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5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Due for a Tune Up

tune upMost of us quickly recognize the signs that there is something wrong with the way our car’s engine sounds or feels. When our car dies at the stop light or backfires as we drop off our teenage daughter at school…we get it. There’s something wrong with the engine. We may not know what it is but we know it’s time for a tune up.

But do you know the signs your small group ministry is due for a tune up?

5 signs your small group ministry is due for a tune up:

  1. You never need to start new groups because there’s always room in your existing groups. This is a serious sign that your small group ministry needs a tune up. It’s a problem for two reasons. First, the hardest place for a new member to connect is in an existing group where relationships are already established. The easiest place for a new member to connect is in a group where everyone is new. Second, small group leaders (and members) of existing groups need to learn to “fish” for new members. See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups and Great Question: How Do I Train Leaders to Add New Members?
  2. You’ve given up on build a coaching structure because none of your leaders want a coach anyway. While it’s true that established small group leaders will almost always reject the retroactive assignment of a coach, new and inexperienced small group leaders will almost always gladly accept a coach. Still, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the assignment of a coach is one of the most important steps to sustaining the new groups you launch. Second, while experienced small group leaders may not feel the need for “coaching” from a technique standpoint, we need to remember that whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups, must happen in the lives of the leaders first. If that is true, then finding a way to connect experienced leaders with a spiritual mentor is essential. See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Groups You Launch and How to Implement Coaching for Existing Group Leaders.
  3. Your senior pastor mentions the importance of belonging in a small group once a year (on the same Sunday he promotes the other 132 ministries). If you hope to build a thriving small group ministry, you must have a senior pastor willing to be the champion. One of the most important duties of the champion is the constant reference to the importance of being in a small group. Preferring one ministry over another is not easy for many senior pastors. As long as your senior pastor promotes every ministry equally, it will be difficult for your connection and discipleship engine to run smoothly. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  4. You’re spending way too much time selecting the perfect group for the 23 people who signed up to join a group. If you’re spending any significant time as matchmaker (or you’re asking another valuable member of your team to do it), your system desperately needs a tune up. First, even the best matchmaking attempts still add new members into already established relationships (where only the most extroverted fit in). Second, when the small group leader you’ve given the name to calls to invite the new members, they will almost always end up speaking to the spouse who didn’t sign up. Few strategies have results more discouraging than matchmaking. Far more effective to focus on launching new groups for new members. See also, 3 Strategies that Launch a Wave of New Groups and Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups.
  5. You have trouble explaining the advantages of joining a small group (without hurting the feelings of Sunday school teachers, Paul/Timothy discipleship leaders, Precepts teachers, etc.). If your small group ministry is struggling with this issue, you’re not alone. This is a serious and a very common sign of trouble. Identifying the best way to help unconnected people take a step that leads to getting connected is the first step. Becoming comfortable with only promoting the best way is the second step. Both steps are essential. See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.

Image by Sherry Wiesmann

5 Steps to Sustaining the New Small Groups You Launch

space launch

“We’ve launched 25 new groups!  How can we help them continue to meet?”

With the development of strategies like the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy it is not hard to launch a wave of new small groups. In fact, it is very easy to do. But like I always say, “There’s an upside and a downside to everything.”  What’s the upside? They’re easy to start. The downside is that they come with a life expectancy of about six weeks. See also, 3 Strategies that Launch a Wave of New Groups.

Six weeks? That’s all? Isn’t there anything that can be done? I’m glad you asked!  And the answer is “Yes!”

The step before the first step:

I think there are five steps to sustaining new groups, but there is a very important step that happens before your new groups even begin.  What is it?

Choose the right launching study.

Choose the right launching study. This is an important key because if you don’t choose the right launching study, the groups that do launch will struggle immediately. How can you choose the right launching study? It will be on the right topic and easy to use. This should be self-evident, but sometimes a little explanation is helpful. The study you choose will determine both who will say yes to hosting a group and who will say yes to joining a group (or attending a connection). If you want your hosts to fill their own group you’ll need to find a topic that is very invitation friendly. I’ve written about what I call the Easy/Hard Continuum. If you want to connect the largest number of unconnected people you will need to choose a study that has broad appeal. There are a growing number of great studies to choose from.  I’ve written about some of them right here. See also, 5 Best Church-Wide Campaigns for 2015.

Here are the 5 steps to sustaining the new groups you launch:

  1. Encourage every new group to begin with a co-leader. Regardless of how your new groups begin, make it a priority for every new leader to identify a co-leader (who is not a spouse) as their first step.
  2. Give them a coach on the front end, before they even begin, who will connect on a weekly basis, walk alongside them and help them get started.  This is important.  We’ve talked about this before. New hosts are usually very receptive to this idea in the beginning than they ever will be again.  Caution: It is important to recruit coaches based on who’s right for the job, not who’s available.  The best candidates are almost always already serving.  Freeing them up to move to the right seat on the bus separates fruitfulness from “in-name-only.”  Don’t give in to the temptation to fill an org chart with available bodies.  If you want to sustain groups, you’ll need the right people. See also, How to Recruit Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  3. Choose a study to do next that is similar in kind (before you even begin) and give it to your new groups by week 4 or 5.  There are two important parts to this step. First, what you give them to do next must be similar to the study they start with.  DVD driven?  Give them a DVD study to do next. 6 weeks? Give them another 6 week study to do next. Easy to prepare? You get the idea. Keeping them in a similar format ensures that your new hosts will not be intimidated. Second, telling them what’s next by week 4 or 5 catches them while they’re beginning to develop a rhythm of getting together.  Caution: Allowing each group to come up with their own follow up study almost always leads to the selection of a study that is too hard or too long. See also, 5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  4. Encourage your new groups to take turns facilitating.  Session one ought to end with a brief look at the calendar and the invitation for group members to share responsibility for the group by taking a turn bringing refreshments, coordinating the prayer list, or even facilitating a session!  Recruiting one member in advance to take a turn is often all you need to prime the pump.  Groups that rotate facilitators are much more likely to continue meeting.  Caution: Do this in a way that is not forced.  “Everybody needs to take a turn” is not the idea.
  5. Encourage your new hosts to find at least one other member who is willing to open their home for a meeting.  Groups that can meet even when the host is out of town are much more likely to continue.  Caution: It should be nearby. Moving week four’s meeting to a home 15 miles away is not a good idea.

Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

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Quotebook: Self-Control

self controlI know (and you know) that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” We know this. It is not a mystery or some kind of secret code. I know (and you know) that what happens at the member level is ultimately influenced by what happens in our lives. This also is not a mystery or secret code. It is self-evident.

And I much as I write about the habits I’d look for if I was hiring a small group pastor and the 8 habits of a life-changing small group leader, I know intuitively (and so do you), that we are fools to expect anything more than what we are living at the member level. See also, 5 Habits I’d look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.

And this is why it has become my preoccupation for the next season to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

To that end, here are two lines that I’ve written out on post-its so they’ll become part of my daily routine:

“Self-control begins when you begin to take your thoughts captive.” Clay Scroggins, Wish You Were Here, Control Yourself

“You only have control over three things in your life: the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” Jack Canfield, Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward

Image by Dave

What Do You Need to Abandon?

abandonedThis program has meant so much for so long to all these people! How can you even think of getting rid of the program that helped all of us start following Jesus? Old Mrs. Jones would roll over in her grave if she knew that the class named after her was being cancelled!

Who hasn’t had this “discussion” (read argument)?

The prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising

Peter Drucker wrote that “planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising.  Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation—both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old (Managing for Results, p. 143).”

Of course, Peter Drucker wasn’t writing about a church. He was writing about business, right? Actually, Drucker often focused his attention on non-profits and personally mentored both Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.

Corporations, both for-profit and non-profits, struggle with the difficult task of putting an end to programs that were successful in the past; with things that were once the bread-winner and now are mostly a resource drain.

Still, the truth is most businesses, most non-profits struggle to do what they know they should do…and a few make hard but necessary decisions and then reap the benefit.

INTEL actually provides one of the most dramatic examples of a company that abandoned a successful product in order to make resources available for the product that would carry them into the future. Beginning to see the handwriting on the wall of the memory chip business, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore knew they must move to microprocessors. Finally, they reasoned, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  Andy Grove, Former CEO, INTEL

The question today is, “What do you need to abandon?” See also, Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership.

Image by freaktography


4 Keys to Connecting People No One Else Is Connecting

face in the crowd“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.”

That was the line I heard from Craig Groeschel at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit in 2008. I remember where I was sitting in the Bayside Community Church auditorium when I heard the line. I can’t tell you anything else I heard at the Leadership Summit that year, but I’ll never forget that single line.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one rocked by the line. Andy Stanley referenced it in a memorable Drive Conference session. You can listen to him recount its impact right here: What no one else is doing.

“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.” If there was ever an idea that was self-evident, that was and is one.

To connect people no one else is connecting

When I heard the line, it was only a short leap to rearrange it this way:

To connect people no one else is connecting, we must do things no one else is doing.”

And like Groeschel’s original line, what this means is that simply improving what we’re already doing won’t get it done. In the same way moving from pews to theater seating and from a pipe organ to a band left many still unreached, so it is that improving the way we train small group leaders or installing a better online small group finder will still leave many unconnected.

What will enable our small group ministries to connect people no one else is connecting? Doing things that no one else is doing.

How can we crack the code? How can we develop the new ideas that will connect people no one else is connecting? Here are what I believe are 4 keys.

Four keys to connecting people no one else is connecting:

  1. Develop a conviction that there is no problem-free strategy or solution.  Don’t miss this important concept. As long as you are hunting for a problem-free solution you will be procrastinating the moves you need to make. Until you abandon the search for problem-free you will be quick to delay decisions that ought to be made. You must develop a conviction that there is no problem-free. Beyond that, you must own the idea that the pursuit of problem-free inhibits and prevents more ministry than anything else. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Cultivate the willingness to try and fail.  Redefine failure as fear of failure.  Adopt the attitude that in failing faster you’re moving closer to a winning strategy. I love the thinking of David Kelley, founder of legendary design firm, IDEO: “At IDEO, we believe that enlightened trial and error beats the planning of flawless intellects. In other words, we fail faster to succeed sooner. The reason is simple: the best solutions to most problems are rarely the most obvious.” See also, Beware of the Lure of the Status Quo.
  3. Always look at the individual variables within a working strategy (or even a sputtering strategy).  Many times tinkering with one variable is all it takes to turn failure into success or marginal success into a huge win. Not a failure by any stretch of the imagination, Saddleback expanded its small group impact exponentially in 2014 by adding a simple phrase to the HOST ask made in their church-wide campaign. The phrase? “If you have a couple friends you can host a group.”  See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  4. Experiment continually with new possibilities knowing that the best way of connecting unconnected people hasn’t been tried yet.  Do this even when you’re existing strategies are working because you know you’ve not yet connected everyone. See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula

Want to connect people no one else is connecting? You must do things no one else is doing. Image by Scott Cresswell

The Truth about Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry

truth washington monumentI talk and write a lot about building a thriving small group ministry. You might say I am preoccupied by it! Some might even say I am obsessed by the idea. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

As part of the community here, I have no doubt that you’re thinking about what it will take to build a thriving small group ministry. You’re probably already working on building one!

Still, there a few things I need to remind you about.

You can’t build a thriving small group ministry…

  1. Overnight. Thriving small group ministries are never built in a day. They are never built as a result of a single small group launch or church-wide campaign. They are built over years as a result of an enduring commitment on the part of many. They are built over many seasons and are the result of determined resolution.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  2. By accident. Thriving small group ministries are the result of intentional choices made over many seasons and years. They are the result of design and not chance. They are the result of strategic preference and choice. See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.
  3. On your own. Thriving small group ministries are built by teams; they are built by bands of committed men and women who know deep in their own experience the life-changing potential of a circle. A lone small group pastor can never accomplish what a committed core of leaders can. See also, 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4. Without your senior pastor’s help. Building a thriving small group ministry cannot be done without the full support of the most influential person in the church. It won’t happen without your senior pastor as visible and unmistakable champion. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  5. With a buffet. Thriving small group ministries are built when next steps are easy, obvious and strategic. Larger and more extensive menus never make choosing the right next step easier. Smartly tailored and hand-crafted steps lead to more movement and a greater willingness on the part of unconnected people to take first steps. See also, 5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail.

I’m sure I’m leaving a few things out. The truth about building a thriving small group ministry is that it’s not easy. It can’t be done overnight or by accident. You can’t do it alone. You need your senior pastor’s help and you can’t do it with a buffet.  See also, 5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Image by gawnesco

Insights That Sharpen Small Group Ministry Perspective

1911519592_90f62ac01f_zHave you noticed that reading more books (and blogs) sometimes increases confusion and indecision about the best way to do small group ministry? Add the input from conferences you attend and experts you listen to and you can end up with a pretty complex soup.

What should you do? It’s good to read, right? Leaders are learners, right?

Short answer: Yes, it’s good to read and it’s good to attend conferences and listen to experts. I’m right there with you.

Slightly longer answer: Computer theorist Alan Kay pointed out that “Point of view (or perspective) is worth 80 IQ points.” While it’s good to read, attend conferences and listen to experts, developing the filter of a point of view (or perspective)–through which to absorb new content–provides more clarity and less confusion.

Insights that sharpen point of view (or perspective):

Start with why. Building a small group ministry (or choosing a model, system or strategy) without clarity about the why behind your effort is a recipe for wandering in the wilderness. Did you begin with why? Is it still clear? Was it ever? Simon Sinek notes that “All organizations start with why, but only the great ones keep their why clear year after year.”

Start with why. This is a truly foundational insight. If you’ve never watched Simon Sinek’s brilliant TED talk on this idea, stop what you’re doing and watch it right now. See also, Wrestling with “Why” We Do “What” We Do and 6 Questions We Should All Be Asking.

Determine the what that must be done. Only after identifying why you care enough to do anything about it can you begin to think about what it is that actually must be done. Can you see that it would be foolish to have chosen a small group model, system or strategy before determining what must be done?

Decide how to do what must be done. This is about determining the best way to do what must be done. You are finally in a position to make a wise choice about a model, system or strategy).

I love an Andy Stanley line on this that make so much sense. “Don’t fall in love with a model. Fall in love with the mission and date the model.” When you are clear on the why (and the what) it is easy to choose the how (the model) that is the best way to do what must be done. See also, How to Choose a Small Group System, Model or Strategy.

Image by Al HikesAZ

What Baby Step Will You Take Today?

running on the beachMost changes begin as baby steps. As I write this post I am learning to be a runner. Three (or four) runs a week with two (or three) walks interspersed for recovery. I am averaging 16 running miles a week (with another 8 walking). Most days my run is a combination of run, walk and breathing hard. I used to say, “Run, Walk and Gasp,” but there’s no gasping going on anymore. I began learning to be a runner to lose weight. I’ve lost 30 lbs and feel very good. I’m also learning to enjoy the run. In fact, I actually crave it…right up until the moment I leave the driveway and begin. ;-) I didn’t begin learning to be a runner by running a half marathon or even running one mile. I began by going for a run or a walk every day. On the days I went for a run it was mostly walk with a twist of running. I used the Nike running app to track my time and set goals to reduce my time. Most changes begin as baby steps. In the same way I began running to lose weight, you may need to take a baby step that simply starts your small group ministry moving in the right direction. See also, 10 Simple Things You Can Start Doing to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry. Are you ready to take a baby step? Image by A. Strakey

Quotebook: What Successful People Do (and Failures Don’t)

 success failureRecently I wrote about 7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs.  I know of no workaround that will enable a small group pastor to avoid the development of these skills.  I’ve met many small group pastors who have tried to get by without them, but the truth is these skills are essential and unavoidable.

I’ve been working my way through an excellent book over the last two weeks.  Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward might turn out to be the book of the year for me.  When I read this paragraph I immediately thought about those small group pastors that struggle to get the job done.

“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their dislike is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.” E.N. Gray

I don’t know what you think. But I do know this. If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, developing these 7 skills is a non-negotiable. Further, truly successful small group pastors will do the things that unsuccessful small group pastors won’t.

Image by Chris Potter

5 Things You Need to Know about Your Small Group Model

assembly lineWhen you choose a small group model, system or strategy there are several things you ought to know. Need to know, really. The model you choose should be based on an informed choice. One of the worst things you can do is flip abruptly or frequently between models. See also, 5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail and Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry is Schizophrenic.

Here are 5 Things You Need to Know:

  1. There is no problem-free small group model. Every model comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they would rather have. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System or Model.
  2. The to-do list that come with the model you choose. In addition to a set of problems, every model comes with a list of activities that must be accomplished in order for the model to work effectively. For example, most Semester models necessitate confirming the availability of every leader and the study they will be doing for the upcoming semester. Sermon-Based models require a quality study to be written every week and distributed to group leaders. See also, An Analysis of the Sermon-Based Model and An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System.
  3. What your model will make simple and ordinary. One advantage of a model is that it makes complex things simple. Another advantage is that the right model makes extraordinary things ordinary.
  4. What your model will make more difficult. A slightly different issue, every model makes a small set of things more difficult (when compared to another model). For example, the Free Market model can make finding new leaders more difficult (when compared to other models). The Meta Church model rarely births new groups fast enough to absorb unconnected people in a growing church. See also, Choosing What Not to Do.
  5. What your model won’t do. Don’t miss this. Every small group model has limitations (i.e., things it won’t do). For example, apprenticing new leaders takes time and the Cell Church model won’t reproduce leaders faster when the need is greater.

I’ve written quite a bit about the distinctions of small group models, systems and strategies. Your choice of model is one of the 7 decisions that predetermine small group ministry impact. See also, Small Group Models and How to Choose a Small Group Model or System.

Image by Ford Europe

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