Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Category: Small Group Strategy (page 1 of 81)

Is THIS What’s Keeping You from Your Goals?

goalsIs THIS What’s Keeping You from Your Goals?

If I know you, you’ve worked very hard to start the small groups you’ve started. You’ve recruited leaders that worked out for the most part and you’ve made announcements, and run blurbs in weekend bulletins, and sent out emails, and even got your pastor to mention small groups a few times. And still you’re having trouble getting unconnected people to sign up for a group.

You’ve tried several times to connect people in waves using a small group connection or GroupLink. You’ve run two or three different church-wide campaigns. You’ve tried small group fairs and tried updating your online finder.

And still, at the end of the day, are right about where you have been all along in terms of percentage connected.

When Pete Wilson published What’s Keeping You Up at Night? you already knew what was keeping you up at night.

But do you? Do you know why you’re stuck? Why you’re not reaching your goals? Why you keep trying and keep falling way short?

Of course, there could be a number of reasons. I’d love to talk with you one on one about it.

But could there be a simple explanation?

What if there was a really simple explanation?

Think about this

It turns out that we are most often kept from our goals “not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”

“We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” Robert Brault

Ouch! Could it be that obvious?

What if the reason your percentage connected remains stuck at 32% is that too many other steps are easy to take and more obvious? That is, it’s not easy for unconnected people to choose the small group option because there are too many other options. See also, A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups, Think Steps, Not Programs, and Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious and Strategic.

What if the reason your attendance at your small group connection is way less than you hoped is that there were too many other easier selections to make when it came right down to it (i.e., you also offered sign-ups for everything under the sun during the same weeks leading up to the connection).

If you want to connect unconnected people you have to make it way easier to do than anything else, way more obvious than anything else, and way more strategic than anything else.

Not kind of easier or kind of obvious or kind of strategic.


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

Further Reading:

Image by Resad Kurtanovic

7 Things You Might Be Missing about Unconnected People


7 Things You Might Be Missing about Unconnected People

Ever wish you could suddenly unravel the mystery of how to connect the unconnected people in your church? You know–the ones that no matter what you try, no matter how hard you try–they really don’t seem to want to do anything more than sit in a row. Maybe you wish you’d just sit bolt upright in the middle of the night and yell out “Eureka! I know how to connect unconnected people!”

Or maybe you’ve just given up and assumed if God really wanted everyone connected in a group He would have given everyone the same level of desire to be part of a group!

Although I’ve frequently written about unconnected people, I’m not sure I’ve framed their situation quite this way.

7 things you might be missing about unconnected people:

  1. Unconnected people are almost never loners. They are connected already, just not to other people at your church. In fact, I’ve said for many years that the least connected people in your church are the most connected people outside of your church (and conversely, the most connected people inside your church are the least connected outside).
  2. With very few exceptions, all of us are pre-wired for community. While unconnected people seem to be wired differently, they often are already experiencing a version of community somewhere else.
  3. Their taste buds don’t find the same topics appealing. Topics that long-time participants find fascinating rarely do it for unconnected people. Just like the taste for coffee, beer or wine, and brussel sprouts is an acquired taste, the key is to find topics in which unconnected people are already interested.
  4. Since almost nothing new is ever purchased without first sampling, trying on for size, or test-driving for feel, why would connecting to a small group be any different? The longer the initial commitment sounds (“sign up for the fall semester” or “sign  a 12 to 18 month covenant”), the more cautiously an unconnected person will approach connecting. Conversely, the more the invitation sounds like a test-drive or a taste-test, the less concerned an unconnected person will be.
  5. Unconnected people are not all the same. Within the broad category of unconnected people there are extroverts and introverts. There are socially adept people and there are socially awkward people. There are unconnected people who make great first impressions and those who don’t. While one strategy may work for extroverted, socially adept unconnected people who make great first impressions, the same strategy may feel like a death sentence (or at least life in prison) to the introverted, socially awkward spouse who makes a terrible first impression.
  6. Unconnected people are rarely regular attenders. They may only attend your weekend service on the weekends they have their children, or have Sunday off, or their team plays on Monday night. There are many reasons they only infrequently attend your weekend service.
  7. Unconnected people are often most comfortable with the familiar. While there are unconnected people who seek out new experiences and are the first in line for the new ride at Disneyland or the new latte at Starbucks, there are also many who are drawn to the familiar. At the same time, there are some who will only try the new restaurant if it’s in a familiar part of town or if it serves a familiar dish.

The Key Takeaway: Like all good designers, if you want your product to be purchased and used, you must know your customer. Becoming a student of unconnected people will help you understand them and create better next steps for them (and even first steps for their friends).

Further Reading: Top 10 Posts on Unconnected People

Image by Javier Morales

How to Communicate with Leaders (and Hosts)

how-to-communicateHow are you communicating with your small group leaders and hosts (remember, I’m differentiating between those just getting a toe in the water and those stepping onto the leadership conveyor belt)?  How hard (or easy) is it for you to get the word out about upcoming events, recommended curriculum, and leader development?  How do you do it?  Still using a print newsletter?  Sending an email out to a list?  Smiling and dialing?  In this post I want to point you to four easy-to-use tools that will make communicating with your team easier and more effective. See also: How to Help a HOST become a Small Group Leader.

First, give your leaders a way to get information 24/7. You may have a great website and a really cooperative webmaster…but most of us don’t.  The truth about most church websites is that finding what you’re looking for is a challenge and adding or changing content is even tougher.  What’s the answer?  Use a blog linked to your website that you and your team can update!  It’s easy to use and inexpensive to provide (less than $60 a year).  There are several web-based programs that make it so easy that even a caveman can do it.

You can see the blog I’m creating for life group leaders at Canyon Ridge right here.. If I have a training event that I want to promote or curriculum that I want to recommend it is easy to add and I can do it without waiting on our webmaster. Even better…I can set it up so that when I add the content my leaders are notified!

If you want to know How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes, click here. Michael Hyatt does a great job of explaining and has helped thousands of people get started.

Second, provide training and encouragement without scheduling an on-campus meeting. You can do this several ways.  For example, a short teleconference is a great technique that your leaders will really appreciate.  Using a service like allows your leaders to take part in a training session without driving over to the church. That is a huge idea!  For many of your leaders it will save them 30 minutes both ways by the time they get in their car and drive over.

Another idea that is being used more and more is providing a quick videoconference. With a service like Zoom you can do training or coaching huddles using a webcam and a computer. Zoom allows your leaders to click a link from wherever they are and join a video call in progress. If they don’t have a webcam they’ll still be able to see everyone who does. If only the leader of the call has a webcam it can still provide a way for you to communicate visually with your team. And the basic level is free! Also, for as less than $15 per month, the calls can be recorded and the captured video can be uploaded to your website (or the blog I mentioned above) for just-in-time access later.

Third, take advantage of an online small group finder to allow unconnected people to find a group 24/7. Most church management softwares (CMS) have good enough built-in applications that can make a web-based small group finder available. Some CMS even include the ability for your leaders to do updates themselves (or you can do it for them), It is a real advantage to be able to provide current information about available groups 24/7. Additionally, with a web-based approach any church-wide email can provide a link to your small group finder.  This can be used in combination with verbal and print announcements to encourage maximum response to a church-wide emphasis.

If your CMS doesn’t offer an easy to set up small group finder, you might take a look at ChurchTeams.

Finally, take advantage of social media to stay connected with your leaders. Your leaders are already on Facebook.  If you haven’t set up your page yet, there’s no time like the present. Twitter is another social media service that could be on your to-do list.

Need a new approach? You don’t need to move from A to Z in one move. Move to B. Add a simple blog that you can update yourself.  Implement the small group finder application in your CMS. The key on all of these new ideas is to take a first step!

Further Reading:


5 Things to Do in January to Connect More People in 2017

january calendar

5 Things to Do in January to Connect More People in 2017

Want to connect more people in 2017? 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 late January. If you run the event on January 29th, 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.
  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

I’ve Just Added Two New Assumptions to My List of Assumptions

10-assumptions-that-shape-my-small-group-ministry-strategyWe’ve talked many times about assumptions. If you’ve been along for much of this adventure, you’ve probably read more than your share of articles on assumptions. If the idea of assumptions is unfamiliar to you, I’ve linked to a few of my favorites below.

I’m thinking about my assumptions about small group ministry today because of an email I received from a reader yesterday. Their question in the email was so obviously the wrong question that it caused to me to wonder why in the world they are doing what they’re doing. And that caused me to reflect on my assumptions.

Here is a list of my assumptions (about small group ministry):

  1. There is no problem-free solution.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  2. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.  Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy.  See also,What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
  3. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.  Circles, not rows.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  4. Joining a group in a stranger’s living room is the second scariest move (preceded only by coming to church for the first time).  This makes a safe and familiar on-campus first step out of the auditorium a key to connecting people.  See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear.
  5. The people with the most connections inside the church have the fewest connections outside the church. Conversely, the people with the least connections inside the church have the most connections outside the church. This is an understanding that makes HOST a great idea. See also, Exponential Outreach.
  6. Every group of ten has a relative shepherd (and most adults can quickly identify the person they’d be willing to follow). In a Malcolm Gladwell sense, everyone can see very quickly who the leader should be. See also, How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting.
  7. The leader of a group only needs to be a step or two ahead of group members. Even Jesus didn’t look for Jesus Jr.  See also, Top 5 Signs Your Church Really Wants to Be a Church OF Groups.
  8. *I need to make it as easy as possible to begin “leading” and nearly automatic that the new “leader” step onto the leadership development conveyor belt. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway.
  9. Whatever we want the members of a group to experience, the leader has to experience first.  This makes coaching or mentoring an essential ingredient for any small group strategy.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.
  10. *Prioritizing the launch of new groups connects the largest number of unconnected people. Prioritizing the needs of existing groups connects the fewest unconnected people. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

What question was so obviously the wrong question?

The essence of the question was, “Have you written anything on how to best connect people with (existing) leaders? One of my greatest issues right now is connecting people on a Sunday with (existing) leaders.”
What makes that the wrong question? Easy. Emphasizing connecting unconnected people with existing leaders (who already have groups), leads to connecting the fewest unconnected people. Prioritizing the launch of new groups (via a small group connection,  GroupLink, etc.) leads to the connecting the largest number of unconnected people.
*New assumptions to the list.
What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Further reading on assumptions:


Happy New Year! Now Let’s Get 2017 Started!

happy-new-yearOkay, maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it’s been way too long since we talked about your plans for 2017!

You have plans right? Can I help you develop them?

Or maybe you’ve been saying for weeks, “I need to get my plans for 2017 (or at the very least, January and February) finalized!”

Can I help you with that?

I can, you know. Help with that.

Here are a few ways I might be able to help you:

Sign up for 31 Days to a Better Small Group Ministry

Sign up for 31 Days to a Better Small Group Ministry: my FREE 31 day program designed to help you get the right things done. Designed to guide you day by day through the steps that will help you get done what you’ve been putting off. Or have been reluctant to move on because you were uncertain.

31 Days to a Better Small Group Ministry is open, but there are limited seats. Once it’s full…it’s full. But you can sign up right here.

Can I suggest a few goals to think about?  Here are five possibilities:

How are you stewarding your responsibility?

It’s not always popular…but this is the way I think. And I’m pretty sure it is the right way to think about what we do.

When I read Matthew 25 (the Parable of the Talents), I am very confident that one of Jesus’ points is that we’ve each been given something to steward “according to our abilities” and we’re expected to steward it well. As a small group ministry point person, I interpret that to mean that I’ve been entrusted with investing the time and talents of coaches (leaders of leaders) and the leaders they care for.

I’m not sure about you, but for me I take this stewardship seriously. I really hope you do too.

Because I believe this is the right interpretation, I feel compelled to manage the investment well! After all…I really want to hear “well done” at the end of the game.

And as a result, as I come to the end of the year, I’m thinking about next year. I’m thinking about how I might improve what I’m doing.

Is that you?

If it is, I want to suggest a few things you might want to consider as 2017 begins:

  1. You might consider signing up for my new FREE email course, 31 Days to a Better Small Group Ministry. I think this will really help a lot of people steward their responsibility/opportunity more effectively.
  2. You may want to consider attending GroupLife Southwest 2017. I can guarantee you this conference will expose you (and maybe some from your team) to some of the best ideas for small group ministry in the 21st century. You can take advantage of the Early Bird registration through February 27th. You can read about it right here.
  3. You might want to consider joining my 2017 coaching network. Every year I invest 6 months in a small cohort of small group pastors and directors. Limited to 12 members, this is an excellent way to reach your goals. You can read about my coaching network right here. Believe it or not, you can still apply and get an excellent rate.
  4. You might want to set up a coaching call (or a series of calls) to help you get from where you are to where you want to be (from your present to your preferred future). My coaching call packages can be tailored to fit your need.
  5. Need to build an effective coaching structure? Train new coaches? Go back to the drawing board and design your ministry to do things it can’t currently do? Jumpstart January? Maybe one of my mini-courses is just the thing to help you be a good steward of the opportunity.  You can find out about my growing list of tutorials, designed to allow you to move at your own pace and include other members of your team! You can find out about my mini-courses right here.

Listen, I don’t really know what the solution is for you and for your needs. I do know you’ve been entrusted with a stewardship. And I’m pretty sure you want to do a good job.

If I can help you…I’d love to!

Image by Leigh Wolf

5 Questions to Ask as 2016 Comes to a Close

Albert Einstein said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

I love Albert Einstein’s thinking! So helpful.

Here are my best shot at 5 questions to ask as 2016 comes to a close!

5 questions to ask as 2016 comes to a close:

  1. Did you establish “wins” for the strategies you used this year?  If so, how did you do?  Did your plans succeed or fail?  If you didn’t establish wins, plan on adding this very important ingredient in 2017.  Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry is an excellent resource for this.  See also, What Will You Call a “Win” for the Groups in Your Ministry?
  2. Did you move closer to the preferred future?  Or simply prevent slippage?  If you haven’t developed a refined preferred future, it is time and you need to do it.  See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.
  3. Are you ending the year with a solid plan for 2017?  Even if you developed an annual calendar for 2015-2016 (i.e., September to August), it’s a good idea to recalibrate for the start of the new year.  What changes or adjustments do you need to make?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  4. What have been your key learnings?  What have you learned is true in your setting that you didn’t know before?  What have you learned is actually an outdated assumption?  See also, Is It Time to Take a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions? and My Top 3 Learnings about Small Group Ministry This Year.
  5. What aspects of your design need to be carefully examined?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you want different results, you need to develop a different design.  Doing the same things again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (Albert Einstein).  Using the same strategy after you know it is ineffective is irresponsible and poor stewardship.  See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.

Need more help? Consider signing up for my FREE 31 day training program. You can find out more about 31 Days to a Better Small Group Ministry right here.


Image by Ben Raynal

Trending Now? “Come Over” vs “Meet Me” or “Come with Me”

meet-meTrending Now? “Come Over” vs “Meet Me” or “Come with Me”

As America shifts ever more to a post-Christian country, the invite to “meet me at my church” or “come with me to my church” will become less common and the invite to “come over to my house” or “meet me at Starbucks” will become more common.

Are you seeing this happen where you are?

In The Top 10 Signs You’re Prioritizing the Right Things in Small Group Ministry I included #6:

6. Your groups are inviting and including friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. Far beyond holy huddles, your groups are truly inclusive outposts in the community.

How would you evaluate that practice in your small group ministry? Is it happening? To what extent is it happening?

recent Barna Group study indicated that “from 2013 to 2015 the percentage of Americans who qualify as ‘post-Christian’ rose by 7 percentage points.” As I reflected on the findings of the study I observed that “if the majority of your small groups never connect anyone who doesn’t already attend a Christian church, the fastest growing segment of your community is unreachable.”

Further Reading

Image by Franz Jachim

Top 10 Signs You’re Prioritizing the Right Things in Your Small Group Ministry

prioritiesTop 10 Signs You’re Prioritizing the Right Things in Your Small Group Ministry

Ever wonder if you are headed in the right direction with your small group ministry? If what you’re doing is the right thing? Or if what you’re focusing on is making a difference?

Can we know whether we’re focusing on the right things?

I believe we can. And I believe it is possible to measure outcomes to check progress; that much like looking for certain milestones or markers on a long journey, we can be on the lookout for signs we are still headed in the right direction.

Here are the top 10 signs you’re prioritizing the right things:

  1. Your true percentage connected is growing every year. You’re not treading water. If your church is growing your percentage connected is keeping up or gaining. If your church attendance is steady your percentage connected is growing. See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?
  2. Being a participating member of a group is becoming a real expectation. Modeled by staff and leadership, it is becoming surprising to discover regular worship attenders who aren’t involved in a group.
  3. Your number of leaders is growing every year. You’re not just replacing leaders who move away or need to take a break. You’re adding new leaders on a regular basis.
  4. Your group leaders are growing in their leadership. Far more than hosts who convene meetings or facilitators who lead discussions, your leaders are becoming true shepherds who do the right things TO and FOR their members. See also, 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders and What Can I Require of My Small Group Leaders.
  5. Your number of groups is growing every year. Your groups aren’t just growing to accommodate friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members of their members. Your total number of groups is growing and increasing the connecting and caring reach and capacity of your ministry. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?
  6. Your groups are inviting and including friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. Far beyond holy huddles, your groups are truly inclusive outposts in the community.
  7. Your coaching structure is delivering on its promise. New group leaders are receiving experienced guidance. All leaders feel cared for as a result of a healthy span of care. See also, 6 Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  8. Your coaches feel like their contribution is essential and that they are valued contributors. They feel they are being shepherded and cared for; that someone is doing TO and FOR them the kinds of things that help them grow in their own relationship with Jesus. See also, Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.
  9. Group members are becoming better disciples. Far beyond simply belonging to a group, group members are steadily becoming more like Jesus. See also, 8 Things I Know for Sure about Making Disciples in Groups.
  10. Life-change stories are powerful and abundant. You don’t have to go on a hunt for stories. They’re already being told by group leaders and coaches. The stories being told are powerful examples of authentic life-change. See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

What do you think?  Are you prioritizing the right things? Want to suggest another priority? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Peter Reed

Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?


Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

When you think about the last year (or two), how much emphasis have you placed on launching new groups? What percentage of your energy has gone to launching new groups (versus maintaining existing groups)? How much of your time has gone to sustaining the new groups you’ve launched (versus maintaining existing groups)?

You may not see this right away, but if you’re spending more time maintaining existing groups than launching new groups…you are almost always treading water.

Is your percentage connected growing?

When I talk with small group pastors and they tell me they are having trouble growing their percentage connected, it is almost always because they are spending more time and energy on maintaining existing groups than launching new groups.

Is your total number of groups growing?

When I talk with small group pastors and they tell me they are having trouble growing their number of groups, it is almost always because they are prioritizing their existing groups rather than the launch of new groups.

Is your total number connected growing?

When I talk with small group pastors and they tell me their number connected is flatlined, it is almost always because they are prioritizing their existing groups instead of launching new groups.

Bottom Line:

Unless all three numbers are growing…you’re treading water. Treading water is a good thing when the alternative is going under. Treading water is not a good thing when unconnected people are facing closing windows. Remember, unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at your church. Loss of a job.  Divorce or separation.  A devastating diagnosis.  A child in trouble.

Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. Loss of a job.  Divorce or separation.  A devastating diagnosis.  A child in trouble. One tough thing.

Are you treading water? At whose expense are you treading water?

Further Reading:

Image by Scott Hughes

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