Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Quotebook: On Being a Friend of Sinners

hugh halterEvery time I listen to Hugh Halter or read his writing I am more persuaded that what he is saying is very important. In a breakout at Exponential yesterday talking about his new book he said this:

“We think you have to condemn or condone. Jesus would tell us, ‘I don’t want you to do either. I want you to be a friend of sinners.'”

Hugh Halter’s newest book is called Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgement. I’ve been profoundly impacted by his previous writing and have no doubt you’ll be hearing about this one.

Quotebook: Why Are You Developing Leaders?

mac-lakeI don’t know about you, but I’m always trying to find and develop more leaders. I heard Mac Lake say this today at Exponential West:

“When I ask why people want to develop more leaders, the most common answers are that they don’t have enough leaders or they need more leaders. Those are actually the wrong answers. The right answer is ‘because I see potential in the person in front of me.'”

Mac Lake is the Visionary Architect for The Launch Network, a church planting network based out of West Ridge Church in the greater Atlanta, Georgia area. His role is to network with churches and planters to establish healthy church starts across the U.S. and the world. Their goal is to plant 1000 churches in the next 10 years. He is a leadership development genius and blogs at

5 Secrets of Building Ministry Momentum

momentumMomentum. Few of us have it. All of us want it.

How do you generate momentum? And how do you build and sustain momentum once you have it?

I believe there are some secrets to building momentum. I also believe that none of these secrets are easy to do. If they were, everyone would have momentum.

And yet…these secrets are not impossible to master. They are a challenge. But not because they are difficult. They are a challenge because they require keener insight and greater courage and discipline than most of us ordinarily have.

With insight, courage and discipline mastering these secrets is quite obvious and imminently doable.

Here are 5 secrets of building ministry momentum

  1. Identify one experience that everyone needs. This is where keen insight is required. I often say that you’ve chosen the right church-wide campaign when you can legitimately say, “We’ll still be talking about what happened in the fall of 2015 ten years from now.” If you can’t say that about the campaign you’re considering…you’ve probably not identified the one experience that everyone needs. Another line I often use is that “you don’t want to get to November and wish you had been part of a group that is using the study.” Can you see how these two statements might form a test for whether you’ve chosen the right campaign? See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. Choose the optimum window to offer the experience. This secret requires both insight and courage. In my experience, while the source of momentum may be somewhat of a mystery, the reasons for a lack of momentum are abundantly clear. There is a right window to offer every experience. You know what it is. I know what it is. When the right season is interrupted by an event or program that could (and should) be held some other time…that other event or program needs to be relocated. And that takes both insight and courage. See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign.
  3. Narrow your focus to the experience you’ve chosen. This is an enormously important secret. If you want to build momentum, eliminating all other competing events and programs is essential. I know, eliminating is a very strong word. The key really is this. If you want to create momentum you need to put a laser focus on the experience you have already declared is the one experience that everyone needs. This is not the time to promote everything equally. This is the time to focus the spotlight on the one thing you’ve chosen. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  4. Make the offer irresistible. Everything matters. The way you talk about the experience in your weekend service (announcements). The way your senior pastor refers to it in the sermon. The insert in the bulletin. The website. The church-wide email. The newsletter. Everything must ring true and ring loudly. Make it affordable (free if you can). Provide incentives for everyone who invites a friend (make it even more affordable). Ask everyone to consider donating a little extra so the resources can be free to everyone who cannot afford to participate. Everything you are doing must feel like a can’t afford to miss this opportunity. See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. Make the first step obvious and easy. This secret may feel like a no-brainer. But trust me…so many of us are NOT doing this. The first step MUST be totally obvious. Sign-up? You shouldn’t have to figure it out. You shouldn’t have to hope. Or wonder. How you sign-up should be TOTALLY obvious. Where you sign-up should be TOTALLY obvious. And it should be EASY. If you have to be psychic (I usually say Carnac the Magnificent) to figure out how to sign up…it is not easy. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?

Image by Evelyn Berg

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.

Image by

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.


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