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Category: Book Reviews (page 1 of 13)

Add The Power of Habit to Your Must-Read List

power of habitI first heard about The Power of Habit last December, while listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast*. Intrigued, I ordered it immediately and began working my way through it. It’s not a new book. It was published in 2012 and has spent over 60 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list. But I have to tell you…this is a must-read. Whether you’re involved in discipleship, spiritual formation, or small group ministry, the principles and practices that are shared in The Power of Habit will make it into your thinking and the way you do what you do will probably be different because of what you learn.

Packed with true stories and “scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed,” it is both a page turner and a book that will frequently cause you to turn down page corners to be read again later. My copy is very marked up and dog-eared, starred and underlined, pages littered with notes in the margins.

As I read The Power of Habit I found myself thinking again and again, “how can we not introduce these principles and practices in the work we do making disciples?” If the keys to losing weight, exercising on a regular basis, and being more productive are found in understanding how habits work and harnessing this new science…why can’t we adapt the ideas to help make more and better disciples?

If you’re a skip to the end kind of person, the appendix is actually an easy-to-understand-and-implement reader’s guide to using these ideas. If you’re not a skip to the end kind of person, you’ll find The Power of Habit fascinating and full of potential for application. I loved it and am already working to integrate what I’ve learned in the discipleship work I am doing.

*You can hear Charles Duhigg talk about keystone habits and The Power of Habit right here on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.

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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Don’t Miss “I Will”: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian

i willA few weeks ago I received an email asking if I’d like to review a new book by Thom Rainer, the co-author of Simple Church (with Eric Geiger) and Transformational Church (with Ed Stetzer), two books I highly recommend.  The new book was called I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian.

Can I let you in on a secret? When I saw the title I was intrigued and even a little hopeful, but not at all confident that I’d find it helpful.  Nothing to do with Thom Rainer’s writing.  I’ve loved many of his books (and he has a very helpful blog).  I just wasn’t sure how well his ideas about an outward focus would line up with others who have championed an externally focused or missional approach.

Know what I found?  Just like my experience with I Am a Church Member, I could not put it down!  Read the whole thing in one sitting.  Again, it’s a short book. Just over 100 pages and it’s an easy read. Don’t be fooled though. I Will is packed with many powerful insights that will leave you nodding your head in agreement and vowing to do something with it.

I really like the way Rainer framed the discussion at the outset by contrasting the typical self-serving, the-church-exists-to-meet-my-needs church with a church with an others-centered approach.

Rainer’s I Am a Church Member was about being a part of the body of Christ. I Will is about the move from a right attitude (I am) to right actions (I will). What are the nine traits?

  • I will move from “I am” to “I will”
  • I will worship with others
  • I will grow together with others
  • I will serve
  • I will go
  • I will give generously
  • I will not be a church dropout
  • I will avoid the traps of Christianity
  • I will make a difference

Can you see where this goes? I Will assembles a very practical set of commitments that could form the basis of a church-wide campaign or assimilation class. In fact, you’ll find a fairly complete church resource kit at ThomRainer.com/iwill/#kit.

I’m glad I took a look at I Will. If you’re on the lookout for some ideas that will help move your church from self-centered and self-serving to others-centered…you need to take a look at I Will. I found it very helpful 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 will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

A Must Read: Finding Your Way Back to God

finding your wayFinally had the time to finish my review of a new book by Dave and Jon Ferguson.  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!

Finding Your Way Back to God is very well-written and might be one of the easiest books to read I’ve ever come across.  At the same time, it is packed with provocative stories of life-change and redemption.

One of my favorite things about Finding Your Way Back to God is its built-in potential to be used as an “I’ll read it with you” resource.  If you have a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker or a family member that you’ve been hoping and looking for ways to help them take a step toward God, this is a book you need to know about.

As the subtitle indicates, there are five awakenings “that almost always occur in a person’s journey back to God.”  I like the way the authors describe the awakenings: “Where people start and what motivates them to begin this journey are often different, but the stages they go through are remarkably similar.”  The book explores five different “God, if you are real” prayers that are intended to arouse the five awakenings.

The book also includes an intriguing element; one that I am looking forward to sharing with a few friends.  Referred to as a Thirty Day Wager, the last chapter of Finding Your Way Back to God is actually a kind of 30 day journal to be used by anyone willing to put 15 minutes a day into an honest pursuit to find God.  If you take a few minutes to flip through these pages you’ll begin thinking about people you know who could be persuaded to make the wager.

I particularly like the potential this book has as the anchor for a church-wide campaign.  Finding Your Way Back to God is being done as a campaign series as I write this review at Community Christian Church in the Chicago.  The resources you need to put on your own campaign will be available from July to December (including sermon transcripts, small group participant/leader guides, teaching videos, series bumper video, and website graphic).  You can sign up to find out more right here.

I love the potential of this book.  Whether you give it away, read it with one friend, use it in your small group, or use it for a church-wide campaign, there is real potential for many, many people to find their way back to God.  I highly recommend that you take a look at Finding Your Way Back to God.

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.”

Churchless: An Important Primer for Understanding Today’s Unchurched

churchlessSpent some time with the newest book from George Barna and David Kinnaman this week.  Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them covers some very important ground and is based on some research you are definitely going to want to understand.  “The Barna Group is a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California. Started in 1984, the firm is widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture.”

“Churchless presents the startling trends revealed by two decades of Barna Group interviews with thousands of churchless men and women, and offers discerning analysis of the results from best-selling authors George Barna (Revolution) and David Kinnaman (You Lost Me).”

There are a number of important themes revealed in Churchless and many of them will help all of us as we think about how to connect unconnected people.  Much can be learned about the reasons why people choose to leave church life, what their family life is like among unchurched people and what their lifestyle choices are.  I found a number of very important ideas in the chapter on the goals, morals, and values at the heart of churchless adults.

One aspect I found particularly helpful is that along with eye-opening findings about unchurched people the book is liberally sprinkled with insights about what churches might do (must do?) in order to reverse the trend.

If you’re taking the assignment seriously (to connect people no one else is connecting), Churchless is a book you will want to devour.  Like my copy, yours will be marked up, underlined, and starred with many dogeared pages.  I got a ton out of it and I know 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.”

7 Must Have Resources for Training Small Group Leaders

A while back I posted an article about resources that equip small group coaches.  Last week it dawned on me that I had never put together a similar resource for equipping and training small group leaders.

I should point out that just like in my article about resources that equip small group coaches, I believe that point leaders should be devouring these books to better equip them to craft a customized leadership development pathway that fits their small group ministry.

Must-Have Resources for Training Small Group Leaders

Here’s my best shot at a list of must-have resources for training small group leaders:

leading small groups with purposeIf you’re looking for a resource that captures the essence of the church-wide campaign driven small group model, Steve Gladen’s Leading Small Groups with Purpose is packed with real-life illustrations, how-tos, and ideas is a must-have.  Gladen, Saddleback’s Pastor of the Small Group Community, is no stranger here, having contributed many times with insightful interviews about how things work at in what might be the largest small group ministry in the United States.

Gladen’s earlier book, Small Groups with Purpose, was an excellent resource for point leaders (whether from the purpose driven camp or not).  The same is true for Leading Small Groups with Purpose.  The content is so relevant, it works regardless of the type of small group system in use.

Whether you’re leading a small group or leading a small group ministry, Leading Small Groups with Purpose is a great addition to my must-have list.  I loved it and I know you will too!  You can read my full review right here.

leading life-changing small groupsBill Donahue’s Leading Life-Changing Small Groups is another must-have in my opinion.  Donahue is truly a practitioner.  Don’t miss this key.  He wrestled with developing small group leaders for years in one of the most interesting grouplife laboratories anywhere (Willow Creek Community Church).  The practices and principles included in this book aren’t theoretical, but practical and proven.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Leading Life-Changing Small Groups is the fact that it really begins at the beginning…literally; the introduction develops a very understandable theology of community.  As you’re beginning to build a small group ministry this is an essential ingredient.

You can read my full review right here.

nine-keysSome books get scanned and end up filed away in a bookcase.  Others are read thoroughly–maybe even marked up–but still just get shelved and forgotten.  And then there are books like Carl George’s Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership.  Originally published in 1991, this is a great book and one you’ll use again and again.

Carl George is the father of the Meta Church model and a true genius whose work has influenced the underpinnings of virtually every small group system or model.

While Nine Keys is written from a higher leadership bar perspective*, it has the potential to serve as the curriculum for leader development beyond the initial test drive stage.  One of the most compelling aspects of the nine keys is that they’re not primarily skill training, but heart and mindset development.

You can read my full review right here.

simple small groups largeWritten by Bill Search, a veteran small group practitioner, Simple Small Groups is a great resource designed to make effective small group ministry simple.

Rather than over-complicate the subject, Search isolates three simple and essential ingredients that every effective group must have, identifies them with a single word, and then proceeds to explain the role played by each of them. The best part? He goes on to flesh out the nuts and bolts of how it works.

There are a number of really helpful sections. My favorite aspect is that each section concludes with a diagnostic set of questions to help determine what your next step is in the development of each essential component. I can easily see this getting a lot of use!

If you’re like me, you’re looking for resources that are about how it can be better. Simple Small Groups is one of those. You can pick up your copy right here.

leading small groups in the way of JesusLeading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus is a new entry into the list of must-have resources for developing small group leaders, but I believe it’s a title you are going to want to take a look at.  Written by M. Scott Boren (author, consultant, and trainer helping churches develop effective small group systems and experience missional life), Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus introduces and highlights a set of 8 practices that help leaders become “the kind of leaders who live in the love of God demonstrated on the cross.”

The books prelude hints at a set of practices “that will move your group from being a ‘good’ meeting group to one that participates with Jesus in the way that changes life as we know it and shines forth the surprising and unexpected way of God’s kingdom.”   In my mind, this one delivers.

You can read my full review right here.

field guideSam O’Neal’s Field Guide for Small Group Leaders is a book written by a writer who is also a practitioner.  O’Neal, now with LifeWay but the managing editor at SmallGroups.com for 5 years, is no stranger to groups.  His focus for the Field Guide is “a group leader’s responsibility to prepare for and lead small group meetings (p. 14).”  A little further along, he defines the primary role of a small group leader as preparing “for small group meetings, both short-term and long-term, and leads his or her group members through the essential activities of those meetings in submission to the Holy Spirit (p. 32).”  While my sense of the role of a small group leader includes what happens in the meeting but isn’t limited to the meeting, I think there is so much here that will help group leaders prepare for the meeting.  I also really like Sam’s coverage of a wide variety of angles.

A real plus to the Field Guide for Small Group Leaders is its focus on a number of details that I’m not sure I’ve found elsewhere.  Hospitality, learning styles, ice-breakers, and crafting great discussion questions are just a few of the topics covered.  Read my full review right here.

Missional Communities are at the epicenter of one of the most important current trends in grouplife and the work of Mike Breen and 3DM is at the heart of it.

Leading Missional Communities takes the concept far beyond launching.  Leading Missional Communities is designed to explain “how to lead [missional communities] well so they become a reproducing hotbed for discipleship and mission in churches.”

You can read the rest of my review right here.

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. In addition, I am a small group specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Don’t Miss Scott Boren’s Latest: Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus

leading small groups in the way of JesusSpent some time with a new book from M. Scott Boren this week.  Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus is his latest (and might be his best) in a long list and you are going to want to know about this one.

The essential premise of Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus is that objective of small group ministry is not good group meetings.

The prelude hints at a set of practices “that will move your group from being a ‘good’ meeting group to one that participates with Jesus in the way that changes life as we know it and shines forth the surprising and unexpected way of God’s kingdom.”  The rest of the book reframes leadership greatness “so that our way of leading begins to reflect the way of Jesus.”

Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus introduces and highlights a set of 8 practices that help leaders become “the kind of leaders who live in the love of God demonstrated on the cross.”  The 8 practices are:

  • Hear the Rhythms of the Jesus Way
  • Gather in the Presence
  • Lead Collaboratively
  • Be Yourself
  • Hang Out
  • Make a Difference
  • Fight Well
  • Point the Way to the Cross

If you’re any kind of small group ministry veteran you can probably come very close to the topics addressed in each of these chapters.  What you would almost certainly miss is the rich detail offered in the effort to help small group leaders develop these practices; these new habits.  In the opening lines of chapter two Boren introduces a set of ideas from Charles Duhiggs’ The Power of Habit.  This little detail underpins a very good aspect of the ideas here, as the practices are not new–they are ancient and rarely practiced.  If you want to incorporate them into your small group ministry, you will need to teach new habits.

Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus is a very good addition to the short list of books that are a must-read for small group point leaders.  If you want the small group leaders in your ministry to accomplish more than convene a good meeting, you need to be devouring this book right now!

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.

Review: Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth by Hugh Halter

flesh bringing the incarnation down to earthSpent some time with a new book from Hugh Halter this week.  Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth is the latest book by Hugh Halter, lead pastor of Adullam and founder of Missio.

Flesh is best described by its alternate subtitle: Learning to be human like Jesus.  I loved this book!  Hugh Halter is the real deal, so immersed in the day-to-day living out of the incarnational mission that it becomes far more than theology or theory.  Every chapter is challenging with just a dash of scary–but so inspiring!  I came away (as I did with The Tangible Kingdom And: The Gathered and Scattered Church) with a deep sense that I had tripped across a rare and startling glimpse into the actual way forward into the 21st century.

Written in five sections, Flesh follows “the flow, timing, order, and process of how Jesus moved into the lives of people.  In short, incarnation leads to a good reputation, which leads to a conversation, which leads to a natural confrontation and then transformation.”

These pages are full of scripture references that light up what it must have been like to actually spend time with Jesus; watching Him interact with his followers.  It is eye-opening in many ways to look with fresh eyes at the between-the-lines action in some very familiar passages.

I’ve always been pulled in by Hugh’s generous helping of real life stories and examples.  Far beyond illustration, these personal stories both make the point and inspire courageous steps in a new direction.  In addition, every chapter concludes with a set of questions that will challenge and motivate those who take this journey.

I also really like Hugh’s encouragement to bring a few others along!  Flesh is the perfect book to distribute to a few with whom you’d like to journey.

If you’re looking for the doorway to missional living, please don’t miss Flesh!  I loved this book and I’m sure 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 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.

Here’s My Reading List for Christmas 2014

Every year I create a list of books I think you should read.  Sometimes the books I include are very purely about small group ministry, discipleship or spiritual formation.  Other times, the books I include may seem pretty far afield (innovation, design, leadership, or strategy).  You’ll just have to trust me.  I wouldn’t include a book I didn’t think would be added to your toolbox and contribute in a trajectory-altering way.

That said…here is this my 2014 Christmas Reading List:

essentialismEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I’m about halfway through this one and have already begun to apply some of the practices McKeown identifies. If you regularly find yourself trying to figure out how to do everything you’ve committed to do…this is a book you need to begin reading today.

change monsterThe Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change by Jeanie Daniel Duck.  This is not a new book, but it’s one that will help you understand the process of change and provide many of the tools you need when a change process is in order.

creativity incCreativity Inc.: Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.  Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar provides an inside look at the development of an already legendary creative shop.  The principles he provides are transferable and will no doubt find their way into what you do.

power of habitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.  I’m about 15% into this one and can see many ways it will have an influence on the work we are doing in discipleship.  In addition, some of Duhigg’s ideas will have direct application into the team we are building.

switch on your brainSwitch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health by Dr. Caroline Leaf.  Dr. Leaf delivered a highly rated talk at the Catalyst conference earlier this fall.  Her discussion of thinking patterns, detailed in the book, has some very interesting and potentially productive connections into the change process that accompanies discipleship and spiritual growth.

Marketing to Millennials: If You Want to Connect Millennials…a Must Read

marketing to millennials 2Figured out how to connect Millennials yet?  If you’re like me, you have way more questions than answers.  Determined to begin assembling a better understanding of the Millennial generation I picked up a copy of Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever, a highly rated 2011 marketing book by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton.  This is a great find and a must read!

Fromm co-authored a report called “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation, based on a comprehensive research study conducted by Barkley, The Boston Consulting Group and Service Management Group.  The findings from that research are the foundations for this book.

The book reveals the eight attitudes shared by most Millennials, fascinating insights that reveal six distinct Millennial segments, as well as the new rules for engaging them successfully.

Every chapter includes a case study (or two) that will help you see how major retailers are using a better understanding of Millennials to engage and market to this very large demographic slice.  An easy to read summary provides a synopsis of every chapter’s key takeaways.

This is a fascinating and eye-opening book.  My copy is marked up.  I came away with many ideas that will make their way into our strategies to engage Millennials.  If you’ve been trying to figure out how to reach and connect the Millennial generation, I really do believe this is a must read book.  If you’re not thinking about this already…you better get started!  You can pick up your copy of Marketing to Millennials right here.

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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

The Rise of the Nones: A Must Read

The rise of the nones 2Worked my way through The Rise of the Nones this week.  New from James Emery White, the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church, this is a must read in my opinion.  White is an insightful observer of culture and culture shifts and the implications of this particular shift ought to be a front burner conversation for all of us.  This is why I included The Rise of the Nones on my 2014 Summer Reading List.

The title refers to the dramatic increase in the percentage of Americans indicating “none” when asked about their religion (A 2012 Pew Forum study titled “Nones on the Rise” indicates that one in five Americans (19.3%) claim no religious identity at all (up from 15% in 2008 and 8% in 1990)).  As White points out, “the ‘nones’ are now the fastest growing religious group in America.”

The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated  is divided into two parts.  The first part “will give you the cultural analysis needed to understand the who, what and why of the rise of the nones.”  Part two “is an overview of the new mentality and approach that is needed to connect” with the nones and “not only reach them for Christ but involved them in the life of the church.”

The Rise of the Nones is packed with insights.  There is so much here that will play a part in how our ministry approach must be retooled if we want to reach this growing demographic.  My copy is pretty marked up as I noticed one insight after another that needs to inform our approach.  For example, White notes from the ARIS study, “the largest group, the religiously indifferent, ‘neither care to practice religion or oppose it.  They are simply not invested in religion either way.'”

Along with being jam packed with insights, every chapter includes a set of questions that can be used by groups seeking a better understanding of the implications.

I can see The Rise of the Nones being read by church staffs as well as ministry teams within a staff.  In all honesty, I don’t think these findings can be ignored.  This book ought to be next up on your reading list.  It will probably alarm you…but it will also prompt you to set in motion a plan to reach this rapidly growing demographic slice.  I came away with many valuable insights that will shape the way my ministry operates.  I think The Rise of the Nones will have that influence on you 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 will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”
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