FAQ: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO LAUNCH NEW SMALL GROUPS?

FAQ: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO LAUNCH NEW SMALL GROUPS?

What’s the best way to launch new small groups? Ever asked that one?  I get asked that question a lot…probably more than any other question. And for good reason, after all, who isn’t trying to increase the number of groups (and the number of people in groups) in their church?

So what’s the answer?  It’s not as easy as that. I could tell you what think, but I’d rather lead you through a way of thinking about it so that you can make up your own mind. Ready for that? Okay…here’s how I talk about it.

First, a couple assumptions.  Here they are:

  1. There is no problem-free. This is a very important realization. What it means is that no matter what situation you’re wrestling with, all of the possible solutions to that situation have issues. All of them. There is no problem-free.  You just have to choose which of the problem sets you’d rather have.
  2. There’s an upside and a downside to everything. In some ways this is a corollary to the first assumption. What it means is that nothing is without some of both (positive and negative). You may want to argue that there are some purely negative things. I’ve not run into one but I’m not going to argue it.  Just take it for what it is. Turns out there’s even an upside and a downside to the assumption!

5 Common Methods of Launching New Groups:

Now the answer to the question: “What’s the best way to launch new small groups?” Remember that we’re going to walk through a way of determining that for your own congregation. To do that, you need to know that there are several common ways that groups are being started.

  1. The Old Fashioned Way: A leader is recruited (either from an existing small group or out of the congregation) and usually given some kind of training.  Those who sign up to be join a small group are assigned to the new leader once training is completed. A slight variation of this one is where people who would like to lead a small group can sign up to be trained. Either way, a leader is either recruited or signs up on their own. This method is probably the most familiar. Whether you’re a cell church, embrace the meta model, or are totally into affinity based small groups, this is your method at its root.
  2. A Small Group Fair is another slight twist on the old fashioned way. After being vetted and trained, new leaders are given the opportunity to take part in a kind of meet and greet where potential new members can mingle with leaders, get a feel for the leader and the kind of group and choose a group to join.
  3. Small Group Connection Event: An event is used to gather potential small group members and then a process sorts prospective members by some kind of affinity. In the Saddleback version, the newly formed group is led to choose a leader from amongst themselves. This is often referred to as a “small group connection.”
  4. GroupLink is a North Point version of the connection strategy designed to utilize preselected and prequalified leaders for the new groups (a backup option in the strategy enables new groups to form without a prequalified leader when there are not enough leaders to connect the number of new members looking for a group to join).
  5. The HOST Strategy (as part of a church-wide campaign): Hosts (as opposed to “leaders”) are recruited to open their home for the length of the campaign series (often 6 weeks) and invite a few of their friends to be part of the group. The recruiting process can be done by tapping the shoulders of the “usual suspects” or as a kind of invitation in the worship service itself. The way you recruit has an effect on who hosts and ultimately whose friends get invited. Ordinarily, the church does not provide members, instead they are personally invited by the Host. A version of the strategy enables Host volunteers who have been vetted and trained to be listed as open groups ready to receive unconnected people looking for a small group.

Problem Sets:

Now that you know some of the most common ways that new groups are started, let’s develop the problem sets for each of the strategies.

The Old Fashioned Way (including a small group fair)

  1. Sometimes difficult to get apprentice leaders to leave their existing small group when it’s time to birth.
  2. Difficult to find qualified leaders who are not currently in a small group.
  3. Challenging to find enough leaders to provide the number of groups needed.
  4. Some who volunteer to lead have alternative motives.

The Small Group Connection Strategy

  1. Uncertainty about the maturity or appropriateness of the person chosen to lead.
  2. Lack of control about the quality of the leader candidates.
  3. Those chosen to lead may be unwilling to commit to leading.
  4. Might necessitate an honest conversation if the group chooses someone with insurmountable issues.

The GroupLink Strategy

  1. Need to build a process that identifies, vets and trains potential leaders in advance.
  2. Challenging to identify, vet and train enough prequalified leaders to connect the number of potential members seeking a group.
  3. Possible false starts in cases of groups beginning without prequalified leaders.

The HOST Strategy

  1. Uncertainty about the maturity or appropriateness of the person who volunteers to host
  2. Lack of control about the quality of the HOST candidates
  3. Those who commit to host a group may not wish to continue beyond the campaign series.
  4. Might necessitate an honest conversation if the host candidate doesn’t meet your qualifications

Conclusion? Based on these problem sets, which way do you go?  You can surely see that there really isn’t a problem-free solution.  Which set would you rather have?  In some ways it may depend on things like how concerned you are about your unconnected members and attendees, how effective you’ve been at recruiting and developing new leaders, or how well you know the unconnected people in your congregation.

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

Further Reading: 

Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% In Groups

Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72000 in Groups

Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80%

Would this help you launch more new groups this fall?

Would this help you launch more new groups this fall?

If your church is like most churches, the fall ministry season is an important part of your annual strategy. As school begins and summer vacations come to an end there is often an attendance bump. In some communities the end of summer and the beginning of fall is accompanied by the largest number of new attendees as new residents begin to look for a church.

If your church is like my church, your fall ministry season hasn’t kicked off yet, but it’s just about to begin. Here at Canyon Ridge we’re one weekend in to a six weekend onramp to our fall groups launch.

We’re definitely close enough to the fall to see how it’s shaping up and make a few last minute tweaks to our strategy.

Need a few ideas?

Need some ideas that might help your fall ministry season?  Here are a few articles:

Can I help you further?

I regularly coach churches on preparing for church-wide campaigns and growth initiatives. While I am sometimes available for an onsite consultation, I can also schedule a series of video conference calls to guide your team through the process.  Find out how a one hour coaching call could help you! .

4 SURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGES FACING MANY SMALL GROUP MINISTRIES

4 SURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGES FACING MANY SMALL GROUP MINISTRIES

About 3000 years ago King Solomon pointed out “there is nothing new under the sun.” The wisest man in the world was correct then and it turns out he is still right.

The problems, issues, and challenges faced by small group pastors and directors everywhere turn out to be ubiquitous.

Instead of some phenomenon resulting from the individual quirks and nuances of an individual church or the community in which it is located, it turns out the problems, issues and challenges are virtually identical everywhere.

And it turns out they are not insurmountable. In fact, they are quite surmountable.

One of my go-to quotes for many years was something Alan Kay, the noted computer scientist said:

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

Why do I say that so often? Easy. All of us have experienced the aha moment of finally looking at a problem from another angle.

The aha moment is the sudden burst of an additional 80 IQ points.

4 SURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGES FACING MANY SMALL GROUP MINISTRIES

I can’t find enough leaders.

A daunting challenge. Until you look at it from a new perspective.

My friend Brett Eastman was right when he observed that there is a “relative shepherd” in every circle of 10 people. When we stop looking for Jesus Jr. and simply begin identifying the person who is a step or two ahead of the others in the group or at the table, suddenly the leader is not hard to spot.

I also regularly point out that once a church grows beyond about 200 adults in regular attendance it becomes more and more likely that there are lots of people attending that no one really knows. When that happens, it becomes quite likely there are many unidentified leader candidates who are simply slipping in and out of the auditorium unobserved.

If you can’t find enough leaders it is almost certainly that you’re not using a leader identification method appropriate for your situation.

Solution:

The introduction of the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy changed the game. Both strategies flip the dilemma on its head and allow potential leaders to be easily identified (either by group members or self-identified).

See also, How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection and Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

I can’t find enough coaches.

Could it be you’re looking for the wrong thing? The ideal coach is really someone who simply able to effectively do TO and FOR the small group leader whatever you want the leader to do TO and FOR their members.

Now, granted, the most common scenario is for small group pastors to report multiple failed tries at building a coaching structure. There are very predictable reasons for that.

Solution:

When the challenge is specifically finding enough coaches, it is almost always a result of looking for the wrong people, in the wrong places and for the wrong reason.

The right people are simply those who can do TO and FOR your leaders whatever you want your leaders to do TO and FOR their members.

The right place to look for them is almost always among your current crop of group leaders (but in some circumstances might actually be members of healthy groups).

The right reason, the right role of a coach is about care and about spiritual mentoring. After a very brief season (perhaps 3 or 4 months) where the role of a coach is about coaching better technique, the role shifts to investing in the spiritual growth of the leader (so they can eventually do the same for their members).

Can’t find enough coaches? Change who, where and what you’re looking for.

See also, How to Identify a Potential Coach.

My pastor won’t be the small group champion.

First, this is not unique to your situation. Many senior pastors are reluctant to take on the role of small group champion. Some merely misunderstand the significance. Others believe you were hired to be the champion. And a few just see themselves as teachers or preachers (and doing anything else is compromising their shepherding role).

Solution:

Sometimes it is enough to begin to educate them in terms of what it means to be the champion. After all, it is really nothing more than being the chief spokesperson and leveraging the most influential person in the congregation makes the most sense. Helping them to see it from that angle is often what is lacking.

Other times, focusing on being an excellent behind-the-scenes leader/manager, orchestrating the details in advance, setting the table with excellence, allows you to simply ask your senior pastor to tip the first domino. When they see the role of champion from the angle of influence, they will almost always come around.

The most difficult to persuade are those who see themselves as teachers/preachers only and view serving as champion as somehow cheapening their commitment. Still, this is a rare situation and even it can be helped by regularly passing on stories of transformation that can be used in sermon preparation and delivery.

See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and Top 5 Things Every Senior Pastors Needs to Know (about small group ministry).

The unconnected people at our church won’t join a group.

When you’re stuck at 25 to 35% of your adults connected in groups, and the barrier seems insurmountable, it’s easy to believe there is something unique about your congregation causing it. It’s easy to believe…but it’s just not true.

The truth is, all churches have a group of people who are more inclined to connect in community and they will form groups organically with or without (and sometimes contrary) to your help. It may be that the ordinary percentage who are wired that way is 25 to 35%.

In order to connect beyond the usual suspects (25 to 35%) you must present the opportunity to connect in a way that appeals to the less inclined 65 to 75%.

Solution:

A number of factors play important roles in connecting the less inclined 65 to 75%.

First, this is where leveraging your senior pastors influence is so important. The right language with the right placement can persuade less inclined and unconnected attenders to put a toe in the water.

Second, the topic selected for your campaign or connection must appeal to the less inclined 65 to 75%. Can you see some topics matter almost universally and others appeal only to the already convinced?

Third, offering a short-term commitment (6 weeks is ideal) helps less inclined and unconnected people say yes to joining in. “We can do this for six weeks. Right?”

Finally, offering an on-campus study on a topic that interests or meets a critical felt need experienced by unconnected people (i.e., marriage, margin, parenting, relationships, etc.) always results in first steps in the direction of connection.

See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?, 5 Things You Need to Know about Unconnected People, and How to Launch a Short-Term On-Campus Strategy (that leads to off-campus groups).

5 MISTAKES THAT CAUSE SMALL GROUP LAUNCHES TO MISFIRE

5 MISTAKES THAT CAUSE SMALL GROUP LAUNCHES TO MISFIRE

Counting down the days until your small group launch? Hope you’re paying attention to a set of very important details! There are a few that seem to cause a misfire every time.

5 MISTAKES THAT CAUSE SMALL GROUP LAUNCHES TO MISFIRE

Ignoring the interests of unconnected people.

The very first step in connecting unconnected people is to pay attention to their interests and develop an understanding of the kinds of topics that would grab their attention.

Unfortunately, this is not always our habit. Instead, it is much more common to pay attention to the interests of the usual suspects, the ones who are already connected, and whose interests no longer coincide with those of unconnected people.

Regardless of the small group ministry model or system you are using, a keen and growing awareness of the interests of unconnected people will help you to choose topics and studies that will appeal to them.

See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer? and Small Group Ministry Case Study: Choosing Your Customer.

Ignoring the concerns of unconnected people.

A related and similar mistake is to ignore the concerns of unconnected people. What may seem so everyday to you often feels foreign and unfamiliar to unconnected people. Joining a group that sits around and discusses the Bible? Meets in a strangers living room? Requires a 10 week commitment (or a year)?

When you pay attention to the concerns of unconnected people you’ll begin to notice disconnects in your launch strategy that may explain why you’re good at maintaining your percentage connected but not good at connecting beyond the usual suspects.

See also, 7 Things You Might Be Missing about Unconnected People.

Failing to confirm promotion details.

If you want to optimize your small group ministry launch you will learn to thoroughly discuss, script, confirm and reconfirm all promotion efforts. You’ll also learn that skillful promotion of your small group ministry launch produces a sizable difference in the results.

Skillful promotion involves several elements:

  • Verbal placement (optimally in sermon and announcements).
  • Print: worship service program, website and social media.
  • Well designed response options (sign-up forms, links to landing pages, online forms, etc.)

In my experience, no other area requires as much attention to detail as this one. Circling back one more time to reconfirm, double check, and even triple check will pay big dividends.

Compressing promotion into fewer weeks than ideal.

This is a huge mistake and often comes back to bite small group launches. Unconnected people are infrequent attenders. If you promote the launch on a single weekend and expect (or hope) for everyone to get the word, you will almost certainly be disappointed.

If you truly want to connect beyond the usual suspects you must run your promotion (verbal, print, website, social media, email, etc.) at least three weeks in a row.

Yes, your regular attenders who are already connected will grow tired of hearing it. You will grow weary of saying it again.

But keeping the attendance patterns of unconnected people in mind will pay off.

See also, 7 Things You Might Be Missing about Unconnected People.

Investing too much energy adding members to existing groups.

This is a killer mistake. Prioritizing the launch of new groups is what builds thriving small group ministries. Putting your energy and effort into identifying new leaders and launching new groups will quickly make a big difference in the total number of adults connected. Spending too much energy helping existing groups “add another couple or two” will make even maintaining the same percentage connected a struggle.

Clearly, if you have been prioritizing restocking existing groups with new members over launching new groups it will take some effort to change direction. And it will require persistence to maintain a new course. But it will be worth it.

See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

Image by Steve Jurvetson

4 THINGS TO WORK ON IN AUGUST (that will launch more groups in September)

What’s there to do in August? You might think it’s the dog days of summer, but it’s really the calm before the storm! And there are some pretty important things to do that if you do them…you will reap a bigger harvest.

4 THINGS TO WORK ON IN AUGUST

First, there’s still time to recruit a few more launch-phase coaches 

First, there’s still time to recruit a few more launch-phase coaches (that will help your new groups get off to a great start). It’s not hard to do. It takes a phone call, a cup of coffee and 30 minutes.

At its simplest, recruiting a launch-phase coach is as simple as thinking through your experienced small group leaders, thinking about which of them might have the right stuff to pass along to a few newbie leaders, and making the ask.

See also, Skill Training: How to Recruit a Potential Small Group Coach.

Second, confirm the details for the “ask” (to be made during the messages in the upcoming weeks).

Details are everything. As you approach the weekend where you’ll be recruiting HOSTs or recruiting sign-ups for a small group connecting event, circle back and reconfirm that the language to be used is exactly right.

As you will remember, I believe the best practice is for your senior pastor (almost always the most influential person in your church) to make the ask in the message several weekends in a row. Ideally, it will be carefully worded and invite interested HOSTs or members to respond.

A carefully worded invitation is critical. It is very common for me to meet in person with my senior pastor and hand over a written paragraph for them to look at while we talk. I will also email them the same couple sentences.

See also, How to Make the HOST ASK: The 2012 Version and Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

Third, be sure you’ve communicated throughly with your existing leaders and coaches.

Whether you’re running a church-wide campaign, a small group connection or any other group starting strategy, you’ll definitely want all of your existing group leaders and coaches to fully know the scoop.

Be sure you’ve let them know everything they need to know and communicate with their members. A best practice is to communicate several ways:

  • Invite them to a briefing (we often do our in between services).
  • Send them an email with everything they need to know.
  • Ask your coaches to personally reach out to every leader with the latest info.

See also, 6 Communication Mistakes that Limit Ministry Effectiveness.

Fourth, look for an exponential opportunity in every step.

No matter what aspect you’re examining, look for a way to exponentially supersize it. For example, when you hold your leader briefing, ask every leader to bring someone with them who helps make the group happen.

When you find ways (even small ways) to exponentially supersize the outcome, they will add up and you’ll have a better outcome.

Here are a few more examples:

  1. When you’re writing the email to send to people who have signed up for the connection, encourage them to bring a friend they’d like to be in a group with to the connection.
  2. When you’re writing the ask for your senior pastor, consider adding this line: “Even if you’re already in a group, you might want to invite a couple friends to do the study with you.”
  3. When you’re thinking through your experienced small group leaders in search of a few more coaching candidates, also think about the people in the groups who may not be leading but actually should be (you know who I’m talking about). They will often make great launch-phase coaches.

See also, This Little Tweak Will 10x Your Coaching Structure.

OPTIMIZE YOUR FALL GROUPS LAUNCH WITH THESE 5 IDEAS

OPTIMIZE YOUR FALL GROUPS LAUNCH WITH THESE 5 IDEAS

“If you do what you’ve always done…you’ll always get what you always get.”

Regardless of whether that line originated with Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, or Mark Twain…some things are just true truths of life. And it may never be more true than when you’re approaching an seasonal effort like your fall groups launch.

Whether you’re preparing for a full on church-wide campaign, the fall semester of your small group ministry model, or simply your annual small group launch, it’s not uncommon for some crazy good optimizing tactics to be overlooked simply because they are unfamiliar.

Here are 5 simple but crazy good ideas:

Promote the launch three weeks in a row. 

Don’t overlook the fact that unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders. If you only promote your groups launch on one weekend, there is a very good chance they will not be there.

The best ideas are almost always totally obvious. And, at the same time, churches that underperform at connecting unconnected people are usually short-cutting some obvious marketing principles. When the product being sold is really important, you talk about it until you’re tired of talking about it. And that’s when the customer finally begins to hear what you’re saying.

See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.

Leverage your senior pastor’s influence. 

Your senior pastor may be hesitant to use the sermon to promote upcoming opportunities, but there are few assets as valuable as a strategic mention inside the sermon (especially if it is 2 or 3 weekends in a row). Unlike your announcement time, the content of your weekend program, and your website, your senior pastors message is the closest thing you can get to the undivided attention of unconnected people.

See also, Top 5 Things Every Senior Pastor Needs to Know.

Narrow the focus on promotion weekends. 

Do your best negotiating to eliminate competing announcements on the weekends you’re promoting the groups launch. And you seriously may have to engage in some negotiation. If you’ll work at it creatively, and maybe throw in an incentive or two, you may be able to end up being the only initiative being promoted on those key weekends.

See also, What If Narrowing the Focus Is THE Missing Piece?

Make starting new groups your priority.

This may be a change for your ministry. Don’t miss this, though. Starting new groups (and identifying new leaders) leads to more people connected in groups.

Strategies like small group fairs or the start of a new small group semester offering sign-ups for groups that have a table at the fair or are in the catalog often do nothing more than keeping your existing groups full and your current leaders happy.

If you want to grow the number of groups and the number of leaders, make starting new groups your priority and teach your existing leaders to fish (for new members).

See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

Incentivize the launch of organic studies.

Alongside your main strategies, consider encouraging people to “do the study with a couple friends.” Whether you’re using a church-wide campaign, an upcoming small group connection or the beginning of a new groups semester to launch groups, add the opportunity for people who would like to “do the study with a couple friends.” And while you’re doing that, incentivize it.

When you’re encouraging your congregation to “do the study with a couple friends” it’s important to eliminate as many objections and limitations as possible. For example, making the host kit affordable so that the inviter can buy the kit and give invitees the study guide, eliminates the objection that “I can’t afford to pay for three study guides.”

See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

Need more ideas? Consider these mini-courses:

Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season

Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season contains the latest strategies and ideas.

If you’re looking for a way to reach more people, launch more new groups (and sustain a high percentage of what you launch)…please consider taking advantage of Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season.

Maximize YOUR Church-Wide Campaign

The Strategy I Use Works (and works BIG time)

What I coach churches to do works. I’ll coach you to:

  • Recruit way more leaders than you ever thought possible
  • Launch more groups than ever before
  • Connect WAY beyond the usual suspects
  • Recruit and train the coaches you need in order to sustain the new groups you launch

I can teach you my simple process. You will never look at campaigns the same way again.

You can learn to launch a powerful church-wide campaign. Take advantage of How to Maximize YOUR Church-Wide Campaign.

4 THINGS YOU CAN DO THAT IMMEDIATELY LAUNCH MORE GROUPS AND CONNECT MORE PEOPLE

Some strategies take time to work. For example, changing your small group ministry model will make a big difference, but probably a little less immediate.

Running a “turbo group” of potential leaders with the assumption that after they have experienced healthy and authentic community as they’ve participated can lead to a number of new groups…eventually.

The apprenticing strategy, with its potential to allow small groups to grow and “birth” new groups as the number of members grows and the apprentice becomes “ready,” is another slow growth strategy.

On the other hand, some strategies immediately launch more groups and connect more people. Here are my favorites:

Church-Wide Campaigns

A well conceived, well planned and well executed church wide campaign, leveraging the HOST strategy alongside a Small Group Connection strategy can have immediate impact, starting a wave of new groups and connecting a lot of unconnected people.

Find out more about church-wide campaigns right here.

Small Group Connections

A small group connection is a 75 minute event designed to form new groups and then assist the members of each new group to choose a leader to help them get started. A well planned and well executed small group connection can be used in conjunction with a church-wide campaign but they can also be stand-alone events (much like North Point’s GroupLink strategy).

Find out more about small group connections right here.

Small Group Vacations

The small group vacation strategy can launch more new groups and connect more people as a result of a simple but compelling challenge to leaders and members of existing small groups in your system.

Challenging your existing groups to consider not meeting together as a group for an upcoming series (hence the name small group vacation), but instead linking arms with another couple or a few others and hosting a new group themselves, each inviting a few unconnected friends to join them for the study that goes along with the new series.

Find out more about Small Group Vacations right here.

Short-Term On-Campus Groups

Selecting a compelling and targeted short-term study (for example, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage or The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating) and offering it on-campus with childcare, will encourage unconnected people who are necessarily interested in a small group to experience community. Seating attenders at tables together, often sorted by affinity (for example, newly married, young couples, empty nesters, etc.), and allowing them to participate in the discussion over 6 to 8 weeks will often be the test-drive they need to encourage them to continue meeting as a group off-campus.

Find out about Short-Term On-Campus “Groups” right here.

These are just four of the strategies that will immediately launch more groups and connect more people. Need a customized approach? Consider setting up a coaching call with me. Find out how to set up a coaching call right here.

TOP 5 THINGS EVERY SENIOR PASTOR NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT SMALL GROUP MINISTRY

There are 5 things every senior pastor needs to know about small group ministry:

First, senior pastors need to know that they are the most important champion of small group ministry

If they want grouplife to happen, if they want to be a church OF groups, they must accept this role. They might hope to delegate the role or feel obligated to delegate the role…but they can’t.  It’s not about humility.  It’s all about influence.

99% of the time the senior pastor is the most influential person in the church. There are a few instances where the senior pastor is new to the church and another staff member or the chairman of the elders or deacons has more influence, but that is a very rare situation. Most of the time, the most influential person in the church is the senior pastor and if you want to build a thriving small group ministry they are required to be the champion.

As I’ve said before, your senior pastor as champion leads to a church OF groups.  There is no better example of this principle than Rick Warren and Saddleback Church.  It is the real reason Saddleback connects so many in groups.

Second, senior pastors need to know that the value of small group involvement is caught…not taught.

If they truly believe that the optimal environment for life-change is in a circle not a row, then they will want every member to be involved in a group. And senior pastors must know that their example is more convincing than their verbal endorsement.

In other words, no one is really too busy to make this commitment. What’s vitally important at the member level is equally vital at the senior leadership level. You cannot hope to truly connect beyond the usual suspects without the full engagement and participation of your senior pastor.

At the same time, senior pastors should know that there is great flexibility and freedom on the makeup of the specific group of which they are a member. I’ve seen numerous instances where senior pastors have been part of long-standing  closed groups with members specifically chosen for their trustworthiness and character. I’ve also seen senior pastors build open groups right in their own neighborhoods. The key is participation.

See also, Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture that’s All About Circles.

Third, senior pastors need to know that commitment to small group ministry is a year-round sport.

Building a thriving small group ministry that connects a high percentage of your average weekend adult worship attendance can’t be done with a three week push in the fall and a mention in January. It is week in, week out, full-on engagement with regular stories of the benefits of small group participation (including stories from the pastor’s own group) and regular opportunities to take a first step and make a short-term commitment to test-drive a group.

It is one of the top 10 reasons Saddleback has connected beyond 130% in groups. This is a huge challenge in a church with a cafeteria approach where every ministry expects their 15 minutes. It is much more likely where there is a plated-meal approach.

See also, Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected over 72000 in Groups.

Fourth, senior pastors need to know that small group ministry can be the delivery system for every other thing that must be done.

Want to build mission into the life of every believer?  Who doesn’t? Doesn’t every church want it’s congregation to be involved in mission and ministry? After all, serving is one of the keys to spiritual growth, right?

It turns out the most productive path is to build mission engagement into every small group. Rather than promoting small group involvement and mission engagement (local and global) as stand-alone commitments, why not simply emphasize small group involvement for everyone and create ordinary ways groups can be involved in serving?

Want to build mission and ministry participation into the life of every believer?  Build it into grouplife as a normal expression of doing life together.

Fifth, senior pastors need to know that the optimum environment for life-change is a small group.

If senior pastors truly believe that the optimal environment for life-change is in a small group, in a circle not a row, then they will want every member to be involved in a group.

As important as the weekend service is, with inspirational music and practical and powerful teaching, it is most like a defibrillator.  Real life-change, life-change that isn’t temporary, happens in relationship. Only life-on-life can provide the ingredients of life-change.  Without a genuine conviction about the optimum environment, there cannot be the kind of emphasis that builds a church OF groups.

What do you think about my list?  Have one to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

HAS THE POST-CHRISTIAN METRIC ALTERED YOUR STRATEGY YET?

HAS THE POST-CHRISTIAN METRIC ALTERED YOUR STRATEGY YET?

I hope you’re actively aware of and already beginning to address the realities of what many are calling “the post-Christian era.” If you’re not, there is a very good chance that some of your connecting and discipling strategies are actually outdated and no longer suitable for a growing part of your potential customer base.

According to yesterday’s Barna update America is moving steadily in a post-Christian direction. What does that mean? How does Barna know this? What does it mean to you and me?

Barna’s research is based on a set of identifiers designed to “get beyond how people loosely identify themselves (affiliation*) and to the core of what people actually believe and how they behave as a result of their belief (practice).”

*Affiliation is essentially how Americans casually identify themselves (i.e., by “checking the Christian box on the census”).

To qualify as “post-Christian” in Barna’s research, individuals must meet nine or more of our 16 criteria, which identify a lack of Christian identity, belief and practice. These factors include whether individuals identify as atheist, have never made a commitment to Jesus, have not attended church in the last year or have not read the Bible in the last week (you can find the rest of the 16 on the Barna update right here).

Essentially, the greater the percentage of people within a given city who meet nine or more of the 16 criteria, the more post-Christian the city is.

With the results of Barna’s study, American cities can be ranked according to the degree of post-Christian belief and behavior. A list of the 100 American cities they’ve ranked is on the report. For example, Las Vegas is #28 on the Barna list of post-Christian cities with 44% of respondents meeting at least 9 of the 16 criteria. Dallas-Ft. Worth is #66 with 30% of respondents meeting at least 9 of the 16 criteria (see the list of 100 right here).

Why does this matter to us? Be sure you’re thinking about this critically. If 30% of respondents in Dallas-Ft. Worth qualify as post-Christian, it means things like:

  • they don’t agree the Bible is accurate (if your connecting and discipling strategies include a Bible study…)
  • they have not attended a church in the last 6 months (if your connecting and discipling strategies depend on infrequent attenders being on your campus and in your auditorium…)
  • they don’t believe in God (if your connecting and discipling strategies depend on participants having a common set of beliefs…)

My takeaway? Don’t wait any longer to begin adjusting your strategies to connect and disciple the growing post-Christian population.

Further Reading:

The Future of Small Group Ministry (and how to prepare for it)

Are You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

Image by Mike Tewkesbury

10 IDEAS THAT SHAPE MY PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY

10 IDEAS THAT SHAPE MY PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY

Have you spent much time thinking about your philosophy of ministry? Your own philosophy of ministry (whether you’ve ever written it down or verbalized it) is actually the foundation for many of the decisions you make.

Why do you choose the strategies you choose? Why do you look for the kinds of leaders you look for? Why do you struggle making certain decisions?

I’ve been thinking about the key ideas and concepts that have shaped my philosophy of ministry.  I’m not talking theology.  That said, in no particular order, here are what I think are the ten biggest rocks:

  1. Crowd to Core: Rick Warren’s relatively simple metaphor expresses a profound ministry concept.  Instead of pouring everything into the most committed members with the expectation that they will then go out (core to crowd), crowd to core focuses on building next steps that will help the crowd move toward Christ.  See also Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends.
  2. There is no problem free.  If you’ve ever joined me on a webinar or read very many of my articles, you’ll immediately recognize this phrase. When choosing between two strategies, wise leaders understand that there is no problem free solution, identify the problem set for each and simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also The Pursuit of Problem Free
  3. “Path, not intent, determines destination.”  This Andy Stanley line says it all about the importance of creating steps that are easy, obvious and strategic. It does not matter where you intend to go (or where you intend or hope your people end up), if you aren’t on the path that actually goes there, you may be moving very fast in the wrong direction. See also Arriving at the Preferred Future.
  4. “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Another Andy Stanley line that succinctly illustrates a stunning reality.  Design determines results.  We can’t blame it on a fluke.  There is an indisputable relationship between the design and the outcome.  See also An Openness to New Ideas
  5. “What business are you in?”  “Who is your customer?” “What will you call success?”  What I often refer to as the Drucker questions play a very big part in my ministry.  If you don’t have answers for them, if you’ve not invested time in them, it is unlikely that you are moving in the right direction.  See also The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer and The Second Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.
  6. “The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.”  Life-change happens most frequently as a result of life-on-life interaction. A small group system provides a strategy that scales for the size of the congregation, crowd and community. See also Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  7. “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can take of more than (about) ten.” Carl George’s interpretation of Exodus 18 plays a big part in my understanding of the need for and the potential of a coaching structure.  See also The One Thing Every Small Group Pastor Must Do for Small Group Leaders.
  8. “Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.” Again, no one says it like Carl George. This one liner defines the leader’s role in choosing where to invest time, talent, and treasure. See also Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  9. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from never being at your church again. This idea shapes my priorities in many ways. Once we realize we have a closing window on connecting unconnected people, we ought to be doing as much as we can to prioritize making it easier to connect. See also What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People.
  10. The most connected people inside your congregation are the least connected to the crowd and community. The reciprocal is also true. The least connected people inside your congregation are the most connected to the crowd and community. This understanding shapes many of my outreach oriented ministry plans. Focus on leveraging the strong ties of the least connected in your “crowd” to reach the “community.” See also, Exponential Outreach.

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

Further Reading:

Your Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making

Philosophy of Ministry: Off-Campus Groups vs. On-Campus Classes

Have You Made These 3 Game-Changing Observations about Small Group Ministry?