MarkHowellLive.com

Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

mistakes chalkboard“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.” – Frank Wilczek, 2004 Nobel Prize winner

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Top 10 Posts on Training and Discipling Leaders

leaderTop 10 Posts on Training and Discipling Leaders

I’ve written a little bit on the topic. Okay…I have written a LOT on this topic. With over 1900 hundred articles dating back to 2008, determining the top 10 articles was a little challenging. According to Google analytics, this is how it came out.

  1. Top 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills
  2. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader
  3. Skill Training: Equip Your Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow
  4. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway
  5. From Here to There: The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders
  6. Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders
  7. 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders
  8. The One Thing Every Small Group Pastor Must Do for Small Group Leaders
  9. 7 Must-Have Resources for Training Small Group Leaders
  10. Small Group Leader Expectations: What Should They Be?

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Are You “Brutally Honest” about Your Small Group Ministry?

brutal xrayAre You “Brutally Honest” about Your Small Group Ministry?

How honest are you about your own small group ministry? You know…about how things are going…really?

Are you brutally honest?

In his best-selling book Good to Great, Jim Collins introduced the “discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

“You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts. The good-to-great companies operated in accordance with this principle, and the comparison companies generally did not.”

Today I want to talk about a very important step in the preferred future process. Just as important as identifying and describing your preferred future, being honest about how things really are today is absolutely essential. Only with real honesty, brutal honesty, can you begin to design the strategies that will help you get from where you are (your present) to where you want to be (your preferred future).

Brutal Honesty About Your Present.

Sounds harsh.  Brutal even.  But without an honest evaluation of right now, you can’t possibly build an exponential system.  So how do you evaluate your present?  What are you looking for?

Here are some of the questions I use:

First, Is group life promoted year-round as an essential ingredient of spiritual growth?  So that we’re clear, here’s what I mean about each of these terms:

  • Group life must be a life-on-life activity.  It can’t be a purely educational experience.  It’s about interaction.  Can it happen on Sunday a.m. in a classroom setting?  It can, but it will take work to create the right environment there.  At the same time, it takes work to create the right environment in a living room.
  • Group life must be promoted.  By promoted I mean talked about, highlighted, mentioned, and referred to.  It needs to happen in your pastor’s messages, in announcements, in testimonies, on your website, your e-newsletter, and your bulletin or program.
  • Group life must be promoted all the time, not once a season or when it’s recruiting time, and certainly not in a kind of rotating emphasis where equal time is given to every ministry or program.  This is a very important question about where you are right now.  Without year-round promotion, you can’t get to exponential.
  • Group life must be seen as an essential ingredient of spiritual growth.  From a practical standpoint, it really needs to be seen as one of a very few essential ingredients.  What are the others?  Gathering for corporate worship and serving in a gift-based, passion-driven ministry.  You’ll have difficulty getting to exponential if there is much there beyond those three.

How are you doing so far?  When you evaluate the way things are right now in your ministry, is group life promoted year-round as an essential ingredient of spiritual growth?

The next diagnosis question is: How obvious is the path to connect with a group in your system?  In other words, once I begin hearing about how essential group life is, will my next step be obvious?  Can I see it prominently promoted on the website?  Can I walk out into the lobby right after service and see what to do?  Is the next step obvious?

Next, how easy is the first step?  Can I take a baby step?  Or do I have to be a world record long jumper like Carl Lewis?  An example of easy is a six week test-drive on a timely and broadly engaging topic.  An example of a difficult first step is Experiencing God or The Truth Project.  Great studies, but at 12 to 14 weeks are too long for a first step.

Last, does the first step lead to a next step?  This is a very important part of getting to exponential.  It’s not that every group must survive or every person who joins continues.  It’s that you’re doing what you must to build in the greatest possibility of survival.

A Truly Brutal Diagnosis

A thorough diagnosis of your present would include an honest conversation about much more. There would be questions about the legitimacy of your coaching efforts. You’d have to assess whether you are truly making disciples or simply connecting people? You would have to look deeply into the reasons you’ve connected some but not others.

A thorough diagnosis of your present would also include a careful look at all the elements that effect small group ministry. For example, what does communication look like in your church? How effectively do all of the communication ingredients work together to present a clear sense of the next step you want unconnected people to take? Are you presenting a pathway that is easy, obvious, and strategic? Or are you really pointing unconnected people to a confusing buffet?

While communication is an important element to diagnose, there are many others. Here are a few more:

  • How committed is your senior pastor to the role of small group champion?
  • How confusing is your current menu of connection and discipleship options?
  • How adequately are you resourced for small group ministry? When you look at staff, budget, room allocation, lobby presence, and website presence can you tell that small group ministry is a priority? Or are you really prioritizing everything and nothing at the same time?

Your Next Step

Your next step is to pull together a conversation about how things really are right now in your ministry.  You’ll need the right people around the table.  It will take time.  You’ll have to be honest.  But here’s the thing.  You’re kidding yourself if you think you can get to exponential from just anywhere.  You need to rearrange the way things are today if you want to get somewhere different tomorrow.

Image by Jonathan Harford

Further Reading

How to Manage the 5 Tensions of Connection

tension

How to Manage the 5 Tensions of Connection

Connection between people is a little bit of mystery smack dab in the middle of a lot of predictability. It is mostly about managing the 5 tensions of connection. The 5 tensions are driven by things that seem true and good to everyone except unconnected people.

Here’s what I mean:

Connection is easiest when everyone is new. This is why it’s more effective to form new groups than to add new members to existing groups. I’ve said many times that once a group is 4 to 6 months old it begins to form a nearly impermeable membrane that prevents the easy connection of new members. Once that membrane forms the only new members that can break through are friends of existing members or the least self-aware and most brazen extroverts imaginable.

On the other hand, when everyone is new, no membrane exists. Barriers haven’t formed. Pecking orders aren’t established. It’s a level playing ground.

Tension #1: It will always be easier to send new members to existing groups. It is more productive to launch new groups.

If you want to connect unconnected people you need to focus on launching new groups. See also, Top 5 Ways to Start New Groups. Lots of New Groups and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Starting New Groups.

Connection is easiest when everyone is similar. The closer the affinity the easier it is to connect. True, there are some who are looking for an intergenerational group. Trust me, they are the exception. The easiest connections happen between people with common interests and similar life-stages.

While it is often true that greater diversity leads to a richer form of community, it is not automatic and it doesn’t form quickly enough to make connection likely.

Tension #2: It is easier to connect without intentionality. It is more work and harder work to design events and connecting opportunities that take advantage of affinity.

If you want to connect unconnected people you need to look for strategies that connect affinity, the closer the better.

Connection is easiest when the topic of study is customer-focused. That may seem an odd way of expressing the idea, but it is never harder to connect unconnected people than when the topic of study is only interesting to the people who chose it. Just like trying to get your children to eat their vegetables, telling them to eat it because “it’s good for you” is not helpful. See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Tension #3: The loudest voices are always the already connected minority. Unconnected people have little or no voice. Finding ways to learn their interests is a very important responsibility.

If you want to connect unconnected people you must keep their interests and concerns in mind and choose study topics that naturally appeal to them.

Connection is easiest when it’s convenient. Unconnected people are almost always the least motivated to connect. They have other priorities. We may believe they have the wrong priorities…but they are their priorities. Removing the barrier of inconvenience is essential. The day and time of your connecting event matter. The format of your event matters. Providing childcare matters. Inconvenience is in the eye of the beholder.

Tension #4: The most convenient design for unconnected people is almost always less convenient for staff and key volunteers.

If you want to connect unconnected people you need to create opportunities that are convenient to them.

Connection is easiest when it is a good value. Remember, unconnected people are almost always the least motivated to connect. The cost must seem to be a good value to them. If you’re going to subsidize anything, subsidize the cost to sign up for a first connection opportunity. Design your programs to make it easy and extra affordable for unconnected people. Their very first steps are the most difficult.

A good value is about more than the financial impact. Does it feel like a good use of their time? Does the sign up process and the event itself feel like a good use of their time?

Tension #5: Your budget will almost never drift it’s way into prioritizing unconnected people.

If you want to connect unconnected people you need to make connecting seem like a very good value for their money, time and effort. See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.

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

Image by Siddharth Vishnathan

Jim Stockdale on Confronting the Brutal Facts

confronting“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Jim Stockdale

Image by David Jones

How To Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar – 2016

annual calendarHow does calendar planning happen in your world?  Maybe the question should be, “does calendar planning happen in your world?  Let me tell you, whether you are naturally a planner or you will only plan when it’s done for you or you’re forced…calendar planning is a key to small group ministry effectiveness.  Here’s why it’s important and also some keys to doing it well.

Why Calendar Planning Is Important

Although you may be be a play-it-by-ear type when you’re on your own, when you’re leading a ministry that involves a lot of people you’ve got to take the needs of a lot of people into consideration.  Another very important reason that calendar planning is important is that we’re all competing for the attention of leaders.  If you want your ministry to catch and hold the attention of leaders…you’ve got to plan ahead.  Enough about why, here’s how to put together an annual calendar.

How To Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar

  1. Keep in mind that there are two kinds of events that will go into your annual calendar.  Connecting events and strategies should be dropped in first.  Right on their heels you’ll want to put in training and encouragement opportunities for both leaders and coaches.
  2. The first step is to put in the biggest of the big connecting rocks.  For most of us, that will be to plug in the dates of a fall church-wide campaign and all the pieces that go with it.  Most of the time that will include things like host recruiting, host orientations, and coach recruiting and training.  I’ve also found it to be helpful to plug in a mid-campaign leader’s meeting for encouragement and to guide leaders of new groups into a next curriculum.  The best time for this is usually end of September or the first of October. See also, Behind the Scenes: Developing a Time-Line for Your Church-Wide Campaign.
  3. Another very big rock that needs to be placed is an event or strategy that will help unconnected people find a group in late January or early February.  In most cases the best strategy to connect people is a small group connection.  It’s always a good idea to build in at least 2 weeks of promotion before the event.  Also, you’ll want to plug in a new leader’s orientation no more than 10 days after the connection. See also, How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection.
  4. The last big connecting rock is often an opportunity to connect people after Easter (especially an early Easter).  Again, it makes sense to promote the event at least 2 weeks and choose a curriculum that will interest unconnected people.
  5. It’s often a good idea to put in a connecting event for women following Mother’s Day and also men following Father’s Day. See also, Taking Advantage of Special Days to Launch New Groups.
  6. With your connecting events in place…step back and look at the calendar.  Next, you’ll want to drop in some encouragement and training for your leaders.  Although the idea of a monthly leadership community has been the model for some churches, I’ve rarely found that to be a workable idea.  Instead, consider planning 2 annual training/encouragement opportunities that are centralized.  Do everything else as decentralized events in the homes of coaches or leaders. See also, FAQ: How Are You Training New Leaders These Days? and Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  7. I’ve found two leader gatherings a year to be about all that can be pulled off.  Early February is often a good time to schedule a Friday evening, Saturday morning event.  It can be done at a retreat center or right on campus.  Get your senior pastor involved in a time of vision and encouragement on Friday night.  Use Saturday morning for a combination of huddle and skill training.
  8. Another good time to drop in a leader training and encouragement event is at the mid-point in your fall church-wide campaign.  This allows you to build into the lives of new hosts and experienced leaders.  Use the first part of a 90 minute event to allow your pastor to cast vision, tell stories and make heroes.  Gather your leaders at tables with their coach (or by affinity) for encouragement for the middle segment.  Dismiss to separate venues for appropriate skill training. See also, Watch Saddleback’s Most Recent Host Rally.
  9. Once you’ve got the big rocks of connecting and leadership encouragement/training in place…begin to promote an annual view of small group ministry.  Use the website.  Hand it out at meetings.  Have it with you everywhere you go.

The most important key to planning…is to get started right away.  The sooner you get your big rocks in place and publicized, the sooner you’ll see the benefits of planning.

Image by Dafne Cholet

Want to Dramatically Increase the Impact of Your Fall Ministry Season?

What if you could dramatically increase the impact of your fall ministry season-Want to Dramatically Increase the Impact of Your Fall Ministry Season

When was the best fall ministry season you’ve ever had?

Last year?

2 or 3 years ago?

Too long ago to remember the exact date?

What did you do? Do you remember what worked so well?

Could you do it again?

Would it be enough?

What if the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider could help you improve your results by 10 or 20%? What if instead of starting 5 new groups you could start 10 or even 20 new groups?

What if instead of starting 10 new groups (and keeping 2 going beyond the beginning study) you could start 20 new groups and sustain 14 or 15?

What if you actually had a set of tailored next steps that would help the least connected people in your congregation and crowd actually take the best next step?

What If?

What if you could start the fall ministry season with a plan to:

  • Connect way beyond the usual suspects
  • Build easy next steps for everyone you connect
  • Launch more groups than ever
  • Sustain more of the groups you launch
  • Finish the season ready for an exciting New Year and a powerful 2017!

Does that sound too good to be true?

Maybe you need to sign up for my newest mini-course?

Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season

Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season

Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season is my newest mini-course. I’ve offered parts of this four week course in the past, but this revision contains the latest strategies and ideas.

If you’re looking for a way to reach more people, launch more new groups (and sustain a high percentage of what you launch)…please consider signing up for Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season.

Here’s what’s included:

  1. Four 75 minute video sessions (60 minutes of content + 15 minutes Live Q&A)
  2. Downloadable outlines (allowing you to capture every detail)
  3. Each session is packed with actionable takeaways
  4. All video sessions are recorded and downloadable to share with your team
  5. Access to a password-protected site with additional supporting resources.
  6. 100% money back guarantee.  If you’re not completely satisfied…I’ll refund your money.
  7. Add a diagnostic coaching call at a special reduced rate (My regular price for a 60 minute call is $125)
  8. Questions?  Email Me for information.

When, Where and Other Details:

  • The first session is on Thursday, June 30th at 1:00 p.m. pacific.
  • Sessions 2 thru 4 are on July 7th, July 14th, and July 21st.
  • Regular pricing: $49.95
  • Take advantage of a 20% discount ($39.95) through June 24th.
  • Add a diagnostic coaching call at a special reduced rate (My regular price for a 60 minute call is $125)
  • Questions?  Email Me for information.

Are you ready? I’d love to teach you how to supercharge your fall ministry season.

You can do it. Your senior pastor will be glad you learned how…and so will your church!

Ready to jump in?

Just choose your payment option below and you’re all set. Please don’t delay! The early bird pricing goes away soon and there is limited space available for the live version with Q&A.


Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season



Can’t see the sign-up form? Click here to visit this page on my site.

Second Chance: Help Me Test Small Group Ministry Basic Training

New to Small Group Ministry BannerNote: I had some technical difficulties yesterday. If you were able to sign up, try again today!

New to small group ministry?  Trying to figure out where to begin?  Or maybe you’re trying to figure out how to reboot the small group ministry you have?

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already some ways down the road, if you’d like to make sure you’re heading in the right direction, you might find it helpful to work your way systematically through the steps.

I’ve created a free series of simple assignments that will help you work through what I think are the first steps you need to take.

Click here to sign up for my free Small Group Ministry Basic Training.

Want to Help Me Test This: New to Small Group Ministry?

New to Small Group Ministry BannerA few weeks ago I launched Small Group Ministry Basic Training.

It’s FREE. It’s designed to help people who are new to small group ministry (or perhaps need to look at it from a fresh point-of-view).

I’d love your feedback.

Want to help me test a new program? Here’s the sign-up form:

5 Simple Things You Can Do TODAY That Lead to More Groups This Fall

TODAY5 Simple Things You Can Do TODAY That Lead to More Groups This Fall

You may not realize this, but the things you do in May and June often predetermine how it goes in September.

The things you do in May and June often predetermine how it goes in September.

With that in mind, here are 5 simple things you can do today:

  1. Make a list of small group leaders who could help 2 or 3 new small group leaders get off to a good start. It’s not complicated. Think through your small group leaders and simply ask the question, “If they came alongside 2 or 3 newbie leaders for the first 8 to 10 weeks of their new group…would it make a difference?” Make a list of the leaders for which that is true and invite them to help you launch some new groups this fall. By the way, this is the essence of what I do to recruit potential coaches. See also, Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  2. Invite your existing groups to take a small group vacation. Right now is the perfect time to cast a simple vision to your existing small group leaders and group members to consider taking a vacation from their small group this fall. Instead of meeting together as a group of 12, would they consider pairing up with another couple or a few others and help launch a new group? Just for the six weeks of a new study. Then they can go back to their original groups. That’s the essence of the small group vacation strategy and it leads to more new groups all day long. See also, Take a Small Group Vacation.
  3. Think through the members of your existing groups. Try to identify 10 to 20 members who really should be leading a group. The fewer groups you have today the easier this assignment is. It’s very common for your largest and most successful small groups to have several potential leaders in them. Often these potential leaders serve in another ministry and view their group as the way they “get fed” or cared for. Once you have your list of members who should be leading groups, ask them if they’d be “willing to help get a new group started, just for a six-week study, then they can go back to their group.” Assure them that you’ll help them identify a leader from the group they gather. This is a slight variation of the Vacation idea. I’ve used this in combination with the small group connection strategy to help jump start new groups. See also, How to Launch New Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  4. Look ahead at the sermon series and messages planned for August and early September. The 6 weeks from early August through mid-September provide the best opportunities to craft special “asks” for small group HOSTs and unconnected people. Well-crafted and even scripted “asks” or invitations will help more people say yes to “inviting a couple friends to do the fall study with them.” Carefully developed challenges will help more unconnected people respond to the opportunity to join a group that is using the study that goes along with our fall message series.” See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again and How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version.
  5. Think through your existing small group leaders and small groups for inspiring stories. Few things are as motivating as the inspiring story of a small group leader who said “yes” and then felt God’s “well done.” Or a small group member who finally said yes to joining a group and then God used that group to meet their needs in the way only community can. Adding these “stories” to the HOST ask and join a small group invitation will have an exponential effect on outcomes. See also, How to Develop Video or Live Testimony that Recruits Members or Leaders.

Image by F Delventhal

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