Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

What Do Your Goals Say about Your Ministry?

goals finish lineYou can learn a lot about ministries and organizations by analyzing their goals.

Some churches have attendance goals.

Some churches have baptism goals.

Some multi-site church have goals for the number of sites.

Some churches have church planting goals.

Your church’s goals are an indication of priorities (of your true priorities). Goals can be something like a litmus test or a lie detector, betraying what is genuinely important. Goals are commonly an indication of passion or heart.

What do your church’s goals say about your ministry?

Reflecting on North Point Ministries 20 year anniversary, Andy Stanley said,

“20 years in people ask me, ‘What would you change if you started over?’ Our one numeric goal (to have 100,000 people in groups*) has shaped everything. It has shaped everything including our budget. Your goals shape where the money goes. Groups is the best bet.”

20 years.

One numeric goal.

100,000 people in groups.

What do your church’s goals say about your ministry?

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

*North Point Ministries has 72,000 adults, teens and children in groups as of May, 2016.

Image by Wally Gobetz

Do You Have Your Ducks in a Row for a Powerful Fall Ministry Season?

5008344952_c051560307_bDo You Have Your Ducks in a Row for a Powerful Fall Ministry Season?

Well do you? Have your ducks in a row? It’s not too late to do the planning that will prepare your church for a powerful fall ministry season…but now is the time.

You might be thinking church-wide campaign, but you certainly don’t have to be. There are a number of other strategies that will still launch a wave of new small groups. See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Small Groups.

Here are five things you should be doing:

Start with the end in mind

This is a really, really big point.  In fact, I’ve begun saying “start with perfect and work backward.”  When you’re looking ahead you should be envisioning all the elements you’d like to have in place.  For example, think way beyond the number of groups you’d like to launch and include other aspects of what it will look like.

  • Who you’d like to connect
  • Next steps you want people to take
  • Service opportunities that will impact your community
  • Etc.

Pull out a calendar and work backward

Pull out a calendar and work backward from the launch date to include all of the steps.  For example, if you’re planning a church-wide campaign you should know the end of September or beginning of October is the best time to launch.  Once you’ve plugged in your launch date you can work back from there, plugging in promotion, orientations, host recruitment, coach recruitment and series planning.

Choose a study that connects the people you hope to connect

This is an extremely important step!  We all understand that if you want to satisfy the taste buds of people who’re craving a savory, mouth-watering steak…you need to serve a steak!  And if you want to entice people who love the spicy heat of a chile relleno…you need to serve Mexican food.  In the same way, the exact same way, if you want to connect unconnected people, you need to choose a study that will interest them! See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Identify and recruit a team of launch-phase coaches

One of the best early steps you can take is to make a list of some current small group leaders that could easily help a newbie get off to a great start…and invite them to help start a new group or two this fall!  Almost nothing else has as much potential as connecting a new leader with an experienced veteran.  Your new leaders feel supported and more confident.  Veterans get to use their experience and might even get that sense of fulfillment that is so essential in a coach who commits to the long run. Note: My mini-course, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure explains how to do this successfully.

Launch a get-to-know-your-neighbor initiative

One of the most important early steps you can take is to give your members some ideas that will help them get to know their neighbors over the summer.  If you want to connect way beyond the usual suspects, launching a series on a topic that unconnected people care about makes it easy to invite neighbors…provided your members know their neighbors!  (see my Top 10 Ways to Get to Know Your Neighbors This Summer for more information)

Can I Help You?

There are two ways I can help you get your ducks in a row:

  • I regularly coach churches on preparing for church-wide campaigns and growth initiatives. While I am sometimes available for an onsite consultation, I can also schedule a series of video conference calls to guide your team through the process.  Email Me for more information.
  • My newest mini-course, How to Maximize YOUR Church-Wide Campaign is designed to help your team learn at their own pace and at a very reasonable price.

Image by Matthias Liffers

The Number One Reason Leaders Don’t Want a Coach

3445359649_ab1d30be07_bThe Number One Reason Leaders Don’t Want a Coach

I’m often told by small group pastors and directors that the main reason they don’t have a coaching structure is that their leaders do not want a coach.

Ever thought that? Ever said that?

Here’s what I’ve found. Most of the time, if not 100% of the time, the small group leaders who say they don’t want a coach are actually experienced small group leaders who have retroactively been assigned a coach. New small group leaders are almost always very grateful you’ve provided them a coach.

Why do you think experienced small group leaders almost never want a coach?

Three key reasons

First, experienced leaders (especially those who have been retroactively assigned a coach) know intuitively that what a coach has to offer can’t be essential to survival…or their group would not still be alive.

Can you see how that is at the heart of the issue? Makes sense, right?

Second, most coaching strategies mistakenly focus on providing guidance on technique at best. That is, the best case function of a coach is very often limited to simply helping the leader improve their basic skills (leading more dynamic discussions, helping less extroverted members participate, or providing counsel on dealing with an extra-grace-required member).

In almost every case, a group leader either learns how to do these things in the first few months or the group dies.

Finally, many coaching strategies utilize coaches as fact-checker accountants. This is the worst case scenario where the only function of a coach is to monitor leader’s who might slip off the rails and not complete their attendance form or attend the monthly coaching huddle.

What experienced group leader needs that?

What’s the Solution?

What is the solution?

Focus the role of a coach on developing and discipling small group leaders.

Don’t miss this. Although small group leaders rarely need help with technique longer than a few months, they will always need regular contact with someone that is a few steps ahead who can do TO and FOR them whatever you want them to do TO and FOR their members.

Can I Ask You a Question?

Can I ask you a question? Do you have a coach?

If it’s true that your leaders will always need regular contact with someone a few steps ahead (and that’s why they really need a coach)…

And if it’s true that your coaches will always need regular contact with someone a few steps ahead (and that’s why you need to be developing and discipling your coaches)…

Isn’t it also true that you will always need regular contact with someone a few steps ahead of you?

Who is that for you? Do you have a coach?

Can I Offer a Suggestion?

If you don’t have a coach…you need to find one.

Maybe you need to join a huddle (the Small Group Network has huddles almost everywhere). You can find one near you right here.

Or maybe you need to set up a coaching relationship with someone like me (I almost always have 5 to 10 small group pastors I coach by phone). You can find out how to set up a coaching call right here.

If you don’t have a coach…you need to find one.

Further Reading:

Image by C.B. Photography

Don’t Miss Happy Hour – Hugh Halter’s Newest Book

happy hourThe newest book from Hugh Halter arrived this week. I’ve loved every one of his previous books (especially Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth) and couldn’t wait to see this one.  Happy Hour: Etiquette and Advice on Holy Merriment is a simple book–just 58 pages–“that will give you a little theology, a little missiology, a ton of stories, and all the best practices of how to throw a party Jesus would want to being his friends to (p. 11).”

Happy Hour is a very inspiring read with an introduction and five short chapters:

  • Party as Sacrament: The Theology and Missiology of Party (You may have never thought about it in quite this way, but true hospitality is a central element of Jesus’ gospel culture.)
  • Public House: How to Party at Home (Tremendously practical, this little chapter is packed with ideas and tips on how to make your home a warm and inviting place where people feel welcome.)
  • Party Favors: It’s 5:00 Somewhere (This chapter includes a great set of options when it comes to the kind of party you might throw. Happy hour, liming, pot luck, and dinner club are all options and each are different.)
  • Party Killers: How NOT to Cross the Line (What about alcohol? This is a really practical chapter written to help you navigate the space between “set apart” and “sent.”)
  • The Last Call: The Best Party I’ve Ever Thrown (This is my favorite chapter because it explains the real goal of the party. “For me (the goal) is simple–people will want to party again. I’ve come to realize that the spiritual growth of any person is a long process. The conversion of the heart and soul never happen overnight. People find God because they first have God’s people. Belonging therefore leads to believing, so the party is the pathway for social and spiritual connection (p. 54).”

Happy Hour is available in bundles of 5 because it really is the kind of book you’re going to want to read “with friends, small groups, or a church plant team.”

Please don’t miss this one.  I have to tell you, I love this little book! I’ve added it to the short list of must-reads for anyone who hopes to connect with neighbors and co-workers in the 21st century (along with The Next Christians, The Art of Neighboring, and a few others).

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.”

Quotebook: John Ortberg on Finding a True “Just As I Am” Church

just as i am“If ever there were a true ‘just as I am’ church, if ever there were a community where everybody could bring all their baggage and brokenness with them without neat and tidy happy endings quite yet, if ever there was a group where everyone was loved and no one pretended — we could not make enough room inside the building.” John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be

Image by David Amsler

The Best Training for Small Group Leaders

best trainingIn yesterday’s post I updated an older article about how we’re training new small group leaders these days.  The article generated several good comments and questions. Here’s a little more thinking on how to provide the best training for small group leaders.

First, I want to make it as easy as possible for people to step into leadership and nearly automatic that they step onto a leader development conveyor belt. If you miss this, you’ve probably missed the point of a lot of what I train small group pastors to do.

I believe many churches have built an imposing barrier to entry that is actually counter-productive. Believing that by making it harder to qualify as a leader they ensure the safety of the flock, they simply ensure a leadership shortage. See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock.

Second, making it as easy as possible for people to step into leadership should be accompanied by a limited set of constraints that mitigate risk. For example, when we make a group starter kit available for those who would like to “do the study with a couple friends” we don’t provide members and we don’t legitimize the group by adding it to our online finder. In order for a group to begin this way, the new host must fill the group with their own friends. See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

Third, making it nearly automatic that new “leaders” step onto a leadership development conveyor belt comes with a set of understandings and expectations. For example, depending on where they step onto the conveyor belt, they’ll either be added to a set of coaching emails or connected to a coach.

  • Adults learn on a need to know basis. When new leaders are chosen at a small group connection, they have an immediate need to know and are quite receptive to coaching. When people respond to the invitation to pick up a host kit and “do the study with a couple friends,” they have a natural interest in the set of coaching emails.
  • Coaching is primarily about doing TO and FOR leaders whatever you want them to do TO and FOR their members. Developing and discipling leaders has little to do with completing a study or curriculum and a lot to do with life-on-life interaction between  mentor and mentee. See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.
  • Those who pick up a “host kit” are added to a set of coaching emails that provide tips, ideas and guidance as they begin meeting. Upon completion of the launching study, they will be connected to a coach.
  • Those who are chosen as leaders in one of our small group connections are immediately connected with a coach.
  • The combination of one-to-one interaction with their coach, huddle opportunities with other leaders, and twice yearly on-campus leader gatherings helps move leaders in the direction we want them to go (from host to shepherd leader).

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

Further Reading:

Image by Chris Blakeley

FAQ: How Are You Training New Leaders These Days?

leader trainingI get questions. A lot of questions. Some come in a comment right here on the blog. Others come in an email. And some come when I’m speaking at a conference or workshop.

Here’s a very frequent question:

“How are you training new leaders these days?”

Great question! I love it because in the question you can see that the asker already understands that times change and what may have worked in the past may not work today.

A Short History of My Leader Training Journey

When I stepped into the small group ministry role at Fellowship of the Woodlands in 2000 there was an 8 session small group leader training class already in place. I’m sure it may have been a good idea at one time. However…I ran it one time and then determined that requiring potential leaders to complete an 8 session leader training class as a prerequisite to leading was not a good idea.

It was not a good idea for three reasons:

  • First, it was a serious barrier to entry to many reluctant leaders (and as you know, the best leader candidates almost never volunteer to be a leader).
  • Second, it turned out that competing the class was not a good predictor of who could attract and retain group members.
  • Third, adults learn on a need to know basis. On-the-job training is much more effective because as adults lead they will be confronted with many situations that will inspire an eagerness to listen to a coach.

Enter the Small Group Connection Strategy

Shortly after we realized the 8 session leader training class was an ineffective strategy (both for identification and training), we discovered the small group connection. We learned that the small group connection was a much better leader identification strategy. We also discovered that the leaders who were identified were very coachable.

How did we train the leaders who were identified at the connection? We invited them to a 90 minute leader orientation meeting that consisted of some coffee, donuts and very basic training. We also connected them to a coach who provided on-the-job training as required.

Enter the HOST Strategy and Church-Wide Campaigns

One of the limitations of the small group connection strategy is that it only connects the people who attend the connection. Self-evident, I know, but it is a limitation.

How to connect people who don’t (or won’t) attend the connection? Invite people who…

  1. Have a HEART for unconnected people (that’s the “H” in HOST).
  2. Will OPEN their home six times (that’s the “O”).
  3. SERVE a simple snack (you get the idea).
  4. TELL a few friends.

How do you train people who volunteer to HOST a group of their friends, neighbors, co-workers and family? For a number of years we required them to attend a short HOST orientation meeting at a convenient time. Very similar to the small group connection strategy.

Is There a Better Way to Provide Training?

The best way we’ve discovered to provide training today is by distributing a set of short videos that cover “the need to know” skills a new leader needs right out of the gate. I tripped across a couple hints of how this could work back when I interviewed Steve Gladen about Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway. We make them available on our website and on a thumb drive that is distributed in the HOST kit.

Want to see a very good sample of what the video looks like? Saddleback is leading the way in this innovation and you can see their videos right here: Saddleback’s Video Training for New Hosts

A Few Concepts That Made This Change Inevitable:

There are several factors converging that make it obvious that a change is needed:

  • People are busy and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get new, toe-in-the-water hosts to make time for an orientation.
  • It’s more and more common for people to come from further than 20 minutes away, making meeting times even more difficult to schedule.
  • Mobility is a key to training and leader development.  If you’re not yet providing mobile options for training yet, you will have very little choice in the very near future.

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

Further Reading:

Image by jcookfisher

A Values-Driven Culture Is Essential

culture“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this is a line right at the heart of an important challenge for all of us. We work hard on choosing our small group model, system or strategy and that is a very good thing.

Strategy is important. But at the end of the day, at the end of the ministry season or year, if your culture is toxic or unhealthy…you’re going to have a very hard time getting to your preferred future.

I’ve been studying culture for many years.  I’ve come back to it many times, recognizing again and again that creating culture and influencing culture is my number one priority.

Here are some resources that you need to know about as you do the same in your own environment.

Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

I love the new Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. If you aren’t yet subscribed, you need to stop what you are doing right now and sign up to get this podcast. You can do that right here.

In March and April, Craig shared some tremendously valuable thoughts on creating a values-driven culture. Oh my! So good.

“Healthy cultures never happen by accident.”

“Your culture is a combination of what you create and what you allow.”

“The number one force that shapes your culture is your values.”

“What we value determines what we do. Your values shape what you do.”

“If you want a different culture, change what you value.”

“Strong values attract the right people and weed out the wrong people.”

Creating a Values-Driven Culture, Part OneShow Notes

Creating a Values-Driven Culture, Part TwoShow Notes

Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast

Another podcast you ought to be subscribed to is the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Seriously, if you aren’t listening to this podcast you are so missing out! You can subscribe to it right here.

Back in May, June and July of 2013 Andy talked about culture and behaviors (

Better Before Bigger

Defining Your Organizational Culture, Part One

Defining Your Organizational Culture, Part Two

Granger Community Church

Granger Community Church reworked their values several years ago. Very thought-provoking stuff. Take a look at their values as you are learning about culture and values.

Core Values: Shaping the Way We Think and Act (This is a very good article on the importance of core values from Tony Morgan)

Granger’s Mission and Values


I hope you’ll take the challenge and spend some time with this! I’m convinced, and I hope you are or soon will be, that creating a values-driven culture is at the root of how we build thriving ministries.

Image by lpk 90901

A Beautiful Design: God’s Unchanging Plan for Manhood and Womanhood

beautiful designSpent some time this week with a new DVD-driven study from Matt Chandler. A Beautiful Design: God’s Unchanging Plan for Manhood and Womanhood is classic Chandler. Straight from the Bible, the lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex tackles one of the most important issues of our time.

“What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? In our society today, there is a massive amount of confusion about manhood and womanhood. Is there a difference between them? If so, what is the difference? The answers our culture offers only further serve to muddy the water. Is there a clearly defined picture? If so, where can we find it? (from the introduction)”

Is this a conversation you’re having anywhere? No doubt it is happening in your world every day and over and over. I have to tell you Matt Chandler handles this topic in a very intelligent and with a sensitivity that is quite powerful.

A Beautiful Design is an 9 session DVD-driven study.  The video segments are classic Chandler.  31 to 42 minutes each, this is weekend sermon footage recorded live at The Village Church in 2014.  Chandler is a powerful speaker in the way few preachers are and these messages are no exception.

The member book (also referred to as the Bible study workbook) includes:

  • A video viewing guide that is designed to help members focus attention on the teaching, capture important ideas, and take notes.
  • Discussion questions for each session that will guide your conversation about the video and also about learnings in the weekly Bible study.
  • Each week includes three personal Bible studies that will take members deep into the topic.
  • A Family Discipleship page offers an opportunity “to craft a vibrant family discipleship experience around three key elements: time, moments, and milestones.

Chandler is a very powerful speaker. Very smart, he easily captures and holds attention Although deeply theological, his messages always break through my personal bias toward seeker sensitive in the first few minutes and I find myself listening intently, caught off guard and fully immersed in what God’s word has to say to me.

I begin my review of every Matt Chandler study with my own bias completely in control and within minutes find myself thinking about all of the small groups that really need this study.  A Beautiful Design is a must add to your recommended list.  This is a conversation your group members are immersed in every day and they will richly benefit from this study. I highly recommend it.

How Personally Are You Taking It?

take it personallyIn the closing message at re:group Clay Scroggins reflected on the incident in Mark 2:1-12 where four friends brought a paralyzed man to be healed by Jesus. Remember the story? Here’s the paragraph he spent most of his time on:

Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

In a series of statements, Scroggins shared something so important for all of us:

“Jesus was moved not by what they believed, but by what they did because of what they believed.”

“Jesus was moved not by their model of community but by their decision to model community.”

“When you begin to take community personally you’ll learn how to make community better.”

So…how personally are you taking community?

Image by Samuel King Jr.

« Older posts