7 Practices of an Enduring Small Group Pastor

Want to stay the course in ministry?  Want to do more than survive?  There are a few non-negotiable, irreplaceable practices.

  1. A daily time with God.  There are a number of ways this can happen and every small group pastor will have their own favorite, most satisfying path.  But whether it is reading and meditating on a passage of scripture, listening to a worship playlist, journaling, or reading from a devotional book (or some other method), a daily time with God is an essential practice.
  2. A small group of true friends.  Not acquaintances and not just a small group that meets from 7 to 9 every other Thursday.  It goes without saying that you need a small group.  What you need though are friends.  The kind with whom you can truly share life.  The kind with whom you can laugh long and hard.  The kind with whom you can cry.
  3. A small group of “fellow soldiers” on mission.  Building a thriving small group ministry is never a single campaign effort.  It happens over years.  If you want to endure, you must have a small group of fellow soldiers who share your passion for community and the mission of making Christ followers.  Paul called Epaphroditus his fellow soldier in Philippians 2:25.
  4. A steady intake of new ideas.  If you want to endure, you must be a learner.  Read widely across multiple fields (Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins, Steven Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, etc.).  Listen to a variety of podcasts (Catalyst, TED Radio Hour, Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Freakonomics Radio, etc.).  Attend conferences (Leadership Summit, Catalyst, etc.).  Watch Leadership Network’s online conferences (The Nines, etc.).
  5. A balanced life.  Work-life balance can be difficult to cultivate but it is an essential ingredient for an enduring small group pastor.  It doesn’t really matter what other activities and interests you cultivate as long as you have a life outside of work.  Gardening, cooking, blogging, hunting, traveling, etc.
  6. A healthy diet.  This may go against every taste bud, but if you want to endure and participate for the long run you will need to develop a healthy diet.  That doesn’t mean you never have pizza or a hamburger.  It means you are eating the foods that contribute to a healthy body.
  7. An exercise routine.  This can be as simple as a 30 minute daily walk or as strenuous as a crossfit session (or anything in between).  It really doesn’t matter.  The key is that your body needs regular activity and without it you can’t expect to endure for long.

When I’m struggling to stay the course, I almost always discover that one or more of these 7 practices are weak or missing in action.

What do you think?  Have one to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level

I’ve said many times “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.”  I’ve also pointed out that life-change at the member begins with you.  It would be crazy to expect things would happen to anyone else if they’re not happening to you and me.  Right?  See also, Life Change at the Member Level and Life-Change at the Member Level Begins with You.

So far so good?

Model What You Want to Happen

Here’s what I want to point out today.  Even the way you want things to happen at the member level must begin with you.  For example, if you want your coaches to have frequent personal interaction with your small group leaders and you want that interaction to be in person or on the phone (i.e., not an email and not a voicemail)…that’s how you need to interact with your coaches.  If all you do is send a group email to your coaches you can hardly expect your coaches to interact by phone or in person.

You must model what you want to happen at the member level.  If you communicate with your coaches with a group email, they will do the same with their leaders.  And…shouldn’t you then expect your group leaders to touch base with their members by group email?

You must model what you want to happen at the member level.  See also, 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.

What do you think?  Have a question to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Steps to Take If Your Small Group Ministry Struggles

What do you do when your small group ministry struggles?  I’ve written about the 10 powerful benefits of a thriving small group ministry and also about the 5 easily overlooked secrets to building a thriving small group ministry.  But what do you do when your small group ministry struggles?

5 Steps to Take If Your Small Group Ministry Struggles:

  1. Evaluate your small group ministry.  There are some ingredients that really are essential.  If they aren’t present, you can’t build a thriving small group ministry.  See also, Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
  2. Take a careful look at the design of your small group ministry.  If it is true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley)”, you can be sure that your small group ministry’s design is flawed.  See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.
  3. Invite a trusted ministry partner into the conversation.  This is not about a gripe session.  Including additional perspectives is an important aspect of accurate diagnosis.  Partners might include your supervisor, your senior pastor and other staff members.  Partners could also include high capacity volunteers (coaches or community leaders).
  4. Be a learner.  Consider taking advantage of targeted learning (for example, my new short course Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group System).  At the same time, studying a recommended book or reading list ought to be a regular part of your diet.  I’m not suggesting that you change systems without careful consideration.  That is one of the 5 reasons small group ministries fail.  Rather, I’m encouraging you to be a learner.  Never stop learning.  See also, Required Reading for Small Group Pastors: Systems.
  5. Take advantage of the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider.  This could be another small group pastor who leads a thriving small group ministry.  It could also be an expert that you’ve come to trust.  The key here is that there is an advantage to fresh eyes.  You may also want to take advantage of personalized coaching call (like the easy to set up coaching calls that I offer).

The most important takeaway from this set of 5 steps to take is this: Once you realize that your small group ministry is struggling…you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your church, to do something about it.  Remember, “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results (Albert Einstein).”

Can I help you?  I’d love to help you build a thriving small group ministry.

Don’t Miss “Jesus Is”: A New DVD-Driven Study from Judah Smith

jesus isHad an opportunity this week to preview a new study by Judah Smith.  Jesus Is: Find a New Way to Be Human is an 8 session small group study that reveals the character of Jesus in a powerful way.  Judah Smith is the Lead Pastor of The City Church, a multi-site church with thousands in attendance each weekend in the Seattle area.  He’s also a popular speaker at conferences and events in the United States and abroad.

(From the introduction) “Jesus is ______________?  That question was at the heart of a campaign The City Church launched with the goal of getting Seattle to think about Jesus.  Given a chance to fill in the blank on a website, Jesus-Is.org, thousands of answers came in.  “Some were profound.  Some were hilarious.  Some were spiteful.  But all of them said something about the spiritual journeys of the people filling in the blanks.”

Jesus Is “breaks down who Jesus is and explains how understanding Jesus more fully will enrich your life and give new meaning to your existence.”  The session titles are:

  • Scandalous Grace
  • Friend of Sinners
  • With You Always
  • Alive Together
  • Accusers & Advocates
  • Count the Ways
  • With Us and For Us
  • Live Like You’re Righteous

DVD-driven, Jesus Is features a series of simple but profound teachings by Smith.  The videos are short, averaging 5 to 8 minutes in length.

The Participant’s Guide is simple but very effective.  After watching the DVD, every discussion is set up with several scripture passages to be read aloud by the group.  A well crafted set of thought-provoking questions prompt group discussion.  Daily readings accompany each session and consist of a Bible passage, a short devotional thought and a few questions for reflection.  Although there is no leader’s guide, this study is well-designed and easy to use for brand new and experienced group leaders.

Jesus Is will fill in a blank spot on many recommended lists.  If you’re looking for a study that will help group members gain a deeper understanding of Jesus and His character, you need to take a look at Jesus Is.  I liked it and I think you will too!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Two Great Questions for Self Awareness

I read an article over the weekend by Bill Taylor over on the HBR Blog and came away with two great questions for personal reflection and self awareness.  Taylor is the co-founder of the Fast Company magazine and the author of two of my favorite books (Practically Radical and Mavericks at Work).  I’ve discovered more great insights in his writing than almost anyone else.

There were a number of great ideas in the article, but a line from John Wooden caught my eye:

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Here are the two questions (to help you keep on learning):

I guess I’m a collector of questions and I love these two.  I thought you might too!

Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy

If you’ve been paying attention you know that we tripped across the essence of a very intriguing idea at the 2012 re:group conference.  North Point was testing a short-term group experience (6 to 8 weeks) designed to be an easier first step into community (without the 12 to 18 month commitment required of the groups that form out of GroupLink).  See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

The more we thought about the idea the better it looked and in early 2013 we took our first run at a connecting strategy that is now in it’s 5th iteration.  We call them Base Groups and I think it’s something you might find pretty helpful.

Here’s the basic idea: Two or three times a year we offer a menu of short-term on-campus studies that are designed to lead to an off-campus small group.  We offer these studies at the end of January and also in October (scheduled to end before Thanksgiving).  Depending on Easter’s date, we may offer a post-Easter opportunity.

Important assumptions and details to understand about the strategy:

  • We believe many adults in our auditorium will not connect if the first step is a stranger’s living room.  See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Persons Second Greatest Fear.
  • We’ve chosen 4 studies we believe will grab the interest of unconnected adults in the auditorium. The same studies are offered 2 or 3 times a year.  We offer the same studies because we don’t want to create a destination.  We want to produce off-campus groups.  See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.
  • We’ve re-allocated on-campus space to prioritize short studies that lead to off-campus groups.  The best rooms and the best times are reserved for Base Groups.
  • Attendees are seated at the same tables each week for discussion. We separate adults who are already in a group from those who are not in a group (this is discovered in the registration process).  This eliminates the disappointment that happens when not everyone wants to continue meeting.
  • Natural leaders emerge at every table.
  • In week 3 or 4 we promote the possibility the groups continuing to meet, doing a follow-up study off-campus.

This strategy has developed into an additional way we can connect people several times a year.

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

New from North Point: [7] Seven Questions that Rattle in the Minds of Most Men

seven questions 2[7] Seven Questions that Rattle in the Minds of Most Men is a powerful new study based on a 7 week study that has been offered at North Point over the last several years.  Now available from North Point Ministries, this is a resource you need to be aware of.

Developed as a way to help men explore God’s design for manhood, [7] invites men to “live free and lead well.”  Now available as a 7 session, DVD-driven study.  The video sessions are short, just 7 to 8 minutes (perfect for today’s attention span) and feature John Woodall, North Point’s Director of Men’s Groups.

The participant guide is really well thought out as an introductory study for men.  No preparation necessary, the study is easy to use as a first step out of the auditorium.
Although the 7 questions are very basic and you may have read in other books and resources over the years, it is a very provocative set.  They may seem elementary, but there are some powerful discussions wrapped up right here.  What are they?

  1. Where Am I?
  2. What’s My Story?
  3. Who Am I?
  4. Why Am I Here?
  5. Where Am I Going?
  6. What About Women?
  7. Who Can I Trust?

Although [7] is very intuitively designed, a helpful leader resource is available at GroupLeaders.org/7 with both video coaching from John Woodall and an online leader notes.

If you’re looking for an idea that will pull unconnected men into community, I think you’re going to discover that [7] Seven Questions that Rattle in the Minds of Most Men is a great new addition.  I really like this study and I think you will too.

20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching

Do you have a question or two about small group coaching?  Maybe you’re nostril deep in the swamp of trying to build an effective coaching structure.  Maybe you’ve just run into a snag.  And maybe you’ve given up altogether.

If you’re trying to build an effective coaching structure, don’t give up!  Remember, whatever you want to happen in the lives of your the members in your groups has to happen in your leaders’ lives first.  And that almost always means…you need to build an effective coaching structure.

Here are 20 frequently asked questions…and the articles I’ve written to answer them.

  1. Who makes a good small group coach?  6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  2. What are the basic ideas in small group coaching?  7 Core Ideas in Small Group Coaching.
  3. How can I diagnose the coaches in my coaching structure?  Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  4. I can’t find enough coaches.  Should I lower my standards a little?  Recruiting Coaches: When Not to Compromise.
  5. How can we recruit enough coaches to care for the new hosts we add with a church-wide campaign?  Recruiting additional coaches for church-wide campaigns.
  6. How do I build an effective coaching structure?  How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  7. How many small group leaders can be cared for by a coach.  Span of Care.
  8. Do you have a job description for a small group coach?  Small Group Coach Job Description.
  9. What does a coach actually do?  FAQ: How Much of Coaching Is about Technique?
  10. What kind of structure should we be trying to build?  What does small group coaching look like in your preferred future?
  11. What is the end in mind for small group coaching?  Imagine If Your Coaching Structure Was Like This.
  12. How do I establish coaching for existing small group leaders?  How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders and How to Add Value to Experienced Small Group Leaders.
  13. What do I do when my leaders don’t want a coach?  What to Do When Your Leaders Don’t Want a Coach?
  14. What causes small group coaching to fail?  5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #FAIL.
  15. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about coaching?  5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Coaching.
  16. How can I develop the coaches in my system?  7 Practices for Discipling and Developing Your Coaches.
  17. What is Saddleback’s plan for small group coaching?  Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.
  18. What should I do about coaches that don’t do what’s needed?  What To Do about Underperforming Coaches?
  19. What are the best books on small group coaching?  Resources that Equip Coaches.
  20. Where do you find coaches?  Where Can I Find New Coaches?

What do you think?  Have a question to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Here are 6 Great Examples of a HOST Ask

If you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, you know that I believe the most exponential way to launch small groups is with a church-wide campaign that utilizes a HOST ask strategy (an open invitation from the senior pastor to host a small group).  There are lots of ways to launch groups.  I have no doubt this is the most potent strategy.

I’ve written about making the HOST ask many times.  When to make the ask.  How to set it up.  How many times to do it.  How to take advantage of testimony to make it even more powerful.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version, Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Times in a Row, and 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the HOST Ask.

And I’m often asked if there are some good examples of pastors making the HOST ask.  I took the time this week to gather up 6 that offer good variety and great examples.

Here are 6 examples of a HOST ask:

The first few listed here are well worth spending some time with.

These next 3 are from Preparing for Transformation (3 examples from Rick Warren’s Saddleback series just before the launch of 50 Days of Transformation).  Without a doubt, Rick Warren and Saddleback Church are the masters of this strategy.  These 3 messages are worth watching in their entirety.  You’ll get a good feel for how it works at the church that has leveraged this strategy to connect thousands more adults in groups than they have at their weekend services.

  • How God Changes Us (this is week one of the series just before 50 Days of Transformation. The ask happens at about 42:00 minutes in)
  • 5 Habits of Healthy People (this is week two of the series just before 50 Days of Transformation.  The ask happens at about 57:00 minutes in but there are several setups along the way).
  • Your Life Support System (this is week three of the series of the series just before 50 Days of Transformation.  This whole message is really an ask.  The most pointed section begins about 58 minutes in).

I hope you’ve found this post helpful and I’d love to know of any other great examples you come across.

What do you think?  Have one to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Quotebook: Making Choices Deliberately

essentialismI’m reading a powerful new book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  This paragraph caught my attention in the first few minutes and I immediately thought about our many discussions about the intentional design of next steps.  I also thought about the buffet vs plated meal challenge that faces many, many churches.

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.  Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.  In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making the execution of those things almost effortless (p. 7, Essentialism).”

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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