A few years ago, a round of cancer prompted a large weight loss, but I returned to old habits and gained most of it back. The recent lock-down and pandemic only exasperated the problem. A few weeks ago, I knew I needed to do something, so I joined Weight Watchers. The goal of the program is to lose one to two pounds a week while developing new eating habits, physical activities, and coping strategies. I quickly realized they were employing small group strategy and discipling principles – and I loved it.
What I learned about ministry from Weight Watchers is that it all comes down to showing we C.A.R.E.
The first thing Weight Watchers (WW) did was make me feel welcome and they connected me to a small group. Due to Covide-19 there are limited in-person group meetings, but there are several Zoom groups available. Groups were easy to find with no barriers to joining. I visited a few and settled on a group from Arlington. The leader knows the program and can help when anyone has questions, but her main role is to encourage and equip the members to be successful in reaching their goals. I always attend these weekly meetings! We have worked together to identify my strengths and challenges and to set goals for the future. They make me feel better about who I am, and what I’m doing to grow as a person. They challenge me to do better, to be better. I believe they truly care about me.
What are we doing in our small groups to be sure people feel welcome, are encouraged, and leave equipped to face another week? Can your group leader answer that question for each person in the group?
It’s easy to eat whatever you want when nobody is watching. Accountability keeps us honest. Weekly weigh-in is a time to account for the choices made during the week. Did we stick to the plan and if we made poor choices did we get back on track? If we were successful is there someone to take notice?
WW integrates two types of accountability. Weekly weigh-in is an objective measure of progress. I’m happy to say I’m losing weight every week, but that doesn’t mean I’m forever changing the behaviors that got me to this place. The other accountability system is the Connect online conversation. Think Facebook, but without the advertisements. Everyone that posts something is met with positive reinforcement. People admit to failing so others can help them find ways to make better choices next time. There is no condemnation, because we all know, next week it might be us that needs to confess. Having a safe place to share failure, disappointment, and even success allows for accountability on a personal level. This is where the real change happens.
Do our small groups provide a safe place of encouragement and trust? Do members know they can be vulnerable without fear? Do we use accountability for judgment or for growth?
Learning new habits is hard work. Watching numbers on the scale drop is reinforcing, but sometimes we need to be told we are doing a good job. WW has perfected the reward system. When I log on the WW App it gives me a positive message. When I track meals I earn points I can redeem for trinkets. When you reach weight loss milestones (5, 10, 25, 50… pounds) they send you a charm to collect. They also graph your weight loss so you can watch the line move in a mostly linear downward path. When I feel like I’m not being successful I can hold the charm, look at the graph, and post side-by-side pictures to Connect to remind myself how far I have come. Sometimes when we look in the mirror we see a distorted image. The rewards help us to see the reality of our journey.
Do our small groups reinforce others for spiritual growth? Do we routinely tell people we are observing a difference in them? Do we celebrate individuals beyond the initial point of decision? Are we giving people mile markers so they can measure personal growth? Would it make a difference in their lives if we did?
The most important component of the program is education. WW provides multiple avenues for learning including lecture, written, and video lessons. People can use their primary learning mode and supplement it with the other types of training. The lessons are interesting, focused, and can immediately be applied to your own situation. The small group leaders are not professional educators. They are individuals that are given good teaching materials to use in addition to sharing personal life experiences. I’m glad there are no tests, but I do enjoy the challenge of learning the material and watching how it impacts my decisions moving forward. When I wake in the mornings, one of the first things I do is log on to the app to get my mind set on what I need to do that day to be successful. Sound familiar?
Teaching Bible studies and Sunday school are important and provide a great way to get in-depth training on Scripture, but we must encourage a daily habit of focusing on God’s word. Something as simple as reading a quick devotional like Our Daily Bread can make a big difference in how we approach the coming day. Spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading can start as only five-minutes a day. If reading a brief message about eating right can change a person’s life imagine what reading God’s word every morning could do for them!
How do we use education ministries to grow disciples of Christ? Do we encourage people to spend time in God’s word on a daily basis, even if it’s only a few minutes at a time? Are we so busy teaching God’s word that we forget to invite people to live out what is being taught?
C.A.R.E. is an easy acronym to remember as we plan for fall ministries. Whether you lead a Bible study, Sunday school class, or other small group, caring about the people we serve will produce life-changing ministry. Since our goal is multiplication of disciples of Christ, then engraining Matthew 22:37-39 into our small groups is pivotal to creating a vibrant, growing ministry. I encourage you to evaluate your own small group and determine if there are areas you need to focus on to better demonstrate the love of Christ. The current pandemic may have changed how we do ministry, but it has not altered why we do ministry.
Pray for me as I continue my WW journey and I’ll be praying for you as you CARE for the people in your small groups!