because all 23 chapters of “The Uncensored Bible” are focused on figures from the Hebrew Bible. Mandel’s book also remains a great choice here, because his 3,000 entries are drawn from that portion of scriptures, as well. Obviously, in a Jewish context, you won’t be adding N.T. Wright or “Corpus Christi” — but, hey, anyone who enjoys the Bible will love the audio renditions in “The Bible Experience!”
    Most of these materials also would work well for a library-based discussion group — or other secular book-discussion groups among friends.

COME BACK NEXT MONDAY for another idea for Sure-Fire Groups …
    Our second idea for groups is really exciting, because this one involves a whole range of ages — even teens — in a cool, multi-media group that explores …
    But, wait. Let’s not spoil the freshness of that Idea No. 02. Come back next week to read more.

IF YOU RUN A GROUP … Please, tell us what you’re reading, watching and discussing that’s been a success for you! Our readers love hearing from other readers.
    Click on the “Comment” link at the end of any of our online stories to share your thoughts. Or, you can email me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

COME BACK TOMORROW for the return of our weekly Quiz.
    You won’t want to miss this one, because it relates to our Wednesday Conversation With Stephen Prothero, author of “Religious Literacy,” the book you’ve heard so much about on TV and in news media. This best-seller is just about to be released in paperback.

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