Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Category: Small Group Strategy (page 1 of 70)

5 Secrets of Building Ministry Momentum

momentumMomentum. Few of us have it. All of us want it.

How do you generate momentum? And how do you build and sustain momentum once you have it?

I believe there are some secrets to building momentum. I also believe that none of these secrets are easy to do. If they were, everyone would have momentum.

And yet…these secrets are not impossible to master. They are a challenge. But not because they are difficult. They are a challenge because they require keener insight and greater courage and discipline than most of us ordinarily have.

With insight, courage and discipline mastering these secrets is quite obvious and imminently doable.

Here are 5 secrets of building ministry momentum

  1. Identify one experience that everyone needs. This is where keen insight is required. I often say that you’ve chosen the right church-wide campaign when you can legitimately say, “We’ll still be talking about what happened in the fall of 2015 ten years from now.” If you can’t say that about the campaign you’re considering…you’ve probably not identified the one experience that everyone needs. Another line I often use is that “you don’t want to get to November and wish you had been part of a group that is using the study.” Can you see how these two statements might form a test for whether you’ve chosen the right campaign? See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. Choose the optimum window to offer the experience. This secret requires both insight and courage. In my experience, while the source of momentum may be somewhat of a mystery, the reasons for a lack of momentum are abundantly clear. There is a right window to offer every experience. You know what it is. I know what it is. When the right season is interrupted by an event or program that could (and should) be held some other time…that other event or program needs to be relocated. And that takes both insight and courage. See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign.
  3. Narrow your focus to the experience you’ve chosen. This is an enormously important secret. If you want to build momentum, eliminating all other competing events and programs is essential. I know, eliminating is a very strong word. The key really is this. If you want to create momentum you need to put a laser focus on the experience you have already declared is the one experience that everyone needs. This is not the time to promote everything equally. This is the time to focus the spotlight on the one thing you’ve chosen. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  4. Make the offer irresistible. Everything matters. The way you talk about the experience in your weekend service (announcements). The way your senior pastor refers to it in the sermon. The insert in the bulletin. The website. The church-wide email. The newsletter. Everything must ring true and ring loudly. Make it affordable (free if you can). Provide incentives for everyone who invites a friend (make it even more affordable). Ask everyone to consider donating a little extra so the resources can be free to everyone who cannot afford to participate. Everything you are doing must feel like a can’t afford to miss this opportunity. See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. Make the first step obvious and easy. This secret may feel like a no-brainer. But trust me…so many of us are NOT doing this. The first step MUST be totally obvious. Sign-up? You shouldn’t have to figure it out. You shouldn’t have to hope. Or wonder. How you sign-up should be TOTALLY obvious. Where you sign-up should be TOTALLY obvious. And it should be EASY. If you have to be psychic (I usually say Carnac the Magnificent) to figure out how to sign up…it is not easy. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?

Image by Evelyn Berg

5 Ways to Blow Up Your Small Group Ministry

explosivesYou’ve worked hard to build your small group ministry. It’s humming along; firing on all cylinders. And at just about any moment there are a few things that can blow up most of what you’ve worked hard to accomplish.

What are they?

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Changing your small group model. Regardless of your motivation for changing your small group model, when you tinker with the familiar you run the risk of upsetting the apple cart. Doesn’t mean you can’t switch from a semester model to an ongoing model or from sermon-based to free-market. It does mean that every change ought to be wisely evaluated and made with adequate care. It also means that model changes require what may feel like over communication and extravagant advance notice. See also, 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.
  2. Retroactively assigning coaches to all of your experienced group leaders. This may be the most common way small group ministries get blown up. Providing every small group leader a coach may seem like the wise thing to do but retroactively assigning coaches to experienced leaders is almost always rejected like a bad organ transplant. Your intentions may be good. You may simply want to provide adequate care to every leader but it will rarely be interpreted that way. It almost always feels like the result of a lack of trust or a desire to control. See also, 5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Coaches.
  3. Adding reporting requirements that feel intrusive or unnecessary. What feels reasonable to senior pastors and executive pastors can easily feel excessive to group leaders and invasive to group members. Here’s a tip: Before you begin asking group leaders to report anything, ask yourself how you will use the data they report. If there is no legitimate reason to collect it, don’t ask for it. FAQ: What Does a Coach Need to Know from a Small Group Leader.
  4. Mandating participation in a church-wide study. What may seem like a reasonable expectation to your senior pastor can feel like a major imposition to some group leaders (and members). While the chosen study may seem an obvious choice to church leaders, it will sometimes be perceived as an intrusion by group leaders (and members). Especially when every group is expected to set aside what they are currently studying (and may have been planning to study for months), something well beyond adequate advance notice is required and only sensitive encouragement will be received. See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved in a Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Requiring small group leaders to do something they didn’t sign up to do. Strategies that make it easy to begin leading a group (i.e., the HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection) are excellent ways to grow the number of groups in your small group ministry. At the same time, expecting new leaders who simply meet low bar requirements to accept high bar expectations (i.e., attending training meetings, meeting with a coach, etc.) often leads to quick exits as a leader. Equally, expecting new leaders who simply said “yes” to opening their home or facilitating a discussion to truly shepherd or disciple their members is an expectation that can lead to the early demise of the leader and the group. See also, How to Help a HOST Become a Small Group Leader.

Image by Jeremy Brooks

5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing

stopWe all do them. They’re just stupid. And we need to stop doing them.

Here are a few that are MUST. STOP. DOING.

  1. Matchmaking. Few of us actually have time or available horsepower to place members in groups with room for members. Time spent matchmaking is almost always better spent (a) focusing on launching new groups and (b) training leaders to learn to fish for their own new members. See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups and Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.
  2. Settling for warm and willing (instead of hot and qualified). If your coaching structure includes anyone who is a coach “in name only,” you’ve settled for warm and willing. Effective coaching structures are built when we insist on hot and qualified and accept no substitutes. We are truly better off when we hold out for high capacity leaders of leaders who are fulfilled in the task. Anything less is a waste of time. See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure and Imagine If Your Coaching Structure Looked Like This?
  3. Turning a blind eye to sideways energy. You have them and I have them. Bible studies, classes, programs and events that pose as destinations and don’t lead in the direction we want people to go are a distraction. If they lead anywhere other than where we want people to go (i.e., saved seats in a row)…we need to be proactively working to reimagine, redesign and relaunch (or cancel). See also, Sideways Energy.
  4. Saying “maybe” when “no” is the best answer. The most effective small group pastors learn to say “no” to anything that compromises the objective. Anytime saying “yes” simply delays a “no” down the road, it is better for everyone to learn to say “no” with gentleness and respect in the very beginning. See also, Think Twice–and Then Think Again–Before You Approve the New Menu Item.
  5. Repeating a failed strategy and hoping for different results. We all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. But how many of us have settled for exactly the same failed strategy and hoped for the best? Stop doing that! Instead, invest in a brutally honest evaluation of the failed strategy and make the necessary adjustments to move to a new trajectory. See also, Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry is Schizophrenic.

Image by Steve Johnson

5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry

21st century cityscapeWhen we woke up this morning, we woke up to a very different world than our parents lived in. Truth be told, we actually woke up to a rapidly changing culture. As we step deeper into the 21st Century there are some things you need to know about how cultural changes impact small group ministry. Wise leaders will be paying attention as culture changes.

  1. Biblical literacy is a distant memory in almost every setting. This reality must be anticipated in leader training, in the design or selection of curriculum, and in the development of the group experience. Continuing to operate as if everyone knows even the people, places and events of the Bible (let alone its meaning) is already the trademark of hopelessly out of touch ministries.
  2. The expectation that the Church provides something essential is rapidly decreasing. This is an important understanding. All of the research points to the changing belief about the Church. Worse than disagreement with beliefs or practices is the sense that the Church is irrelevant.
  3. “I am a spiritual person” is growing; “I am a Christian” is declining. A correlation noted in The Rise of the Nones and the research that backs up the findings of Barna and many other organizations is that the increasing number of those who indicate no religious affiliation is primarily about the decrease in the number of nominal (or notional) Christians; Christians in name only. This actually may provide some direction for ministries nimble enough to adjust strategy to offer meaning to “spiritual people (Think about Paul’s approach in Acts 17).”
  4. A Christian worldview is not held by the majority. Beyond biblical illiteracy is the emergence of a competing worldview (or multiple worldviews). The worldview of secular humanism sees virtually everything through a completely different lens. The sanctity of human life, sexual orientation, and a biblical understanding of marriage are just three front burner issues where profoundly different beliefs are the products of a vastly different worldview held by an increasing number of people. The practice of assuming “what we all believe” will require a major overhaul in order to reach friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family members who no longer believe what we believe.
  5. Cause has the greatest potential to connect. As James Emery White points out in The Rise of the Nones, there was a time when unchurched people responded directly to a gospel message, joined in community and then joined in the cause (1950s to 1980s). This was followed by a period when unchurched people responded first to an opportunity to join a community, found Christ and then joined in the cause (1990s to 2000s). What about now? White points out that the Pew Forum study revealed that 78% of those surveyed said that “religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds” and 77% said “religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy.” Interpretation? “We may have lost the opportunity to walk with them (unchurched people) and talk with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to do good to them and for them and with them (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones).” Providing opportunities to join causes that resonate with unchurched people (i.e., clean water, orphan care, sex trafficking, etc.) offer new front doors to relationship.

I hope you are thinking about these powerful new trends as you build your small group ministry. My thinking has been impacted by a number of books including The Rise of the Nones and The Next Christians.

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

Image by Pasu Au Yeung

10 Things Small Group Pastors Should Always Be Thinking

thinkingThere are a few things smart small group pastors should always be thinking. A set of questions we should always be asking ourselves. Are you always thinking about these things?

  1. How might we connect more unconnected people?
  2. What is the best way to connect the largest number of unconnected people?
  3. What kinds of people attend our church that we are not connecting?
  4. What stories do I need to tell my senior pastor (so my senior pastor can cast a compelling vision for grouplife)?
  5. Could we provide a better first step out of the auditorium (to connect more people)?
  6. What things must be true for our small group system to be the right system for our church?
  7. How might we improve the design of our small group experience to make more and better disciples?
  8. Am I doing to and for my coaches what I want our small group leaders to do to and for their members?
  9. What do we need to stop doing immediately?
  10. What do we need to start doing immediately?

Can I give you an assignment? Block off an hour or two every week to wrestle with these questions. Very little of what you are currently doing is more important. If you are regularly asking these questions (and taking action on their answers), you’ll begin to see movement toward your preferred future.

Image by Chris Price

Has Your Mindset Trumped Your Skill Set?

mindsetWe’ve tried that before…and it didn’t work. I know it works other places, but there are just some things culturally here that keep it from working here.

Heard these? Said them yourself? Can I suggest something? It’s almost never your skill set that keeps you from breaking through barriers. Instead, it’s almost always your mindset.

Want to break through the barrier that’s preventing you from exceeding 100% connected in groups? Or maybe, stuck at 35% you’d like to break the 50% barrier? It probably doesn’t actually have much to do with your skill set (although understanding how to use the small group connection strategy or the church-wide campaign strategy can’t hurt).

Most of the time, when you need to break through a barrier, it almost always has to do with mindset.

Want a new mindset? I’ve found it’s mostly about believing the right things and asking the right questions.

What are the right things to believe? Here’s what I believe:

  • God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” What we think can happen…is not even close to what God can do.
  • The most effective strategies we’ve ever discovered…are never more than a shadow of what could be (and will be).
  • What has gotten us to where we are currently…will not get us to where we dream of being.
  • Sometimes Often the thing that seemed impossible yesterday is closer every day to being reality. See also, Where Do You Want to Go with Your Small Group Ministry?

What are the right questions? Here are 5 of my favorites:

  1. What’s the best way to…?  I picked this up recently from Andy Stanley.  Works great when you’re stuck with legacy solution that just isn’t working very well any more (from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast, Introducing Change).
  2. How might we…?  I got this one from Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO (from The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use).
  3. What would have to be true for that approach to work?  Or, “for the idea on the table to be a fantastic option?”  I love these two questions from Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management (p. 12, The Design of Business).
  4. What are we not doing that we should start doing right away?  What should we immediately stop doing in order to allow for the emergence of the new?  Bill Taylor, a co-founder of Fast Company, is a great source of ideas like this. (p. 123, Practically Radical)
  5. What 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of our ______ strategy? Also, What are the limitations of our model that have failed to keep up with the times?  Gary Hamel has been called “the world’s leading expert on business strategy.” (from The Future of Management)

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

Image by Jason Mrachina

4 Ingredients that Generate Intense Focus and Lead to Momentum

momentumYesterday I wrote about creating momentum by adding the game-changing power of intense focus. All of us hope for momentum and some of us have felt it from time to time.

What if we could learn to do the things that would produce an intense focus that leads to momentum?

Here are the key ingredients that must be present to generate intense focus that leads to momentum:

  1. A compelling vision. Momentum can only begin when a compelling vision emerges and takes hold. In the case of a church-wide campaign, it is not enough to imagine starting some new groups. It isn’t really enough that everyone would be challenged to attend the weekend service all 8 weeks, read the daily devotional, and be in a group that is using the study that goes along with the message. A compelling vision might be present when we can say, “This is the kind of series that we’ll still be talking about 10 years from now.” Or, “When people talk about this series they’ll say, ‘God changed the trajectory of my life in the fall of 2015.”
  2. Senior pastor, staff and key leaders willing to set their own interests aside for the sake of the vision. This rarely happens and it is the reason momentum is so rare. Intense focus is a group activity and it is an all-skate commitment. Surrendering the promotion of your own interests for the sake of the vision comes at a price few are willing to pay. The rewards are rich, but they come as a result of the sacrifice.
  3. Extravagant investment of resources (time, talent, treasure) into the pursuit of the vision. The kind of momentum generated by intense focus is worth an extravagant investment. Momentum is never the result of a penny-pinching attitude. Generating momentum often comes at a price of going all-in, pushing everything into the middle. There is certainly a financial investment, but momentum also requires the investment of time and talent. In a zero sum calculation, every dollar spent, every hour invested, every person committed, comes at the expense of things or ministries that do not receive intense focus.
  4. Determined resolve to run the whole course. Momentum is generated as the fly-wheel begins to turn faster and faster. It takes a all-in commitment over weeks and months to push the fly-wheel long enough to reach maximum velocity.

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

Image by Sean MacEntee


Add the Game-Changing Power of Intense Focus to Create Momentum

focusDo you know about the power of focus to create momentum? You certainly know the word focus. You probably know the definition of focus. But have you ever really seen focus in action? Have you ever seen the game-changing power of focus to create momentum?

Focus is almost always the opposite of what ministry looks like for most of us. It requires a discipline that is extremely challenging and a determined resolve that is like titanium. Focus is about saying no to many things so you can say yes to one thing.

We add the power of focus when we reduce all communication to a single message. We add intensity to focus when we repeat a single message over many weeks.

We’re seeing the fruit of intense focus at Canyon Ridge right now. For weeks we’ve only talked about our upcoming church-wide campaign (Transformed). We began hinting at it and teasing it in June and through August it became more and more intense every week. Three successive message series have included participating in Transformed as a key takeaway.

On the eve of the launch we’ve just ordered another 1500 books and another 200 DVDs.

We use a church-wide campaign every fall. It is a core strategy for spiritual growth. We put a lot of energy into it every year.

But there is no comparison between this years’ momentum and sense of anticipation and any of the three previous attempts.

What’s different? Intense focus.

Are you leveraging the game-changing power of intense focus? Saying no to many things so you can say yes to the most important thing? Or still saying yes to too many things, diffusing your energy?

Image by ihtatho

How I Choose Studies for Small Group Connecting Events

chooseI get a lot of questions. And a very frequent question is, “What are the best studies to use for small group connections?”

Let’s just say I have my favorites. And I’ve listed them from time to time. But today I want to tell you how I choose studies for small group connecting events (i.e., small group connections, base groups, etc.).

How I Choose Studies

It’s actually not very complicated. I choose studies that I believe will appeal to the people I’m trying to connect.

I choose studies that I believe will appeal to the people I’m trying to connect.

There are a couple parts to that statement:

  • First, I know who I’m trying to connect. I’m not trying to connect everyone. There is a very specific kind of person that I’m trying to connect. If you want to choose the right studies you have to know who you hope to connect.
  • Second, I have an informed opinion about what will appeal to them. I know they will not be interested in just any topic. There is a set of things that will peak their interest. And…there are certain topics that will cause them to dismiss the whole idea. If you want to choose the right studies you will have to know what will appeal to the people you hope to connect.

4 key characteristics of studies that will connect unconnected people

Studies that will connect unconnected people are:

  • On topics that matter to most unconnected people (i.e., community, relationships, purpose, etc.). While there are some unconnected people who care about ancient prophecies, the end times, and who were the Nephilim…most do not.
  • Not too long in terms of commitment. 6 weeks seems to be the right length. Generally, unconnected people tend to be less frequent attenders at your weekend services. Committing to 6 weeks is a major step in commitment. Longer terms of commitment decrease the number of unconnected people who will say yes.
  • Show up and discuss studies. Homework or daily personal devotionals are something of a deterrent if they are required in order to fully participate in the group discussion.
  • DVD-driven with engaging teaching segments. The personality of the teacher does matter as does the length of the DVD segment. If the speaker has trouble holding your attention, you can bet unconnected people will struggle to stay engaged as well.

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

Image by Tony Webster


4 Practices of an Effective Small Group Ministry Point Person

practices thinkingThe small group ministry point person comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are solely small group pastors or directors (it’s all they do). Others wear many hats and the role of small group ministry point person is just one of the things they do. Some are on the paid staff while others volunteer their time. Some are seasoned veterans and others truly are in their first rodeo.

I’ve been all of the above. You may have been too.

Regardless of shape or size of your role, there are several practices that should be part of what you do as the small group ministry point person. And it’s important to clarify, there are a set of things that are not part of the role of a small group ministry point person. For example, the effective small group ministry point person will never be the small group champion. That will always be the senior pastor. Also, an effective small group ministry point person will almost never be the one providing primary care for small group leaders. That will be the role of the coaches within the system.

So what then are the practices of an effective small group ministry point person?

There are several:

  1. Non-stop watching for opportunities to move small groups from the back burner to the front burner. In order for the importance of being in a small group to end up being mentioned in your pastor’s sermon every week, in the weekend announcements when possible, prominently on the website and in the bulletin…someone has to be on the lookout for opportunities. If you’re the point person, that someone is almost always you. This is about regularly passing success stories to your pastor. It’s about being the most knowledgeable about best practices for communicating (website, bulletin, e-newsletter, etc.) and sharing your knowledge with the right people.
  2. Constantly doing to and for your leaders (or coaches) whatever you want them to do to and for their members (or leaders). Depending on the number of groups in your ministry, you’ll either be investing directly in group leaders or you’ll be investing in coaches who will be investing in leaders. Effective point people understand that this is not something you do when you have extra time. It is actually at the very heart of what your ministry must be about.
  3. Always on the lookout for potential leaders of leaders. Building a thriving small group ministry requires developing an effective coaching structure. An effective small group point person understands their own limitations and is always looking for high capacity leaders of leaders who can share the load and help care for a growing number of small group leaders.
  4. Thinking ahead about next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic. Developing a year-round small group ministry strategy that fits the rhythm of your congregation, crowd, and community is a blend of science and art. It won’t happen over night and it won’t be a one-time move. For example, your church’s annual missions emphasis may currently fall right in the middle of what should be an annual fall small group ministry launch. Or your church may have always used August to recruit ministry volunteers, but you’re realizing August is when you need to recruit hosts for the fall launch. Developing a year-round small group ministry strategy takes someone who is always thinking ahead about next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.

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

Image by Jacob Botter


Older posts