7 Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry

7 Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry

The 7 deadly sins is a familiar idea. And originally, the 7 sins referred to were actual sins and supposedly unforgivable. So are there 7 deadly sins of small group ministry? And are they unforgivable?

I believe there are at least 7 deadly sins of small group ministry. I also believe they are forgivable, but there is a consequence. In this case the consequences almost always affect unconnected people, group leaders and group members.

Here are the 7 Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry

Allowing the Senior Pastor to delegate the champion role (to the small group pastor).

Allowing the Senior Pastor to delegate the champion role (to the small group pastor). While one of the seven deadlies my not seem worse than another, this is an especially egregious sin.

Small group ministries have the greatest potential to thrive when the senior pastor owns the champion role. When the senior pastor delegates or deflects the role to anyone else, maintaining the status quo feels like progress.

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

Small group pastor not sharing the care and development load.

Small group pastor not sharing the care and development load. Another especially egregious sin, holding onto the role of caring for and developing group leaders leads to inadequate care and nonexistent development.

Jethro’s admonishment to Moses (Exodus 18) offers a clear example and pattern for developing healthy span of care. As the number of groups and leaders grow, small group pastors must focus sufficient time and energy on identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders (coaches). When this doesn’t become a high priority small group ministries remain stuck and growth in the number of leaders and groups is limited.

See also, 4 Essential Skills Most New Small Group Pastors Need to Develop.

Paying too much attention to the needs and interests of existing group leaders and members.

Paying too much attention to the needs and interests of existing group leaders and members. The two most recognizable indications of this sin are (a) when excess attention is paid to the curriculum and topic interests of “mature” believers and, (b) when requests for replacement members become expected and commonplace.

Healthy small group ministries train leaders and members to “fish for themselves” and learn to invite potential members to join the group. Curriculum and topic interests take a backseat when necessary to the needs and interests of unconnected people.

See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups? and 4 SURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGES FACING MANY SMALL GROUP MINISTRIES.

Not prioritizing the launch of new groups.

Not prioritizing the launch of new groups. This sin is most common when groups are emphasized annually (i.e., “our fall groups launch”) and take a backseat the rest of the year. It’s also prevalent when the small group model emphasizes the maintenance of existing groups.

The impact and effects of this sin can be diminished when a year-round strategy is adopted and a model employed that makes it easy and common for new leaders to be identified and new groups to form.

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

Lack of concern for unconnected people.

Lack of concern for unconnected people. This sin is most common in churches on a hunt for a problem-free solution or without any sense of urgency. Believing the situation will be better next season or next year, these churches are content to wait until all their ducks are in a row.

Developing a keen sense of urgency about the regularly closing windows of unconnected people will fight the impact of this sin. Paying closer attention to the stories of unconnected people in the crowd will help grow a greater willingness to steward every season.

See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

Not caring for or developing leaders after they are recruited.

Not caring for or developing leaders after they are recruited. This sin is very common in churches and small group ministries offering/allowing too many ministries or programs. The constant need to recruit for, prepare for and promote for the next thing (and the thing after that) makes negligence in the most strategic areas commonplace.

Keeping your eye on the most strategic things becomes more and more difficult the more additional ministries and programs are offered. Not caring for and developing small group leaders and coaches is often the resulting sin of saying yes to everything.

See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.

Settling for fellowship and not making better disciples.

Settling for fellowship and not making better disciples. When most effective, small groups offer fellowship and discipleship. When they settle for either, they miss the mark. Groups strategies that settle for fellowship and offer a discipleship program alongside (or vice versa) commonly offer less than the optimal environment for life-change and miss the truly transformational impact of a thriving small group ministry.

Offering both fellowship and discipleship in a group requires a leader who is being cared for and developed by someone who has already been there (i.e., you can’t take anyone somewhere you have never been). Settling for fellowship if commonly the result of another of the 7 deadlies of small group ministry.

See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?

Here’s What’s on My Ministry “To Do” List for 2018

Here’s What’s on My Ministry “To Do” List for 2018

Every year about this time I begin assembling my “to do” list for the next year. This year is no different. But…this may be the most ambitious list I’ve made in quite a while!

Here’s what’s on my list for 2018:

Help build a leadership pipeline and pathway for Canyon Ridge.

Help build a leadership pipeline and pathway for Canyon Ridge. This will include developing a proposal, assembling a team, and beginning to systematically create and put in place the pieces.

While this is not a small group ministry thing, its development will make the development of group leaders more business-as-usual and less dependent on out of the ordinary things coming together.

Assist in the overhaul and redesign of our engagement funnel.

Assist in the overhaul and redesign of our engagement funnel.* This will include an exhaustive analysis of our first step out of the auditorium and the next steps currently part of our pathway.

Again, while this is not exclusively a small group ministry thing, the work will lead to connecting more unconnected people and making better disciples.

*The engagement funnel is something I learned to develop as part of my StratOp training with Intentional Churches. Email Me to learn more about how I can help you with this.

See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps

Reengage the prioritization of apprenticing within our Groups ministry.

Reengage the prioritization of apprenticing within our Groups ministry. The apprenticing strategy (both with leaders and coaches) is an essential element in the development of a leadership pipeline and pathway at Canyon Ridge,

While we believe there are other more effective ways to identify, recruit and develop the number of new leaders needed to connect the number of unconnected people in our congregation and crowd, church-wide apprenticing will greatly enhance our ministry and campus multiplication vision.

See also, True or False: Leaders with Apprentices Leads to More Groups

Work with the Groups Team to reimagine and energize the leadership culture within our Groups Ministry.

Work with the Groups Team to reimagine and energize the leadership culture within our Groups Ministry. What can be built quickly is rarely sufficient to meet the needs in later phases of development.

As you probably remember, when faced with the decision between connecting as many unconnected people as possible or building a coaching and leader development program, I always err on the side of connecting as many unconnected as possible.

Still, now is the time and 2018 is the year to put in place the elements that will enable us to scale more effectively and sustain an even higher percentage of the new groups we launch.

See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

Assist in the development of a church-wide discipleship pathway.

Assist in the development of a church-wide discipleship pathway. Not a separate program, this will become a normal experience and set of steps for new groups that form and existing groups already in our groups system. The first step is the development of a multi-week experience that will expose  group members to a set of core convictions and vision.

The development of a standardized beginning for groups and group members will assist in ensuring the inclusion of a new set of ordinary at Canyon Ridge (as opposed to extraordinary).

See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?

Image by Camilla Oliveira

Do You Have a Mindset that Builds a Thriving Small Group Ministry?

Yesterday I wrote that, “Building a thriving small group ministry requires  a certain mindset. It also requires the development of a very particular set of practices.”

Building a thriving small group ministry requires a certain mindset. It also requires the… Click To Tweet

I also noted that, “You can have the practices alone and not have what it takes to persevere at building a thriving small group ministry.”

You can have the practices alone and not have what it takes to persevere at building a thriving… Click To Tweet

The truth is without the mindset, you will always fall short. Without the mindset, it will always be easier to give up (or give up and try again somewhere else).

Why? Because 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:

  • Unconnected people are worth connecting. Helping many more step out of anonymity and into community is our mission.
  • Spiritual infants and toddlers are worth investing in. Helping them grow to maturity and learning to invest in others is our mission.
  • 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)

Image by Loozrboy

5 Essential Practices of Thriving Small Group Ministries

5 Essential Practices of Thriving Small Group Ministries

Building a thriving small group ministry requires  a certain mindset. It also requires the development of a very particular set of practices.

You must have both.

You can have the mindset (the worldview, the belief system, the assumptions, the attitudes) alone and not be able to build a thriving small group ministry.

You can have the practices alone and not have what it takes to persevere at building a thriving small group ministry.

What are the practices you must master in order to build a thriving small group ministry?

I believe there are at least 5 essential practices:

Thriving small group ministries understand the needs and interests of unconnected people.

Building a thriving small group ministry requires a deep understanding of unconnected people. It requires the ability to empathize with a large population who don’t yet have your mindset.

There are people in your congregation (and in your crowd and community) who are predisposed to be connected. They connect without any prompting or suggestion. In fact, they will move toward community even when there is no intentionality on the part of the church.

Unconnected people usually don’t have that predisposition. While there are exceptions (i.e., new to the community, newly divorced or widowed, etc.), most unconnected people often don’t easily respond to standard invitations to connect.

At the same time, unconnected people almost always have interests and needs that will pull them toward community. Practicing empathy and learning to think like unconnected people is an essential skill if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.

See also, Could Our Lack of Empathy Be Limiting Our Ministry Impact?

Thriving small group ministries streamline the path to connection.

Follow me carefully on this one.

Since building a thriving small group ministry requires connecting a large number of people who lack the motivation to overcome great barriers to connection, if you want to build a thriving small group ministry you must become an expert at making it easy to get connected.

Can you see it?

You must become an expert at making it easy to get connected.

The practice of streamlining the path doesn’t seem to come naturally to everyone, but it is a skill-set that can be developed. Carefully evaluating and diagnosing your church’s first steps out of the auditorium is a beginning. Learning to spot less-than-obvious disconnects is a skill that can be acquired.

The practice of streamlining the path requires both the ability to see disconnects and design (and implement) a better path. Designing a better path may require experimentation and a willingness (and even permission) to fail forward.

See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.

Thriving small group ministries prioritize the identification of new leaders and the launch of new groups.

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you must learn to prioritize the right things. The tendency of most small group pastors is to prioritize the needs of existing group leaders and the interests of already connected people.

Prioritizing the needs of existing group leaders comes at the expense of connecting beyond the usual suspects.

Better to focus your attention on strategies that identify new leaders and launch new groups (while training your coaches to care for and develop group leaders).

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

Thriving small group ministries care for and develop leaders via a healthy span of care.

This practice is counterintuitive for many small group pastors. We often come predisposed to believe that our primary role and responsibility is to care for and develop each of the group leaders in our ministry when the truth is, just like Moses (see Exodus 18), our responsibility is to ensure that they are cared for and developed.

It may be that the greatest challenge in building a thriving small group ministry is the persistent and concurrent development of a healthy span of care.

I am often asked, “What should be done first? Prioritize identifying new leaders and launching new groups or build an effective coaching structure to care for the leaders?”

It is always a “snatch the pebbles from my hand, Grasshopper” moment, as the correct answer is, “Both must happen at the same time.”

You cannot build a thriving small group ministry without developing the essential practice of developing a healthy span of care.

See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders

Thriving small group ministries invest in leaders (and leaders of leaders).

Investing in leaders (and leaders of leaders) is not a nice extra thing to do when we have time and a budget surplus. It is an essential practice.

How should we invest in them? Providing a healthy span of care is a non-negotiable, but is only the beginning. Training experiences can be helpful. Status recognition meets certain needs. Time and attention, especially from your senior pastor and other senior leaders, is rarely provided but might be the most important investment you can make.

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you must develop the practice of investing in leaders (and leaders of leaders).

See also, 5 Ways Senior Pastors Can Affirm the Value of Small Group Leaders.

4 Disconnects that Keep Small Group Ministries from Thriving

4 Disconnects that Keep Small Group Ministries from Thriving

Have you picked up on the disconnects that keep small group ministries from thriving?

It turns out that where these disconnects exist (and are allowed to continue), your small group ministry has zero chance of thriving.

What are the most common disconnects?

The Senior Pastor Disconnect

The senior pastor disconnect is probably the most common. At the heart of this issue is either the senior pastor’s lack of awareness or lack of acceptance of their role as small group champion.

Some senior pastors are simply unaware of the importance of leveraging their influence to promote the things that matter most (and only the things that matter most). Instead of leveraging their influence they spread it evenly across all ministries and at best cause confusion about the best next step.

Other senior pastors are aware of their potential influence but instead believe their role is purely as a teacher and not a promoter. They prefer to delegate the promotion of even the things that matter most to other staff members, signaling to the congregation that despite the enthusiasm of some, the ministry or opportunity being promoted is really not that important.

See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor and Top 5 Things Every Senior Pastor Needs to Know.

A Leadership Development Disconnect

This is a common and very significant disconnect that prevents many small group ministries from thriving. There are several ways this disconnect can be detected.

First, the absence of a leadership development plan is a clear sign of the disconnect. Regardless of whether there is confusion about the need for leadership development or simply reluctance to allocate the resources (money or time) to make it happen, its absence indicates a disconnect.

Second, the discovery and engagement of high capacity leaders is a rare event and every ministry simply accepts the false conclusion that “high capacity people just don’t attend our church.”

Third, span of care issues exist in all ministries and especially in the small group ministry. Instead of identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders, staff and a few key volunteers attempt to do everything (and often burn out in the process).

See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect.

Clear Next Steps and First Steps Disconnect

Many small group ministries are stymied by a lack of clarity about the preferred first steps out of the auditorium and preferred next steps for every member and attendee.

This is most common in churches that are reluctant to eliminate extra items from the connecting and discipling menu. There are several common reasons for this reluctance:

  • Disagreement among staff and leadership about the best next step (i.e., off-campus small groups vs on-campus Sunday School, Bible teacher vs group facilitator, etc.)
  • Preferring peace-keeping over decisions that will ruffle certain feathers.
  • Absence of a strategic mindset that prioritizes and allocates according to priority.

See also, Evaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”.

An Inside-Outside Disconnect

An inside-outside disconnect is deadly and imperils more than small group ministries. The phrase was coined by John Kotter, author of numerous books on the subject of change and change management. He used the phrase to describe the phenomenon of organization insiders’ lack of awareness of the needs and interests of outsiders.

According to John Kotter, “The disconnect between what insiders see, feel and think, on the one hand, and external opportunities and hazards, on the other, can be astonishing at times–even in organizations that are producing very good short-term results (p. 67, A Sense of Urgency).”

Can you see how this disconnect might affect both small group ministries and churches in general?

Small group ministries often listen primarily to leaders and members of existing groups and are sometimes unaware of the difference between what the already connected want or need and what everyone else wants or needs.

Eliminating and overcoming this disconnect depends on developing a keen empathy for the needs and interests of those who need to be connected.

See also, The Perils of the Inside-Outside Disconnect and Could Our Lack of Empathy Be Limiting Our Ministry Impact?

Image by Randy Heinitz

5 Keys to a Great Start in 2018

5 Keys to a Great Start in 2018

Does it feel like it was just 2016?

I don’t know about you, but 2017 is a blur! It feels like I was planning 2017 just yesterday!

Regardless of how it feels though, it is time to firm up plans for January/February and get going on some key initiatives for the rest of 2018.

Are you ready to get started?

Here’s what I think of as the keys to a great start (and a great year) in 2018.

5 Keys to a Great Start in 2018

If you’ve taken Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry, these keys will look very familiar. If you haven’t, you might want to pick up this course. It is also included in GroupLife Insider, my membership site.

Evaluate your present

Before you can intelligently begin planning the new year, it will benefit you greatly to spend some time evaluating how the last year went and specifically, where your ministry is right now.

Pulling together real numbers for certain aspects will help clarify the work to be done.

  • how many groups you have
  • how many groups were new in 2017
  • how many people in groups
  • how many people were newly connected in 2017
  • how many coaches are actively engaged
  • average adult weekend worship attendance

You might find the following articles helpful:

Evaluate  Your  Small  Group  Ministry  with  My  Signature  10  Point  Checklist

The First 7 Questions I Ask When Evaluating a Small Group Ministry

Declare your preferred future

If you’ve done this work in the past, this will be an easy step. If not, taking the time to begin describing what your groups ministry should look like in 5 to 10 years will help clarify what must be done to get from where you are to where you hope to be.

For example, if your preferred future includes having 100% of your adult weekend worship attendance in a group and you currently have 45%…you will quickly see the gap! You might not know how to best close the gap, but you will see the gap and that will inform your next steps.

If your preferred future includes having your group leaders being cared for and developed by a coach and coaches having a span of care of 1 to 5, and you currently have 25 group leaders and no coaches…you will quickly see the gap!

Further Reading:

Where Do You Want To Go with Your Small Group Ministry?

Set the milestone(s) that lead to your preferred future

When I’m explaining what a milestone is I like to describe a hike from a campsite to a distant mountain summit. When the trail disappears you might pick out a stand of trees or a rock formation and hike towards that, even when you can no longer see the summit itself, knowing arriving at the stand of trees will mean you are still headed in the right direction, Think of a milestone as an identifiable marker that you can see in the distance that will ensure that you remain on course.

If the preferred future you’ve described will take you 5 to 10 years to attain, it will be helpful to identify at least the next milestone or two. When I’m choosing milestones, I want a goal that is attainable in the next 3 to 9 months.

For example, if in my preferred future I want to have 100% of adults in a group and I currently have 45% in a group, then an appropriate milestone might be to have 60% in a group during the six week study that begins February 25th.

Further Reading:

Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future

Determine the action steps that lead to accomplishing your milestone(s)

This is where many plans get bogged down or completely derailed. It’s one thing to imagine a preferred future or even set a milestone or two. It is another thing entirely to identify the action steps that actually lead to accomplishing your milestones.

Milestones are goals, and goals are arbitrary. The attainability of a goal has everything to do with the combination of clear thinking, insight, and godly vision of your team. When the goal is set correctly, it will usually be an attainable stretch. It won’t be easy. It won’t be a no-brainer. But it also won’t be completely ridiculous.

It also helps to think of milestones as lag indicators. A lag indicator is proof that you accomplished your goal. When you get to 60% connected in March of 2018, you will have accomplished your milestone.

And that’s where identifying and determining the action steps that lead to accomplishing your milestone(s) come in.

Think of the steps that lead to the milestone as lead indicators. Lead indicators are the actions that result in arriving at the milestone.

For example, if we are to arrive at 60% of our adult weekly worship attendance, we’ll have to connect more adults and probably add more groups. To do that we’ll need to plan a small group connection, promote it skillfully and persistently, and execute it well.

The action steps in this case would be things like:

  • Develop an FAQ about the small group connection and the importance of being connected and make it available at the small group ministry kiosk.
  • Include a sign-up form in the program on February 11 and 18.
  • Promote the connection in the messages on February 11, 18, and 25.
  • Feature a “benefits of being connected” video (or a live testimony) in the service on February 11 and 18.
  • Send a church-wide email from Senior Pastor on February 13 and 20 promoting the connection with a link the registration.

Further Reading:

FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Celebrate arrival

When you achieve the milestone, it is essential to celebrate.

  • Plan it in advance.
  • Let your team know there will be a celebration.
  • Make it commensurate to the degree of difficulty.
  • Budget for it.

Final Note:

This is a wash, rinse, repeat pattern. It must be done again and again in order to arrive at the preferred future you’ve identified.

5 Reasons January-February Is Prime Time for Launching New Groups

new-years-resolutions5 Reasons January-February Is Prime Time for Launching New Groups

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry it’s important to remember that you need to have a year-round approach to launching new groups. While the fall definitely presents the very best opportunity to connect the largest number of unconnected people, there are absolutely several other very good times every year to launch new groups (and connect people who for many reasons did not connect in the fall).

Late January/early February is another very good time to launch new groups. This season comes with certain motivations that aren’t part of the equation in the fall and need to be taken into consideration.

5 Reasons to Launch New Groups in January/February

  1. Every December finds another wave of unconnected people who realize they’ve got to make some changes. They’ve overspent on Christmas. They’re tired from trying to cart their children around to too many holiday commitments. They’ve overeaten and partied too much. They’ve let their exercise programs fall by the wayside. There is no better time of year than January/February to invite them to turn over a new leaf by getting involved with some other folks who are determined to have a better next year. That motivation provides an opportunity to use a study that appeals to people looking for a fresh start.
  2. The first of the year brings people who’ve just resolved to get involved in a church.  A very different motivation than the fall.  They’re not new to the area.  Just to the idea of attending.  That motivation provides an opportunity to choose a study that appeals to people who are new to your church.
  3. At least some of the new groups from your fall church-wide campaign did not survive the holidays, It is fairly common for a number of people who were part of a group in the fall (and loved finally being connected) to find themselves unconnected again. Establishing the mindset that sometimes it takes more than one try to connect with a group that really clicks will encourage unconnected people to try again.
  4. The first of the year presents an excellent opportunity to focus your congregation on your vision and mission. Many churches select a theme for the year and then choose a church-wide campaign or stand-alone study that will help get everyone on the same page.
  5. Not everyone is ready to respond to an invitation to join a small group. Some unconnected people are resistant to that invitation but very open to a lesser (or different) commitment. An on-campus “class” on the right topic present an easier first step out of the auditorium. Improving your marriage (Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage) or learning about relationships (The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating) are just two examples.

Need help? Get How to Jumpstart January: Plan, Launch and Sustain More Groups Than Ever Before at the Black Friday price!

If you need help planning and launching a wave of new groups in January/February, please take a look at my mini-course:

How to Jumpstart January: Plan, Launch and Sustain More Groups Than Ever Before

Don’t let this key season slip by without taking advantage of the opportunity! Even better, you can get it right now at my Black Friday sale!

Further Reading:

5 Keys to Launching Small Groups Year-Round

How To Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar – 2016

How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection

The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns – 2017

Image by Navy_NADAP

Plan Your 2018 GroupLife Strategy with These Concepts in Mind

Do you want to connect people no one else is connecting? You know, not just the men and women that are looking for a group but the ones that never seem to respond to ordinary and routine groups campaigns. Not just the same old people that sign up and then don’t show up…but the people who desperately need community but are the last to figure it out.

Want to develop group leaders who truly shepherd their members? Know how to make better disciples? Are inspired to do more than open their home, arrange for a few snacks, and play a video?

Need to identify, recruit and develop a team of coaches who will care for and help group leaders learn to shepherd their members? To make better disciples?

Maybe you need to figure out how to build a rhythm into the year that enables a more productive year. One that has a why behind the what and the how of your groups ministry.

Here is the essence of what I’ve learned about building a thriving small group ministry.

First, if you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you’ve got to do things that no one else is doing

First, if you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you’ve got to do things that no one else is doing (a version of Craig Groeschel’s quote). Simply put, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

If you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you've got to do things that no one else… Click To Tweet

Want to catch different fish? Try different bait or a new lure. Move to another part of the stream, lake or ocean. Get up earlier or stay out later.

This has everything to do with planning your annual grouplife calendar with a keen awareness of the needs, wants, and motivations of unconnected people.

Second, if you’ve lowered the leader bar in order to increase the number of potential leaders recruited…

Second, if you’ve lowered the leader bar in order to increase the number of potential leaders recruited, you’ll need to raise the bar in terms of the care you provide leaders and the on-the-job training and encouragement you provide.

If you've lowered the leader bar in order to increase the number of potential leaders recruited,… Click To Tweet

Simply put, these two realities are inextricably joined at the hip. They have an inverse relationship. If you do one, you must do the other.

This has everything to do with putting a leader development strategy in motion at the same time you’re trying to connect beyond the usual suspects.

Third, once you have more than 5 to 10 groups you can no longer adequately care for and develop group leaders

Third, once you have more than 5 to 10 groups you can no longer adequately care for and develop group leaders. At least, not in a way that will truly shepherd them and help them learn to make better disciples of their members.

What Jethro told Moses is just as true today as it was on the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. As Carl George wisely pointed out years ago, “everyone needs to be cared for by somebody, but nobody can care for more than (about) 10.”

Everyone needs to be cared for by somebody, but nobody can care for more than (about) 10. Carl… Click To Tweet

Need to know how to do the above?

For starters…let me encourage you to sign up for my FREE upcoming webinar: GroupLife Strategy Call ’18. I’m offering it twice, but it’s filling up fast.

Image by Postscapes

If I Was Starting Today…Part 7

(This is part 7 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

If I was starting over and knew then what I know now…I’d take advantage of the central role of the senior pastor. This is a huge concept and absolutely explains a key difference between churches that with groups and churches of groups (see my series. The Top 10 Fantasies of Church WITH Groups). If you are the senior pastor, you need to understand this concept. If you aren’t, you need to understand it and then make sure your senior pastor gets it. Without this step…groups will never be pervasive.  Why?  Read on…

Senior Pastor as Champion: The Big Idea

For groups to be pervasive in your church (a church “of” as opposed to “with”) your senior pastor needs to become your small group champion. I’m not saying they need to do the the dirty work. Organization, planning, training, etc. can all be done by other staff members or even key volunteers. But if the senior pastor isn’t the lead spokesperson…you’ll have limited success. Why? In most churches the senior pastor is the most influential person. When they speak, people listen. When anyone else walks up (announcements, etc.) listening and engagement immediately decrease.

The best example right now is the way Saddleback uses Rick Warren as the key spokesperson for group life (all of their teaching pastors play the role very well). You’ll hear about groups in announcements and in the printed material as well, but it’s a very rare week when you don’t hear about them in the message.

How to Implement the Big Idea

  1. Champion community regularly: Every worship service is an opportunity to talk about the importance of community. As messages are prepared, take advantage of any illustration that could refer to small groups or the power of community. Use testimonies (live or video) whenever possible. Most sermon topics can find application in group life (encouragement, accountability, support, challenge).
  2. Cast vision broadly: In addition to the weekend message, take advantage of your website, newsletter, all church e-newsletter, scrolling slides before the service begins, Small Group Table in the lobby with a stand-up poster featuring a short blurb by your senior pastor (“I can’t imagine trying to ‘do life alone.'”).
  3. Coordinate messages and themes throughout the year: Although you can insert small group stories and testimonies in most messages, featuring the importance of community at strategic times is important. Late September/Early October is a key time to think alignment (weekend message series combined with small group curriculum). Another great time is end of January/early February.
  4. Call to action: Using a “call to action” gives an easy way to respond. Make it easy to find a group (use a web application like Churchteams) or even a list of groups at the table in the lobby. Be sure you’re staffing the table or booth with friendly, knowledgeable people (especially friendly people who are looking for members in their own group!). E-newsletter articles by your senior pastor with active links into your small group finder are another way to provide a call to action.

The key to this whole concept is for your senior pastor to use every opportunity to champion group life. Day to day ministry leadership can be delegated to the small group pastor. Big picture vision and communication cannot be given away.

Further Reading:

Dear Senior Pastor…

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

Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church of Groups

Image by Brett Wood

If I Was Starting Today…Part 6

If I Was Starting Today…Part 6

(This is part 6 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

If I knew then what I know now…I’d work harder to make heroes out of the right people. That is, I’d carefully select the stories I’d make a big deal out of…and I’d make a big deal out of them all the time.

Don’t miss this: I’d actually take this one giant step further by making it a priority to always have a great hero-making story to pass on to my senior pastor. And I’d make sure I found a way to tell it to my senior pastor every week.


Flashback to 2000: When I began as the small group “pastor” at Fellowship of the Woodlands, I was a volunteer. I was between ministry jobs and we had begun attending Fellowship, loved it, and had ended up being asked to lead their small group ministry as a volunteer.

There were plenty of afternoons in 2000 and 2001 when I stopped by the church in time to meet Pastor Kerry as he left for the day. Walking to his car was my uninterrupted moment to tell him my latest story.


How does all this apply to you and your small group ministry?

Think about your church and the constant flow of people who are recognized (from the platform, on your website or newsletter, and in one-on-one conversations).

Question: How closely do the people who are recognized match your vision? Ever done a case by case assessment and kept score? At first glance, you might think that’d be overkill. But I really believe if you slow down long enough to think through the last 3 or 4 Sundays (or watch the next 3 or 4) you’ll begin to see a pattern. And you won’t necessarily like the pattern.

Need an example? Here you go: Let’s say that you dream of being a church “of” groups, where nobody stands alone, and you really believe that life-change happens best in a small group context. With me?  Beyond that, let’s say that you’ve committed to the idea that every program ought to lead to an opportunity to move in the direction of connecting people together in life-changing relationships.

Still with me?

Two things ought to happen if that’s you.

  • Success in every program ought to be measured by how effectively it produced those kinds of connections.
  • You should only be talking about the leaders of those programs that are winning on that measurement.

What would change if you committed to that idea?

What would change if you committed to that idea? When you think back for the last 3 or 4 weeks would it change who you made a big deal out of publicly or privately? If you entered a season where you consistently determined who you held up as heroes by how effectively they were living out the specifics of your vision…do you think it would influence behavior?

Want to act on the idea? Get serious and go back over the last 3 or 4 weeks.  Then, begin to carefully monitor who you’re talking about and how you’re talking about them. While you’re at it, check out Paul’s language in Romans 16. I think you’ll see what I’m talking about!

Further Reading:

10 Things Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know

5 Ways Senior Pastors Can Affirm the Value of Small Group Leaders.

Image by Kristin Dos Santos