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Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level

I’ve said many times “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.”  I’ve also pointed out that life-change at the member begins with you.  It would be crazy to expect things would happen to anyone else if they’re not happening to you and me.  Right?  See also, Life Change at the Member Level and Life-Change at the Member Level Begins with You.

So far so good?

Model What You Want to Happen

Here’s what I want to point out today.  Even the way you want things to happen at the member level must begin with you.  For example, if you want your coaches to have frequent personal interaction with your small group leaders and you want that interaction to be in person or on the phone (i.e., not an email and not a voicemail)…that’s how you need to interact with your coaches.  If all you do is send a group email to your coaches you can hardly expect your coaches to interact by phone or in person.

You must model what you want to happen at the member level.  If you communicate with your coaches with a group email, they will do the same with their leaders.  And…shouldn’t you then expect your group leaders to touch base with their members by group email?

You must model what you want to happen at the member level.  See also, 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.

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

5 Steps to Take If Your Small Group Ministry Struggles

What do you do when your small group ministry struggles?  I’ve written about the 10 powerful benefits of a thriving small group ministry and also about the 5 easily overlooked secrets to building a thriving small group ministry.  But what do you do when your small group ministry struggles?

5 Steps to Take If Your Small Group Ministry Struggles:

  1. Evaluate your small group ministry.  There are some ingredients that really are essential.  If they aren’t present, you can’t build a thriving small group ministry.  See also, Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
  2. Take a careful look at the design of your small group ministry.  If it is true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley)”, you can be sure that your small group ministry’s design is flawed.  See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.
  3. Invite a trusted ministry partner into the conversation.  This is not about a gripe session.  Including additional perspectives is an important aspect of accurate diagnosis.  Partners might include your supervisor, your senior pastor and other staff members.  Partners could also include high capacity volunteers (coaches or community leaders).
  4. Be a learner.  Consider taking advantage of targeted learning (for example, my new short course Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group System).  At the same time, studying a recommended book or reading list ought to be a regular part of your diet.  I’m not suggesting that you change systems without careful consideration.  That is one of the 5 reasons small group ministries fail.  Rather, I’m encouraging you to be a learner.  Never stop learning.  See also, Required Reading for Small Group Pastors: Systems.
  5. Take advantage of the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider.  This could be another small group pastor who leads a thriving small group ministry.  It could also be an expert that you’ve come to trust.  The key here is that there is an advantage to fresh eyes.  You may also want to take advantage of personalized coaching call (like the easy to set up coaching calls that I offer).

The most important takeaway from this set of 5 steps to take is this: Once you realize that your small group ministry is struggling…you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your church, to do something about it.  Remember, “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results (Albert Einstein).”

Can I help you?  I’d love to help you build a thriving small group ministry.

Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy

If you’ve been paying attention you know that we tripped across the essence of a very intriguing idea at the 2012 re:group conference.  North Point was testing a short-term group experience (6 to 8 weeks) designed to be an easier first step into community (without the 12 to 18 month commitment required of the groups that form out of GroupLink).  See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

The more we thought about the idea the better it looked and in early 2013 we took our first run at a connecting strategy that is now in it’s 5th iteration.  We call them Base Groups and I think it’s something you might find pretty helpful.

Here’s the basic idea: Two or three times a year we offer a menu of short-term on-campus studies that are designed to lead to an off-campus small group.  We offer these studies at the end of January and also in October (scheduled to end before Thanksgiving).  Depending on Easter’s date, we may offer a post-Easter opportunity.

Important assumptions and details to understand about the strategy:

  • We believe many adults in our auditorium will not connect if the first step is a stranger’s living room.  See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Persons Second Greatest Fear.
  • We’ve chosen 4 studies we believe will grab the interest of unconnected adults in the auditorium. The same studies are offered 2 or 3 times a year.  We offer the same studies because we don’t want to create a destination.  We want to produce off-campus groups.  See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.
  • We’ve re-allocated on-campus space to prioritize short studies that lead to off-campus groups.  The best rooms and the best times are reserved for Base Groups.
  • Attendees are seated at the same tables each week for discussion. We separate adults who are already in a group from those who are not in a group (this is discovered in the registration process).  This eliminates the disappointment that happens when not everyone wants to continue meeting.
  • Natural leaders emerge at every table.
  • In week 3 or 4 we promote the possibility the groups continuing to meet, doing a follow-up study off-campus.

This strategy has developed into an additional way we can connect people several times a year.

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

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

In yesterday’s post I wrote that a very important thing a small group leader needs to know is that they are appreciated by their senior pastor.  Can it happen in churches of all sizes?  Absolutely.  Whether your church is small, medium or large, your senior pastor can do a short list of things that will affirm the value of small group leaders.

Here are 5 ways senior pastors can affirm the value of small group leaders:

  1. Talk about the value of small group leaders in their weekend messages.  This may seem like a small thing, but choosing to make heroes out of small group leaders goes a long way toward affirming their value.  Sharing stories about their essential role helps them know they are valued.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level Begins with You and The Role of the Senior Pastor.
  2. Be present at small group leader rallies and training gatherings.  Merely being present at training gatherings demonstrates appreciation and affirms value.  Opening the training with a brief word of encouragement speaks loudly.  When the session is followed by warm handshakes and pats on the back, you have a recipe for affirmation.  See also, Steve Gladen on the Power of HOST Gatherings.
  3. Welcome new small group HOSTs at their orientation.  The time to begin affirming the important step of becoming a small group leader is at the moment of the first step.  Sending a personalized email to everyone who signs up to host a group takes only a few minutes to set up.  Making a brief appearance at new HOST orientations (could be a 2 minute welcome) will go a long way towards establishing the value of small group leaders.  See also, HOST Orientations that Launch Groups.
  4. Greet small group leaders warmly with a high five or a hug.  In smaller churches it may be easy to know personally all of the small group leaders.  In larger congregations it may be the simple request at leader trainings and orientations to “be sure and introduce yourself the next time you see me (i.e., “Hi Pastor Mark, I’m Bob Smith and I lead a small group here”).”
  5. Ask small group leaders about their group.  Showing interest communicates loudly about their value.  Simply asking, “What’s the best thing happening in your small group?” or “What’s the most challenging thing about your group?” provides leaders a brief opportunity to talk about their group.  More importantly, a pattern of brief conversations affords the senior pastor a window into the life of the congregation’s optimal environments of life-change.

You can read about the other 9 things every small group leader needs to know right here.

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

10 Things Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know

There are a few things every small group needs to know.  Battle hardened veterans and wet-behind-the-ears alike, every small group leader needs to know these things.

10 things every small group leader needs to know

  1. Their senior pastor appreciates them.  This is a very, very important thing for a small group leader to know.  It ought to be communicated over and over again.  Senior pastors who understand this and act on it are able to build enduring armies of small group leaders.  See also, The Role of the Senior Pastor and 5 Ways Senior Pastors Can Affirm the Value of Small Group Leaders.
  2. Who cares for them.  Carl George expressed the truth of Exodus 18 this way: “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but nobody can care for more than (about) ten.”  Every small group leader needs to know experientially that someone cares for them.  If all they know is that someone “is over them” organizationally, you cannot expect their members to feel cared for either.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect.
  3. They belong.  I believe this is an essential ingredient if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.  Creating a sense of family and an esprit de corps isn’t automatic.  It must be created and passed on.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  4. How to take their next step.  This may not be known at the very beginning but must be an early learning.  In order for every small group leader to know this it must be built in at the earliest opportunity.  See also, From Here to There: The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders.
  5. How to use the study.  Especially in systems and strategies that make it possible for anyone to invite their friends and lead their own group, knowing how to use the study must be basic instruction.  Although launching studies ought to be nearly just-add-water, this little bit of coaching will help new leaders (and new groups) have a better experience.
  6. What to do when they don’t know the answer or what to do.  This ought to be basic training for all leaders.  If you don’t know the answer or what to do, simply say, “I’m not sure, but I know who I can ask.  Let me find out and get back to you tomorrow.”
  7. How to fill their own group.  Every small group leader should be trained to fill their own group.  Setting up the expectation that someone else will find members for their group (often the small group pastor) is a recipe for trouble and should be avoided at all costs.  See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members
  8. How to share the load.  Every small group leader (no matter what you call them) should know from the very beginning that recruiting a co-leader is step #1.  They should also know that inviting group members to take turns facilitating, opening their homes for meetings, signing up to bring a snack, and keeping track of the prayer list are normal activities.  See also, Skill Training: Rotating HOST Homes.
  9. How to help their members belong.  Every small group leader needs to know how to help their members develop a sense of family and belonging.  This rarely happens without an intentional effort.  This skill must be part of a leader’s normal expectations.  See also, Do Your Small Groups Cultivate This Powerful Ingredient?
  10. How to help their members take their next step.  In order for a small group to truly be the optimal environment for life-change, the leader plays an essential role.  Few small group leaders will intuitively play this part.  Almost all group leaders can be trained to “do to and for their members what is being done to and for them.”  Caught, not taught, helping their members take next steps is the essence of the leader role.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Skill Training: Equip Leaders to Help Members Take Their Next Step.

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

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
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