5 Best Practices of Thriving Small Group Ministries

Definition: “A procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.” Webster

You can learn a lot by studying the best practices of thriving small group ministries. You can improve your results by adopting the best practices of thriving small group ministries. Occasionally, you can improve your results by adapting the best practices of thriving small group ministries to fit your context. I say occasionally because adapting most commonly strips away the design elements that produce the results you hope to attain.

Note: In the spirit of “there’s an upside and a downside to everything,” you will never produce break-the-mold innovation by emulating perfectly a best practice. See also, The Problem with Best Practices

5 of the best practices of thriving small group ministries:

The senior pastor is the champion.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn this. It is just the way it is. There is a reason the two most thriving small group ministries are Saddleback and North Point. Rick Warren and Andy Stanley figured out a long time ago that people do what the most influential person in the organization promotes.

Another important element of this best practice? The average attenders of Saddleback and North Point couldn’t pick Steve Gladen and Bill Willits out of a line-up because they lead their small group ministries from behind the scenes. Small group leaders and coaches know them. But the public face of the small group ministry is the senior pastor.

Think about it: Is your senior pastor the champion? Or does someone else play that role?


Thriving small group ministries are promoted year-round

Do you have an annual small group push? Maybe at the end of September? Or in early January? You need to know that thriving small group ministries are year-round endeavors. They are promoted 52 weeks a year. There may be times of greater emphasis, but highlighting group engagement is never out of season.

Thriving small group ministries are always looking ahead to the next opportunity to connect to a group. They are also highlighted year-round in the language of message illustrations and stories of life-change.

Churches with thriving small group ministries rarely miss the opportunity to reference the prominent role of small groups in their strategy. Don’t believe me? Try listening for the drumbeat in a North Point or Saddleback weekend service.

Think about it: Does your church promote small groups year-round? Or is there a groups campaign every year?

See also, 5 No-Brainer Characteristics of Churches That Actually Connect Beyond 100%

Churches with thriving small group ministries ministries clarify what is most important

They may have more on their menu than small groups, but there is no mystery or confusion about what is most important. If you have any doubt, a quick look at the websites of churches with thriving small group ministries will confirm this. A look at their weekend service program and verbiage from the stage will provide conclusive evidence.

Emphasizing the importance and priority of small groups forces deemphasis of anything and everything else (that might cause confusion about first steps or next steps.

“Should I do this? Or this?” is an uncommon question in churches with thriving small group ministries.

Think about it: How clear is the importance and priority of small groups in your church?

See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium? and What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

Thriving small group ministries are budget priorities

Want to build a thriving small group ministry? Take a look at your church’s general budget. Can you tell from the budget that small group ministry is important?

The budgets of churches with thriving small group ministries are powerful indicators. And it is very important to note that their small group ministry budget explains their results (as opposed to their results being rewarded with budget increases).

Think about it: Does your staffing structure (which is a function of the budget) indicate that small group ministry is important? Or does your staffing structure indicate something else is really more important?

Does your website indicate small group ministry is important? Is it easy to find out about the next connecting opportunity or learn about small group involvement?

Does your on-campus promotion (signage, kiosk, welcome center, first step experience, etc.) indicate small group ministry is important? Is it clear to unconnected attenders?

Does your facility reservation and availability indicate small group ministry is important?

See also, FAQ: How to Budget for a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Thriving small group ministries deliver a robust experience

Getting connected and doing life together may be the beginning, but it is not the destination. Making better disciples, life-change, becoming like Jesus, doing what Jesus would do, is the end in mind.

Thriving small group ministries deliver a robust experience. Far beyond closing the back door, small groups are designed to help group members become steadily more like Jesus, experiencing (and practicing) the one-anothers as a way of life.

Think about it: Do examples of groups that “get it” stand out? Are they commonplace (happening all the time)? Or extraordinary (the rare, out-of-the-ordinary group)?

See also, 8 Things I Know For Sure about Making Disciples in Groups

How to Take Full Advantage of an Early Easter to Launch New Groups

In case you missed it, Easter 2018 is April 1st! Just about the earliest Easter can occur.

This is big news for all of us, because an early Easter offers a third really good opportunity to connect unconnected people in groups (normally late September/early October and late January/early February are far better than post-Easter).

Ordinarily, Easter happens a little too close to summer to allow new groups to meet enough times to firmly establish before the inevitable interruption brought on by vacations, sports leagues, summer camps, etc. Just when you get a new group going…they decide to take the summer off. And that’s all she wrote!

But, when Easter is early, executing the right strategies will yield some new groups that have two full months and maybe part of a third before they start running into summer issues. And that’s enough time for them to be connected well enough to survive the summer.

Here are three strategies that will launch new groups:

Schedule a small group connection in mid April.

If you begin promoting the small group connection on Palm Sunday, you can collect sign-ups on 3/25, 4/1, and 4/8 and then hold it on 4/15. Choose a great starter study and then help them help them continue by pre-selecting a follow-up study and providing them a strategy for surviving the summer.

Remember, the topic you choose determines who will say yes to joining a group (or attending a connection). The studies/topics in my 2018 lists were hand-selected for this purpose.

See also, Top 5 Post-Easter Studies for New Groups (2018)

Launch gender or life-stage specific on-campus studies (that lead to off-campus studies) the week of April 15th.

For example, scheduling a study like Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage will attract unconnected couples. Facilitated around tables, this strategy will allow attendees to experience the benefits of a group with the safety of an on-campus first step. Providing them a natural follow-up study to be done off-campus will encourage many groups to continue.

Remember, a great first step out of the auditorium will help a significant number of unconnected people get connected. For all but the most extroverted, showing up at stranger’s front door is pretty scary. Walking into a familiar on-campus room is an entirely different story.

See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy

Launch a church-wide campaign that begins the week after Easter.

The right series will provide an excellent comeback incentive for unconnected people. Making it easy for unconnected people to join a new group or even invite a couple friends to join them in doing the study will give many the first step into community they need.

The key is to steward well this opportunity to launch new groups and connect unconnected people. We don’t get this chance every year. It’s a gift and the right strategy will connect people we would miss otherwise.

All of the church-wide campaigns in my 2018 list can be promoted in a way that will catch the attention of unconnected people in general and newer attendees in particular. With a well-designed on-ramp, a church-wide campaign post-Easter could be a powerful season at your church.

See also, 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign

Further reading:


An Analysis of the Semester System

An Analysis of the Semester System

There are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies. And there is an upside and a downside to everything.

Because of the popularity of both the sermon-based system and the free market system (two fairly common small group ministry systems) the semester system certainly has its advocates. Because of the inherent challenges of the semester system, it also has its detractors.

As I’ve done with sermon-based, free market, and other systems, I’ll attempt a fair and balanced analysis of the semester system in this post.

What is the semester system?

Before I begin the analysis, what is the semester system?

Essentially, semester-based is a strategy designed to take advantage of three (sometimes two) well-timed opportunities to help people connect with a group. Typically the fall, winter and spring seasons with the summer off. Each semester is usually 10 to 12 weeks.

Semester-based is also a strategy that is used in combination with other concepts (like sermon-based or free-market) to provide a more complete small group delivery system.

Like every strategy, semester-based has some real advantages. There are also some disadvantages that need to be acknowledged. As I’ve written in the past, there is no problem-free solution.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  Here are the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy:

What are the advantages of a semester based system?

  • Semester provides a built in opportunity to promote group life three times a year.  Generally those three times are just after school starts in the fall, January when people are naturally primed to want to turn over a new leaf, and about Easter (depending on when the holiday falls).  For churches used to only talking about groups once a year, this alone will take the church in a whole new direction.
  • Each semester offers an easy to spot on-ramp to small group participation. These on-ramps are often positioned as first or second steps out of the auditorium.
  • Because each semester is 10 to 12 weeks long, it provides a relatively easy commitment for people who are being encouraged to try a group.
  • Because the commitment is only for the semester, it allows an easy way out of a less-than-ideal match with the others in the group.

What are the disadvantages of a semester based system?

  • A 10 to 12 week commitment seems short (especially in comparison to a year), but 6 week commitments have been found more palatable for second steps out of the auditorium. Lyman Coleman pointed out that 6 weeks is short enough to get my commitment and long enough to begin to establish connection. Important Note: It should be noted that the campaign-driven system takes advantage of a 6 week commitment in launching new groups with the understanding that if the new group is going well, it’s easy to continue meeting.
  • The easy off-ramp provided is another important disadvantage to note. While providing multiple on-ramps every year is a real advantage, providing an easy out after only 10 to 12 weeks sometimes brings an end to a group just as a genuine sense of connection begins.
  • A major disadvantage is that the upside of three big time promotional periods a year comes with the downside of the work involved in recruiting new leaders or confirming continuing leaders, confirming new offerings (in the case of free-market), producing catalogs (print or web-based), etc. The horsepower required to pull this off should not be underestimated.
  • The semester idea requires a promotional phase for each semester. Like anything else, if you want people to respond, you’ll need to narrow the focus on those weeks and allow the upcoming beginning of the new semester to be the priority. You can’t get traction if it is simply added to the list of the other events and activities being promoted.


There probably are other advantages and disadvantages to the semester-based strategy. These are just a few that are easily identified. I suggest that you pull together a team and have a no-holds-barred discussion. To prepare for the discussion, I suggest reading ActivateSticky Church and Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century. Combined, you’ll pick up some very transferable ideas that will help you implement the strategy if you decide to adopt the semester-based concept.

Further Reading:

An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System

An Analysis of the Sermon Based Small Group Strategy

An Analysis of the Church-Wide Campaign-Driven Strategy

Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80%

Link this article to Top 10 Axiomatic Beliefs of Group Life

7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design

7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design

If it’s true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley),” the corollary is that if you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it.  After all, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein).”

Let me say that again.  If you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it.

If you don't like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it. Click To Tweet

7 signs your small group ministry has a bad design

Sign #1: Your percentage connected is flatlined.

Whether your weekend attendance is increasing or not, a flatlined percentage connected (the percentage of your adults who are connected in a group) indicates that your small group system is inadequately designed.

Think about it. Whether your weekend attendance is growing, staying the same, or declining, the number of adults in groups ought to be increasing. And, your design ought to be capable of producing a growing number of groups and group members, sufficient to exceed all but the most dynamic weekend worship attendance growth.

If on the other hand, your percentage connected is flatlined or declining, it is a strong indication that you have a bad design and must look for a better alternative. See also, Breaking the Mythical 150% Participation Barrier and The Catch a Moving Train Scenario.

Sign #2: You have trouble finding enough leaders.

This is a common symptom of designs that depend on selecting new leaders from the usual suspects (by usual suspects, I mean the people you already know, typically members of existing groups).

Think about it. Once your congregation is larger than about 250 adults it will become increasingly common that your senior pastor and platform staff will be recognized at the grocery store and restaurants by people they don’t know. When this happens your strategy must be able to recruit leaders from the adults you do not know because some of the highest capacity potential leaders will be unknown. This phenomenon is what makes the HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection strategy so effective. Both strategies recruit leaders from the unknown segment of your congregation and crowd.

Sign #3: You have leaders ready but not enough interest to fill their groups.

This is often an indication that there are too many options on the belonging and becoming menu (i.e., Sunday school, discipleship training, Precepts, off campus small groups, etc.).  It can also be an indication that your congregation sees the weekend service as everything they need.

Think about it. If, when unconnected people look at your website or weekend program, there are too many options to choose from, they are less likely to choose a small group (from a purely mathematical standpoint, if nothing else) and more likely to choose nothing at all (from the standpoint of more options leading to fewer selections, not more).

The greatest opportunity to connect the largest number of unconnected people exists when a single first step out of the auditorium leads directly to a taylor made connection point.

See also, Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu and Determining the Minimum Required and Recommended Dose.

Sign #4: Your coaching structure does not work.

This is a common symptom of bad small group ministry design. The wrong people or the wrong job description can both play a part in the implications of a bad design. And since one of two primary upsides of an effective coaching structure is its ability to sustain a much higher percentage of new groups, the lack of an effective coaching structure predicts a flatlined or declining number of groups.

Think about it. If whatever you want group members to experience must happen to the leader first (i.e., a sense of family, the knowledge that they’re being prayed for, life-change, etc.), then the coach must do to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for the members of their group.

If your coaches are not selected for their ability to do the right things to and for the leaders they are assigned to care for, they will default to the role they are suited to play (typically doing nothing or at best serving as a kind of accountant, checking on attendance and how often the group is meeting).

See also, My Top 10 Favorite Articles on Coaching.

Sign #5: Your senior pastor is reluctant to champion the importance of community.

There are several reasons senior pastors are reluctant to champion the importance of community. For example, they may see you as the champion and not want to take back something they’ve delegated. They may not be in a group themselves and be hesitant to promote something they are not part of. Or, they may see your system as ineffective.

Still, building a thriving small group ministry requires the most influential person in the congregation (the senior pastor) to serve as its #1 spokesperson and champion.

Think about it. Connecting beyond the usual suspects (those already inclined toward community), requires changing the minds of the members in your crowd and congregation who aren’t naturally drawn to connecting. Your senior pastor as champion takes advantage of the most influential person in your congregation.


Sign #6: Your small groups deliver a sense of belonging but rarely produce becoming.

Small group strategies that make it easy to connect but aren’t designed to make disciples are poorly designed. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is more fundamental than becoming, but both are essential.

Think about it. Small groups are often characterized as “the optimum environment for life-change” but in order to truly be that, they must be designed for more than belonging. They must make becoming an ordinary part of the experience.

See also, 5 Keys to Building Small Group Ministry at the Corner of Becoming and Belonging and Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?

Sign #7: Only a small percentage of your new groups continue meeting after they’re launched.

This design flaw is a leading indicator for flatlined percentage connected.  Strategies that struggle to launch and sustain new groups need an immediate overhaul.

Think about it. Regardless of the number of new groups launched, if you’re not sustaining a reasonably high percentage of new groups, your percentage connected is not likely to increase. Instead, you may only be replacing groups that come to an end.

See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining the New Small Groups You Launch.

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

Does your small group ministry system need to be refreshed? Or replaced?

Does your small group ministry system need to be refreshed? Or replaced?

I’m regularly having this conversation now. Sometimes a small group pastor, but often a senior pastor, will ask for help and this will be their comment:

We don’t know what to do! Our small group ministry needs a lot of help! We don’t know if it can be salvaged!

Ever said something like that? Thought it?

When I ask the right questions I often discover that the real question concerns their small group ministry system. And what they’re really wondering is,

Does our small group ministry system need to be refreshed? Or replaced?

And my answer? It depends on the stage your ministry is in.

Every ministry, program, organization, and event (even every small group or Bible study) has a life cycle.

In most models, there are four stages in an organizational life cycle:

  • Birth (accelerating)
  • Growth (booming)
  • Decline (decelerating)
  • Death (tanking)

As you might imagine, the four stages generate very different concerns and questions. For example, when your ministry is growing you ask different questions. You might have more sign-ups to join groups than you have leaders. Or you might have more people registered for an upcoming connection than you can fit into the room you’ve reserved.

On the flip side, when your ministry is declining, sign-ups for groups might be low for the 3rd semester in a row. More leaders might be “taking a break” than new leaders are emerging.

Refresh or Replace: How to Know What to Do

Does your small group ministry system just need to be refreshed? Or do you need to replace the system with one more aligned with your mission?

These are very good questions and difficult to answer without more information and real insight into the situation.

Although it may be time to schedule a 60 minute coaching call (and take advantage of my January special), your next step may be to review the following articles.

Further Reading:

7 Signs You Have the Wrong Small Group Ministry System

How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy

Use My Signature 10 Point Checklist to Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry

How Are You Evaluating Your Small Group Ministry?

How are you doing…really?

How are you doing…really?

My senior pastor is one of those people that asks how you’re doing and really wants to know.

“How are you doing…really?”

Anyone ask how you’re doing like that?

How about asking how your ministry is doing…really?

How’s your ministry doing…really?

How would you answer that…today?

“It’s really doing great!”

“It’s booming!”

“It’s struggling”

“It’s so up and down.”

“It’s flatlining.”

Here’s some help in answering

Answering honestly requires integrity.

Answering intelligently requires evaluation.

In order to begin answering intelligently, an annual evaluation is in order. To evaluate in a way that is accurate requires some work gathering details.

It may also require an understanding of the motivation behind evaluation.

Try this hypothesis on for size:

In view of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), we should be paying attention to results.

And it follows that we should be mindful of the connection between design and results. (Remember…”your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing”).

Finally, wise stewards will evaluate results on a regular basis to ensure their activities are continuing to produce the kind of results that will one day prompt “well done.”

What do you think about that?

Does it sound reasonable?

If that is a reasonable hypothesis…

If that is a reasonable hypothesis, doesn’t it make sense to run your ministry results through some kind of regular evaluation? After all, it seems pretty clear that we’ve each been entrusted with something “according to our ability” and the master is coming back and expect an accounting.


So…have you evaluated your results lately? How is your ministry going? Is it producing the results you are expecting? Or is it underperforming?

Do you find yourself explaining underperformance? Rationalizing less-than-expected (or promised) results? Setting reasonable goals that require no stretching?

A short primer on goal setting and evaluation

Goal setting requires establishing an accurate starting point. Establish a habit of taking an annual or semi-annual snapshot of important statistics (i.e., number of groups, number of adults connected, number of new groups, number of new people connected in groups, number of new groups that continue into the 2nd and 3rd study, number of coaches, etc.). See also, 10 Rules to Connect More People in 2018

An accurate starting point requires knowledge of percentage connected. The annual snapshot of important statistics must include recognition of the percentage connected (i.e., number connected divided by average adult weekend worship attendance). See also, What Does Your Percentage Connected Say About Your Ministry Design?

Determining the effectiveness of design requires quantitative evaluation. Since design is responsible for results, then results must be quantified and evaluated. Love a particular strategy or system? Comfortable with what you’ve become familiar with? Let the numbers confirm its effectiveness (or ineffectiveness).

Milestone progress should be acknowledged and celebrated. Every Small Group Connection, GroupLink, new semester, leader training event, coach development event, Host Gathering should be thought of as a milestone on the way to your preferred future. Anticipated attendance, new groups launched, new members connected, etc. should be acknowledged as lagging indicators (evidence that the design was either good, bad or ugly). See also, How to Reach Milestones (on the way to your preferred future)

The validity of proposed lead indicators should be evaluated and progress celebrated (sign-up cards completed, online registrations, reminder calls made, asks made during the message, website placement above the fold, etc.). See also, FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)? and Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

So…how are you doing…really?

Sometimes the most important thing to do at the beginning of any evaluation is to get a little guidance from a trusted advisor.

A one hour coaching call might be exactly what you need to get your evaluation started. Setting up a call is easy! And right now you can save 20% off my regular price for a one hour call. You can either Email Me or click here to find out more.

What would it be worth to get moving in the right direction?

10 Rules to Connect More People in 2018

10 Rules to Connect More People in 2018

Follow these rules and you will connect more people in 2018:

  1. Keep track. Begin the year by taking a snapshot of the total number of existing small groups and their membership. Depending on the number of groups in your system and the ease of updating rosters, this may seem daunting, but it’s worth getting an accurate picture. It will make progress more satisfying.
  2. Plan your year. Thinking about the full year ahead allows you to anticipate and take advantage of a wide range of connecting opportunities (and leadership training opportunities). If you’re a visual thinker, take advantage of a dry-erase wall calendar (It helps me to see the full picture). See also, How to Build an Annual Calendar.
  3. Leverage variety. In the same way different fish respond to different bait or a different lure, you won’t catch every unconnected person using the same strategy every time. A variety of connecting opportunities catches different groups of unconnected people. This is why we run a church-wide campaign every year (using both the “if you’ve got a couple friends” and small group connection strategies). We also hold a small group connection in late January or February, promote a menu of short-term on-campus studies after Easter, and often a “book club” approach in the summer. See also, Overview: Here Are Our Four Strategies for Launching New Groups.
  4. Leverage alignment. Take advantage of alignment possibilities whenever possible. Every opportunity to sync your connecting opportunity with the weekend message, church events, or seasonal themes will make connecting people more natural and a no-brainer step. For example, when we learned our January ’17 series was called Margin we added a short-term on campus study using Bill Hybels’ Simplify.
  5. Leverage Senior Pastor influence. Whenever possible, take advantage of the most influential person in your church to promote the step you are offering. Equip your senior pastor to include small group references into as many messages as possible. Help your senior pastor skillfully drop in message references that encourage unconnected people to sign up for their next step (this often includes scripting what you want them to say). See also TOP 5 THINGS EVERY SENIOR PASTOR NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT SMALL GROUP MINISTRY
  6. Leverage repetition. Never lose sight of the fact that unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders. Their infrequent attendance requires promoting the upcoming connecting opportunity more than once (generally a 2 to 3 week minimum). See also, 4 Ingredients of an Effective “Ask” (that Recruits Small Group Members)
  7. Leverage a range of marketing tools. Promotion of the upcoming connecting opportunity should include as many of the following as practical/possible: (a) senior pastor mention in the message, (b) announcement during service, (c) inclusion in the bulletin/program, (d) website (ideally an above the fold graphic), (e) church-wide email to unconnected adults, (f) posters in strategic places.
  8. Leverage the power of story-telling. No form of marketing is as powerful as personal testimony. “This is what my group has meant to me and my family.” Look for the best life-change stories and best opportunities to tell them. Live testimony works very well (consider using an interview approach). Video allows the story to be strategically positioned on your website or embedded in a church-wide email (with a link to sign up for the upcoming connecting opportunity. See also, To Do List: Film Video Testimonies That Inspire Action
  9. Take advantage of word-of-mouth invitation. Two add-on strategies leverage the power of word-of-mouth. The “if you’ve got a couple friends” strategy allows people to personally fill their own group with friends, neighbors, co-workers and family (inviting even a couple of friends to “do the study” forms an organic group). Encouraging people who sign up for a connecting event “to bring a friend” increases attendance and makes attending less intimidating. See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  10. Include designed follow-up every time. No matter the connecting strategy, including a designed follow-up process encourages more of your sign-ups to show-up. For example, signing up for a small group connection should generate an immediate “thanks for signing up” email with everything they need to know (when, where, what time to arrive, how long, childcare, etc.). A follow-up email can be sent 3 days prior. A quick personal phone call reminder the day before makes a difference, even if a voice mail is left.

How deeply do you believe what you believe (about connecting people and making disciples)?

How deeply do you believe what you believe (about connecting people and making disciples)?

Have you ever really thought through what you believe about small group ministry? How it works? Why you do what you do?

Ever found yourself waffling between on strategic initiative or another and really lack clarity about what makes the most sense?

Ever been questioned by an elder or another staff member about why you do certain things and not other things? And not really had a good answer?

Maybe it’s time to clarify your philosophy of ministry?

I’ve done a lot of work over the years refining the assumptions that shape my small group ministry strategy. And as if that hasn’t been work enough, I’ve also identified the ideas that have shaped my philosophy of ministry.

It’s important work, you know.

Two Very Important Things

A well-formed philosophy of ministry and a time-tested set of assumptions allow you to do two very important things:

First, a well-formed philosophy of ministry and a time-tested set of assumptions help clarify and strengthen your why

First, they help clarify and strengthen your why (your purpose, cause or belief). This is important because, as Simon Sinek points out in Start with Why, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Everyone knows what they do. Most know how they do it. A very few know why they do what they do.

I’ve begun saying,

We believe unconnected people are worth connecting. Helping many more step out of anonymity and into community is our dream. Click To Tweet

We also believe spiritual infants and toddlers are worth investing in. Helping them grow to maturity and learning to invest in others is our dream. Click To Tweet

Now, you may not have ever thought this through, but a clarified and strengthened why makes your what more impactful.

On the other hand, the lack of a clear and strong why, makes it much more difficult to arrive at a preferred future.

Second, a well-formed philosophy of ministry and a time-tested set of assumptions make strategic decision-making simpler.

Second, they make strategic decision-making simpler. Every decision shouldn’t require a lengthy discussion. When your philosophy of ministry is clear and your assumptions are up-to-date, most decisions are very simple.

For example, when we’re making a decision about a potential new first step out of the auditorium, we ask a simple question. “Does this make the path to a group easier or more likely?”

Or, when we’re evaluating the effectiveness of a next step or first step, we ask a simple question, “Does this step lead to more people connected in groups?”

Or, when there is a discussion anywhere about the merits of a gathering in rows, it’s easy to respond, “We emphasize and prioritize connecting in groups because life-change happens best in circles, not in rows)

Have you ever done the work?

Wrestling your philosophy of ministry and your set of assumptions to the ground is important work. Have you ever done it?

Small Group Ministry 101 (SGM101)

This is why I’ve been so excited about my newest mini-course: Small Group Ministry 101 (SGM101). It will help you understand and clarify why you do what you do. Click here for more information about SGM101.

Further Reading:

Ten Ideas That Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry

10 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Ministry Strategy

Your Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making.

What’s Better? Rows or Circles?


5 Things To Do in January (that lead to more groups in 2018)

january calendar

5 Things to Do in January to Connect More People in 2018

Want to connect more people in 2018? There are a few things you can do now to exponentially increase the number you connect.

Here are 5 things to do:

  1. Plan a connecting event in February. If you run the event on February 18th or 25th, you’ll have several weeks to promote it. Use a strategy like a small group connection in order to launch the maximum number of new groups. Small group fairs or other events that add members to existing groups are better than nothing, but don’t come anywhere near connecting the largest number of people for the year. See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection and Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection.
  2. Think strategically about the placement of your 101 class. If your 101 class is designed to offer a short list of next steps and you’ve slotted your connection event to follow a week or two later, you have an easy and effective one-two step that leads to more people connected.  At Canyon Ridge we have a 60 minute experience called NEXT that is offered about every 6 weeks. The three next steps that are promoted during NEXT are baptism, an upcoming small group connection (1 or 2 weeks after), and signing up for a back-stage tour designed to expose unconnected people to serving opportunities. See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.
  3. Review your calendar of connecting opportunities for 2016 and make sure you’re offering a well-timed selection. We build in an annual church-wide campaign every fall. We also schedule at least two other major small group connections and one or two opportunities to choose from a strategically selected set of on-campus group experiences that lead to off-campus groups. In all, we try to always have an upcoming opportunity that will connect people who have attended NEXT. See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  4. Choose a church-wide campaign for the fall ministry season and begin the planning process for it. The right church-wide campaign run the right way will maximize the number of people connected in new groups. Although a church-wide campaign may fit on the calendar in other seasons, the fall is the best time. See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign and Top 5 Church-Wide Campaigns for 2018.
  5. Take a serious look at offering at least one 6 week on-campus experience that leads to an off-campus group. What we call a Short Term group, offers a smartly selected topic that will appeal to unconnected people. For example, we use Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage to draw unconnected married couples. They’re seated intentionally with other unconnected couples like them (we actually segregate any couples who are already in groups to their own tables). The material almost leads itself but the most natural leaders always emerges by the 3rd week. In week 5 we begin suggesting that if they’d like to continue to meet together off-campus, we’d like to help them. See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.

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

Image by Emma Kate


The Challenge I Shared with the Groups Team Last Thursday

Where will you go in 2018? Where will you take your small group ministry?

Last Thursday I shared two thoughts with the team I lead at Canyon Ridge.

First thought:

The first thought I shared was based on an Andy Stanley quote I’ve shared with you a million times over the last 10 years here at MarkHowellLive.com.

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”

“Here’s the moral of the story,” I said. If you’re not happy with the results you are currently experiencing…you must change the design.

“The results you are currently experiencing are based on one thing. Design.

“Your results aren’t a fluke. They aren’t caused by the weather. They aren’t explained by chance.

“Your results are based on the design you’ve selected. And if you want different results…you must change the design.”

Their responses

Like most teams, the responses to my first challenge to them were varied. Some wanted to pin results on things that were “outside of their control” (like the lack of mention they had gotten during the weekend services or the fact that many in their affinity weren’t interested in a traditional group (i.e., 10 to 12 people, meeting weekly, studying a DVD-driven curriculum, etc.).

I explained that both of those aspects were really part of the design and if they didn’t like their results they needed to change the design. For example, if the success of their program or strategy depended on mention during the weekend, it might not be the best design. And if many in their affinity were interested in a traditional group, they definitely needed to design some earlier steps that would make sense for that kind of person.

I also suggested they keep in mind that groups are important at Canyon Ridge because we believe that life-change is the end in mind and circles are optimal environment for life-change. A circle is not a synonym for 10 to 12 people, meeting weekly, studying a DVD-driven curriculum. Circles can be many things that are formed in relationships and grounded in growing in Christ.

Bottom Line #1:

Since results are based on design, keep looking for a design that actually produces the results you are seeking. Don’t love the strategy so much that you turn blind eyes to results (or the lack thereof).

And as Andy Stanley pointed out in Deep and Wide,

Marry your missionDate your model. Fall in love with your vision. Stay mildly infatuated with your approach.”

“Model” is a synonym for design. When the model no longer produces the results you are seeking, be willing to change the model.

Second thought:

The second thought I shared was based on a Craig Groeschel quote I heard at the 2008 Global Leadership Summit. It was a powerful moment. I remember exactly where I was when I heard it.

“If you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you must do things no one else is doing.”

I wrote that line down in my notebook and probably missed most of what was said afterwards.

As I’ve often said since, some things are self-evident and whenever you think about them again, your ideas are shaped by them. Grosechel’s line is one of those kinds of things.

When I shared the line with my team, I told them we each need to think about the fact that while we’ve connected about 63% of our average adult weekend worship attendance (3500/5500), it will probably require doing something different to connect the other 37% (let alone the thousands represented by our Easter/Christmas Eve attendance).

Their responses

This quote produced a very robust conversation that will require revisiting. I’d say it was a light bulb moment for 2 or 3 on the team. It signaled that it might be okay to do different things in order to reach different people.

“Yes!” I said.

Bottom Line #2:

Our preferred future is to connect beyond 150% in groups with a leader being developed to develop others. The end in mind is life-change.

Since, each and every thing you try will require its own design, you must be willing to experiment and ruthlessly evaluate results. And the design is what produces your results.

Where will you go in 2018? Where will you take your small group ministry?

Further Reading:

What will you try this year that might change your ministry’s trajectory?

What’s on my list to try in 2018 (that might change our ministry trajectory)?