Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Friday’s List | December 2

fridays-listFriday’s List: December 2

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite awhile. I’m asked for recommendations all the time. I’ll be posting a short list every Friday.

Here are the things I’m reading, listening to, loving and wrestling with:

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

Craziness, Consumerism and Making Christmas Awesome by Brandon Cox. Great read.

5 Things The Decline Of Radio And TV Can Tell Us About The Future Of The Church by Carey Nieuwhof. Don’t miss this one.

7 Skills that Are Hard to Learn but Pay Off Forever by Travis Bradberry. This is a great read and very helpful for goals setting for the New Year. HT Tim Stevens (and if you’re not subscribed to Tim’s blog you’re missing out.

How Your Control Freak Tendencies Stunt Your Church’s Growth by Carey Nieuwhof. Very important post.

Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways byBill Taylor,  This is a read and then read again kind of book.

Here’s what I’m listening to:

How To Build A Leadership Development Pipeline with Eric Geiger & Kevin Peck on the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast  [Podcast]

How to Be Simply Brilliant with Bill Taylor on the Accidental Creative Podcast. Bill Taylor is one of my favorite authors. The Accidental Creative Podcasts is one of my favorite listens every week.

Tim Ferriss on Finding and Focusing on What Truly Matters on the Rainmaker FM podcast. Tim’s an interesting guy and may not be your cup of tea…but I learn a lot by listening to him think out loud.

Quote I’m wrestling with:

“What would have to be true for that approach to work?”  Or, “What would have to be true for the idea on the table to be a fantastic option?” I love these two questions from Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management (p. 12, The Design of Business).

My own post I hope you’re reading:

Ranking the Most Powerful Strategies for Launching New Groups:  This thinking comes up over and over again in conversations with readers and consulting clients.

great-questions“What would have to be true for that approach to work?”  Or, “for the idea on the table to be a fantastic option?”

I love these two questions from Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management (p. 12, The Design of Business).

Here are some additional posts that might be helpful:

Image by Eric

How to Answer the Questions of Unconnected People

question-raised-handFirst News flash: Joining a small group is a foreign concept to most unconnected people. With the exception of currently unconnected people who have been in a group before, everyone with no experience hears “small group” and either wonders what you’re talking about and why it is so important or has a wide range of common misconceptions.

Second News Flash: Unconnected people are unsure about joining a small group. They also have many questions about coming to a small group connection!

Three Important Things You Can Do

There are three important things you can do to help unconnected people understand small groups and small group connections:

  1. Testimonies (both live and video) from people who got connected to a small group. Whether it’s a new laundry detergent, a new treatment for hair loss, or a dating service like eHarmony, the testimonials of satisfied customers are often the most powerful persuasion to try something new. See also, How to Develop Video or Live Testimony that Recruits Hosts or Members.
  2. Website and print content. Along with live or video testimonials from satisfied customers, well-written web or print content can help unconnected people brave uncharted waters.
  3. Easy access FAQs (frequently asked questions). Web or print FAQs can provide “risk-free” answers to common questions. Click here to download an example FAQ for a small group connection.

Further Reading:

Image by U.S. Department of Agriculture

Ranking the Most Powerful Strategies for Launching New Groups

launchingWhether I’m buying a TV or choosing between phone plans, I like to see a side by side comparison. Don’t you? Or how about a list that ranks products according to their performance?

The top 8 ways to launch new groups (according to their performance):

Please keep a few things in mind as you look over the list today.

  • First, this list is based on my opinion. You may have a different opinion. I just ask that you read through my rationale to fully understand how I ranked the strategies this way.
  • Second, I’ve based my ranking on average results (not exceptions to the average). You may know of a church that has exceptional results.
  • Third, I’ve left a few strategies out that are really more add-on in nature.  Since they’re not stand-alone strategies, I’ve listed them below.
  • Fourth, this is about launching new groups. Not adding to existing groups.

Here’s the list ranked from lowest potential to highest potential to launch new groups:

8. Apprenticing: Apprenticing is an important leadership development strategy. Every leader should be apprenticing. Although “results may vary” apprenticing only rarely results in a new group every 12 to 18 months. Far more commonly, apprenticing strategies produce co-leaders of existing groups. See also, True or False: Leaders with Apprentices Leads to More New Groups?

7. Free Market/Semester-System: Free-market run in the classic sense involves the production of a catalog of available groups every semester and either 2 or 3 opportunities to select a group to join for the upcoming semester. Operators of free market systems rarely report an overabundance of new leaders or new groups. Rather, new leaders more commonly replace retiring leaders (or those “taking a break”). See also, An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group Strategy.

6. Sermon-Based/Semester-System: Sermon-based systems have a slight advantage over free-market in that it is generally part of the culture of the church (a la North Coast) and “everyone is doing it.” Still, new leaders more commonly replace retiring leaders (or those “taking a break”). See also, An Analysis of the Sermon-Based Small Group Strategy.

5. Book Club (that leads to off-campus): Choosing the right book offers a larger sign-up. This strategy often leads to large numbers of unconnected people participating. As it is not promoted as a way to join a group, it also leads to connecting unconnected people into table groups that often decide to stay together and continue meeting. See also, Two Big Opportunities That Will Connect More People This Spring.

4. Short-Term On-Campus (that leads to off-campus): This strategy has more potential than the book club because it most commonly offers a slate of options to choose from (i.e. Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, The New Rules for Sex and Dating, Authentic Manhood, etc.). Marketed well and run correctly, this strategy consistently leads to new groups that continue meeting off-campus. See also, North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

3. GroupLink: North Point’s popular strategy can lead to new groups with new leaders, but is primarily a strategy that enables pre-approved leaders to fill their groups with unconnected people. When there are not enough pre-approved leaders a secondary practice kicks in and groups are formed with the expectation that a leader will be identified (as part of the process) from amongst the group. See also, North Point’s Small Group System.

2. Small Group Connection: Saddleback’s small group connection strategy builds leader identification into the event itself. Every group formed is a new group with a new leader. See also, How to Launch New Groups Using a Small Group Connection – 2016.

1. Church-Wide Campaign: Well-executed church-wide campaigns leverage the HOST strategy (or the “if you have a couple friends” variation) to form new groups. Existing groups can be encourage to “take a small group vacation” and can multiply to form additional new groups. Leveraging the power of the senior pastor’s influence can lead to waves of unconnected people responding to the challenge of joining a six-week group (that can and often does choose to continue). See also, The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

Add-on strategies:

Further Reading:

Image by Stuart Rankin

5 of the Best Studies for Small Group Connections

5-of-the-best-studies-for-small-group-connectionsI’m often asked “what are the best studies for small group connections?” This is a great question and actually a very important question.

Choosing the right study is important because the topic often determines who will say “yes” to joining the group.

I’ve written previously on the topic of how to choose the right study for small group connections. In that article I listed the four characteristics of studies that will connect unconnected people.

When I use those four characteristics to develop a list of the best studies for small group connections, I come up with this list:

Community: Starting Well in Your Groupcommunity starting well is the study used by North Point for groups launched at Group Link. It’s important to note that Community is not a Bible study.  Instead, it really is a guided conversation designed to help the members of your new group show up, join in, and be real.  Every session includes an introduction and short reading assignment to be read as preparation.  A skillfully designed set of discussion questions will help group members share their story in a way that will help them talk about things that help knit hearts together.

What on Earth Am I Here For?what on earth am i here for is the new name for the study that anchors 40 Days of Purpose. You might think, “Wait, that’s been around too long” or “wouldn’t the people we’re trying to connect have already done it?” but in reality, most of the people you are trying to connect will not have participated in the study previously. And the topic is spot on when you’re looking for one with broad appeal.

followFollow: No Experience Necessary is DVD-driven and each of the sessions is a 17 to 22 minute clip from an Andy Stanley message.  One of the most compelling communicators in America, this is must see TV.  Never flashy or fancy, Stanley is known for his ability to draw out life-changing truth and deliver it in a way that is both inspiring and very memorable.  Follow is an excellent example of his pattern of taking difficult or challenging ideas and presenting them in a way that leads to application.

wiser-togetherWiser Together: Learning to Live Together “challenges you and your small group to make doing life together a priority, exploring from the book of Proverbs the inseparable connection between experiencing community and growing in wisdom.” Featuring teaching by Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the sessions are classic examples of his style.  Each segment is a manageable length, the average time is 13 to 18 minutes.

relatableRelatable: Making Relationships Work is the newest study from Louie Giglio, senior pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and founder of Passion Conferences. DVD-driven,  Relatable is a 6 session study that features Giglio teaching live from a message series at Passion City Church in early 2015. The video sessions are excerpted from full messages and average 18 to 23 minutes long. A powerful speaker, Giglio has no trouble holding your members attention. Spoiler Alert: There are a number of moments when God’s presence in the room is palpable.

Certainly, these aren’t the only studies that will work well with a small group connection. In my mind they are among the very best because they fit the four characteristics of studies that will connect unconnected people.

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Four Counterintuitive Truths about Finding New Leaders

truthFour Counterintuitive Truths about Finding New Leaders

There are four counterintuitive truths about finding new small group leaders. They are not obvious. But like a Magic Eye picture, once you see them for yourself you’ll never see finding new leaders the same way again.

The best potential leaders are often reluctant. In reality they are almost always reluctant. When you ask for volunteers to lead they will rarely respond. They probably don’t know that many of the best stories in the Bible are about reluctant leaders (Moses, Gideon, Jonah, Elijah, etc.). They probably don’t know that all of the best stories in the Bible are about people who were chosen (Paul, Jesus’ 12 disciples, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.).

  • Note: The most eager volunteers are often motivated by the wrong things (i.e., they like to “teach,” they look for power, they need a pedestal, etc.)
The best potential leaders are often reluctant. In reality they are almost always reluctant.… Click To Tweet

The best potential leaders are almost always busy people. They aren’t sitting at home watching TV. They aren’t looking for additional activities. Their calendars are already full and much of what they are doing is at least pseudo fulfilling.

  • Note: Think twice about people with lots of free time. There is often a reason they are available.

Many of your best and most healthy groups are actually full of potential leaders. Some of your best potential leaders are naturally drawn to community and will find ways to connect (even when a church makes it difficult). When you ask these potential leaders if they would leave their group to lead a new group they will often tell you they are serving elsewhere and their group is where they are cared for, get fed or are in community.

  • Note: They can sometimes be persuaded to leave their group temporarily to help start a new group with the assurance that they can return.

Some of your best potential leaders love your church but are only thinly connected. They only attend your weekend service. They pull in the parking lot, check their children in to their classes and slide into their seats in your auditorium. 75 minutes later they’re pulling out of your parking lot on their way to lunch. They are satisfied with the experience. Not fulfilled, because in order for them to truly be fulfilled they need to use their leadership gifts. But they don’t know that. And you don’t know them.

  • Note: In growing churches most of the best potential leaders are in this category. They are reluctant to volunteer. They are busy people. They are mostly satisfied with their experience. And you don’t know them.

Have you observed these counterintuitive truths before? Or are they new to you? I believe once you begin to see them clearly, you will look at finding new leaders differently. You will see the task in a new way.

The explanation for the success of two important strategies

These four counterintuitive truths about finding new leaders explain the futility of the hand-picked and training course models. They also explain why strategies like the small group connection and the host strategy work so well. See also, Top 10 Articles on Identifying and Recruiting New Small Group Leaders.

Image by Tim Abbott

Top 10 Articles on Identifying and Recruiting New Group Leaders

finding-searchlightI’ve been doing this awhile. I was thinking about this not too long ago and realized that my first try at building a small group system was in 1984. I don’t know what you were doing in 1984, but that was the year Apple ran the 1984 commercial during Super Bowl XVIII. Ronald Reagan was elected to his second term as President of the United States. Terms of Endearment won the Best Picture and crack cocaine was first introduced in Los Angeles.

I’ve been doing this awhile.

And there are a few questions that I’m asked over and over and again and again.

One of the most frequently asked questions is, “What’s the best way to find and recruit new small group leaders?”

Ever wondered that? Ever researched that question?

Here’s how I answer it when I have a few minutes: When I began I did what most people do. I was leading a college ministry and had been influenced by Campus Crusades “student led, staff driven” philosophy, so I thought about the students I knew who might make good leaders and asked them if they’d lead a group. That worked pretty well. Most of the guys and girls I recruited were a little more spiritually mature than average. I don’t remember any significant train wrecks.

This was my strategy for the next few years. It worked until I was in a church where there were more people that I didn’t know than people I knew. I began asking my existing leaders if there was someone in their group that might make a good leader. And that produced a few new leaders from time to time. In that particular case it didn’t produce enough new leaders to connect the number of people who had signed up for a group.

Ever been there?

The challenge of finding enough new leaders to connect a growing number of unconnected people forced me to begin running a bulletin blurb offering a training course for people who were interested in leading a small group. It was a reasonable strategy that seemed like a good idea at the time but really didn’t work very well. Certainly, some of the sign-ups were good people, but I discovered that many of the people who signed up for the course often had their own agenda and were really not suited to lead.

Ever been there?

Then, in 1999 I ended up at a church that had grown very quickly in its first few years and hadn’t really connected anyone. The first thing they did when I said I’d help them was hand me a stack of sign-up forms from people who wanted to be in a small group. The stack of forms was from the last several months and was 6 or 7 inches tall.

Ever been there? Maybe not exactly there, but you’ve had waaaay more people who are unconnected than connected and no way to find enough leaders to start enough groups to connect that many people?

You know how they say that “necessity is the mother of invention?” Maybe you’ve thought it was “desperation is the mother of invention?” I know I did when I saw the stack of sign-up forms!

Actually, the stack of sign-up forms created enough angst on the part of our senior pastor and staff that they were ready for a solution. “Any solution! Just get these people connected!”

I had heard about a strategy that Saddleback was using called a small group connection that would identify leaders from amongst the people who wanted to join a group and attended the event. Like everyone else, they had tried just about everything to find enough leaders to connect the people who wanted to join a group. At some point, you simply can’t know who everyone is and therefore you can’t know who the best available leaders are.

So…I was given permission to try Saddleback’s small group connection strategy. I took the stack of sign-up forms and contacted them to invite them to an event on a Sunday after the 11:00 a.m. service. We also ran an announcement in the bulletin and announced the event from the platform for 2 or 3 weeks.

We had a very large group sign up and a large group show up. I don’t remember the specifics for that one event, but over the next 15 months we started around 150 groups and kept 120 of them going. That is, we ran an event that helped about a thousand people identify over a hundred leaders. Leaders we didn’t know. You can read about the small group connection strategy right here.

In late 2002 we tried our first church-wide campaign. We were one of the first churches to try Saddleback’s host strategy. I shook my head when I heard what the plan was. It seemed crazy at a time when the connection strategy was working so well. But…when Kerry Shook asked our congregation who would be willing to host a group in their home nearly 1000 people stood up. Hello!

Now, don’t get me wrong. Both the connection strategy and the host strategy have problems. They are not problem-free. But they also find leaders, good leaders, when every other method has struggled or failed outright to keep up with demand.

Over the last few years we’ve continued to innovate. The connection strategy and the host strategy look different than they did when we first used them. And we’re still looking for the next wrinkle. In the fall of 2014 we tweaked the language of the host strategy and had amazing results. You can read about it in Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

Top 10 Articles on Identifying and Recruiting Small Group Leaders

I’ve organized these articles chronologically, so you can see the progression.

  1. Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment (March, 2009)
  2. Small Group Leaders: Finding, Recruiting and Developing (February, 2010)
  3. The Upside of Reluctant Leaders (February, 2013)
  4. My Top 3 Ninja Ideas for Recruiting Small Group Leaders (June 2013)
  5. Three Realities in the Hunt for Small Group Leaders (October, 2013)
  6. 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Leaders (December, 2014)
  7. 8 Things You Need to Know about Small Group Leaders (February, 2015)
  8. How Can I Find More Leaders? (August, 2015)
  9. True or False: Leaders with Apprentices Leads to More Groups? (June, 2016)
  10. Has Blind Spot #1 Limited Your Small Group Ministry? (July, 2016)

Image by Kevin

Friday’s List | November 18

fridays-listFriday’s List: November 18

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite awhile. I’m asked for recommendations all the time. I’ll be posting a short list every Friday.

Here are the things I’m reading, listening to, loving and wrestling with:

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

7 Ways a Pastor Should Think Like an Entrepreneur by Brandon Cox. Very good stuff.

Church Attendance Decline? There’s a problem with your product by Tony Morgan. Spot on and right on target.

10 Easy Ways to Blow Your Influence in Leadership without Even Trying by Carey Nieuwhof. Another really important post.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney. This is a great book! You can read my review right here.

Here’s what I’m listening to:

This American Life: Very annoying and one of the best produced podcasts going. Makes me frustrated but can’t stop listening.


Quote I’m wrestling with:

“How do you make sure that what you know doesn’t limit what you can imagine?” Bill Taylor, Simply Brilliant

My own post I hope you’re reading:

5 November Actions that Impact January/February:  Now’s the time! What you do now will make the new year better.

The Most Important Book I’ve Read This Year: The 4 Disciplines of Execution

4-disciplinesI’ve been working my way through The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney over the last few weeks. Can I tell you something? This book, the ideas and practices in this book, truly have game-changing qualities. You need to drop what you’re doing and order it right now.

I really think, whether you lead a team (or are leading up to make things happen), reading and applying the principles and practices of The 4 Disciplines of Execution ought to be on your daily to do list. Just set time in your schedule and get it going.

Why am I so high on this one? Here’s the bottom line: All of us are working hard to get from where we are to the preferred future we’ve identified. Right? Most of us have done the hard work of identifying the problems and organizational junk cluttering our present and we’ve at least begun teasing out the shape of the preferred future. We might have even begun charting a course and laying out the first few milestones we need to reach. And what’s standing in the way? Actually doing the things that will get us from where we are to where we need to go.

Applying the principles and practices of The 4 Disciplines of Execution will help you get from where you are to where you want to be. Period.

Broken into three sections, the book lays out very practically an overview, how to install 4DX with your team, and how to install 4DX with your organization. If you’ll dig in, I promise you your copy will be just as marked up, underlined, starred, and dog-eared as mine. There is real gold in here!

The essence of the book? It really is as simple as 4 disciplines:

  1. Focus on the wildly important: Discipline 1 is the discipline of focus. You choose 1 (or at most 2) “extremely important goals” and focus on them instead of trying to improve everything at one. This will take resolve and determination. But it will change the game.
  2. Act on the lead measures: This is the discipline of leverage. By focusing on the lead measures, the actions that have the greatest impact on achieving the goals you’ve identified, you will see progress in the right direction.
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard: This is the discipline of engagement. “People play differently when they are keeping score.”
  4. Create a cadence of accountability: This is the discipline of accountability. “The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a wildly important goal.”

If you are like most of us, you are already thinking about the goals you’ve identified (or that have been handed to you). You may have taken multiple runs at achieving the goals. And it may be a single goal or a long list of goals. But heres what I can tell you. I think digging in to the principles and practices of The 4 Disciplines of Execution will finally make a difference. I hope you’ll take this step today.

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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