7 Things I’ve Learned about Community

I’ve been at this community building thing a long time.  A very long time.  Learning about community and more importantly, building our own.  The response of our community has played a very important role in our world after the recent death of our son.  See also, This Is Why We Need Community.

For a variety of reasons the need for community is more desperate today than ever before.  Broken families, job transfers that take people far from family and friends, concerns about safety and fear of strangers, and settling for entertainment all play a part in the need for community and a sense of family.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned about community:

  1. The desire to belong is innate.  We come prewired with this desire.  It is a higher felt need than becoming or impacting.  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
  2. The desire to belong is not equally obvious to everyone.  Upon finding community, many people describe sensing that something was missing but not knowing what it was.  See also, 5 Ingredients that Build Pervasive Community in Your Church.
  3. The desire to be known is very powerful.  In some ways it is a precursor to belonging.  Remembering names and points of connection is a weapon against which there is no defense.  Imagine if everyone on your guest services team (ushers, greeters, parking team, etc.) simply learned one name every week!
  4. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  Without community, it is always easier to simply disappear when the hard things in life appear.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
  5. It is very common for people to feel more connected than ever before after a simple 75 minute connecting event.  Many of the people in your church have never felt like anything other than a face in the crowd.  Many of the people who attend your church drive into the parking lot, walk into your auditorium, sit for 75 minutes and leave without ever talking to anyone.  See also, How to Connect People Using a Small Group Connection.
  6. True community is built over time and in between.  Small groups that only connect from 7 to 9 p.m. on 2nd and 4th Thursdays cannot expect to build true community.  It is what happens between meetings that plays the most important role in creating and cementing community.
  7. Jesus understood this important human need.  He invited his closest followers to belong (to be with him) before he invited them to become anything.  See also, Moving from “Come and See” to “Come and Die” and Even a Lizard Can Respond to “Come and See”.

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

Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy

Recently I gave a short talk to a Small Group Network huddle in Kansas City on the subject of no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  This is a very important topic because I believe the pursuit of problem-free solutions delays more ministry than anything else.

You know this right?  At least at the basic level you probably already have the understanding that there are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  I’ve talked about this many times over the last several years.  But sometimes, even when we know this in a general way, when it comes to choosing a particular model, we still find ourselves believing that there may be a problem-free solution.

With me?

Listen to the talk

Want to listen to the talk?  You can do that right here.

On the call I referenced the following posts:

The Pursuit of Problem-Free

Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment

How to Choose a Small Group System

Small Group Models

Free Market (New Life Church, National Community Church, etc.)

An Analysis of the Free-Market Small Group System


Activate by Nelson Searcy

Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Evangelism in the 21st Century by Ted Haggard

Sermon-Based (North Coast)

An Analysis of the Sermon-Based Small Group System

Sermon Based Small Groups

Sticky Church by Larry Osborne

Church-Wide Campaign Driven (Saddleback)

Church-Wide Campaign-Driven

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

5 Ingredients that Build Pervasive Community in Your Church

If you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again…you have all the motivation you need to invest in building a pervasive sense of community in your church.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? and This Is Why We Need Community.

There are 5 essential ingredients that build a pervasive sense of community in your church:

  1. A thriving small group ministry.  If you want to build community in your church, you must understand that not only does life-change happen best in circles (not rows), so does community.  A thriving small group ministry is an essential ingredient that builds community in your church because unless your church is flatlined, you will always need a growing number of new groups to connect a growing number of unconnected people.  See also, 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  2. Build steps into community that are easy, obvious, and strategic.  Building a thriving small group ministry is an essential ingredient.  Still, putting energy and resources into small group infrastructure without making the hard choices that create first steps and next steps won’t build community.  To build pervasive community it is essential to design steps that are easy for unconnected people to take.  In addition, the steps you design will need to be obvious (not hidden in a buffet of options).  Finally, the steps you build will need to be strategic, eliminate sideways energy and lead only in direction of the preferred future.  See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.
  3. Build glimpses of community and connecting opportunities into your weekend service.  Although the desire to belong is innate in the human heart, the longing for community is not always obvious to unconnected people.  In order to whet appetites and persuade tentative first steps, a steady diet of satisfied customer stories coupled with low risk connecting opportunities is essential (think auditorium section hosts and friendly ushers on a mission).  See also, How to Develop Video or Live Testimony that Recruits Members or HOSTs.
  4. Introduce friendlier and stickier points of connection from street to seat.  Community building begins on the website and in the parking lot.  Introducing an all out effort to humanize every point of contact is an essential ingredient.  Until you can truly empathize with the unconnected people in your crowd and community, you can’t expect to build a pervasive sense of community.  It will always be insider vs outsider.  See also, Learn to Empathize with Your End User.
  5. Cast vision for community with every opportunity.  Website, newsletter, video, bulletin, welcome, announcements, sermons, greeters, parking team, ushers, worship team, children’s ministry, student ministry, counseling, recovery and care, outreach, etc.  Everything must cast vision for community.

How would you diagnose your church’s capabilities when it comes to building pervasive community?  Is it happening?  Is it only a fantasy?  Is it just a couple ingredients away?  Is it even on your agenda or in the conversation?

It is true, you know.  Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  In my mind, that ought to make this building a pervasive sense of community a number one priority for all of us.

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

Dilbert on Self Awareness

Sometimes you just to laugh. Not when standing near Alice…but you get the idea.performance review

10 Articles on Building Community

Building community has been at the heart of my mission for a very long time.  I can’t imagine my life without it.  I cannot imagine the loneliness of so many who don’t have what we have.

I know that when I do the percentage connected calculation there are many, many people in my church that have no one to turn to when tough times come.  They have no one to celebrate life’s wonderful moments and no one to weep with them when life is hard.  Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at our church again.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected? and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

I know all of this about my church.  And I know it about your church too.

Therefore I press on with my mission.

Here are my top 10 articles on building community:

  1. This Is Why We Need Community
  2. Four Countercultural Characteristics of Authentic Community
  3. Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You
  4. 3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community
  5. 5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step Toward Community
  6. True Community or a Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?
  7. Building Biblical Community (featuring Bill Donahue and Steve Gladen)
  8. This Study Changes the Game: Community: Starting Well in Your Group
  9. New from Heather Zempel: Community Is Messy
  10. Review: The Good and Beautiful Community

Quotebook: The Problem with Isolation

Even after almost three decades of promoting small group ministry and writing about why we need community, I am still amazed and saddened that so many live in a kind of isolation.  There is profound wisdom in this quote from Basil, an early church father.

“When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable.” Basil

This Is Why We Need Community

eric batmanIf you haven’t heard, we lost our youngest son last Thursday when he was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Eric was 19.  He was full of life.  He was known for his amazing smile and the relentless way he included people.  Our last conversation with Eric centered on his excitement about next week’s meeting of his small group for 7th grade boys.  It makes me smile thinking about his enthusiasm.

And then he left with a new friend to have dinner.  And then he was gone.

These last few days we’ve been surrounded by our community; our friends.  They’ve shown up at our door.  They’ve called relentlessly and sent text messages and posted on Facebook.  We’ve heard from friends across the country and around the world.  We’ve heard from Eric’s friends and their parents about how much he meant to them and how much they loved him.

Our hearts are truly broken.  We miss our son deeply.  We mourn his loss.  And at the same time we know for sure we will see him again.  And he will still be smiling.

In the meantime, we are surrounded on all sides by our friends; by our community.  And as we are surrounded, we grieve just a little for unconnected people who suffer a loss and don’t have what we have.

  • In community we can know and be known.
  • In community we can love and be loved.
  • In community we can forgive and be forgiven.
  • In community we can challenge and be challenged.
  • In community we can celebrate and be celebrated.
  • In community our joy is doubled and sorrow is halved.

As we mourn, we are surrounded.  We can’t imagine the loneliness of people who don’t have what we have.  And we recommit to the mission of connecting unconnected people.  See also, 10 Articles on Building Community and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? 

Does One of These Strangleholds Have a Death Grip on Your Ministry?

You know that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  You know the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.  You even know Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

You know all these things.  And at the same time…you’re hesitant to try a new strategy (or shut down an ineffective one).  Why?  You probably need to break free of a stranglehold with a death grip on your ministry.

6 Strangleholds with a Death Grip on Your Ministry

  1. The pursuit of problem-free.  This delays more ministry than any other stranglehold.  Remember, there are no problem-free strategies, systems or solutions.  Every strategy, every system and every solution comes with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  2. Indecision about the best way.  Obviously, this stranglehold is related to #1.  Still, it is motivated differently.  If you find yourself stuck even after choosing the set of problems you’d rather have, you are probably dealing with indecision about the best way.
  3. Fear of failure.  Perhaps your culture doesn’t allow courageous tries that sometimes miss the mark.  I like to think that Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.”  If you only try things that are guaranteed to succeed, you’ll never get far enough from the familiar to break new ground.
  4. The lure of compromise.  The scariest steps are often the first steps into a new idea.  One of the biggest strangleholds is the last step before a new strategy takes flight.  The most powerful aspects are often eliminated because it’s too easy to do what’s familiar.  See also, 5 Compromises that Derail Small Group Ministry.
  5. Placating the usual suspects.  It’s too easy to look the other way while the favorite programs and ministries of insiders (the usual suspects) aren’t designed to meet the unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and The Perils of the Inside Outside Disconnect.
  6. The lure of the status quo.  Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, the easiest stranglehold to be captured by is the lure of the status quo.  “Isn’t the way we’re doing it pretty close to good enough?”  Change is hard and the thought of the work ahead will cause many to put off what must be done.See also, Beware the Lure of the Status Quo.

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

7 Practices of an Enduring Small Group Pastor

Want to stay the course in ministry?  Want to do more than survive?  There are a few non-negotiable, irreplaceable practices.

  1. A daily time with God.  There are a number of ways this can happen and every small group pastor will have their own favorite, most satisfying path.  But whether it is reading and meditating on a passage of scripture, listening to a worship playlist, journaling, or reading from a devotional book (or some other method), a daily time with God is an essential practice.
  2. A small group of true friends.  Not acquaintances and not just a small group that meets from 7 to 9 every other Thursday.  It goes without saying that you need a small group.  What you need though are friends.  The kind with whom you can truly share life.  The kind with whom you can laugh long and hard.  The kind with whom you can cry.
  3. A small group of “fellow soldiers” on mission.  Building a thriving small group ministry is never a single campaign effort.  It happens over years.  If you want to endure, you must have a small group of fellow soldiers who share your passion for community and the mission of making Christ followers.  Paul called Epaphroditus his fellow soldier in Philippians 2:25.
  4. A steady intake of new ideas.  If you want to endure, you must be a learner.  Read widely across multiple fields (Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins, Steven Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, etc.).  Listen to a variety of podcasts (Catalyst, TED Radio Hour, Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Freakonomics Radio, etc.).  Attend conferences (Leadership Summit, Catalyst, etc.).  Watch Leadership Network’s online conferences (The Nines, etc.).
  5. A balanced life.  Work-life balance can be difficult to cultivate but it is an essential ingredient for an enduring small group pastor.  It doesn’t really matter what other activities and interests you cultivate as long as you have a life outside of work.  Gardening, cooking, blogging, hunting, traveling, etc.
  6. A healthy diet.  This may go against every taste bud, but if you want to endure and participate for the long run you will need to develop a healthy diet.  That doesn’t mean you never have pizza or a hamburger.  It means you are eating the foods that contribute to a healthy body.
  7. An exercise routine.  This can be as simple as a 30 minute daily walk or as strenuous as a crossfit session (or anything in between).  It really doesn’t matter.  The key is that your body needs regular activity and without it you can’t expect to endure for long.

When I’m struggling to stay the course, I almost always discover that one or more of these 7 practices are weak or missing in action.

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

Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level

I’ve said many times “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.”  I’ve also pointed out that life-change at the member begins with you.  It would be crazy to expect things would happen to anyone else if they’re not happening to you and me.  Right?  See also, Life Change at the Member Level and Life-Change at the Member Level Begins with You.

So far so good?

Model What You Want to Happen

Here’s what I want to point out today.  Even the way you want things to happen at the member level must begin with you.  For example, if you want your coaches to have frequent personal interaction with your small group leaders and you want that interaction to be in person or on the phone (i.e., not an email and not a voicemail)…that’s how you need to interact with your coaches.  If all you do is send a group email to your coaches you can hardly expect your coaches to interact by phone or in person.

You must model what you want to happen at the member level.  If you communicate with your coaches with a group email, they will do the same with their leaders.  And…shouldn’t you then expect your group leaders to touch base with their members by group email?

You must model what you want to happen at the member level.  See also, 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.

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

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