If I Was Starting Today…

If I Was Starting Today…

If I knew then what I know now…

That’s where this post finds its roots.  I’ve been at this a while and I’m often asked what I’d do if I was starting fresh but armed with what I know now.

Have you ever thought about what you’d do differently if you could do it over again? What decisions might you wish to have back or to switch up how you acted?

Let me tell you something. If I had known then what I know now (about small group ministry), there are definitely some things I would do differently.

Like what? I’d work harder to discover and ask the right questions.

Peter Drucker, the noted business consultant and author said, “The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions… Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question”

“Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question” Peter DruckerNothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question. Click To Tweet

Drucker was right.

I also hope I’d think harder about the problem I was trying to solve.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Although I believe there are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies, I do believe understanding the fundamental problems and asking the right questions will make a very big difference.

Three questions and seven core ideas

In my mind there are three questions and seven core ideas. And it all begins with this question: “What business are we in?”

“What business are we in?”

This might be a foreign concept to you.  If it is, please hang in here. This is a very important idea that must be understood. If it’s old news to you…we’re going further but we have to start here.

“What business are we in?” It’s an old question in the business world. A key question in the Peter Drucker tradition. It may seem out of place here, but it is a huge question that should be asked at the very beginning of any discussion about small group ministry. Why? Because your answer will determine so much about what you ought to be doing. Follow me on this. Seriously give some thought to the way you would describe what it is that you’re trying to do. This is the mission question and even though we’re talking about small groups you ought to have an understanding of your mission.  Do you?

If I were starting today (or pulling my team in for a discussion that might lead to a better direction) I’d be asking this question first. What business are we in?

Let’s take a crack at it right now. There are several possible answers.  I think you’ll see that your answer will determine some very important things.

  • We’re in the business of connecting people: That’s a good answer, but may not be complete. For example, if all you’re trying to do is connect people it might say something about your preferred methods and also what you’ll call a win.
  • We’re in the business of giving people an in-depth Bible study experience: I’ve heard this argument. Not necessarily bad or wrong…but it will say something about method and what you’ll call a win.
  • We’re in the business of making leaders: Again, not bad…but is that what you’re really trying to do?
  • We’re in the business of making disciples: What do you think about that one? Closer? Still, it might be mine but not for you.

Years ago I heard Jim Dethmer talk about the mission of the small group ministry at Willow Creek. He described their mission this way: “To connect people relationally in groups (of 6 to 10) where they can grow in Christ, love one another, and further the work of the Kingdom.”

You need to ask and answer this question for your ministry.  Don’t take the mission of another organization. Get crystal clear on your own raison d’etre.  It is the first formative step in building a successful small group ministry.

Take some time to sort through the idea and develop your own conviction.  Use the comment section here to let me know what you’re thinking. If you haven’t subscribed (it’s free), do it today so that you don’t miss the next post in the series. You can sign up to get the update by clicking right here.

Image by Jake and Lindsay Sherbert

Further Reading:

Ministry in a Fog? Here are 6 Critical Questions that Create Clarity

The Right Answer to the Wrong Question

6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry

Here’s the latest on GroupLife Insider

Some of you have been asking about GroupLife Insider, the membership site I’ve been been planning and working on for over a year. Here’s an update:

GroupLife Insider is coming soon! I’m working hard behind the scenes, putting some finishing touches to the concept (what will be included, how to get full access, pricing, etc.). It’s close, but not quite ready!

You can see some of the site right here (including the features and benefits).

I’m excited to roll it out! Hope it will be a helpful resource for you.

5 Keys to Eliminating Embarrassing Oversights

5 Keys to Eliminating Embarrassing Oversights

You know that slap on the forehead moment when you realize you overlooked an important detail? Say, in your church-wide campaign or groups launch? Or in a small group leader gathering? Or maybe in your weekly team huddle?

Those are the worst, aren’t they?!! That moment when you realize you overlooked something that really was important. And, of course, you immediately begin thinking of work-arounds to fix the oversight, but that moment is awful. Especially when you’ve made the same mistake before!

Listen, I still have them too, but I’ve learned to do something that helps prevent them. And you can learn to do it too.

5 Keys to Eliminating Embarrassing Oversights

First, your event planning process should be begin well in advance of the event itself. An aspect of our planning process that really helps is that we’re allowed/required* to make room reservations 4 to 6 months before the event and in order to make the reservation certain details must be in place (i.e., the purpose of the event, room set-up, web promotion needs, etc.)

*I say allowed/required because we cannot make the reservation until that week (which is 4 to 6 months prior to the event).

As the week we’ll be allowed/required to make the reservations approaches a basic set of things must be planned.

Note: This is helped by our annual grouplife calendar (as we already know what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it). See also, How To Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.

Second, your event planning process should include a robust discussion focusing on two key questions. 

Here are the questions:

  1. What will we call success? What is the win for this event? The answer to this question must be determined at the very beginning. Before proceeding to any further planning, insist on a great answer to this question. See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry.
  2. What will have to be true for this event to be successful? Can you see that this is a different question? The first question focuses on outcomes (lag measures). This second question focuses on the action steps and deliverables that produce the objective. See also, How to Reach Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future and FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Third, the decisions made in your robust discussion should be captured and recorded as objective, deliverables, and action steps. Capturing and recording these decisions is a step in the planning process missed by many.

Here is the essence of the step:

  • Every event you’re planning should have an objective. It is what you’ve already identified as the win or success.
  • In order to achieve the win, there are certain aspects (deliverables) that must be developed and delivered. For example, a promotion plan, a team of volunteers for the event, a handout or host kit.
  • In order to deliver the deliverables certain action steps will be required. For example, develop the promotion plan, recruit a team of volunteers, train the team of volunteers, etc.

See also, How to Reach Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future.

Fourth, put the plan you’ve just developed in motion. To do that, you will need to do certain things:

  • Determine due dates for each of the action steps you have identified. Give sufficient time to complete the step.
  • Assign each action step to a person. Unassigned action steps do not get completed.
  • Calendar follow-up check-ins. Put every check-in into the necessary calendars. Do not leave this to chance or memory.

Finally, evaluate the event and learn from what happened. What you learn should be captured and added to the developing system for the event planning process.

  • Use a process like the 4 Helpful Lists to evaluate.
  • Capture learnings and edit your process for next time.

Image by Lee Haywood

Would you take a moment and help me with a couple things?

I know it’s not really our arrangement, but I was wondering if I could ask you for a favor. See…I’ve got a couple projects I’m working on and I’d love your opinion.

If you’re willing to help me, here’s what I’d like to ask you to do:

First, I’ve just announced the dates for GroupLife Southwest ’18 (my conference for small group pastors and teams here in Las Vegas).

Registration doesn’t open for a while yet, but if you might be interested in attending, would you put your name on the wait list?  You can do that right here.

Second, I’m preparing to launch GroupLifeInsider.com (my new membership site). If you’d like to stay up-to-speed about the launch (and find out about pre-launch bonuses and discounts, you’ll need to pop over to the site and sign up for updates. You can take a look at the FAQs and also sign up right here.

Sunday* Tips for Small Group Pastors

Have you ever gotten to Sunday afternoon and then wished you would have remembered to talk with a group leader or coach about getting coffee? Or maybe realized as you were pulling out of the parking lot that you really should have reconfirmed what was going to be said in the announcements (or in your pastor’s message)?

I don’t know about you but I’ve found there are things I occasionally forget to do on Sunday*. And there are other things I realize too late that would have been good to do.

*or in my case Saturday and Sunday.

This post marks the beginning of a new Friday series that I hope will help you avoid some of the same dilemmas.

Sunday* Tips for Small Group Pastors

  1. Arrive early enough to talk briefly with whoever is making the announcements about specific language or a specific phrase they need to use when talking about the fall groups launch. Better: Email them the verbiage today and then remind them on Sunday morning.
  2. Take a few minutes before the service to talk briefly with the volunteer(s) helping at the small group kiosk. Thank them for serving and remind them about specific actions you want them to take (i.e., make sure sign-up forms are collected, make sure FAQs are distributed, note the difference between a host kit and a “family pack,” etc.). Better: Call or email volunteers today to arrange to meet with them briefly at 8:30 or 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
  3. Make it your practice to invite a small group leader or two to join you at the Guest Center after the service (with the hope/intention of it becoming a regular serving opportunity for small group leaders). Better: Begin this practice with one or two of your coaches. Equip them to begin doing it with a different group leader every weekend. Best: Develop a rolling calendar of which coach is serving at the Guest Center each weekend.
  4. Strategic: Be on the lookout for that small group leader you want to talk with about being a coach. Better: Call the leader today and make arrangements to chat face to face for a few minutes before the 11:00 a.m. service.
  5. Strategic: Be on the lookout for that coach you need to talk with about the potential coaches in his or her huddle. Better: Call the leader today and make arrangements to chat face to face for a few minutes before the 11:00 a.m. service.

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

New from Tony Evans – Add Detours to Your Recommended List

I spent some time this week with Detours: Lessons from Joseph: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, the newest study from Tony Evans. Evans, has been the Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship for close to four decades and is one of America’s most dynamic preachers.

A six session study, Detours uses the epic faith, life, and career of Joseph to “teach that God is more interested in your development than your arrival.” One of the great Old Testament stories, Joseph’s story is one that wrestles with a cross-cultural topic that many people are interested in: Destiny and Purpose.

Filmed live, the DVD segments capture Dr. Evans’ signature energy and style.  At an average length of 25 to 30 minutes, Dr. Evans intensity and the strength of his content will hold your members’ attention.

The Bible study book includes a well-written set of opening questions designed to help members engage in the discussion.  A viewer guide makes it easy to follow the Dr. Evans’ teaching.  Each of the sessions conclude with a carefully designed set of discussion questions that will help members respond to what they have learned and experienced.

Each session in the Bible study book also includes a set of five daily devotional studies that will help deepen your members’ understanding and expand application.

The leader kit also includes a copy of Dr. Evans’ book by the same title.  Members that desire a deeper understanding may decide to read the book in addition to completing the weekly devotionals.

A simple set of tips for leading are included in the Bible study book, making them available for every participant.

Detours covers a cross-cultural topic that most people are interested in: Destiny and Purpose. Add it to your recommended list and watch what happens!

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.”

5 Reasons Your Groups Launch May Bomb

You’ve been planning your groups launch for a while. In fact you started early this year.

You think you’ve got all your ducks in a row.

But…in the back of your mind…you have this nagging feeling that you might have forgotten something.

Maybe I can help! And maybe you can still adjust your plans to keep your groups launch from bombing.

5 Reasons Your Groups Launch May Bomb

First, failing to choose a topic that actually appeals to unconnected people is the number one reason your groups launch may bomb. And while every once and a while a topic that you think will work well just doesn’t, the truth is, with a little empathy we can usually (but not always) bypass the disconnect and select the best choice.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Your existing group leaders aren’t usually very good at picking topics that unconnected people will find helpful or interesting. There are exceptions, but existing group leaders are often too separated from the real world of unconnected people.
  • Senior pastors each have their own sensitivity to the interests and needs of unconnected people. Sometimes they are very tuned in (their message series are often a gauge) and other times they are more tuned in to the interests of the usual suspects.
  • Developing a short list of unconnected people is your best tool in identifying the topic(s) that will appeal to unconnected people.

Second, failing to promote at the right time and it in the right way will cause your groups launch to bomb. Remember, unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders (i.e., they are only in the auditorium about one time a month (or less). That means you cannot promote your launch on one weekend and then move on. In addition, unconnected people often arrive late. That means announcements may happen before they even arrive.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Schedule three weekends to promote your launch. And while you’re at it, be sure you’re scheduling an all-church email (or two) during the three week run to catch those who won’t be with you during the three weekends.
  • The best time to promote your groups launch is during your senior pastor’s message. It is the element that has the attention of the largest number of unconnected people. And your senior pastor is the influential person in the congregation 99% of the time.

Third, promoting other programs or events at the same time always leads to less traction and engagement. The myth of providing the customer with multiple options is a myth. The truth is narrowing the focus to highlight the best option is what leads to greater engagement.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • This is true year-round in all types of churches. Choosing an aspect to highlight and giving it exclusive attention leads to greater engagement.
  • A high-level directive to predetermine strategic ministries and programs to highlight at a given time will pay big dividends.

Fourth, failing to provide for the obstacles unconnected people face (or believe they face). Childcare, financial constraints, and convenience are three important obstacles.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Childcare is an ever-present obstacle. True, everyone finds a solution when they really want to, but it is an obstacle at this point.
  • Budgeting to provide reduced expense for first time participants or incentivizing hosting a group may not be part of your current plan, but will be if you are to truly move ahead.
  • Offering connecting opportunities at a convenient time is important. There may come a time when the urgency of a need will overcome inconvenience, but it is rarely in the beginning.

Fifth, the absence of a growth mindset. If you only do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. If your groups launch is only designed to help groups that have been on a break get going after a summer or holiday break, you may miss the fact that your launch could be about much, much more.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Every groups launch ought to be about launching more new groups to connect more unconnected people.
  • Every groups launch should include a goal (i.e., for the number of new groups, number of newly connected people, etc.).

Further Reading:

Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Evaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

What If Narrowing Your Focus Is THE Missing Piece?

Could Our Lack of Empathy Be Limiting Our Ministry Impact?

6 Keys to Accelerating Small Group Ministry Growth and Impact


Top 5 Advantages of New Groups

In an earlier article (What’s the Best Way for People to Sign Up and Commit to a Group?) I made the case for providing year-round opportunities to connect to new groups and recommended matchmaking only as an exception or a last resort.

Still, the natural pull for many of us seems to be toward finding homes for new people in existing groups. And while all of us feel the pressure from existing group leaders (“Could you send us a couple new couples? The Smiths and the Joneses moved away”), the best practice really is to focus on launching new groups and at the same time training existing leaders to learn to “fish for themselves.”

I believe doing otherwise is one of the main deterrents to growing the total number of groups and the total number of people in groups.  While I’m a fan of offering small group finders (like ChurchTeams), making it possible for unconnected people to get connected 24/7, I have to acknowledge that with few exceptions only very extroverted people confidently use a finder. The rest are very reluctant to show up in a stranger’s living room.

And that leads me to this list of the top 5 advantages of new groups:

Top 5  Advantages of New Groups:

First, in a new group, everyone starts off on a level relational playing field.  This is a huge advantage!  I can’t overemphasize the importance of this point.  When you add new people to existing groups, even the best intentioned existing groups, it is extremely rare for a new person to really break through the impermeable membrane and fit in.  The longer an existing group has been meeting, the more difficult it becomes.  The exceptions to this rule are exactly that: exceptions.

Second, roles have yet to be established in a new group.  New groups can begin with fresh outlook.  There is no status quo!  It’s all a new beginning.  When you add new members to existing groups, you’re requiring them to fit into available roles…as opposed to a custom fit for their interests and capabilities.

Third, new groups come with openings for new leaders.  Yes, new groups require that you figure out how to recruit new leaders (this is where the Small Group Connection and church-wide campaigns come in).  Adding new members to existing groups instead of launching new groups stunts the development of new leaders.  After all, praying for God to send workers (Matthew 9:37-38) and then limiting opportunities for new workers to engage seems like a dangerous stewardship issue (Matthew 25:14-28).

Fourth, new groups provide greater connecting efficiency (especially when launched at connection events or as part of a church-wide campaign).  Matchmaking is time-consuming, rarely overcomes the difficulties and challenges of fitting new people into existing groups, more often than not leads to frustrated leaders and often results in stalemated small group pastors (as the stack of placement requests grows).

Fifth, new groups have room for everyone to bring a friend.  The first few meetings of every new group almost always include a “who do you know that would have loved being here tonight?” moment.  Bringing a friend along for the next meeting is a sign that they already value the group as a good thing!  A benefit they want to share.  On the other hand…there are few moments more awkward than when the new member of an existing group unexpectedly shows up with a friend!

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

Further Reading:

Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups

Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

Overview: Here Are Our Four Strategies for Launching New Groups

Ranking the Most Powerful Strategies for Launching New Groups

You’re Invited: Join My 2018 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network

My 2018 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network experience is designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century. The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. My coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

Who will be part of the network? Each of my networks are limited to 12 participants and are designed for small group champions who serve in a local church. Because of the nature of the role, champions may be senior pastors, executive pastors, small group pastors and directors, ministers of education, and other key leaders.

What will you receive?

  • Two day gathering in Las Vegas. January 15, 2018: 1pm-5pm followed by dinner | January 16, 2018: 8am-12pm
  • Five monthly coaching sessions. Anchored by a 90 minute video conference call, these group sessions provides focused exposure to the strategies that will build a more powerful platform.  Sessions are scheduled at 11am PST on February 20th, March 20th, April 10th, May 15th, and June 19th).
  • Bonus: Free one year subscription to GroupLifeInsider.com (my new membership site, launching in fall 2017, with access to member’s only content and resources).
  • Focused training on key strategic steps including planning with the end in mind, developing an annual grouplife calendar, identifying an unlimited number of new leaders, launching new groups in waves, and impacting your community through groups.
  • Tools, strategies and next steps to be implemented after every session.
  • Access to special password protected network pages with customized content for each session.
  • Scheduled 60 minute one-on-one calls to address questions more specifically, bring team members into the conversation, or help equip your senior pastor or other key staff members.
  • The opportunity to connect with other network participants between sessions
  • Email access to Mark during the six months

What are the expectations?

  • Participate in the two day onsite and all five video sessions
  • Invest as little as $1050* (*super early bird pricing thru 10/31/17, early bird pricing of $1150 thru 11/30/17, $1250 after 11/30/17)
  • Cover your own travel expenses to the two day gathering
  • Commit to the reading and exercises between sessions

What’s next? Complete the Coaching Network Application. My 2018 Coaching Network begins on January 15th, 2018. Questions? Contact me.

Friday’s List | September 8

fridays-listEvery Friday I post a short list of the things I’m reading, listening to, loving and wrestling with:

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

4 WAYS TO STAY POSITIVE IN WORK AND LIFE by Michael Hyatt. Michael’s been reading Jon Gordon’s newest book!

How To Tell If A New Volunteer Is A Truly A Leader (Or Simply A Doer) by Carey Nieuwhof. Some great insights here.

It’s Not Always Easy To Slow Down by Dan Reiland. This is my story. Thanks Dan.

3 Reasons Your Church Building Should Communicate a Story (and What It Means) by Mel McGowan on TonyMorganLive.com. Great read! You may not know Mel, but you probably know his company. Visioneering has led the way architecturally in many of the fastest growing churches.

Getting serious about remarkable by Seth Godin. This is why I love Seth’s thinking. We all need to think this way.

3 NEW OUTREACH REALITIES THAT MANY CHURCHES STILL DON’T GET by James Emery White. Read this! So good and packed with insight into the current scenario.

Here’s what I’m listening to:

The Complexity of a Purpose on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Part one of a two part conversation, this is typically great Andy Stanley content.

The Power of Onlyness (with Nilofer Merchant) on the Accidental Creative podcast. If you’ve got an idea that needs to be developed, this will be a great listen.

How To Develop Leaders on the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. Always excellent, you need to subscribe to this one (which posts on the first Thursday of every month).

Launch Your Dream: A 30-Day Plan for Turning Your Passion into Your Profession by Dale Partridge. Loving this! Every day has a remember, an ask, believe, and do assignment.

Quotes I’m still wrestling with:

“The best business ideas often appear laughable at first glance. The lesson for entrepreneurs goes deeper than the pat advice “you shouldn’t take no for an answer.” You should expect to take no for an answer. If you’re laughed out of the room, it may actually be a good sign.” Reid Hoffman

App I’m using:

I’m learning to consistently leverage Evernote as my go-to place to store ideas, quotes, and content. I’ve had this app for several years and always mean to use it more.

My own post I hope you’re reading:

Enter to Win Saddleback’s New Small Group Leadership Training Kit

I spent some time this week with the Small Group Leadership Training Kit, a great new comprehensive resource from Steve Gladen and the Saddleback Small Group Team.

And…I’m running a giveaway contest over the weekend to give away a copy of the Small Group Leadership Training Kit (a $200 value). Click here to read my full review.