Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Still Time to Catch the Extra Super Early Bird Price for GroupLife Southwest

glsw-squareI hope you’re planning to join us for GroupLife Southwest! And I really hope you’ll take advantage of the Extra Super Early Bird Price ($99.95 until October 15th)!

A powerful lineup of trusted small group ministry experts and leading practitioners (Bill Willits and Tim Cooper from North Point, Chris Surratt from LifeWay, Dave Enns from North Coast, Hugh Halter from Forge America, Todd Engstrom from Austin Stone, me, and more).

Do you know what’s timeless and what’s timely? Learn the principles and practices that are making grouplife work in the 21st century.

Hang out with hundreds of small group ministry practitioners.

Las Vegas in March!

Find out more at

Simon Sinek on the Value of Experimentation

experimentation“The value of experimentation is not the trying. It’s the trying again after the experiment fails.” Simon Sinek

I don’t know about you, but I love this line from Simon Sinek.

I’ve said before that one of my proudest moments was when my prospective boss at Parkview was told “if you’re okay with a mad scientist…Mark will be a good hire.”

Let me say this to you. Sticking with the same design year after year guarantees you will not escape the gravitational pull of the status quo. Breaking free of the status quo requires experimentation and that means trying again when the experiment fails.

See also, 5 Ideas You Ought to Be Testing This Fall.

Image by dife88

4 Ways the Cultural Shift Impacts GroupLife

culture-shift4 Ways the Cultural Shift Impacts GroupLife

Has it happened yet? If it hasn’t, it’s just a matter of time. Most likely, it will happen before you see it coming.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about ways the culture shift impacts grouplife.

4 ways the culture shift impacts grouplife:

  1. Biblical illiteracy is on the rise. Yes, most Americans still have more than one Bible in their homes. They simply don’t read or understand their Bible. At a minimum, this immediately affects both the selection of studies you offer and the way you must train and resource group leaders. If you haven’t already begun to shift your strategy, you are behind.
  2. A Christian worldview cannot be assumed. This is not just about the arrival and growing influence of other world religions. It actually has just as much to do with the decades long trend to simply include popular wisdom and practices of celebrities (think Oprah), politicians, philosophers, and social activists. Syncretism is “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” If you haven’t already adjusted your leader training to anticipate this you are behind.
  3. Moral ambiguity is pervasive. Remember when that was only done in secret? Remember when that could only be said in an R rated movie? Or when everyone knew you just didn’t do that?  This challenge is not reserved for those who haven’t joined a small group. If you haven’t begun to help group leaders learn to help members set appropriate guardrails, you are behind.
  4. Marital status debates, sexual preferences and gender issues are not just in the news. These issues are also not reserved for those outside of the church. If you haven’t already felt the impact in your small group ministry, it is moments away. If you’re not already equipping your group leaders and coaches you are behind.

Culture shift is right at the heart of why I’m holding GroupLife Southwest, a new small group ministry conference. See also, 5 Reasons I’m Launching GroupLife Southwest.

Further Reading:

Image by Anders Sandberg

You’re Invited! Join My 2017 Coaching Network!

2017-coaching-network-finalMy 2017 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network experience is designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century. The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. My coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

Who will be part of the network? Each of my networks are limited to 15 participants and are designed for small group champions who serve in a local church. Because of the nature of the role, champions may be senior pastors, executive pastors, small group pastors and directors, ministers of education, and other key leaders.

What will you receive?

  • Five monthly coaching sessions. Anchored by a 90 minute video conference call, these group session provides focused exposure to the strategies that will build a more powerful platform.  Sessions are scheduled at 11am Pacific on January 19th, February 16th, April 20th, May 18th, and June 15th).
  • Two day gathering in Las Vegas. March 29th: 1pm-5pm followed by dinner | March 30th: 8am-12pm
  • Bonus: Registration for GroupLife Southwest is included (my small group conference here in Las Vegas is March 27th and 28th)
  • Focused training on key strategic steps including planning with the end in mind, developing an annual grouplife calendar, identifying an unlimited number of new leaders, launching new groups in waves, and impacting your community through groups.
  • Tools, strategies and next steps to be implemented after every session.
  • Access to special password protected network pages with customized content for each session.
  • Scheduled 60 minute one-on-one calls to address questions more specifically, bring team members into the conversation, or help equip your senior pastor or other key staff members.
  • The opportunity to connect with other network participants between sessions
  • Email access to Mark during the six months

What are the expectations?

  • Participate in all six sessions
  • Invest as little as $1050* (*super early bird pricing thru 10/31/15, early bird pricing of $1150 from 11/1-11/30, $1250 after 11/30/15)
  • Cover your own travel expenses to the two day gathering
  • Commit to the reading and exercises between sessions

What’s next? Complete the Coaching Network Application. My 2017 Coaching Network begins on January 19th, 2017. Questions? Contact me.

Mike Foster’s People of the Second Chance Is a MUST-READ

people-of-the-second-chanceSpent some time this week with the newest resource from Mike Foster. Very powerful and one you definitely will want to take a look at yourself. Not exactly sure how I should say this, but People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World feels like Bob Goff’s Love Does, only more motivating.

I love it that Bob Goff wrote the forward and had a lot of fun imagining these two hanging out together.

This snippet from the forward will tell you what you need to know:

“This isn’t a self-help book about just being happy; it’s about being aware of the beauty of becoming whole. It’s not about finding meaning in our lives by looking perfect; instead, it’s about realizing that we are perfectly loved and allowing this to give our lives meaning. This is a book for messed-up overcomers, for religious rebels, for the broken but resilient. It’s not about taking a knee in the end zone when you win; it’s about taking both when you don’t.”

People of the Second Chance is an easy read in one sense and a very challenging one in another. Filled with very personal stories and written in a rhythm that immediately pulls you in, this is a special book. And at the same time, it pulls you steadily toward action; not the need for action…personal action.

My recurring thought as I read People of the Second Chance was that this will provoke a powerful conversation in small groups, ministry teams and book clubs. I’ve already suggested that including a few discussion questions for each chapter would make it even more accessible, but I really think that the content itself will grab readers hard enough to naturally compel dynamic conversations.

I love this book! If you’re looking for a great book suggestion for groups, do your groups a favor and add  People of the Second Chance to your recommended list!

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.”


“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”  Angela Monet (quoted in On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson)

Image by Michael Ryan

This Little Tweak Will 10X the Impact of Your Coaching Structure

10x-tweakThis Little Tweak Will 10X the Impact of Your Coaching Structure

I write a lot about building an effective coaching structure. Maybe I should say, I write a LOT about building an effective coaching structure.

Building an effective coaching structure is a frequent topic here for two reasons:

  1. Coaching plays a very significant role in launching and sustaining new groups. This should not be overlooked or dismissed. Think about the energy you expend in getting a new group going. Now think about the wasted energy you expend starting groups that don’t survive. An effective coaching structure can help the new groups you launch sustain long enough to build the connective tissue that will keep them going.
  2. An effective coaching structure is not easy to build! In fact, it is one of the most challenging steps in building a thriving small group ministry. I field more questions about small group coaching than any other topic. It can be done. I’ve taught many to do it. You can do it. But it takes doing the right things at the right time and in the right way.

This Little Tweak Will 10X the Impact of Your Coaching Structure

You know how little things can make a big difference? Like discovering the brightness key on your laptop? Or how to set up favorites in your contacts? Or training your admin to schedule your appointments? Or training your dog to use the doggie door?

Little things can often make a big difference.

A little thing that can make a big difference in the impact of your coaching structure?

How about when and how you introduce a coach to a new leader?

I don’t know when you introduce a coach to a new leader or how you introduce a coach to a new leader…but if you’re struggling to build an effective coaching structure, you might want to consider this little tweak.

When to introduce a coach to a new leader

The best time to introduce a coach to a new leader is at the very beginning. The longer a new leader has been a leader, the harder it gets for the coach to successfully build a relationship.

For example, when a new leader is identified in one of our small group connections, that new leader is introduced to their coach in the short stand-up leaders’ meeting immediately following the connection.

Why is that important? Easy. The new leader will never again be as thankful for access to a coach as they are in that moment.

How quickly are you introducing your new leaders to a coach? The longer you wait the harder it gets.

How to introduce a coach to a new leader

The best way to introduce a coach to a new leader is by clearly establishing that their coach is a huge asset and a great person to know.

For example, during our small group connections we use our coaches to help in several key ways during the connection. We point them out as the process begins. They’re wearing a distinctive t-shirt. We brag on them a little bit. Our coaches help each group that is forming identify a leader.

As soon as leaders are identified, we remind them that they will be connected with a coach; someone who has been leading groups for a long time and really knows the ins and outs of having a great small group.

Immediately following the small group connection we hold a very short (5 minutes) stand-up leaders’ meeting. As the meeting is wrapping up we hand the leaders over to their coaches with this transition statement: “As we mentioned in the connection, we’re pairing each of you up with a coach who will be helping you and your group get off to a great start. Our coaches are very experienced small group leaders who really know how to get groups off to a great start. They’ll want to have a weekly conversation about how it’s going.”

How does your when and how stack up?

How does your when and how stack up to the way we do it? If you’re waiting too long to introduce coaches to your new leaders, if you’re not making a big enough deal about the value of a coach…this little tweak will make a big difference.

If you need help building an effective coaching structure, this tip is an example of the strategies, tactics and practices you learn in How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure (one of my most popular mini-courses).

Image by Sophie


Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80%


Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80% (of their average weekend adult worship attendance)

One of the most effective small group systems is the one made popular by Larry Osborne’s Sticky Church. Osborne is the Senior Pastor of North Coast Church, a multisite church in southern California.

Every system has a distinctive (or several). North Coast’s is what I refer to as a semester system (participants sign up for a semester). Another very important distinctive of their system is that most of their groups use a sermon-based study developed to accompany the weekend message.

A very important distinctive of the North Coast system is that they consistently connect more than 80% of their average adult weekend worship attendance in groups. And by consistently I don’t mean sometimes or even most of the time. They have consistently exceeded that percentage as long as I can remember.

How have they consistently connected over 80% of their weekend worship adult attendance in groups?

Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80%

  1. Senior pastor Larry Osborne has consistently championed involvement in a growth group as one of two essential commitments that lead to spiritual growth (the other being a commitment to God and the Bible). By the way, all churches with truly effective small group systems have senior pastors who are champions of the importance of small group participation.
  2. The sermon-based aspect of their growth group strategy allows their teaching team to consistently make the case for joining a group as a way to understand and apply the principles they’re learning about on the weekend. While this is a benefit I point to during a church-wide campaign (typically six weeks), at North Coast is is virtually a year-round benefit.
  3. They’ve very consistently run their system over many years (I first became aware of their system and strategy in 2003). There may be innovative tweaks from time to time, but attenders at North Coast know what to expect.
  4. The semester system offers a consistent set of onramps over the course of the year. New attenders are never more than a couple months from the next onramp.
  5. Every semester is promoted aggressively and extensively over a period of weeks. It is very difficult for even the most infrequent attenders to miss the invitation and challenge to join a growth group.
  6. The 10 week commitment to a growth group is short enough to feel like a reasonable test-drive (While I prefer a shorter initial commitment, 10 weeks is still a reasonable length of time).
  7. Signing up for a 10 week semester also has the upside of a hard stop.  While most members reup for the next semester with the same group, if the group turns out to be a poor match for a new member, it is a simple matter to simply not sign up for the next one.
  8. They have consistently high quality promotion (see below) that peaks the interest and engages the kind of people they attract and hope to connect.
  9. The content for the weekend message series is developed far enough in advance to allow the team that creates the growth group study material to produce an excellent discussion guide. This is an important reason behind their system’s effectiveness. While many churches like the benefit of deepening their members’ understanding and application of the weekend message content, few churches are as disciplined as North Coast at the production of quality material in advance.
  10. North Coast provides their group leaders with the resources they need to facilitate a great discussion. In addition to their Leader Notes and Homework Guide, they also produce a weekly Growth Group Leader podcast to further resource their leaders. See their Leader Tools page here.

Growth Groups: Narcolepsy from North Coast Church on Vimeo.


The True Measure of “Effective” Ministry Systems, Models and Strategies

true-measureThe True Measure of “Effective” Ministry Systems, Models and Strategies

How do you truly evaluate the effectiveness of ministry system, models or strategies?

I have this conversation all the time (and you probably do too). Particularly when a change initiative is in the works and at least a few of the architects or caretakers of an legacy system are still at large.

I love a couple treasured lines from favorite wordsmiths:

“Every company is in the process of becoming an anachronism, irrelevant to the future, or the harbinger of the future.” Gary Hamel

When I read this line I long to be a harbinger of the future.

“There are always two parties, the party of the past and the party of the future; the establishment and the movement.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I read this line I deeply desire to be part of the movement.

Whether you long to be a harbinger of the future or deeply desire to be part of a movement…you must learn to truly evaluate the effectiveness of ministry system, models or strategies.

How do you truly evaluate the effectiveness of ministry system, models or strategies?

First, we need to agree on a couple terms:

  • Effective: “Producing a result that is wanted. Having an intended effect.” Clearly…this definition explicitly indicates a result or effect that was determined in advance.
  • True: “Being in accordance with fact or reality.” Not wishful thinking, rose-colored glasses, or “ministerially speaking.”

Second, in order to truly evaluate the effectiveness of a small group systems we’d need to:

  1. Agree in advance about the desired results. For example, it has long been my ambition to have more adults in groups than our average adult weekend worship attendance. This is shaped in large part by my belief that since people are attending less frequently, the average adult weekend worship attendance isn’t an accurate reflection of the size of our crowd (let alone our congregation).
  2. Fairly and objectively examine the results. By taking an annual (or semi-annual) snapshot of our true percentage connected (number of adults connected) divided by the number of adults at our Easter or Christmas Eve services we can know whether we are gaining ground or losing ground.
  3. Be good stewards of the opportunity and take personal responsibility for the results. A good steward keeps track of the inventory. They know that there is a window of opportunity for every person. They take personal responsibility for the many and the one. They know that every number has a name.
  4. Make adjustments in our system to:
    • Optimize what is right
    • Fix what is wrong
    • Clarify what is confused
    • Add what is missing

Want to be a harbinger? Long to be part of a movement? Commit yourself (and your team) to a true evaluation of the effectiveness of your ministry system, model or strategy.

Further Reading:

Image by Ricardo Cuppini

5 Reasons I Launched GroupLife Southwest: a New Small Group Ministry Conference


5 Reasons I Launched GroupLife Southwest

I get a lot of questions. I’ve had a lot over the last few weeks as I’ve moved closer to launching GroupLife Southwest 2017.

“Why are you launching a new small group ministry conference?”

“Do we really need another small group ministry conference?”

“Shouldn’t you just stream the conference? Why host a live venue?”

Good questions. And these are just a few. There have definitely been others.

Here are the 5 main reasons:

  1. To give you live access to some of the most important small group ministry ideas. Reading about small group ministry is one thing. Interacting with leading practitioners and trusted experts is another thing.
  2. To expose you to the systems, models and strategies designed for the 21st century. If you’re paying attention to the culture, it is an inescapable reality that every step into the 21st century takes us farther away from the way things were when many of the most common small group ministry practices were developed. Connecting people and making disciples in the 21st century will require new insights.
  3. To provide a west coast gathering for small group ministry practitioners. When I’ve written about conferences I’ve been to in other parts of the country, I’ve routinely heard from readers who’ve wished for a closer option.
  4. To provide an additional conference at a time when there are limited options. It just seems like there were more options not that long ago. At the moment, there are only two main options (Saddleback’s The Lobby and North Point’s re:group). Both are excellent. GroupLife Southwest will add an important additional option.
  5. To provide a conference that curates a diverse collection of systems, models and strategies, The speakers you’ll hear are representatives of a variety of effective systems, models and strategies. Exposure to their thinking will help you identify and develop the best approach for your church and your community.

Bottom line? I really hope you’ll join us for GroupLife Southwest 2017! I don’t want you to miss it. And I’d love to meet you!  Here’s a link to the conference website for more information.

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