New from Bill Hybels and John Ortberg: Life Lessons from Jesus

life lessons from JesusI spent some time this week with a new collection of Bible studies you’re going to want to know about.  Life Lessons from Jesus is actually a collection of 5 studies (with a total of 36 lessons), all of which will appeal to your small group leaders and members.

While Life Lessons from Jesus is not a DVD-driven study and it doesn’t include a leader’s guide, it’s written in a way that will be relatively easy for all but the least experienced leaders to facilitate.

Originally published as 5 individual studies in a series called New Community Bible Studies, this is a great collection of the studies that feature the teaching of Jesus.  The 5 studies that are included in the collection are:

  • The Sermon on the Mount by Bill Hybels (12 sessions)
  • The Lord’s Prayer by John Ortberg (6 sessions)
  • The Parables by John Ortberg (6 sessions)
  • The Passion by Bill Hybels (6 sessions)
  • Luke by Bill Hybels (6 sessions)

Life Lessons from Jesus is designed to expose group members to Jesus, the Great Teacher.  Every session includes a well-written ice-breaker question or two that will pull members into the truth of the lesson.  A thought-provoking set of discussion questions will help explore the truths taught by Jesus the Rabbi.  Each session also includes an emphasis on reflection and application.  Far more than a study that will help members learn about Jesus, these sessions are designed to help members become like Jesus.

This is a very good collection of studies.  If your group is looking for a study that digs deeply into the teachings of Jesus, you’re going to want to take a look at Life Lessons from Jesus.  I like 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 may 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.”

Quotebook: Trade-Offs and the Pursuit of More

Looking for a way to have it all?  Whether we’re talking about ministry or life, many people look for opportunities to have it all or to do everything.  Wise leaders, essentialists, understand that “strategy is about making trade-offs.”  See also, Could This Strategic Misstep Be Limiting Your Ministry Impact?

I loved these lines from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:

“It’s easy to see why it’s tempting to deny the reality of trade-offs.  After all, by definition, a trade-off involves two things we want.  Do you want more pay or more vacation time?…A Nonessentialist approaches every trade-off by asking, “How can I do both?” Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating question, “Which problem do I want? (Pg. 55, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less)”

Take a Look at Your Coaching Structure Through 3 Lenses

In a recent conversation with a group of church leaders I pointed out three aspects of small group coaching structures that provide helpful lenses through which to evaluate.  There really is very little mystery to building an effective coaching structure.  It requires recruiting the right people, to do the right things, with the right people.  See also, The Truth about Building an Effective Coaching Structure and The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

Here are the three lenses I pointed out:

An appropriate span of care.  Span of care is an essential ingredient in any coaching structure.  Essentially, span of care is a term that notes the number of individuals in the care of the person in question.  It is a term primarily used to describe the number of leaders in the care of a coach.

The concept can be traced to Exodus 18 where Jethro tells Moses that he’s trying to care for too many people and he needs to have “leaders of 1000, leaders of 100, leaders of 50, and leaders of 10.”  Carl George pointed out that “everyone needs to be cared for by someone, but nobody can take care of more than (about) 10.”

Questions: When you think about your coaching structure, do you have an appropriate span of care?  Or are your coaches trying to care for too many leaders?  See also, Span of Care.

The right job description.  At its essence, coaching is about “doing to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members.”  For example, if you want group members to develop a sense of family in their group, the leader will need to have that experience first.  If you want your members to know what it’s like to be prayed for, the leader will need to know what that feels like first.  In both cases the coach will have to do certain things to the leader.  In both cases the coach will have to do certain things for the leader.

At the same time, coaching ultimately has very little to do with teaching technique.  When a brand new leader first begins leading a group, they will probably need to learn how to do certain things (i.e., lead a discussion, help more reserved members engage in the discussion, and help more talkative members not dominate the discussion, etc.).  Within three to four months a new leader will learn almost everything they will ever need to know about leading a group.  Coaching has little to do with teaching technique.  It has everything to do with caring for leaders.  Here’s a sample of a job description I use.

Questions: Does the job description you’re using for coaches help them focus on the right activities?  Or does the job description encourage the wrong activities?  See also, How to Diagnose the Coaches in Your System.

The right level of capacity.  Building an effective small group coaching structure requires enlisting high capacity men and women.  Jesus used a particular phrase to describe capacity a number of times in the Gospels.  He noted that when a farmer sows seed, every seed has its own capacity, “Some 30, some 60, and some 100.”  Jesus is not talking about maturity.  He’s talking about the relative capacity of a seed.  He’s also not talking about something that can be acquired through experience.  A seed’s DNA determines its capacity.

Building an effective coaching structure requires recruiting hundred-fold or sixty-fold players.  When you recruit thirty-fold players to do the job of a hundred-fold player, you end up with coaches who don’t have the capacity to influence leaders.  When they leave a message, it doesn’t get returned.  When they speak, the leaders in their huddle aren’t listening.

Questions: How would you evaluate the capacity of the coaches on your team?  Which of your coaches do you think meet the capacity test?  Which coaches on your team do you think are in the wrong role?  See also, Three Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up.

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

Four Decisions Wise Small Group Pastors Make Once

You know the decisions you have to make every time you turn around?  The decisions that seem almost forced upon you in moments of weakness?  The decisions that catch you off guard and lead you to agree to things you don’t really want to do?

I think all of us could make a quick list of decisions we’ve made that we immediately (or eventually) regretted.  All of us.

Some of us, though, have learned from the consequences and decided to never make that mistake again.

Here are four decisions wise small group pastors make once:

  1. Prioritize launching new groups over adding members to existing groups.  This is such an important decision!  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, launching new groups must be a high priority.  Wise small group pastors decide to focus their energy on strategies that launch more new groups.  They also decide to train existing group leaders to fish for new members.  See also, Critical Decision: Launch New Groups vs Add Members to Existing Groups and Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.
  2. Step down from the role of matchmaker.  Your time and energy (and your team’s time and energy) is better devoted to higher priority aspects of small group ministry.  Taking sign-ups to join a small group sets in motion the time and energy draining activity of finding the best group for each member.  The larger the sign-up, the more difficult the role of matchmaker becomes.  Instead of spending time and energy matchmaking, wise small group pastors decide to stop taking sign-ups to join a group and start taking sign-ups to attend an event that launches new groups (i.e., a small group connection or GroupLink type event).  See also, What’s the Best Way for People to Sign Up and Commit to a Group?
  3. Never recruit new coaches. Always recruit “helpers”.  Wise small group pastors understand that it is much harder to get someone out of a role than into a role.  This is true whether the role is a staff position or a volunteer position.  When you recruit some to be a small group coach (without observing them in action first) you set up the potential for a difficult conversation.  Wise small group pastors decide to engage potential new coaches in a test-drive first and decide whether coaching is a good fit based on fruitfulness and fulfillment.  “We’re launching some new groups this fall and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to walk alongside 1 or 2 newbie small groups leaders for their first 6 to 10 weeks?”  See also, Three Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up and Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  4. Invest time and energy in the right things.  There are many things that must be done by somebody that aren’t the best way for a small group pastor to spend their time and energy.  Wise small group pastors spend their time doing a few simple but vital things.  (a) Identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders (coaches).  They understand that whatever you want to happen in the lives of group members must happen first in the lives of group leaders and whatever you want to happen in the lives of group leaders must happen first in the lives of small group coaches.  (b) Planning an annual series of group launching and leader development strategies.  And (c), developing an effective partnership with their senior pastor (i.e., the small group champion).  See also, The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Small Group Pastors and What Some Small Group Pastors Know…that Others Don’t.

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

6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry

Wrestling with questions like, “Are we really making disciples?”  Or maybe, “Where are the mature disciples?”  I want to suggest that while those are valid questions, they might not be the most helpful questions.  In addition, asking the right questions is essential if you want to discover discover the best solutions.

W. Edwards Deming said, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”   Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

The questions you ask determine whether you arrive at the discovery you seek.  The questions you ask determine whether you arrive at the best solution.

6 essential questions about making disciples and small group ministry

  1. What is a disciple?  This is a foundational question.  The answer to this question will inform what your next questions should be.  I find two Dallas Willard quotes helpful on this.  First, “As a disciple I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”   Not a bad definition.  And second, “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”  That is a very good end in mind, don’t you think?
  2. What is the best way to help the largest number of people to take a first step toward becoming a disciple (or a better disciple)?  When this is not the second question, or an early question, it’s easy to be led in a direction that does not scale (i.e., one-on-one discipleship, triad discipleship or groups with high entry requirements).  When you think steps, not programs, you determine to create steps that are easy, obvious, and strategic.  Let me add that the very best followup question is, “What would have to be true for that option to work?”  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  3. How might we build a pathway that would help the largest number of people take next steps toward becoming better disciples?  A pathway is a series of next steps that lead in the direction of the destination.  I love Andy Stanley’s line, “Path, not intent, determines destination.”  Again, an excellent followup question is, “What would have to be true for that option to work?”  See also, 5 Main Causes of “Failure to Thrive” in Small Group Ministries.
  4. What are we not doing about making disciples that we should start doing right away?  Isn’t this an obvious question?  The absence of a sense of urgency about making disciples should make our dashboard light up with flashing lights and piercing alarms.  See also, Beware of the Lure of the Status Quo.
  5. What should we immediately stop doing in order to allow for the emergence of a better pathway?  Perpetuating an ineffective status quo is standing in the way of a better way.  Peter Drucker pointed out that, “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow.  It is to decide what to abandon.”  See also, Growth’s Counterintuitive First Step.
  6. What are the obstacles that keep the most people from taking a step toward becoming a better disciple?  This question is only slightly different than #5, but it is an important difference.  Designing an effective pathway requires the elimination of obstacles, barriers and stumbling blocks at the entrance and along the way (i.e., the first step is hidden or hard to find, the next step menu includes too many choices, etc.).  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

See also, Four Questions that Evaluate Small Group Model Effectiveness and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

Win a Life on Mission Church-Wide Campaign – an $1160 Value!

Life on Mission large

This Contest is Closed!  Watch for another new contest soon!

I’m excited about this contest! If you’re dreaming of helping your whole church join the mission, you probably already know about the Life on Mission church-wide campaign.  I reviewed it back in July and it’s just the ticket if you hope to engage everyone in mission!

To help get the word out about this powerful new campaign they’ve put together a great contest!  The winner will receive:

Seriously?  That’s a $1,160 value!

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do BOTH to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  Be sure and use your first and last name (that’s how I find your Facebook post).  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win the Life on Mission church-wide campaign, an $1160 value! “

The contest ends on Monday, November 17th, at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

Rick Warren on Building Great Relationships

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 6.34.57 PMIf you didn’t catch Rick Warren’s message this last weekend at Saddleback, you missed a truly amazing experience.  In a classic example of how to cast vision for the importance of small groups, Rick invited his own small group of 13 years to join him onstage and help deliver the message.

There are many, many great moments in the message.  I loved it when Rick said, “You’re not really going to feel like you’re part of Saddleback until you’re in a small group.  We have more people in small groups than we do at our weekend services.”

I’ve written about Rick as an Exhibit A example of a small group champion.  This is such an inside look at the real deal.  I wish all of you would take the time to watch the message and then pass it on to your senior pastor and every other influencer on your staff.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

If you haven’t seen this message, you’ve got to watch it.  It lasts about an hour, but there really is so much to learn and capture it is definitely worth the investment.  Just like me, you’ll be ready to watch it again right afterwards!  You can watch the message right here.

What Do Small Group Leaders Need to Know How to Do?

Have you ever spent much time thinking about the set of things small group leaders need to know how to do?  I’ve probably talked through this hundreds of times over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever really made an actual list.

I’ve written a series of skill training articles that describe individual things that a small group leader needs to do, but I’ve never thought through to complete the list.

Ever made a list of the things small group leaders need to know how to do?

At re:group this year I picked up some very helpful ideas on this topic at two of the breakouts.  I wrote about my learnings right here.

I really like an idea that Justin Elam shared in a breakout called, “Developing Leaders Who Lead Well.”   The essence of the idea was that there are three stages of leadership and eight tactical essentials that you’d want a leader to know at certain stages along their journey.

Here are the three stages and the eight tactical essentials.

Stage One:  Cultivate Relationships and Promote Participation.

Stage Two: Stay Connected, Provide Care, Serve Together, and Celebrate Change.

Stage Three: Replace Yourself and End Well.

Can you see yourself building a small group leader development concept around that framework?

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

Could This Strategic Misstep Be Limiting Your Ministry Impact?

I’ve written about this strategic misstep in the past, but have never identified it quite this way.  I’ve been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and caught an idea, a way of pointing to what I believe is one of the most serious missteps in many of our ministries.  See also, Growth’s Counterintuitive First Step.

In the book, McKeown sets up his point with a now classic quote from Michael Porter (recognized as one of the intellectual leaders of the modern strategy field).  Here’s the quote:

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs.  It’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” Michael Porter

Early in the chapter, McKeown refers to an interview given by Herb Kelleher (the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines) where Kelleher “began to talk about how deliberate he was about the trade-offs he had made at Southwest.”

“Rather than try to fly to every destination, they had deliberately chosen to offer only point-to-point flights. Instead of jacking up prices to cover the cost of meals, he decided they would serve none. Instead of assigning seats in advance, they would let people choose them as they got on the plane. Instead of upselling their passengers on glitzy first-class service, they offered only coach. These trade-offs weren’t made by default but by design. Each and every one was made as part of a deliberate strategy to keep costs down. Did he run the risk of alienating customers who wanted the broader range of destinations, the choice to purchase overpriced meals, and so forth? Yes, but Kelleher was totally clear about what the company was—a low-cost airline—and what they were not. And his trade-offs reflected as much (p. 50, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less).”

Kelleher and Southwest Airlines are Exhibit A in the case McKeown makes for the strategic importance of making deliberate choices.  He goes on to contrast an attempt by Continental Airlines to capture a slice of the emerging opportunity that Southwest had identified.

However, instead of fully embracing Kelleher’s essentialist approach (and making trade-offs), they attempted what Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter terms “straddling” their strategy.

“In the simplest terms, straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor.  One of the most visible attempts at the time was made by Continental Airlines.  They called their new point-to-point service Continental Lite…and adopted some of Southwest’s practices.  They lowered their fares.  They got rid of meals.  They stopped their first class service.  They increased the frequency of departures.  The problem was that because they were still hanging onto their existing business model (Continental Lite accounted for only a small percentage of flights offered by the airline) they didn’t have the operational efficiencies that would allow them to compete (p. 51, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less).”

Continental Airlines’ attempt to do both, to try and compete with Southwest and continue business as usual led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and “more than a thousand complaints a day.”  I like McKeown’s observation about “the moral of the day.”  “Ignoring the reality of trade-offs is a terrible strategy for organizations.”

Are you attempting a straddling strategy?  Remember, “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs.”

What do you think?  Where are you “straddling”?  Where have you made deliberate choices?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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 may 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.”

5 Moves that Will Help Your Small Group Ministry Get Unstuck

We are just stuck!  We’ve been at this level for over 2 years (or 5 years).  We can’t seem to break out of this rut.  We add 10 new groups and lose 12.  We finally recruit enough coaches to care for new leaders only to have them drop out after one semester.  Our small group ministry is just stuck!

“Our small group ministry is stuck” is one of the most common concerns I hear from small group pastors and senior pastors about small group ministry.  “How can we get unstuck?” is definitely one of the most common questions.

There are a number of moves you can make that will help get your small group ministry get unstuck.  None of these moves are painless or easy, but all of them will pay off.  The movement they bring will be worth the pain.

5 moves that will help your small group ministry get unstuck: 

  1. Evaluate the suitability of your current system or strategy.  Although it is true that there are no problem-free solutions (systems, models or strategies), underestimating the problems that come with the system you’ve chosen is often the root of the issue.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Prioritize launching new groups over adding new members to existing groups.  It may seem to be a small thing, but this is actually a very powerful move.  Train existing group leaders to find new members and fill their own groups.  Focus your energy on launching new groups.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups?
  3. Plan to sustain new groups into their 3rd study.  This is a very important move.  Launching new groups takes a lot of energy.  Launching new groups without doing the work necessary to sustain them is irresponsible and poor stewardship.  It is also a very common reason that many small group ministries are stuck.  If you want to make this move, you’ll choose the right next curriculum, you’ll assign a great coach out of the gate, and you’ll talk it up from the stage.  See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.
  4. Evaluate and upgrade your coaching structure.  With few exceptions, most of the complaining that coaching does not work is done by pastors who have settled for available and willing instead of holding out for shaped and called.  If you want the members of your groups to have a good experience (i.e., if you want them to know they are loved, known, cared for, held accountable, forgiven, etc.), you must acknowledge that the leader must have that experience first.  Unless you have a lot of staff members or very few groups, you cannot provide that experience for your leaders.  You will have to provide it through a coaching structure (making an appropriate span of care possible).  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System and 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.
  5. Trim your belonging and becoming menu.  Actions speak louder than words.  If you want to connect more people in groups, you must make joining a group an easy and obvious step.  Choices and options don’t make it easier to take next steps.  Choices and options make next steps harder.  Narrowing the focus to a single best step is a powerful move.  You may not be able to drastically eliminate all choices and options in one move, but you can reshape which are promoted (announcements, mentions, website, bulletins, etc.).  In addition, you may not be able to make sweeping changes in one move but you can begin to trim options (even if it is eliminating the weakest link this year).  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

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

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