Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

5 Ways to Blow Up Your Small Group Ministry

explosivesYou’ve worked hard to build your small group ministry. It’s humming along; firing on all cylinders. And at just about any moment there are a few things that can blow up most of what you’ve worked hard to accomplish.

What are they?

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Changing your small group model. Regardless of your motivation for changing your small group model, when you tinker with the familiar you run the risk of upsetting the apple cart. Doesn’t mean you can’t switch from a semester model to an ongoing model or from sermon-based to free-market. It does mean that every change ought to be wisely evaluated and made with adequate care. It also means that model changes require what may feel like over communication and extravagant advance notice. See also, 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.
  2. Retroactively assigning coaches to all of your experienced group leaders. This may be the most common way small group ministries get blown up. Providing every small group leader a coach may seem like the wise thing to do but retroactively assigning coaches to experienced leaders is almost always rejected like a bad organ transplant. Your intentions may be good. You may simply want to provide adequate care to every leader but it will rarely be interpreted that way. It almost always feels like the result of a lack of trust or a desire to control. See also, 5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Coaches.
  3. Adding reporting requirements that feel intrusive or unnecessary. What feels reasonable to senior pastors and executive pastors can easily feel excessive to group leaders and invasive to group members. Here’s a tip: Before you begin asking group leaders to report anything, ask yourself how you will use the data they report. If there is no legitimate reason to collect it, don’t ask for it. FAQ: What Does a Coach Need to Know from a Small Group Leader.
  4. Mandating participation in a church-wide study. What may seem like a reasonable expectation to your senior pastor can feel like a major imposition to some group leaders (and members). While the chosen study may seem an obvious choice to church leaders, it will sometimes be perceived as an intrusion by group leaders (and members). Especially when every group is expected to set aside what they are currently studying (and may have been planning to study for months), something well beyond adequate advance notice is required and only sensitive encouragement will be received. See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved in a Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Requiring small group leaders to do something they didn’t sign up to do. Strategies that make it easy to begin leading a group (i.e., the HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection) are excellent ways to grow the number of groups in your small group ministry. At the same time, expecting new leaders who simply meet low bar requirements to accept high bar expectations (i.e., attending training meetings, meeting with a coach, etc.) often leads to quick exits as a leader. Equally, expecting new leaders who simply said “yes” to opening their home or facilitating a discussion to truly shepherd or disciple their members is an expectation that can lead to the early demise of the leader and the group. See also, How to Help a HOST Become a Small Group Leader.

Image by Jeremy Brooks

Have You Seen Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood?

stepping up
I spent some time this week with a very powerful men’s study from FamilyLife and LifeWay. Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood is a 10 session study that is based on Dennis Rainey’s book by the same title that is designed to help men discover what it means to step up and live a courageous life. Although this study has been out for several years, if you missed it like I did, you need to take a look.

DVD-driven, every session is anchored by a very well produced video segment with teaching from Dennis Rainey and featuring vignettes from a powerful list pastors and communicators (James McDonald, Stu Webar, Bill Bennett, Matt Chandler, Crawford Loritts, Voddie Baucham, Joshua Harris and many others). The video segments unpack what biblical manhood looks like and what it means to be a godly, courageous man in today’s world. Through engaging stories, expert teaching, humorous vignettes, man-on-the-street interviews, and personal insights, these men’s ministry leaders “call every man to become courageous leaders in their own lives, marriages, churches, and communities (from the cover).”

The Stepping Up workbook is also very good. A simple but very well crafted set of group discussion questions helps participants process the topic of the session. Three personal exercises are included in every week’s assignment as well as the opportunity to develop a “stepping up plan.” Finally, every session also includes a step beyond section that will help men that want to go further to go deeper.

Stepping Up is powerful stuff! If you’re looking for a men’s study that will help the men in your church take an important step forward, I can highly recommend that you take a look at Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood.

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.”

Thinking Thursday: Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius

elizabeth gilbertElizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

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84761459_3d2dba5c3d_z“Jesus does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Image by Daniel Horacio Agostini

5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing

stopWe all do them. They’re just stupid. And we need to stop doing them.

Here are a few that are MUST. STOP. DOING.

  1. Matchmaking. Few of us actually have time or available horsepower to place members in groups with room for members. Time spent matchmaking is almost always better spent (a) focusing on launching new groups and (b) training leaders to learn to fish for their own new members. See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups and Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.
  2. Settling for warm and willing (instead of hot and qualified). If your coaching structure includes anyone who is a coach “in name only,” you’ve settled for warm and willing. Effective coaching structures are built when we insist on hot and qualified and accept no substitutes. We are truly better off when we hold out for high capacity leaders of leaders who are fulfilled in the task. Anything less is a waste of time. See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure and Imagine If Your Coaching Structure Looked Like This?
  3. Turning a blind eye to sideways energy. You have them and I have them. Bible studies, classes, programs and events that pose as destinations and don’t lead in the direction we want people to go are a distraction. If they lead anywhere other than where we want people to go (i.e., saved seats in a row)…we need to be proactively working to reimagine, redesign and relaunch (or cancel). See also, Sideways Energy.
  4. Saying “maybe” when “no” is the best answer. The most effective small group pastors learn to say “no” to anything that compromises the objective. Anytime saying “yes” simply delays a “no” down the road, it is better for everyone to learn to say “no” with gentleness and respect in the very beginning. See also, Think Twice–and Then Think Again–Before You Approve the New Menu Item.
  5. Repeating a failed strategy and hoping for different results. We all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. But how many of us have settled for exactly the same failed strategy and hoped for the best? Stop doing that! Instead, invest in a brutally honest evaluation of the failed strategy and make the necessary adjustments to move to a new trajectory. See also, Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry is Schizophrenic.

Image by Steve Johnson

5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry

21st century cityscapeWhen we woke up this morning, we woke up to a very different world than our parents lived in. Truth be told, we actually woke up to a rapidly changing culture. As we step deeper into the 21st Century there are some things you need to know about how cultural changes impact small group ministry. Wise leaders will be paying attention as culture changes.

  1. Biblical literacy is a distant memory in almost every setting. This reality must be anticipated in leader training, in the design or selection of curriculum, and in the development of the group experience. Continuing to operate as if everyone knows even the people, places and events of the Bible (let alone its meaning) is already the trademark of hopelessly out of touch ministries.
  2. The expectation that the Church provides something essential is rapidly decreasing. This is an important understanding. All of the research points to the changing belief about the Church. Worse than disagreement with beliefs or practices is the sense that the Church is irrelevant.
  3. “I am a spiritual person” is growing; “I am a Christian” is declining. A correlation noted in The Rise of the Nones and the research that backs up the findings of Barna and many other organizations is that the increasing number of those who indicate no religious affiliation is primarily about the decrease in the number of nominal (or notional) Christians; Christians in name only. This actually may provide some direction for ministries nimble enough to adjust strategy to offer meaning to “spiritual people (Think about Paul’s approach in Acts 17).”
  4. A Christian worldview is not held by the majority. Beyond biblical illiteracy is the emergence of a competing worldview (or multiple worldviews). The worldview of secular humanism sees virtually everything through a completely different lens. The sanctity of human life, sexual orientation, and a biblical understanding of marriage are just three front burner issues where profoundly different beliefs are the products of a vastly different worldview held by an increasing number of people. The practice of assuming “what we all believe” will require a major overhaul in order to reach friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family members who no longer believe what we believe.
  5. Cause has the greatest potential to connect. As James Emery White points out in The Rise of the Nones, there was a time when unchurched people responded directly to a gospel message, joined in community and then joined in the cause (1950s to 1980s). This was followed by a period when unchurched people responded first to an opportunity to join a community, found Christ and then joined in the cause (1990s to 2000s). What about now? White points out that the Pew Forum study revealed that 78% of those surveyed said that “religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds” and 77% said “religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy.” Interpretation? “We may have lost the opportunity to walk with them (unchurched people) and talk with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to do good to them and for them and with them (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones).” Providing opportunities to join causes that resonate with unchurched people (i.e., clean water, orphan care, sex trafficking, etc.) offer new front doors to relationship.

I hope you are thinking about these powerful new trends as you build your small group ministry. My thinking has been impacted by a number of books including The Rise of the Nones and The Next Christians.

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

Image by Pasu Au Yeung

Add “Praying with Paul” to Your Recommended List

praying with paulSpent some time this week with a new study from D.A. Carson and Brian Tabb. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Formation, based on Carson’s 2015 book by the same title, is an 8 session DVD-driven study that “leads group members into the Epistles to see what Paul taught in his ‘school of prayer.'”

DVD-driven, the video sessions feature the teaching of D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, an active guest lecturer in academic and church settings around the world and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of the Gospel Coalition. Carson’s is a gifted communicator and while there is a hint of the academic aspect, he easily grabs and holds our attention as he talks us through the prayers of Paul. At 9 to 18 minutes in length, all of the video segments feel like just the right length.

The Member Book, written by Brian Tabb, “freely adapts and uses material from D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul: A Call for Spiritual Reformation (from the acknowledgments).” Each of the 8 sessions include section to be read in preparation. The preparation section includes (1) an introduction that “lead into the scripture text,” (2) a short commentary section that “explain the text and highlight important theological and practical themes in Paul’s letters,” and (3) reflection questions that “reinforce key points noted in the commentary and promote honest self-examination and application of God’s word.” The Member Book also includes a well-written Group Discussion guide and a Take Home component that will help group members “put flesh on the discussion and apply it during the week.”

Building a recommended list for the groups in your small group ministry should include some studies that directly encourage  members forward in spiritual growth and development. Praying with Paul is that kind of study. I found it very helpful and I know your members will too.


Add “Jesus the King” to Your Recommended List

jesus the kingI spent some time with a new study this week that I think you’re going to want to know about and add to your recommended list. Jesus the King: Exploring the Life and Death of the Son of God, is a 9 session study by Tim Keller and Spence Shelton. While this study will be a challenge for less committed or less experienced group members, it will be just the right study for groups desiring a serious opportunity to deeply explore the life and death of “the most influential man to every walk the earth.”

Jesus the King is a study of Tim Keller’s book by the same title (originally published as King’s Cross in 2011) and the Gospel of Mark. The book was based on a series of messages given by Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 2006 and 2007. Newsweek called Keller “a C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century” and according to Christianity Today, “Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”

Each session of this nine session study is broken into three parts: Pre-Group, Group Discussion, and On Your Own. “Pre-Group and Group Discussion are essential for a great group experience, while On Your Own is designed to help you dig further into the concepts if you so desire (from the How to Use This Study Guide section).”

The study guide, developed in collaboration with Spence Shelton (a grouplife veteran with “a deep understanding of the real-world dynamics of the gospel”) is well-written and very easy to use. It will almost lead itself and the design of the study will make it easy to facilitate. Thoughtfully developed questions will help members thoroughly engage in the discussion and as a result, call each member to “look anew at his or her relationship with God (from the cover).”

A significant challenge to the study is the required reading. While Keller is an excellent writer and his books reflect his speaking style, each session of the study calls for a couple chapters of a 252 page book (25 pages a week). The book captures the reader from the opening paragraphs and those who dig in and do the reading will be rewarded. At the same time, it’s important to note that the group discussion rests on the Pre-Group reading and study (i.e., if you haven’t done the Pre-Group reading and study, you will have little to contribute).

The Pre-Group section also includes a personal reflection assessment and a short set of Bible investigation questions.

Every small group ministry needs a recommended study list that includes some studies that are more challenging. Jesus the King is a challenging study that will reward those groups and group members that fully engage. I love this study 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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

10 Things Small Group Pastors Should Always Be Thinking

thinkingThere are a few things smart small group pastors should always be thinking. A set of questions we should always be asking ourselves. Are you always thinking about these things?

  1. How might we connect more unconnected people?
  2. What is the best way to connect the largest number of unconnected people?
  3. What kinds of people attend our church that we are not connecting?
  4. What stories do I need to tell my senior pastor (so my senior pastor can cast a compelling vision for grouplife)?
  5. Could we provide a better first step out of the auditorium (to connect more people)?
  6. What things must be true for our small group system to be the right system for our church?
  7. How might we improve the design of our small group experience to make more and better disciples?
  8. Am I doing to and for my coaches what I want our small group leaders to do to and for their members?
  9. What do we need to stop doing immediately?
  10. What do we need to start doing immediately?

Can I give you an assignment? Block off an hour or two every week to wrestle with these questions. Very little of what you are currently doing is more important. If you are regularly asking these questions (and taking action on their answers), you’ll begin to see movement toward your preferred future.

Image by Chris Price

Three Church-Wide Campaign Secrets that Everybody Knows…and Very Few Do

laser focusThese are not really secrets. I think almost everyone knows these things already, but almost nobody does them. They’re just too obvious. And honestly, it is just hard work to do them. But if you do them, your campaign will succeed like never before.

If you want to connect far beyond the usual suspects you need to get laser-focused far earlier and stay focused far longer than anyone will think necessary [Click to tweet]

3 Church-Wide Campaign Secrets

  1. Get laser-focused on promoting the campaign. You may not like the word promoting  but don’t let that word take you off course here. The key to this secret is to get laser-focused. For your church-wide campaign to do all you hope it will do, you must narrow your focus to the point that you are only talking about your campaign. If your normal pattern is to promote the buffet…you must change your normal pattern. Everything (announcements, bulletin inserts, website homepage, sermons, signage, etc.) must point to the campaign.
  2. Begin promoting the campaign far earlier than anyone believes necessary. If you truly want your campaign to succeed, you must begin promoting it months in advance. Launching in the fall? Start talking about it in the spring. Think about the launch of any major movie (i.e., Star Wars, Batman, etc.). When do you first begin hearing about it? That’s right. Early. The earlier you begin to get the upcoming campaign into the minds of your congregation and crowd, the greater the sense of anticipation you can develop.
  3. Maintain your laser-focus until your senior pastor and staff are tired of it…and then continue to stay focused. Actually, right about the time your senior pastor and staff begin to tire of the constant drum beat, your most frequent attenders (core, committed, and the inside edge of the congregation) are just starting to get the idea that this is important. If you want to reach the outside edge of the congregation and crowd, you’ve got to remain focused.

Listen, all of us have the same objections and will hear the same objections.

  • What about my ministry?
  • There’s a lot more going on than the campaign!
  • Doesn’t everyone already know this?
  • Haven’t we talked about this enough?

The key thing to remember is that the least connected people are almost always the most infrequent attenders. If you want to connect far beyond the usual suspects you need to get laser-focused earlier and stay focused far longer than anyone will think necessary.

Image by Hamza Hydri Syed

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