Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection

me leading a connectionI’m often asked for specifics about how I lead a small group connection. See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.

Here are two general assumptions:

  • The best laid plans will sometimes need to be set aside. The connection process is something like a quarterback standing at the line of scrimmage, ready to call an audible.
  • Plenty of help from coaches and other support players will help make the event a success. In order for you to lead effectively, you need to be able to delegate certain things.

Here is a moment by moment overview of the event:

  • (6:45 p.m.) A welcome table should be in place staffed by greeters (who might also be coaches) 10 to 15 minutes before the event begins. Name tags and medium point sharpies should be available. Everyone who arrives should put on a name tag (“and we’re preferring real names”)
  • (7:00 p.m.) As the event begins I give a few general instructions: (a) We’re going to be here for about 60 to 75 minutes, (b) for the next few minutes I’m going to ask some questions to see if I can get you sorted out into “groups” around the room.
  • We are currently only launching groups for women, men and couples. This sorts them into clumps around the room: “Show of hands…how many of you are hoping to get connected with a women’s group? Great! Would you all move over to this corner of the room.”  “How many of you are looking for a men’s group? Great. Would all of you guys move over to this corner.” And how many of you are hoping to connect with a couples group? Awesome. You all can move over to this corner.”
  • There will often be a few folks that have hopes of ending up in a coed singles group or a mixed group (of couples and singles). I always want to have someone I can point them to while I move ahead with the next step. The person I send them to will attempt to handle their concern and get them situated in the right clump.
  • (7:10 p.m.) “Now, what I want you to do within your clump is a little different depending on the clump. If you’re looking for a couples’ group, I want you to find another couple you’d like to get to know, introduce yourselves and tell each other how you ended up at Canyon Ridge the first time and what made you come back. If you’re looking for a men’s or women’s group, get in groups of 4, introduce yourselves and tell each other how you ended up at Canyon Ridge the first time and what made you come back.” Note: Sometimes our coaches are quietly guiding certain matches.
  • (7:20 p.m.) “Okay, now, I want you to take your group of 4 and join with another group of 4 within your clump. Once you’ve found another group of 4 you should be in a group of 8 and I want you to introduce yourselves again and answer this question: Have you been in a group before of any kind and what was your experience? Doesn’t matter the type of group. Could have been a small group, a Bible study Fellowship group, a 12 step group, a work group. Have you been in a group before of any kind and what was your experience?” Note: your coaches can help make this happen quicker.
  • (7:35 p.m.) “Okay! Now, if you’re looking for a couples group I want you to take your group of 8 and join up with another group of 8, and pull some chairs into a circle. If you’re in a men’s group or a women’s group, pull some chairs into a circle. Once you’re all seated, I’ve got one more question I want you to answer.” Note: your coaches should be proactively guiding this move.
  • “Ready for the final question? Listen…the first two questions were softball questions. I call this the white knuckle portion of the program because this next question is not a softball question. Before I give you the question, let me set it up. The thing I love about Canyon Ridge is that every time you sit down in the auditorium you are on a row with all kinds of people. There are some folks on your row who have been following Jesus for a long, long time. And on the same row, there are some who really are brand new. They’re just beginning. And then there are some on your row that are actually there against their will. Their spouse said, ‘We’re going and you’re coming with me!’ What I love about Canyon Ridge is that it really is a come as you are kind of church. And the thing is, all of those people are here tonight, too!  In this room are people from every possible spiritual background. And we love that! Note: this disclaimer is very important! It helps ease the tension in the room.
  • Here is the final question: “Briefly answer this question: Where are you on your spiritual journey? Where are you on your spiritual journey?  Now before you answer the question, here are a couple things I want you to keep in mind. First, the word ‘briefly’ is very important! If you each take 5 minutes to answer the question…we’ll all miss tonight’s episode of the Real Housewives. Second, if you’re brand new and still trying to figure things out, say that! If your wife made you come tonight, say that! Alright! Ready? Where are you on your spiritual journey?” Note: you will need to arrive at your own way of saying this. The key is that you want everyone to answer and you want to help them relax.
  • (8:00 p.m.) When everyone is finished answering you can move ahead with choosing leaders. “Okay! Has everyone had a chance to answer the question? Awesome! I hope that was not too painful. Here’s what we’re going to do next. Believe it or not, I’m now going to help you choose leaders from your group. And you’re going to love the way we do it. Believe it or not, I’m actually going to have you point to someone on the count of three!” Note: there is always laughter right here.
  • “But before I have you choose, let me tell you what to look for. The best leader may not be what you think. For example, there might be someone in your circle who has led groups before and they might be the best leader, but they might not. You might have someone in your circle who quoted a few Bible verses and seems to know a lot about the Bible. That’s not necessarily a sign they’d make the best leader. I want to suggest that the best leader is the person that as they shared their spiritual journey you found yourself thinking, ‘I wish I could grow like that.’ Or maybe you thought, ‘I think I could talk with them about my fears or my concerns.’ The best leader is the person you thought might care about you.” Note: what you say here shapes who gets chosen.
  • “Does that help? Okay, now I’m going to teach you how to point! In a minute I’m going to have you each point, on the count of three to the person you’d be willing to follow for this 6 week study. Not yet. Before you choose, keep a few things in mind. First, everyone needs to participate. You cannot abstain! Second, this is not Chicago and you can only vote once! You can only point to one person (I demonstrate by pointing to a different person with each hand). Third, this is not Florida and you can’t change your vote! There is a natural human reaction that causes you to see who the others are pointing to and do this (I point to someone and then shift my hand to someone else). And last, you need to keep pointing until I tell you to put your hand down!” Note: This takes some of the tension out of the room.
  • “Okay, ready to choose? Before we choose leaders, I’m going to pray and I want you to pray with me. Father, tonight we’ve heard a lot of stories from a lot of brave people. Would You through Your Holy Spirit prompt us right now to remember the things that people said that could help us choose a leader. Remind us right now of how we felt at the moment they shared. Guide us Father right now. Give us the wisdom we need to make a good choice.” Note: this prayer will often still the room and add a holy element that is almost tangible.
  • “Alright, ready to choose? Here’s how we’re going to do it. You know the game Paper, Rock, Scissors? (I hit my fist against my palm three times as I say paper, rock, scissors). That what’s we’re going to do. Not yet, but we’re all going to say, ‘One, two, three, point.’  And when you point you’re going to keep pointing until I tell you to put your hands down. Ready? Here we go. One, two, three, point!” Note: Your coaches will help each group figure out which people the group is pointing to. There will almost always be more than one person chosen. 
  • At this point the coaches take over at each circle. They should move systematically, and noticing who the largest number are pointing to should ask, ‘how many of you are pointing to her? How many of you are pointing to Linda? Okay, if you’re pointing to Linda, you can put your hands down.” Now noticing who the next most people are pointing to should say, Okay, if you’re pointing to Susan you can put your hands down.” Note: Once you’ve identified the two or three obvious leaders, you can move on to the next item.
  • The coaches now should say, “Okay, now we need to figure out the night you’re going to meet and where you’re going to meet. And while we’re doing this, I’m going to ask you to each write down your name and info on this roster.” (You’ll pass the roster around the circle on a clipboard). “Is there a night that you cannot meet?” (Start by looking at the leader(s) and asking this question, then ask the group. This will often reveal the remaining best night(s)). “Okay, so it looks like Monday and Tuesday and Friday are out. Can everyone meet Thursday? Great! Now where should we meet?” Note: it is very common for someone in the group to have such a busy schedule they simply cannot meet when the leader can meet. See if you can switch them to another group.
  • Once the group has (1) figured out who the leaders are, (2) where they are going to meet, and (3) completed the roster, the leaders are asked to step over to a brief leaders meeting and the members are dismissed. Note: the coaches need to be proactive right here. It is sometimes difficult to pull leaders away from their group, but they need to move to the leader’s meeting quickly or it will prolong the event for everyone.
  • (8:15 p.m.) Once the leaders are gathered, you can affirm them, distribute the leader packets, connect them with their coach, and dismiss them. I affirm them this way: “How many of you came tonight expecting to be a leader? (there is often a hand or two). How many of you feel like you’ve been tricked? You came expecting to be IN a group and you ended up LEADING a group? (this is usually everyone else). Okay, here’s what you need to know. When you read the Bible, you’ll notice that there are no great stories of people VOLUNTEERING to lead. All of the great stories are about people being CHOSEN to lead. In fact, in the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, there are stories of people VOLUNTEERING to lead. Sometimes people want to say, ‘What about Nehemiah?’ but Nehemiah didn’t volunteer to lead. He was brave and admitted concern for his homeland, but was actually chosen by the king to lead. Every other great story is about someone who was chosen. Moses? Chosen. Gideon? Chosen. The disciples? Chosen. Paul? Chosen. My favorite story is the story about how David was chosen to be the next king of Israel. The prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house and when he told Jesse he was there to anoint the next king, Jesse did what every good Hebrew dad would do, he brought out his oldest son. And I believe the Holy Spirit whispered to Samuel, ‘It’s not him.’ So Jesse brought out the next oldest, and I believe the Holy Spirit whispered, ‘It’s not him.’ And this went on all the way through until finally Samuel said, ‘Is there anyone else?’ And Jesse said, ‘There’s David, but he’s with the sheep.’ And the Holy Spirit said, ‘It’s David.’ I believe that when we prayed tonight and asked God through His Holy Spirit to help us choose leaders…you were chosen.” Note: affirming the leaders is important.
  • Once I’ve affirmed the leaders, I quickly go over the info in the packets and turn them over to their coaches for a very quick conversation and they are dismissed. Note: the coaches essentially just exchange contact info and arrange a phone call to follow up.

This is how I do it. It’s always fun. It’s always crazy. There is electricity in the room. And God often shows up in unexplainable moments. You can read more about the connection process right here.

Quotebook: The Personal Nature of Disciple Making

personal conversationOne of the books that influenced my early ministry direction was The Lost Art of Disciple Making by Leroy Eims. The notion that disciple making is carried on by people and not by programs shaped my conviction that whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups must happen first in the lives of the leaders.

“The ministry is to be carried on by people, not programs. It is to be carried by someone and not by some thing. Disciples cannot be mass produced. We cannot drop people into a ‘program’ and see disciples emerge at the end of the production line. It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual, personal attention. It takes hours of prayer for them. It takes patience and understanding to teach them how to get into the Word of God for themselves, how to feed and nourish their souls, and by the power of the Holy Spirit how to apply the word to their lives. And it takes being an example to them of all of the above.”

See also:

Everything You Need to Know about Small Group Models

everything libraryThere are many things you need to know about small group models, systems and strategies. Too many to include in a single article!

Here are three very important things to know (and links to other key posts on this topic):

First, every small group model, system or strategy comes with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. I like to say, “there are no problem-free small group models, systems or strategies.” That said, be prepared to acknowledge that there is an upside and a downside to every model.

If you like the semester model, don’t overlook the challenge of confirming which leaders will commit for the next semester and what they will study…early enough to assemble your catalog of available groups. If you like the cell group model, don’t turn a blind eye to the reality that groups don’t always birth new groups fast enough to absorb the number of unconnected people in your congregation. If you like the campaign-driven strategy, be prepared for messy. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.

Second, the model you choose should be predetermined by what you hope to accomplish. Before you choose a model, you should have already identified the business you are in, the customer you will be serving and what you will call success. I know that may seem like a strange way to say something about ministry, but it is the best way to point out a very important truth about a very important topic.

For example, if you’re in the business of giving group members an in-depth Bible study experience, you will be wise to choose certain models. If the customer you want to serve will be unchurched neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members…it will predetermine certain models and not others. And if you dream of more people in groups than you average at your weekend services, you must choose the right model, system or strategy. See also, If I Was Starting Today (I’ve written at length about this important idea in this series of posts).

Third, you should choose your model carefully and only change it after careful consideration.  A lot rides on decisions you make. Changing models every time you read a new book or attend a conference will shake the confidence of your group leaders and coaches. Changing models frequently can be quite toxic. See also, 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.

Aren’t there reasons to change models or implement a new strategy? Absolutely. A careful analysis of your small group ministry and its results may drive you to rethink the model you’ve chosen. After all, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” If you want different results, you’ll need a different design. See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design Is Inadequate.

Finally, there is a lot to know about small group models, systems and strategies! They are not all the same and they don’t all accomplish the same thing. They each have unique advantages and disadvantages. Some make it easy to find leaders. Some make it easier to connect beyond the usual suspects. Some more reliably make disciples. You can learn much more in the additional posts below.

Image by Loughborough University Library

Don’t Miss This Powerful Study: Finding Your Way Back to God

finding your way back to god dvdEarlier this year I reviewed a powerful new book by Dave and Jon Ferguson. In my review I noted that “Finding Your Way Back to God: Five Awakenings to Your New Life has tremendous outreach potential and if you’ve not had a chance to spend some time with this book, you need to make time!  This book is a game-changer!”

I am even more excited about the 5 session DVD-driven study that accompanies the book. I believe this might be the most powerful outreach study I’ve ever reviewed.

The DVD segments are very compelling and exactly the right length to grab and hold attention. Both Dave and Jon Ferguson come across as real people who genuinely care about this message. Each session also includes the compelling testimony of some who have found their way back to God. An aspect of the video segments that stands in stark contrast to some is that these people have a very familiar presence and feel like they could be your neighbors. 

I believe this might be the most powerful outreach study I've ever reviewed.

The participant guide is well-written and very easy to use. Although some participants will be anxious about joining a discussion on this topic, most will be quickly made at ease by the tone set in the opening questions. Each session of the study includes an opening icebreaker and questions that will consistently welcome everyone to the conversation. The Bible study portion of the study does a very good job of exploring the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A life application section will help participants make the story personal. Each session also includes optional segments for personal decisions and expanded discussion of additional scripture.

The participant guide also includes an extensive leader guide that will enable even the most inexperienced leader to feel better equipped to lead.

Finding Your Way Back to God is a very powerful study. Whether you are simply looking for a small group study that will connect with friends and neighbors who are far from God or a compelling study for a church-wide campaign, I hope you’ll take a look at Finding Your Way Back to God. 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 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.”


Thinking Thursday: Brené Brown: Listening to shame

brene brownShame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.

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.

5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves

toxicI’ve noticed that there is a short list of small group ministry moves that can be toxic. They often seem harmless. They don’t look dangerous. But they can cause great damage.

Here are a 5 toxic small group ministry moves:

  1. Switching to a different small group model, system or strategy…again. There are several main models or systems and versions of each. Whether you call it Idea fatigue or shiny object syndrome, switching models can be toxic. You may have just read a very good book or attended a conference that made a different model sound better, but when you choose a system you need to commit to it for 3 years. And by that, I mean you need to pursue it head long for 3 years. See also, How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy.
  2. Assigning coaches to experienced group leaders…again. Retroactively assigning coaches to experienced leaders almost never works. It often permanently sours the coach and almost always is rejected by the small group leader like a bad organ transplant. Fortunately, it is possible to provide care for experienced leaders with a little finesse and wisdom.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Group Leaders.
  3. Springing required curriculum on groups. Whether it happens as a result of a last minute inspiration on the part of your senior pastor or a poorly communicated church-wide campaign, mandating that all of your groups use a curriculum that they didn’t choose can have toxic results (the obvious exception is a sermon-based approach.) While there are definitely times that it just makes sense to call all groups to a common study (church-wide campaigns, the desire to align everyone around a single vision, the need to renew congregations, etc.), be very careful about last minute requirements. See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.
  4. Allowing the preferences of the wrong people to select study topics. We should all be clear about this dilemma. Groups that have been meeting longer will often settle into studies that are informative, but not necessarily application-oriented. Unconnected people will primarily be attracted to topics that seem directly related to their own personal struggles or interests. Be careful about allowing the preferences or tastes of the already connected to determine what you select if you hope to connect unconnected people. And be equally careful about adding studies to your recommended list if they don’t incorporate a healthy dose of application. See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer and Here’s a Sample Recommended List.
  5. Calling everything a group. If this happened in one church…it happened in 10,000 churches. You may have a desire to be a church OF small groups, but arbitrarily changing what you call classes or studies is delusional and toxic every time.  See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.

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

Image by Rob

Find the Gaps in Your Strategy with This Simple Technique

circlesI love Rick Warren’s concentric circles diagram; a classic illustration of the different segments of people who are associated with your church. The concentric circles also provide a visual representation of Saddleback’s crowd-to-core strategy. See also, Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding.

The way I talk about crowd-to-core is that I want to design next steps for every Ridger (crowd, congregation, committed and core) and first steps for their friends (community). And of course, when I draw the circles I don’t draw them the way they are in the diagram (equally spaced). I draw them as I believe they are at Canyon Ridge (see below). And as I draw the circles I talk about what they represent this way:

  • Outside of this circle is the community. In the 8 zip codes we draw from there are 250,000 people.
  • Inside the circle is the crowd. Based on our Easter numbers and our Christmas Eve numbers, we estimate there are between 10,000 and 12,000 adults who consider Canyon Ridge to be their church. They don’t come every week and they may only attend a few times a year.
  • Inside the crowd is the congregation (when I draw this circle I try to accurately represent the size, 2500 to 3500 adults). These people attend more frequently, 2 to 3 times a month. They are usually connected in some way (i.e., they may be in a small group, on a serving team, etc.). They give on a regular basis, but it is probably not a tithe.
  • Inside the congregation is the committed. They attend 3 to 4 times a month. They definitely serve and often are leaders of groups, teams, or ministries. They tithe. There are hundreds of these people.
  • And finally, inside the committed is the core. They don’t miss a week and are believers of “attend one, serve one.” They give sacrificially. They serve sacrificially. There are less than 300 of these people.

canyon ridge circlesSee how I use the diagram to segment the basic kinds of people who attend?

Here’s how you can use it to illustrate the gaps in your strategy. In my own diagram here, I’ve focused on our men’s ministry and three of their events.

  1. Take an honest look at each of the existing ministries, programs, classes and events and determine which segment of the church are they really designed for. Honesty is essential. You get no where with this is you turn a blind eye to what’s really going. Brutal honesty is required.
  2. Try to overlay them on the concentric circles to illustrate who you believe each menu item exists for.
  3. In order to truly have next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends, there will be no gaps. When you identify gaps you need to create the steps that are missing (that will help everyone take a step). See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.


  • Insiders have great difficulty recognizing that the programs they love don’t work for everyone.
  • Leaders of existing programs often see the world through rose colored glasses and don’t understand why everyone doesn’t come.
  • Most people need to be coached to see the wisdom that just like restaurants have a target customer, so do good programs, events, ministries, and classes.

See also:

Quotebook: The Essence of Discipleship

starting lineWhat is a disciple and how is a disciple made? When does it begin? What does it look like to begin? All good questions and should be driving our thinking as we set out to build a thriving small group ministry. After all, if you don’t know what you’re trying to make, how will you know if you’ve arrived at your preferred future? See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and Start with the End in Mind.

I’m finding Bill Hull’s, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ to be a rich resource and very thought-provoking. I came across this line in chapter 7:

“We don’t try to become like Jesus; instead we make a commitment to train to become the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus would do.”

You can hear the words of Dallas Willard in the line, but I love the clarity here. “We make a commitment to train to become the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus would do.”

In the preceding paragraph Hull points out that this “marks the starting line and represents the essence of discipleship. We make following Jesus our life’s goal and intention.”

Are your small groups designed to help members make a commitment to train to become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus would do?

Could it be that if the commitment to train is implied in joining a group, today’s question might be,

Image by tableatny

See also:

Wanted: Men’s Pastor/Director at Canyon Ridge

Are you the man for the job? Do you know the man for the job?

We’re looking for the right player to join our team at Canyon Ridge and lead our Men’s “ministry.” It’s a groups position and the best fit will be someone with a minimum of 5 years experience in groups ministry and a passion to help men get connected and grow in Christ. Because of the size of Canyon Ridge (weekend attendance just over 7000), the right candidate will likely be someone leading a groups ministry.

The most important outcome/objective of this position is identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders as our Men’s Life Group grows from 500 men connected to 2000. Another significant outcome is building the teams that will design and develop next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.

Could this be you? You can read more about the role right here.

Could this be someone you know? Why not forward them this post?

Have a question? Email me.

Thinking Thursday: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce

Malcolm Gladwell“Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell gets inside the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce — and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.

Why is this important for us? Think about your menu of next steps.

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

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