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5 Terrible Small Group Ministry Ideas to Avoid at ALL Costs

There are a few things that seem so right at the time…but really are terrible ideas and should be avoided at all costs.

Here are 5 Terrible Small Group Ministry Ideas to Avoid at ALL Costs

Waiting until next year.  This is a truly terrible idea!  Every year, every ministry season is a gift from God.  Waiting until next year is what the third servant did in Matthew 25!  We can provide all kinds of rationales:

  • Waiting will give us more time to prepare
  • We’ll be better trained
  • Our foundation will be stronger
  • Etc.

When we wait until next year we assume that unconnected people will still be around.  They won’t!  Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  When we wait until next year we assume we will have discovered a problem-free solution or strategy.  We won’t!  The pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People? and The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

Providing life-support for dying groups.  You may have never thought about this.  You may be such a warm hearted person that you’d never even think about letting a group die.  But if you’re the kind of small group pastor who will do anything to help prop up a dying group (i.e., send them another couple or two)…you need to know that this is a terrible idea!

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you must focus on starting new groups.  It may seem like the kind thing to do to “help” a dwindling group add another couple or two, but the truth is nearly every time you do that it comes at the expense of starting a new group.  See also, 5 Simple Small Group Ministry Moves with Exponential Payoffs and 5 Assumptions that Stunt Small Group Ministry Growth.

Matchmaking.  If you’re still taking sign-ups to be in a small group and then doing a homemade version of eHarmony to find just the right group for them based on the day of the week, life-stage of the members, part of town they live in and the extracurricular activities of their kids…that is a terrible idea!

I stopped taking sign-ups to be in a group when I had two powerful realizations:

  1. Motivation to join a group is a very fleeting thing (and ends just about the moment they hand you their form).
  2. A kind of Murphy’s Law exists that virtually guarantees that the person that fills out the form is almost never the person who answers the phone when a leader calls.  (i.e., “Who is this?  I didn’t sign up for a couples group!  Stop calling!).

Unless you are overstaffed and have fewer than about 10 groups, you need to stop taking sign-ups to be in a group and focus on strategies that start new groups or automate the process (for example, with a groupfinder like ChurchTeams).  See also, Top 10 Articles on Launching New Groups and  4 GroupLife Urban Legends that May Be Killing Your Ministry.

Settling for warm and willing.  When you are recruiting coaches for your small group ministry, settling for warm and willing instead of holding out for hot and qualified is always a terrible idea!  Whether you’re just working to provide the right span of care or you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, settling for warm and willing always cripples your coaching structure.

Far better to set your sights on hundred-fold, high capacity leaders of leaders and never settle.  It is far easier to get someone into a job than out of a job.  Why waste time and energy on the wrong person?  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure and Imagine If Your Coaching Structure Looked Like This?

Impersonating a champion.  Encouraging or allowing anyone other than your senior pastor to play the role of small group champion is a crime and an extremely terrible idea!  Whether you serve with a senior pastor who desperately wants to delegate the role or you’ve been operating under the assumption that you’re not earning your keep if you’re not the champion…you cannot build a thriving small group ministry if you allow that to happen!

The most influential person in your congregation is almost always (99.99% of the time) your senior pastor.  When they speak, people listen.  When they ask, people respond.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry with more adults in groups than attend your weekend worship service, insist on the right person playing the role of champion.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

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

7 Ways to Add Prayer to Your Church-Wide Campaign Preparation

I’ve written about the importance of prayer in your church-wide campaign, but I haven’t let you in on some of the best prayer ideas that I’ve come across.  See also, Note to Self: Don’t Forget to Pray for Your Church-Wide Campaign.

7 ways to add prayer to your campaign preparation:

  1. Challenge your staff and other key leaders to pray daily for the campaign.  This may go without saying, but involving your staff and key leaders (elders, deacons, etc.) in praying daily will be a unifying experience.
  2. Invite your staff and other key leaders to meet together in the morning to pray for the campaign.  I personally experienced the power of this idea while on the staff at Woodlands Church.  In preparation for Easter we would meet before the work day began and pray as a staff team for Easter.
  3. Enlist a prayer coordinator and team to both pray daily for the campaign and create opportunities for your congregation to pray.  Long an ingredient in Saddleback’s campaigns, every church has prayer warriors.  Involve them in the effort.
  4. Provide opportunities for others to join in praying for the campaign.  Whether you collect names on a clipboard, sign-up cards, use a “text to join” strategy, or post a link on your website, opening up engagement beyond your usual suspects will help include new participants.
  5. Challenge all of your current small group leaders and coaches to pray daily for the campaign.  When you’re preparing for a campaign, existing leaders are often overlooked and many times we presume they know what is coming and are planning to join in.  Don’t presume.  Reach out to them.  Use your senior pastor’s influence to cast vision and challenge them to join you in praying.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  6. Distribute a 7 day prayer guide with every HOST packet.  Here is a simple form I’ve included in new host packets for over 10 years.  I got the idea for this 7 day prayer guide from the 40 Days of Purpose campaign kit.
  7. Incorporate prayer for the campaign in your worship services 2 to 3 months before it begins.  Making the campaign part of your public prayers in your worship services will allow your congregation to catch fleeting glimpses of God’s heart for unconnected people.

Listen.  However you do it, don’t forget to pray for your campaign.  It is a powerful strategy but without God’s involvement it is just a strategy.

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

10 of the Most Overused Small Group Ministry Buzzwords

Ever heard someone use a word or a phrase and there was something about the way they said it that made you realize…they didn’t know what it meant?  I remember when a friend of mine kept talking about the long tail (a business term) and ecosystem (or some other buzzword, I don’t remember) and it was so obvious to everyone else that he had no clue what either of the words actually meant!  To use a now ancient buzzword…it was emperor’s new clothes obvious.

Think there are buzzwords that we use and sometimes don’t actually know what they mean?  Or sometimes use in a way that is significantly different than everyone else?  I think there’s more than you might think!

Here are 10 of the most overused small group ministry buzzwords:

  1. Disciples who make disciples.  This actually might be the most overused small group ministry buzzword right now.  Not because it’s pretentious or anything.  Mostly because you’re probably not actually a disciple if you’re not making disciples.
  2. Spiritual formation.  It is’t complicated…it’s probably not legit.  I like what Dallas Willard said in Renovation of the Heart“Spiritual formation…is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character. It is a process that happens to everyone. The most despicable as well as the most admirable of persons have had a spiritual formation. Terrorists as well as saints are the outcome of a spiritual formation. Their spirits or hearts have been formed. Period.”  Thank you Dallas.  See also, What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make.
  3. Life-change.  As in, “the optimal environment for life-change is a small group.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve run across more than a few groups where there is very little change of any kind going on.  It is to be desired and designed into every group.  See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change and 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry.
  4. Doing life together.  Love the term.  Hate the idea that to some it actually means 7 to 9 p.m. on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays.  That’s not it.  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  5. Free market groups.  This term refers to a very specific strategy described in the book Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century.  It gets used incorrectly lots of other ways to lump in just about everything.
  6. Missional communities.  Again, this term refers very specifically to a very well defined strategy promoted by Mike Breen, 3DM, and others.  It isn’t just that you have a group of 25 instead of 12 or that your group periodically meets in a 3rd place like Starbucks.
  7. Authentic community.  Okay…there is only authentic community.  Everything else is counterfeit or pseudo community.  See also, 4 Countercultural Characteristics of Authentic Community.
  8. Lower the bar/Raise the bar.  Maybe this is my issue alone, but the point is to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic that leader development happens.
  9. Small group champion.  When this term is used to describe anyone other than your senior pastor it isn’t necessarily incorrect, it’s just less powerful.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1.
  10. Healthy span of care.  I use this term almost every day and then almost always work my way through the Exodus 18 passage the concept is based on.  It is essentially the idea that everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can care for more than about 10.  A healthy span of care fits that definition, but every care structure has its own nuance.  See also, Span of Care.

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

You Know You Have the Right Small Group System When…

How do you know you have chosen the right small group system?  Can you know?  I think you probably can.

While there are at least half a dozen different small group systems, none of them are problem-free.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, How to Choose a Small Group System or Model.

So…how do you know you have chosen the right small group system?

You know you have the right small group system when…

  • …its design is consistent with the business you are in.  For example, if you claim to be in the disciple-making business, your system must be designed to make disciple-making an ordinary and everyday outcome.  Pointing to the exceptions as evidence is not proof that you have the right system.  See also, If I Was Starting Today and The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.
  • …what you’ve predetermined you will call “success” is actually happening on a regular basis.  If you’ve written down what you will call a win and it’s actually happening, then you’ve probably chosen the right small group system.  If what you’ve predetermined you will call success only happens on the whiteboard when you’re casting vision and dreaming about your preferred future…there’s a pretty good chance you’ve chosen the wrong system.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 3 and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  • …it effectively engages the kind of people you have identified as your primary customers.  For example, if you claim to be about connecting unconnected people your system will be designed to keep their interests at the center of the bullseye.  If you regularly choose study topics that appeal to the appetites of the already connected (and already convinced), there is something wrong with your system.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer.
  • …your percentage connected is gaining on (or has surpassed) 100%.  If life-change happens best in circles, not in rows, then your system must be designed to connect unconnected people at a faster clip than your crowd is growing.  Is that not self-evident?  To use Andy Stanley’s line, “Your ministry (your small group system) is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”  See also, 5 Keys to Taking New Ground in 2014.
  • …finding enough small group leaders is not a barrier to growth.  This is a test that must be run on small group systems.  If you “love your system” but struggle to find enough qualified leaders to launch a sufficient number of new groups, it is not an unsolved mystery.  There is a direct link between they system you are using and your ability to identify, recruit and develop leaders.  See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry.

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

The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor

There are a number of very important ingredients in the role of small group pastor or director.  It isn’t a job for the faint of heart. and wishful thinking won’t get it done.  See also, FAQ: Do You Have a Job Description for a Small Group Director?

There are five things every small group pastor needs to know on day 1 and the very first thing they need to know is their role.  While there are a number of key aspects to their role, and all of them are important, I believe there is a most important ingredient; a most important contribution.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1 and 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.

The most important contribution of a small group pastor is to be a role model

I believe the most important contribution of a small group pastor is to be a role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) whatever you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  Does that sound familiar?  It should.  It is simply the natural extension of one of our most basic assumptions:  Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.

This is not a new idea.  It is an old idea.  It is at the heart of building a thriving small group ministry.  It is actually one of the 5 most overlooked secrets of building a thriving small group ministry.

So here’s the million dollar question: are you making this most important contribution?

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

5 Small Group Ministry Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know

Ever had this happen?  You’re doing a repetitive task the same way you’ve been doing it for years and then someone sees what you’re doing and tells you an easier way.

Or how about this, you’re driving somewhere you’ve been a million times and someone in the backseat says, “Did you know that there’s a much faster way?”

It’s kind of like that in small group ministry, you know.  There are definitely secrets and shortcuts that will get you where you want to go faster and more effectively.

Here are 5 small group ministry secrets and shortcuts:

  1. There are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  This may not seem like a shortcut, but believe me, the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  Wise leaders recognize that there is no problem-free and simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  2. If you’re having problems recruiting enough leaders, you’re using the wrong strategy.  If you’re still signing up leader candidates to attend the upcoming leader training course, you are overlooking the elephant in the room.  A significant percentage of leader training sign-ups (in a system where members are supplied) have below-the-waterline issues and will never lead a group.  Far better to leverage preexisting relationships (i.e., “If you have a couple friends you’d like to invite, you can host a group”) or leverage the ability of members to wisely choose leaders from amongst themselves.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock and Top 10 Articles on Starting New Groups.
  3. Offering a short test-drive is the best way to engage more people in small groups.  If you want to connect more of your adults to groups, shift your offer from a 13 week commitment (or a 12 to 18 month commitment) to a 6 week test-drive.  Lyman Coleman was right when he recognized that 6 weeks is short enough to commit to and long enough to help people begin to feel connected.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. Restocking dying groups with new members is almost always a bad idea.  It will seem cruel to some, but it is far more effective to teach existing group leaders and members to fill their own groups and focus your limited energy on starting new groups.  See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.
  5. The best way to recruit small group coaches is to simply invite the right people to “help for a few weeks.”  Inviting the right people to help for a few weeks by “coming alongside 2 or 3 of our new small group leaders” gives you a chance to see them in action.  The right people will be both fruitful and fulfilled.  You only want people who are both fruitful and fulfilled.  Go for both.  Don’t ever compromise.  It’s a lot harder to get someone into a job than out of one.  See also, Three Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up.

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

Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril

I know there are some who object to references to customers and products and marketing…but some things are made so clear by shifting the vocabulary from church to business.

Alan Kay, the computer scientist, said “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”  His famous quote is also recorded as “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Either way, he’s pointing out that acquiring a different perspective or point of view can make us a lot smarter.

For example, here are 4 realities that Peter Drucker identified in Managing for Results.  See if these add up for you and actually provide a helpful new perspective about the design of connecting strategies for unconnected people:

  1. “What the people in the business think they know about customer and market is more likely to be wrong than right.”  Can you see the truth in Drucker’s thinking?  Can you see how it might apply to our work in designing strategies to connect unconnected people and make disciples?  See also, Design Your Connecting Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  2. “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  The obvious question is, what do we think we are providing for unconnected people and are we providing what they actually value?  See also, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps.
  3. “An important corollary is that what the producer or supplier thinks the most important feature of a product to be may well be relatively unimportant to the customer.”  Again, what if an active conversation with unconnected people revealed that they don’t actually value what we think is something they ought to value?  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. “The customers have to be assumed to be rational.  But their rationality is not necessarily that of the manufacturer; it is their own rationality.”  How many times have we said, “If people just knew what was good for them they’d sign up for a small group!”  What if we simply embraced the idea that our customers have their own rationality and the sooner we learn what it is the sooner we’ll begin to design connecting strategies that appeal to unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Small Group Ministry for Results.

See also, Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.

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

6 Things Not to Say about Small Group Ministry

Have you learned there are certain things that you should never say about small group ministry?  Sometimes I cringe when I hear them.  There’s definitely a list of things not to say that approach stupid.  And sometimes I have the urge to say “ixnay on the oopid stay.”

There are a few things not to say:

  1. “This is the way we’re going to do small group ministry from now on.”  Trust me, this is a terrible one-liner and the cause of much unnecessary frustration and confusion.  Fed up with the flaws of your current system?  Far better to learn to say, “This new strategy will help us take the next step in connecting people…”  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  2. If you’re ready to lead a small group, sign up today.  This is a recipe for disappointment.  With a near guarantee that more than half of your sign-ups to lead groups will have below-the-waterline issues, it is almost never a good idea.  Far better to rely on the HOST method to recruit volunteers (who will fill their own group ) or a small group connection (where the members choose a leader from amongst themselves).
  3. If you’re ready to step up and be a small group coach, sign up today.  This is a terrible idea!  Settling for anything less than a high capacity candidate is never a good idea.  Taking volunteers for coaches is guaranteed to stack your coaching team with people who will be fulfilled in having the title but ineffective at the job itself.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.
  4. We’ve asked each our elders to be a coach.  Oh my…if I had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve heard this proposed as a viable way to build a coaching structure, I’d have a lot of money!  Just because someone is qualified to serve as an elder (or any other leadership position) doesn’t mean they have what it takes to serve as a coach.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  5. We’ve hired a small group pastor to be the small group champion. Some senior pastors have a great challenge resisting this statement.  If that’s you…resist!  If that’s your senior pastor, don’t let them go there.  The senior pastor is the most influential person in nearly 100% of churches.  The role of small group champion cannot be delegated.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  6. There are 3 great ways to get connected here at Community Church: Small groups, Sunday school classes and discipleship groups.  Unless you are confident that all of your options include the same essential ingredients, you need to be very careful to resist the temptation to talk about the different options as if they are the same.  See also, 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples and What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make.

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

5 People Every Small Group Pastor Needs in Their Circle

You may feel like the lone inventor, a prophet in your own town, or a sole proprietor desperately trying to keep the business afloat…

…but whatever you feel like there are a few people every small group pastor needs in their circle.  Every small group pastor.  That’s me.  That’s you.  There are no good exceptions to this one.

There are 5 people every small group pastor needs in their circle:

  1. Peers.  You need at least one (and preferably a network) of peers who are working to build thriving small group ministries.  I have always been a networker and over the years I’ve come to really appreciate the value of a extended circle of peers who are nostril deep in the same struggle.  Don’t really have anyone that fits the bill?  A great way to get started building this resource is by connecting with the small group network in your area.
  2. Mentor(s).  Whether you build this connection vicariously (by reading books, blogs or other resources), find a coach or join a coaching network, or simply make a connection at a conference, mentors provide invaluable thinking about what could be next.  I’ve been following in the footsteps of a few mentors for many years now.  I’ve met a few of them, but I’ve still learned a ton by reading their books and listening to them at conferences.  See also, Required Reading for Small Group Pastors: Systems.
  3. Comrades.  As you build a thriving small group ministry you’ll probably begin to notice leaders and coaches who share your passion.  There are few things more rewarding than building a team of fellow soldiers, fully engaged in the mission.  The sooner you reach this point in your ministry, the more fun you’ll have.
  4. Mentee(s).  I am convinced that one of the greatest benefits of the Small Group Network is that it makes it possible to learn from those who are ahead of us and teach those who are behind us.  Trust me, if you’ve been in this journey any length of time, there are people who could learn from you.
  5. Outsider(s) (with fresh eyes).  This may be an unanticipated ingredient/participant in your circle, but be sure and listen.  The greatest advances, the biggest “breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.”  And the presence or engagement of a strategic outsider almost always plays a key role (thanks to Will Mancini for the fantastic term!).

So here’s my question today: How many of the 5 do you have?  I sincerely believe that a quick assessment would reveal a high correlation between high impact and the presence of 4 of the 5 kinds of people and low impact and the absence of 4 of 5 kinds of people.

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

5 Things Every New Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1

New to the role or new to the church, there are a few basic things that a new small group pastor needs to know from day one.  How will a new small group pastor know them?  Some senior pastors will need to clearly communicate them during the interview phase.  Some savvy small group pastors will arrive with this knowledge.  Sometimes clarity will end up being achieved only after an intense struggle.

However it happens, the answers to these 5 questions are prerequisite to building a thriving small group ministry.

Here are the 5 things a new small group pastor needs to know:

What is your role?  If you’re going to build a thriving small group ministry, your senior pastor must be the small group champion.  That begs the question, “What is your role?”  There are four main components:

  1. You are the behind the scenes instigator who sets in motion an annual strategy to connect people.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups Year Round.
  2. You are a role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) what you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.
  3. You are a talent scout always identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity people, managing a reasonable span of care.  5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4.  You are Joshua to Moses or Timothy to Paul, looking for ways to help your senior pastor be the small group champion.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

What business are you in?  Every church has to settle this for themselves.  Stock answers will not do.  You may be uncomfortable thinking about small group ministry (or any ministry) in terms of a business, but this Peter Drucker question drives to an essential understanding.   See also, If I Was Starting Today and The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.

Who is your customer?  The wrong answer is everyone.  Again, every church settles this question for themselves, but there should be a definite answer.  Sometimes it helps to rephrase the question as “who is my primary customer?”  Can you see the difference between the following?  My primary customers are (a) unconnected people, (b) group members, (c) group leaders, or (d) coaches.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 2.

What will you call success?  Will success to 50% of your average adult attendance connected in groups?  80%?  150%?  Will success be something beyond connecting adults in groups (for example, “connected in groups that make disciples”).  Andy Stanley refers to this concept as clarifying the win in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.  Clarity on this question focuses your attention on what’s most important.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 3 and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

Who will you make heroes of?  Will you make heroes of pastors?  Elders?  Small group leaders?  People who respond to your pastor’s invitation to host a new small group?  Who you make heroes of determines so much about the way people respond.  Don’t miss this very important key to building a thriving small group ministry.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.

Note: Don’t know the answers to one or more of these questions?  Now is the time to get busy and get answers.  Without answers to these 5 questions, you’ll be wandering in the wilderness far longer than you should.

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

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