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7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design

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

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

Here are 7 signs you have a bad design for small group ministry:

  1. Your percentage connected is flatlined.  Whether your weekend attendance is increasing or not, a flatlined percentage connected (the percentage of your adults who are connected in a group) indicates that your small group system is inadequately designed.  See also, Breaking the Mythical 150% Participation Barrier and The Catch a Moving Train Scenario.
  2. You have trouble finding enough leaders.  This is a common symptom of designs that depend on selecting new leaders from the usual suspects.  Once your congregation is larger than about 250 adults it will become increasingly common that your senior pastor and platform staff will be recognized at the grocery store and restaurants by people they don’t know.  When this happens your strategy must be able to recruit from the adults you do not know because some of the highest capacity potential leaders will be unknown.  This phenomenon is what makes the HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection strategy so effective.
  3. You have leaders ready but not enough interest to fill their groups.  This is often an indication that there are too many options on the belonging and becoming menu (i.e., Sunday school, discipleship training, Precepts, off campus small groups, etc.).  It can also be an indication that your congregation sees the weekend service as everything they need.  See also, Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu and Determining the Minimum Required and Recommended Dose.
  4. Your coaching structure does not work.  This is a common symptom of bad small group ministry design.  The wrong people or the wrong job description can both play a part in the implications of a bad design.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  5. Your senior pastor is reluctant to champion the importance of community.  Although there are several other reasons a senior pastor may be reluctant to be the small group champion, a common reason is they don’t see your system as effective.  See also, 5 things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  6. Your small groups deliver a sense of belonging but rarely produce becoming.  Small group strategies that make it easy to connect but aren’t designed to make disciples are poorly designed.  See also, 5 Keys to Building Small Group Ministry at the Corner of Becoming and Belonging and Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
  7. Only a small percentage of your new groups continue meeting after they’re launched.  This design flaw is a leading indicator for flatlined percentage connected.  Strategies that struggle to launch and sustain new groups need an immediate overhaul.  See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.

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

The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Small Group Pastors

What are the problems you face?  I’ve been at this a long time.  I’ve pretty much seen it all.  Here’s my list:

The 7 biggest problems facing small group pastors:

  1. A senior pastor who is reluctant or ineffective as small group champion.  This may be the most under-the-radar problem facing small group pastors.  After all, a significant number of senior pastors will tell you, “We hired a small group pastor to be the small group champion!”  Do you face that problem?  Does your small group pastor?  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  2. The small group pastor position is too low on the org chart.  Building a thriving small group ministry depends on the right decisions being made at the right time.  When the most knowledgable and most passionate person is 2 or 3 rungs down from where decisions are made it is irresponsible to assume the best outcome.  Are you there?  Is your small group pastor?  See also, 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  3. Equal status and promotion for every ministry and program.  When everything is important, nothing is important.  Churches that promote everything equally should not expect anything to thrive.  How does your menu look?  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  4. Unrealistic expectations.  Churches with thriving small group ministry cultures have build them over years, even decades.  The belief that you can arrive at your preferred future, that you can move from where you are to where you want to be, in a single move or even a few moves, is unrealistic.  To cast as vision unrealistic expectations leads to idea fatigue.  See also, 5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry and Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  5. Acceptance of the status quo.  Remember, your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.  If you want different results, you must disrupt the status quo.  Failure to break free from the stranglehold of the status quo dooms you to remain stuck.  Is that your world?  See also, Beware the Lure of the Status Quo.
  6. Codependent catering to the usual suspects.  The easiest thing to do is to satisfy the already connected.  The wisest thing to do is to become preoccupied with the needs and interests of the right people (i.e., the still unconnected, unreached people in your crowd and community).  Who are you catering to?  See also, Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the right People and Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  7. Strategic mismatch between the small group system or model and the percentage unconnected.  This problem plagues both the small group pastor and senior pastor alike.  Falling in love with systems or models without acknowledging and even choosing the set of problems that come with them often comes back to haunt.  Have a high percentage unconnected?  Be sure you are paying attention to the number of new groups you are actually launching every year.  Problems finding enough new leaders?  Be sure you are connecting that result to the design of your system.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

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

Rick Warren: My Small Group Pulled Me Through Dark Days

I’ve written many times about the role of the senior pastor as small group champion.  I’ve also pointed you to what I believe is the real reason that Saddleback has so many in groups. Can’t see the video?  You can watch it right here. You’ll find a great collection of Saddleback small group videos on this free download page.

Steve Gladen on Aligning “Affinities” with Small Groups

Do you have gender-based ministries or programs?  For example, do you have a Beth Moore Bible study for women?  And maybe a monthly men’s breakfast and Men’s Fraternity?  How about a couples’ date night?  Singles’ events?  Do you have ministries or programs designed to minister to these affinities?

How are they organized?  Do you have a cohesive strategy?  Or do your affinity ministries really function as individual silos?

I had the opportunity today to talk with Steve Gladen, Saddleback’s small group pastor, about the way their small group ministry is structured and how they’re handling gender-based ministry.  It was a conversation I  know you’re going to want to listen in to.

Here’s my conversation with Steve Gladen

Need some background?  Here’s a very helpful article from Steve on the same topic: Aligning Affinities to Your Small Group Model

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

Top 10 Articles for Senior Pastors (or Small Group Pastors Who Support Them)

Over the years I’ve emphasized the role of senior pastor as small group champion a million times.  Somehow it made sense to gather up my top 10 articles for senior pastors (or small group pastors who support them) all in one place.

Here are my top 10 articles for senior pastors:

  1. Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups
  2. 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry
  3. Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You
  4. 3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community
  5. 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask
  6. The Role of the Senior Pastor
  7. Diagnosis: Senior Pastor Buy-In
  8. What Part Does Your Senior Pastor Play?
  9. Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor
  10. Dilbert on What Not to Say to Your Senior Pastor

7 Small Group Ministry Truths I Hold to Be Self-Evident

I’ve always loved this line from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Here are 7 small group  ministry truths that I hold to be self-evident:

  1. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  This is self-evident, isn’t it?  Unconnected people aren’t lining up for counseling appointments.  When a tough thing comes their way, they   Once you determine your true percentage connected, it should never stop bothering you.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
  2. Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  This self-evident, isn’t it?  Want group members to feel cared for?  Want them to know what it’s like to have someone praying for them personally?  Want them to have a sense of family?  You cannot expect members to experience anything their leader has not already experienced.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  3. If you want to build a thriving small group ministry your senior pastor must be the small group champion.  This is self-evident, isn’t it?  The small group champion role cannot be delegated.  The most influential person in almost every congregation must play the part…if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  4. Only the right people are legitimate candidates for the coaching role.  This is self-evident, isn’t it?  Warm and wiling candidates will not get the job done.  Hold out for hot and qualified.  Hold out for high capacity.  Hold out for fruitful and fulfilled.  Anything less is a waste of time and energy.  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL and How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  5. There are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  This is self-evident, isn’t it?  And yet, the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else!  Every small group system, model or strategy comes with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  6. Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.  This is self-evident, isn’t it?  You may want to explain away your results as a fluke.  “We did not reach our goal because of the weather.”  “It was closing weekend at the county fair.”  “Easter was late that year.”  Don’t fall for it.  Acknowledge that results are directly determined by design.  If you want different results, you must change the design.  See also, 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.
  7. Pitting connecting people against making disciples is a false dichotomy.  This is self-evident, isn’t it?  You do not have to choose.  In fact, your small group strategy should be designed to make it easy to connect unconnected people and make fully devoted followers.  Anything less is an insufficient strategy.  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples? and 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples.

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

Questions Small Group Pastors Should Never Ask

There are certain things every small group pastor needs to know from the very beginning.  These things are only discovered by asking great questions.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1.

There are also questions that should never be asked.  For the most part, they’re just the wrong questions!  Asking them sometimes betrays a misunderstanding of success.  Other times the very fact that the question is asked indicates a misguided assumption.

Questions Small Group Pastors Should Never Ask

  1. What is the minimum percentage connected we should accept?  This is the wrong question.  Small group systems that are designed to connect 50% or 80% or even 100% of the average weekend adult attendance miss the fact that most churches have a much larger number of adults than attend on an average weekend.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?
  2. How can we ensure only the most qualified leader candidates end up leading groups?  Holding out for the most qualified candidates actually ensures that you’ll rarely have enough leaders (or that you’ll attain a high percentage connected).  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Requirements Ensure the Safety of the Flock.
  3. Which small group model is problem-free?  The pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than almost anything else.  Wise leaders simply identify the problems that come with each model and choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  4. How can I personally provide care for my small group leaders?  Once a small group ministry has more than 5 to 10 groups this is the wrong question.  In order to avoid violating span of care constraints, an appropriate coaching structure needs to be built.  This allows the small group pastor to care for coaches and coaches to provide care for leaders.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  5. What is the best way to place new members in existing groups?  Wrong question every time.  The best practice is to train your existing leaders to fish for new members while focusing your attention on launching new groups.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups and Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.

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

5 Obscure but Important Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail

Yesterday I wrote about 5 totally obvious reasons small group ministries fail.  Today I want to focus on 5 obscure but critically important reasons small group ministries fail.  Not as obvious.  Just as real.

5 Obscure but Important Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail

  1. Someone other than the senior pastor is operating as the small group champion.  If you’ve been along for any length of time, this may not be an obscure idea to you.  But, a very common reason (but somehow below the radar) that small group ministries fail is that senior pastors insist on delegating the champion role.  When that happens, they doom the small group ministry to also-ran impact.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1 and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Small group participation acquires the extra-curricular label.  In order for small group ministry to succeed it must be seen as an essential ingredient.  This is different than offering small group ministry as one of several ways to get connected and grow in Christ.  When grouplife lands in the category of extra-curricular it ceases to be understood as essential.  If you believe life-change happens in circles, you must guard at all costs against the idea that the weekend service is enough and small group participation is extra (even a nice extra).  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  3. Limiting the “leader” role to the usual suspects.  If you’ve set your small group leader pathway to require participation as a member first, then as an apprentice (or at least a person of interest), you are missing out on what might actually be the largest pool of potential leaders at your church.  See also, 5 Blatantly Obvious Truths about Launching New Groups.
  4. Designing groups for fellowship and hoping for life-change.  Your ministry really is designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.  If it is designed to produce fellowship (or it is actually producing fellowship), it is no doubt designed to do that.  If you want something different, you will have to change the design.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #2: Effective at Connecting but Not at Discipling.
  5. Mix and match strategy designed by the already convinced for the unconvinced.  In the same way experienced Xbox or Playstation gamers can have trouble remembering when they first began to play, small group veterans (who sometimes clamor for a “deeper” or “more meaty” study) often struggle greatly to remember how it was for them when they began.  Allowing the already convinced to choose the next study or determine the minimum recommended dose is a recipe for failure.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

If your small group ministry is struggling, you need to spend some time wrestling with why.  It is not a fluke.  The reason it is struggling may be totally obvious or somewhat obscure.  Either way…good stewards of the opportunity will search for the reason.

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

5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail

The more I consult with churches around the country, the more obvious it is that there is a very basic set of reasons why small group ministries succeed.  There is also a basic set of reasons why small group ministries fail.  See also, Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures.

Here are 5 reasons small group ministries fail:

  1. Switching models on an annual basis.  Who hasn’t come home from a conference or read the hottest new book on small groups and at the very least felt the urge to switch?  Idea fatigue and shiny object syndrome are the names for this illness.  Trust me.  When you choose a system you need to commit to it for 3 years.  See also, How to Choose a Small Group Model or Strategy and Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Schizophrenic.
  2. Sticking with an ineffective model.  Unfortunately, one of the hardest lessons to learn is that there really is a connection between design and results.  Andy Stanley says, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”  If I had a dollar for every time a small group pastor told me that apprenticing was producing enough new leaders or that raising the leadership bar enabled them to exceed 100% of their adult weekend attendance in groups…I’d change my tune.  Until then, be quick to acknowledge that your results are directly connected to your design.  If you don’t like the results, it might be time to reevaluate and adopt a different model.  See also, Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
  3. Offering small groups as an entrée on a buffet.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you must position small groups as the way to get connected and grow in Christ.  As long as you are willing to position small groups as one way among several options…you cannot expect to succeed.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  4. Hit and miss emphasis of small group ministry.  Unconnected people are infrequent attenders.  Connected people are regular attenders.  If you want to connect unconnected people you must take advantage of every opportunity to promote small groups.  Use your senior pastor’s messages, personal testimonies, the website, church-wide email from your senior pastor, the bulletin, newsletters, etc.  And here’s the key: If you want to build a thriving small group ministry…there shouldn’t be a week that goes by where you aren’t talking about small groups.  See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups.
  5. Lack of commitment to leader care and development.  Launching new small groups is easy.  Sustaining new groups is not easy.  If you want to sustain a high percentage of the new groups you launch, you must make a commitment to leader care and development (i.e., build an effective coaching structure).  Putting energy and resources into launching new small groups without committing to leader care and development is poor stewardship and leads to small group ministry failure.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

Are you building a thriving small group ministry?  Or is yours struggling?  Which of the 5 totally obvious reasons is the culprit?

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

Dallas Willard on Our Most Serious Failure

What are you doing to and for your coaches that you want them to pass on to leaders?  I know you know by now that that’s how it works.  Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first…and by extension, whatever you want to happen at the leader level, will have to happen to your coaches first.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.

See where this is going?

And that leads to two observations:

  • Someone is going to have to do the right things to and for your coaches (that would be you).
  • If you want the right things to happen at the member level, you’re going to have to do the right things to and for your coaches.

What do you need to do to and for your coaches?  I think Dallas Willard was on to a very good way to say it: “How to live the life of Jesus.”

And that leads to this challenging and convicting line:

“Our most serious failure today is the inability to provide effective practical guidance as to how to live the life of Jesus.”  p. 110, The Spirit of the Disciplines

Ready to do that?  It’s our job.

 

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