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Category: Small Group Strategy (page 1 of 72)

4 Lines That Shape My Convictions about the Future of Small Group Ministry

futureMy thinking about small group ministry has always been influenced by the thinking of people a lot smarter than me. While there are definitely other quotes from really smart people that have helped shape my philosophy of ministry, these four thoughts are forever nearby:

“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Albert Einstein

I take this line by Albert Einstein to indicate that the solutions (systems, models and strategies) that worked in the past will almost certainly not be the solutions that propel us into the next era.

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

I hope to always be quick to recognize that the results I am currently experiencing are directly connected to the design we are using. There are no flukes. If we want a different results we must change the design.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

I have learned it is easy to point to others doing the same thing and expecting different results and difficult to see this in myself. This truth must be recognized at the planning stage. We must ask, “Are we expecting different results while using the same plan?”

“To reach people no one else is reaching, you’ve got to do things no one else is doing.” Craig Groeschel

Connecting the unconnected people in the crowd (and even the community), will not happen if we keep using yesterday’s playbook. To connect people no one else is connecting, we must try things no one else is trying.

Image by Ben Rea

Further reading:

Determining What to Do…and What Not to Do

determine what to doHow do you determine what to do…and what not to do?

How do you determine which next steps in include? And which to eliminate?

How do you determine which menu items to add? And which to remove?

cone_slide8I have used the term “the preferred future” to describe where we dream of arriving. The preferred future is what we dream our small group ministry looks like. It is what a small group leader or coach is becoming. It is what a disciple is becoming.

Not every path leads to the preferred future. There may be more than one way to get there, but there are many that lead elsewhere.

And in order to arrive anywhere you must choose the path carefully. Not every path leads to the preferred future. There may be more than one way to get there, but there are many that lead elsewhere.

In order to become anything you must choose your physical or mental regimen carefully. Not every activity or routine leads to the preferred future. There may be more than one way to get there, but there are many that lead elsewhere.

According to Michael Porter,the father of modern strategy, “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

If you’ve been in on very much of this conversation, you are probably becoming very familiar with this diagram.  I use it for all kinds of discussions (you’ll see many of them right here), but we’ve rarely talked about choosing what not to do.

Choosing what not to do is very near the heart of identifying your preferred future.  If you study the diagram for a moment, you’ll see that the preferred future is actually a subset of three areas:

  • The Probable Future: I think of this as a way of describing the way things will be in your ministry or organization if nothing changes.  You pick the timeline, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, it doesn’t matter.  The probable future is what things will look like if you’re doing the same things.  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  • The Possible Future: This is actually all of the known or imagined possibilities for the future.  For example, you might have a meeting where you brainstorm as many possibilities for connecting people as you can.  See also, Where Do You Want to Go with Your Small Group Ministry?
  • The Adjacent Possible: This section isn’t labeled in the diagram, but if you look closely in the preferred future section, you’ll notice that it includes some of what is actually beyond the possible future.  See that?  The white space.  I think of the adjacent possible as the Ephesians 3:20-21 aspect of the preferred future.  See also, Grouplife Agnostics and the Adjacent Possible.

Calling out the preferred future is really a three step process:

  1. identifying the gold of what you are currently doing
  2. imagining all of the possibilities beyond what you are currently doing
  3. choosing what not to do trims out the extra that may very well be good but not great.

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

Image by Seongbin Im

Further reading:

5 Things That Used to Work in Small Group Ministry

used to workNot long ago Craig Groeschel talked about the death of the five year plan:

“When I started in ministry two decades ago, everyone I knew was making five-year plans. While thoughtful planning is wise and biblical, I’ve changed how I plan.

Instead of planning for specific buildings, campuses, staff roles, and outreach, I plan to be prepared for opportunities that I can’t name today. Here at Life.Church, we’re focusing on creating margin and planning to respond quickly to ideas that we don’t yet have.”

He’s right. There was a time when everyone made five year plans. And then the speed of change sped up and called for a new practice. So Groeschel and Life.Church adapted to the challenges of a different day and adopted a new practice.

And many churches go right on making five year plans. Even though times have changed and the practice is no longer effective.

And so it is with small group ministry

In the same way, there are things that used to work in small group ministry…but no longer do.

  1. Relying on apprentice leaders as the main source of new group leaders. Apprenticing is a biblical practice and a timeless practice. It just doesn’t end up being a viable main source for new group leaders for most churches. If you’ve already connected a very large percentage of your weekend adult worship attendance in groups and can afford to wait 12 to 18 months for each new leader to emerge…you are the exception. Since the vast majority of churches have connected less than 50% of their weekend adult worship attendance, a faster and more reliable source for new leaders is required. This is why both the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy within a church-wide campaign are so important to understand and implement. Both strategies identify often unknown leaders from outside the usual suspect pool. See also, 8 Secrets for Identifying an Unlimited Number of Leaders.
  2. Matchmaking: Taking sign-ups to join a group and then placing members with leaders. There may have been a day when church staffing ratios were more robust and the hand-to-hand combat of finding just the right match for every person who wanted to sign up for a group made sense. Today’s staffing trends have long since made this practice an unsustainable practice. Hear me. I decided in 2000 to stop taking sign-ups to be added to a group and began only taking sign-ups to attend a small group connection or commit to host a group and fill my own group. There may have been a time when matchmaking worked. It is long gone in all but the rarest exceptions. See also, 5 Stupid Things that Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.
  3. Assuming that life-change is happening in every group. I’m not sure life-change ever happened in every group, but the assumption that it is happening needs to be carefully evaluated. Like the servants entrusted to invest the master’s resources (and held accountable for the results), a lack of intentionality in small groups leaves pastors and leaders open to a harsh accountability. Building an effective coaching structure, doing TO and FOR your leaders whatever you want them to do TO and FOR their members, and providing a discipleship/curriculum pathway are essential practices if you want to build optimum environments for life-change. See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
  4. Assuming biblical literacy. Unless your small groups only include Traditionalists (1945 and before) and older Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), you cannot assume biblical literacy. Think about what this means when you choose small group curriculum that assumes knowledge of anything more than the most basic theological understanding. Think about what biblical illiteracy means when less than half the members of a group know that the Joseph in the Old Testament is not the same as the Joseph that married Mary. If you’re not choosing curriculum (and training leaders) with an awareness of a lower biblical literacy, you’re setting your members up for a struggle. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  5. Assuming a biblical worldview. Similar to assuming biblical literacy, assuming a biblical worldview results in many forms of misunderstanding. What is obviously counter to God’s will for Christ-followers is often an unsolved mystery for people who are still far from God or beginners on a spiritual journey. Marriage, same sex attraction, and an ambiguous view of morality are just a few of the challenges of leading a small group ministry in the twenty-first century. See also, 6 Reasons Our Discipleship Strategies Miss Their Mark.

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

Image by Dave Wilson

5 Keys to Arriving at Your Preferred Future

17435989173_e4e8eeb084_cI have written many times about the preferred future (for small group ministries or otherwise). The first time I remember hearing the term was at a Fuller Church Growth workshop in 1992. In a session on vision I heard that Tom Peters described vision as a “picture of a preferred future.”

I believe the preferred future is what you’ve clarified as the ultimate win; what you’re trying to produce.  It’s what you will one day call success. It is worth sacrificing for, investing in, and it actually ought to keep you up at night. Or at least wake you up in the middle of the night.

Arriving at your preferred future is never something you can do in a single move. Arriving at your preferred future calls for a lifetime achievement award. Arriving at your preferred future is almost always accompanied by a suddenly illuminated vision of a destination that is only visible or imaginable from the vantage point of what you thought was the preferred future.

Here are what I believe are the 5 keys to arriving:

  • Choose a preferred future with which you can be truly preoccupied. If you can imagine anything less as satisfying or good enough, you’ll never make it. It must be a grand enough destination that upon arrival you can say with the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” See also, Is Your Preferred Future Grand Enough?
  • Build a team that shares the dream. More and more I’m finding myself talking about the importance of a great team in building a thriving small group ministry. Another way I’m saying it is that thriving small group ministries are never built by sole proprietors. The African proverb says it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” A preferred future worth the investment of a life can only be reached with a team. See also, Sole Proprietor? Or Builder of a Great Team?
  • Keep one eye on the preferred future and the other eye on the next milestone. Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable. Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.
  • Choose milestones that lead (and only lead) to the preferred future. The identification of milestones is an essential step in any hope of arriving or progressing toward a preferred future. Milestones also play an important role in the strategy of developing “next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.” A milestone isn’t a milestone unless it leads (and only leads) to the preferred future. See also, Have You Identified the Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future?
  • Celebrate with abandon every milestone attained and win experienced. The camaraderie of a team is a special thing. Part of budgeting for the preferred future is the investment is providing for refreshment and replenishment along the way. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

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

Image by Image Catalog

If You Want to Get There You Must Change Paths

10430459544_55f81c498b_cOne of my most frequent conversations with consulting or coaching clients goes like this:

Them: “We’d like to try a scaled back version of the small group connection strategy.”

Me: “Tell me what you mean by scaled back?”

Them: “We can’t devote three weekends to promoting just the connection. Actually, the weekend prior is all we can do. And our senior pastor won’t use part of his sermon to talk about it. We need to just make an announcement. And as much as we’d love to use the connection to help us identify new leaders, we’re really nervous about who might get chosen. So we were really thinking it would be more of a group fair.”

Me: “Anything else?”

Them: “Well…the only time we can get the best room for it is Sunday at 2:30 p.m. But other than those little tweaks we love the idea.”

The truth is often that the path they are on does not go where they’d like to go. To get where they want to go, they actually must move to a different path.

If you want to get to there, you must move to a different path. Wishful thinking won’t help. Trying really hard won’t get it done. Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is not only the definition of insanity. Importantly, doing the same thing leads to the same destination. If you want to arrive at a new destination, you must change paths.

Image by Nicholas Raymond

How to Build Volunteer Teams that Expand Your Ministry

teamsIn yesterday’s post I gave 7 tips that will help optimize your small group ministry. Tip #3 was to Make identifying and recruiting a volunteer team of men and women who are passionate about small groups part of what you do all the time.

I went on to write that “some of the most enthusiastic potential volunteers are not leaders of leaders (or even leaders).” I went on to write, “if you can’t figure out how to use them, spend an afternoon creating an org chart for your ideal small group ministry.”

One of the books that helped shape my thinking about ministry was The E-Myth by Michael Gerber (now available in a revised edition called The E-Myth Revisited). A business book, it is packed with takeaways that directly apply to what we do.

One of the ideas I got from The E-Myth was that the way to build the organization you’ll need tomorrow is to start today by charting out the org chart for the organization you’ll need sooner than later. That’s right. Take the time to draw the org chart in the way it would be drawn if you had plenty of help…already.

And I’m not the only one who picked up on this idea. I’ve heard Andy Stanley talk about being inspired by The E-Myth and doing the same thing at the very beginning of North Point.

Here’s how to do it:

Start by listing all of the individual tasks that you’re doing to keep things running. This list might give you a hint or two:

  • Recruiting small group leaders
  • Training new small group leaders
  • Coaching small group leaders
  • Following up on indications of interest in joining a small group (whether they’re coming in via the bulletin, phone, or in person)
  • Reviewing new small group studies and updating the recommended list
  • Training existing small group leaders
  • Planning training events to train small group leaders
  • Collecting life-change stories to pass on to your senior pastor
  • etc.

Next, begin to drop these individual roles into the format of an org chart. Keep in mind that right now your name might be in most of the boxes!  Here’s an example.

Finally, begin looking for people who would be great at the individual roles. You won’t find them all at once. You’ll find them one at a time. You’ll need a job description and a way to supervise every role. It will take some work. But when you find them, every one you find will begin to delegate away the things that could be done by volunteers or additional staff. And it will leave you doing what only you can do!

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

Image by Dawn Manser

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

7 Tips that Will Help Optimize Your Small Group Ministry

15894436305_29152fc7fd_cRegardless of your small group ministry model, there are a few things you can do to optimize your small group ministry.

Here are 7 tips that will help optimize your small group ministry:

  1. Focus your attention on the things that only you can do and delegate everything else, Conduct an audit on your weekly calendar. Whatever you are doing that could be done by someone else, must be delegated. If you don’t have anyone to delegate to, see tips #2 and #3.
  2. Make identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders your number one objective. Start by taking a serious, steely-eyed look at your existing small group leaders. Every super effective small group leader ought to be looked at as a possible coach (a leader of leaders). Anyone who is a sixty or hundred-fold leader and leading a small group of adults (even if there are 20+ members in their group) might actually be misappropriating their capacity on ordinary men or women when they could (and should) be focusing on leaders.
  3. Make identifying and recruiting a volunteer team of men and women who are passionate about small groups part of what you do all the time. Some of the most enthusiastic potential volunteers are not leaders of leaders. If you can’t figure out how to use them, spend an afternoon creating an org chart for your ideal small group ministry. Add positions for every person it would take to maximize your potential. Strapped for administrative help? Add a position or two. Serving as a greeter yourself at your small group connections? Add positions for greeters. Writing discussion questions yourself for your sermon-based study? Recruit a writing team.
  4. Give regular attention to optimizing your next step menu and strategy. A buffet does not lead to more participation. A carefully groomed selection of next steps takes great courage and skillful tact and wisdom. Trimming available options (or at a minimum highlighting only the best next step will yield the highest completion. This cannot be put off. Although it often can only be accomplished with the tenacity and temerity of a political operative, a carefully manicured becoming and belonging menu will maximize the number of adults who get connected.
  5. Eliminate every opportunity to sign up to join a small group. The only sign-ups you should be taking are sign-ups to attend the next event or program that will launch new groups. Every sign-up opportunity that necessitates a contact to arrange a matchmaker function on your part (or anyone on your team) is wasted energy. Edit your connection card to remove “I’d like to join a small group” and add “I’d like to sign up for the small group connection.” Edit your website content to remove matchmaker functions and replace with sign-ups that will ultimately launch new groups.
  6. Focus on launching new groups. Evaluate your menu of connecting opportunities and focus on events and strategies that launch new groups. Everything you are currently doing to add members to existing small groups (i.e., taking sign-ups to join a group, holding small group fairs that repopulate existing groups, editing catalogs or lists of open groups, etc.) are almost always the least effective ways to spend your time. Instead, focus your time and attention on planning and implementing events that launch new groups. The most effective way to connect unconnected people is to give them opportunities to join groups where everyone is new.
  7. Train leaders of existing groups to be always inviting new members to their group. Every group leader will eventually need to add new members. Their best chance of actually adding new members who can break through the nearly impermeable membrane of an existing group is when a leader or a member invites a friend to join their group. Matchmaking is almost always counter-productive. In most cases only the most brazenly extroverted (with the exception of experienced small group participants from other churches or who come from a group that died) will use a small group finder. It is also a seldom acknowledged reality that it is the addition of a brazen outsider that causes the demise of a number of otherwise healthy groups every year.

Further Reading:

Image by C

5 Things to Do in January to Connect More in 2016

january calendarWant to connect more people in 2016? 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 31st, 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 base 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

5 Commitments for This Small Group Pastor

5 COMMITMENTSHave you made any New Year’s resolutions? I’ve made a set of resolutions. I’ve also renewed a set of 5 commitments as a small group pastor.

Here are the 5 commitments I’ve made as a small group pastor:

  1. I will make my own daily, living connection with Jesus Christ a priority—being in community with Him is the foundation for all community. This is truly where it must begin. How can I have any hope of leading anyone where I am not already going personally? Remember, whatever you want to happen at the member level in your system will have to be experienced by the you first.
  2. I will lead an exemplary Christian lifestyle—anyone watching me will see an obedient servant of Jesus Christ growing in maturity. I have a moment-to-moment opportunity to live the life I am proclaiming to others. In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
  3. I will convene my own small group regularly (2 to 4 times a month). How can I call everyone to life in community if I am not in community?
  4. I will provide personalized care and development for each of my area leaders (staff and volunteer). In order to provide appropriate care at the leader and member levels, I must pay close attention to the care being given to coaches and community leaders. Within the constraints of our span of care, I must do TO and FOR my area leaders (men’s, women’s, couples, etc.) whatever I want them to do TO and FOR the community leaders and coaches for whom they provide care.
  5. I will regularly gather our coaching community for training and encouragement.  We all need to pay attention to the examples of the leaders just ahead of us.  We also need to meet the needs of the leaders just behind us.  Although it is countercultural, we need each other and we are in this together.

While there are other ministry-centric actions and habits that I’m committed to, these five are at the core of what I must commit to as a small group pastor.

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

10 Questions that Will Help You Analyze Your Small Group Ministry?

7674804806_7bd5ff8688_zI reviewed Transformational Groups back in early 2014. It was a very helpful read and my copy ended up very marked up, starred, underlined, and dog-eared. At the time of the review I noted, “Whether you’re new to groups ministry or you’re a seasoned veteran, you’re going to want to digest the information and ideas in Transformational Groups.”

One of the things I made a note to return to was a great list of 10 questions to consider when you’re trying to debug the results of your small group ministry. Think about these questions.

10 questions that will help you analyze your small group ministry:

  1. Are the pastors and leaders in groups or leading a group?
  2. Do the people in the church continually hear about groups?
  3. If someone wanted to join a group today, what would you tell them to do?
  4. Are stories of transformation that occur in community shared with the church?
  5. In comparison to the weekend services, how much energy is poured into group strategy, leader training, etc.?
  6. Is there a clear path for the attenders of a weekend service to get from the pew to a group, from sitting in rows to sitting in circles?
  7. Are your groups available for anyone who wants to participate, or is there a waiting period?
  8. Does the church conduct an annual churchwide campaign to promote groups and get people into groups?
  9. Are other ministry leaders (staff members, women’s ministry leaders, men’s ministry leaders, etc.) encouraging those in their ministries to be involved in a group?
  10. Does the church’s schedule allow busy people the time to do life together in community?

Image by Shannan Muskopf

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