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Does Your Small Group Ministry Need to Grow Exponentially?

exponentialDoes your small group ministry need to grow exponentially?  Or can it grow incrementally and meet the needs of unconnected people?  Remember, unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being in your church again.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

A very simple calculation can help you determine your answer.  The most common calculation is the number of adults in a small group divided by weekend adult worship attendance (for example, 150 adults in small groups divided by 300 adults in worship equals 50%).  This is a helpful baseline understanding.

Note: I argue that the number of adults in a small group divided by your Easter or Christmas Eve adult worship attendance is a more accurate estimate of your percentage connected. See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected?

Does your small group ministry need to grow exponentially?

Now back to my question.  Does your small group ministry need to grow exponentially?

As I pointed out yesterday, there are three strategies that launch waves of new groups and can lead to exponential growth.  Virtually all other strategies launch a new group now and then and lead to incremental growth.  See also, Top 1o Ways to Launch New Groups.

Your answer to my question should determine the strategy you choose.

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

3 Strategies that Launch a Wave of New Groups

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Three Very Important Discoveries for Small Group Pastors

  1. The first very important discovery for small group pastors is that there are no problem-free small group systems or models.  A breakthrough happens when leaders learn that every system comes with a set of problems and wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free System, Model or Strategy.
  2. A second very important discovery for small group pastors is the realization that starting new groups is more productive than adding members to existing groups.  While this is counterintuitive for some, there is no doubt that launching new groups is the best way to grow the number of groups and the number of people connected.  Far better to train your small group leaders to fill their own group and focus your efforts 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.
  3. Finally, a third very important discovery for small group pastors is that starting a wave of new groups (as opposed to one at a time) is a key to the momentum needed to build a thriving small group ministry.  This is the difference between incremental growth and exponential growth.  Unless your church is nearly 100% connected in groups or experiencing a decline in attendance, incremental growth in new groups will not get the job done.  See also, How to Build an Exponential Small Group System.

Takeaway

These three important discoveries should lead you to wonder, “What’s the best way to launch a wave of new groups?”

Here are the top 3 ways to launch a wave of new groups:

  1. Launch a church-wide campaign.  In most cases, the very best way to launch a wave of new groups is with a church-wide campaign using the HOST strategy.  This strategy leverages the external connections of hosts and with the right campaign can provide an amazing link into the community.  See also,The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign, Saddleback Changed the Game…Again, and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. Hold a Small Group Connection.  The key to this strategy is that it connects the people who come to the event and doesn’t require “pre-qualified leaders” going into the event.” See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  3. Plan and launch GroupLink.  This is an excellent strategy.  If you are a fast growing church and late to the game, it will not catch a moving train.  But…if you’re looking for a plug-and-play concept that will work in season and out…you’ve got to consider this one.  See also, North Point’s Small Group System.

There are a number of other very good strategies that do a good job of connecting unconnected people.  The big idea of these three strategies is that they launch waves of new groups.  Other strategies primarily focus on adding members to existing groups and a new group here and there (such as the sermon-based strategy or the free market strategy).  See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups.

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

6 Things You Need to Know about Small Group Ministry

Sometimes things seem more complicated than they really are.  Small group ministry is truly one of those things.  It’s just not that complicated.

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Photo Credit: Alejandro Guijarro

6 things you need to know about small group ministry:

  1. There is no problem-free small group strategy or system.  It really doesn’t matter what system, strategy or model you choose.  They all come with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  The hunt for a problem-free solution may be the number one cause of ministry delay.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Your strategy or system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.  Don’t like the results you’re experiencing?  You must look at the design.  Results are directly related to design.  You may want to believe your results are a fluke; that they are related to the weather, or who was playing in the Super Bowl, or who won the election.  But your results are produced by the design.  Want different results?  Change the design.  See also, 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.
  3. There is no substitute for your senior pastor as small group champion.  There is no avoiding this reality.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, the role of small group champion cannot be delegated.  You may be able to connect the men and women in your church who are naturally inclined toward community (every church has a group of people who would connect even if it was illegal).  But if you want to connect beyond your average weekend adult attendance, you will need the most influential person in your church to be the spokesperson for life in community.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  4. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  This is my way of saying there is no tomorrow for some of the unconnected men and women in your crowd.  Their window is closing.  If you want to connect them to a small group, time really is of the essence.  “We don’t have enough qualified leaders” will not be an acceptable excuse.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
  5. Whatever you want to happen at the member level will have to happen to the leader first.  Doesn’t it stand to reason?  If you want your members to know that someone is praying for them, to know what it feels like to be prayed for, their leader will have to have already had that experience.  If you want group members to be discipled, it will have to happen to their leader first.  Bottom line?  This almost always makes building an effective coaching structure an essential step.  See also, Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.
  6. You can’t build a thriving small group ministry overnight.  Do not miss this.  Building a thriving small group ministry requires a long term commitment.  It happens over years of launching waves of new groups and sustaining a percentage of them.  Season after season.  Never wavering.  Wash, rinse and repeat.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.

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

Can Your Small Group Ministry Take These Four Next Steps?

When you are a beginner, you do what beginners can do.  Think about when a newborn turns over for the very first time.  Or takes their first step.  Or puts a phrase together.

Clearly, there are things that you do when you are a beginner.

And then there are things you can only do once you have mastered the basics and are ready for what’s next.

I think there are small group ministry steps like that.

Actually, I think the best way to begin is to begin.  Sure, there is the temptation to carefully lay the groundwork and slowly build a solid foundation.  But I believe that long preparations come at the expense of unconnected people.  And unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

So the best way to begin is to begin.  And build the bridge as you walk on it.

But once you’ve begun it will soon be time to take next steps.  Like what?  Like these!

Four Next Steps for Small Group Ministries:

Refine your preferred future.  You’ve given some thought already to the preferred future for your small group ministry.  Now it’s time to refine it and fill in some blanks.  Writing down, wordsmithing or crafting the picture of your preferred future will help you get there.  Clarifying today what your small group leaders and coaches will be like in your preferred future will help you arrive.  More importantly, knowing where you are going will help you make decisions along the way(i.e., “If we are going to arrive there, we will do this and not this.”)  See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.

Create a preferred future “org chart.”  In his groundbreaking book, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber described the power of creating an org chart for your future organization complete with every role you will one day need:

  • filling in the names those currently owning the responsibilities (often it will be your own name)
  • systematically writing job descriptions for these roles, and
  • recruiting the right people to fill the roles

What a fantastic idea!  Can you imagine the potential of this simple next step?  See also, Creating the Organization You Will Need Sooner Than Later.

Evaluate and reinvest in an effective coaching structure.  Developing a culture of evaluation is a wise step.  Casting vision for the value of open-handedness, the servant quality that acknowledges the truth that “I may not always be the best fit for this role,” is another very wise step.  The year in, year out refreshing of your coaching team will keep you moving toward your refined preferred future.  Committing again to invest in the development of your coaches is also an essential ingredient that builds a truly effective coaching structure.  See also, What Does Coaching Look Like in Your Preferred Future?

Establish a small group leader pathway.  Establishing a small group leader pathway is an important ingredient to building a thriving small group ministry.  Whether you have fully embraced my philosophy that lowering the leader bar and simultaneously raising the coaching bar produces more leaders and more groups, when you recruit a small group leader you ought to have a journey in mind for them that takes them from “host” or “newbie” to “shepherd” and “seasoned leader.”  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.

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

5 Small Group Ministry Truths I Hold to Be Self Evident

declaration of independenceThere are certain things, certain ideas, that are just true.  This was the case for Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers of the United States of America (Jefferson maintained they were self-evident).  And it is true for small group ministry.

With over three decades of small group ministry experience, I have found certain truths to be self-evident.  In the words of Captain Jack Ross in a Few Good Men, “These are the facts, and they are undisputed.”

5 small group ministry truths that I hold to be self-evident:

  1. A small group provides the optimal environment for the life-change Jesus intends for every believer.”  Circles, not rows.  A classroom environment is good for information, but the wrong model for authentic transformation.  The power of a group, not one-on-one. So much is gained when exposed to a variety of gifts.  See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  2. “Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.”  Time really is of the essence.  Next fall or even next season is never soon enough for some.  There is always a window closing on some unconnected people.  Therefore, postponing connection opportunities until leaders are identified, vetted and trained is a dangerous prerequisite.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
  3. “Joining a group in a stranger’s living room is the second scariest move (preceded only by coming to church for the first time).”  An awareness of and empathy for unconnected people is essential if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.  What the usual suspects want or can tolerate is far from the point.  Appreciation for the point of view of unconnected people (i.e., what they are interested in and afraid of) is essential.  See also, The Second Greatest Fear of Unconnected People.
  4. “Whatever you want to happen at the member level will have to happen to the leader first.”  No matter where you set the leader bar, you must understand that the member experience is absolutely determined by the leader’s steadfast pursuit of full devotion.  That said, it follows that very few adults are self-motivated.  Almost all adults need a mentor.coach who can say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Therefore, coaching is an essential ingredient for life-change.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  5. Your senior pastor as small group champion is essential in building a thriving small group ministry.  If there ever was an idea birthed in fantasy, it was that ordinary people would pursue something the most influential person is not modeling and championing.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor.

These are 5 of the small group ministry truths I hold to be self-evident.  Are there more?  No doubt.  Still, I believe if you want to build a thriving small group ministry you will embrace these truths as well.

See also, Top 10 Axiomatic Beliefs of GroupLife, 7 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Strategy, and 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry.

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

Yes, But What Do I Do First?

pick up sticksYou’re in, right? Ready to do the work that will take your small group ministry to new levels in 2015?  You’ve taken the time to write some new year’s resolutions and are beginning to figure out where you need to go.

But where do you start?  How do you figure out what must happen first?  Or does it matter where you start?

I call your dilemma “joining a game of pick up sticks in progress.”  I call it that because the truth is there really are some things that you must tackle before you can even get down to the issues you want to work on.

I believe in almost every church there are two primary issues that must be tackled at the same time.

First, if you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, then you are already certain you’ve got to find better and faster ways to connect more people.  Waiting until certain deeper issues are solved or waiting until certain capabilities are developed won’t make sense in light of your awareness that every unconnected person in your crowd has a closing window on their availability to connect.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

Believing this is true should prompt you to take seriously the urgency of connecting unconnected people.

It should also convince you to:

Second, if you believe that coaches play a key role in sustaining new groups and furthermore, that whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of your leaders, then you already know you that identifying, recruiting and developing coaches must be an immediate priority.  See also, Life Change at the Member Level

Believing this is true should prompt you to take seriously the need to identify, recruit and develop coaches.

Aren’t there other important things that must be done to build a thriving small group ministry?  Yes!  But without a doubt these are the two most important things and they will not wait for a better season.  They must be done well and they must be done now.

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

Where Will You Take Your Small Group Ministry in 2015?

Where will you take your small group ministry in 2015?  Have you thought about it?  Made any New Year’s resolutions?  Set any goals?

You may be one who makes New Year’s resolutions every year.  Lose weight.  Pay off credit cards.  Read through your Bible.

You may be one who always likes the idea of resolutions but never actually stops long enough to write them out and figure out how to act on them.

Or you might be one that just doesn’t see the merit in the idea.

I want to suggest that making New Year’s resolutions (or setting goals) for your small group ministry is actually very important.  In fact, I think the evidence is very strong that if you don’t think and dream and plan where you’d like to go you shouldn’t expect to get there.  See also, 10 Simple Things You Can Start Doing to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Things to Think about As 2014 Comes to a Close.

I believe the only way to get to where you really want to go is by conceiving of a preferred future and then intentionally acting to take steps in the right direction.  I believe we never arrive where we want to go by drifting and that we can only arrive at the preferred future by acting with intentionality.  See also, The Perils of the Well Worn Path and Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.

So…have you make any New Year’s resolutions for your small group ministry?  Where will you take your small group ministry in 2015?

Can I suggest a few goals?

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

Now What?

Once you’ve made these resolutions or set these goals you’ll want to write them down on a single piece of paper and put the paper somewhere you will see every day.  Create a shorthand way of saying the goals.  Make the goals visible and talk about them with your team.  Use the comment section below and tell me what your goals are.  The more visible the goals and the more you refer to them in your planning and implementing (and celebrating!), the more likely it is that you will reach them.

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

10 Simple Things You Can Start Doing to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

While there is definitely a list of complicated things you can start doing to build a thriving small group ministry, there is a list of simple things you can start doing.

It’s important to remember that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.  Easy is the opposite of hard or challenging.  Simple things are uncomplicated.  They can be done without a lot of prerequisite steps.  All of us have complicated things that need doing.  I call it “joining a game of pick-up-sticks in progress.”

What we’re talking about today are simple, uncomplicated, no excuses things you can start doing to build a thriving small group ministry.

Here are 10 simple things you can start doing:

  1. Invite your senior pastor to meet for breakfast, lunch or coffee.  If you have the relationship already, this will be easy.  If you don’t, you might have to develop a creative angle.  You can be your pastor’s source for life-change stories and you can help shape the belonging and becoming emphases, but only if you have the relationship.  See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask.
  2. Spend one hour shaping a grouplife calendar for 2015.  Where will you plug in your connecting events or strategies?  Where will you offer training and encouragement for your leaders?  Where will you invest in your coaches?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  3. Spend one hour thinking through your existing small group coaches.  Do you have the right people on your coaching team?  Are they fruitful and fulfilled?  Fulfilled but not fruitful?  Fruitful but not fulfilled?  Building an effective coaching structure requires getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus).  You may only be able to evaluate your coaches (without removing anyone).  That’s okay.  It is a start.  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  4. Spend one hour thinking through your existing group leaders.  Are there some sixty or hundred-fold leaders on your list who probably should be coaching?  One of the most powerful steps you can take in building a thriving small group ministry is to begin to build an effective coaching structure.  This simple exercise could be the very first step.  See Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns for a few ideas on how to do it.
  5. Spend one hour scheduling and planning a January coffee “get-together” for your small group leaders.  Make it simple and convenient.  Provide coffee, juice, donuts and fruit.  Pull together a few recommended studies for them to look over.  Choose a skill training idea to share.  Group them in a way that makes sense (life-stage, geography, affinity, etc.).  Give them something to talk about at their table.  See How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders for more ideas.
  6. Ask your small group leaders for their best story about life-change.  “What is the best thing happening in your group right now?” is a good question.  Email your leaders asking them to reply with their answer (or if you’re even a little bit tech savvy, create a Google survey).  This simple idea will pay huge dividends and give you plenty to talk about.
  7. Pick out a book to read or a study to do with your coaches.  If you’ve got the right people in the coaching role, you’ll want to spend time developing and discipling them.  Once you’ve chosen a book or a study, choose a morning that works for most and put it on the calendar.  Whether you meet once a month or even once a week for a season, it will be an investment with big returns.  See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  8. Join a Small Group Network huddle.  If you’re not already part of a huddle, you can find the best one for you right here.  If there’s not one in your area, consider starting your own!  It’s as easy as a quick phone call to have coffee with another small group pastor/director in your area.  You can do it and you’ll be glad you did.
  9. Meet with the leaders of any on-campus studies your church offers.  You can be a resource to the leaders of your church’s Beth Moore study, Men’s Fraternity, etc.  Offering to provide skill training for table leaders might be a simple first step that leads to helping them develop their own coaching structure for leaders.  And it will help establish you as their go to expert on how to deliver the best experience to members.  See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  10. Spend an hour getting to know some unconnected people in your church.  A few minutes learning about the lives, families, schedules, interests, problems and concerns of unconnected people will help you develop first steps and next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.  Until you actually know a few unconnected people you will pay too much attention to the interests of already connected people.  Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People and Learn to Empathize with Your End User.

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

5 Things to Think about as 2014 Comes to a Close

The end of the year is the time to think about, to evaluate, how your strategy worked; how close you got to where you were aiming.

5 things you ought to be looking at:

  1. Did you establish “wins” for the strategies you used this year?  If so, how did you do?  Did your plans succeed or fail?  If you didn’t establish wins, plan on adding this very important ingredient in 2015.  Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry is an excellent resource for this.  See also, What Will You Call a “Win” for the Groups in Your Ministry?
  2. Did you move closer to the preferred future?  Or simply prevent slippage?  If you haven’t developed a refined preferred future, it is time and you need to do it.  See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.
  3. Are you ending the year with a solid plan for 2015?  Even if you developed an annual calendar for 2014-15 (i.e., September to August), it’s a good idea to recalibrate for the start of the new year.  What changes or adjustments do you need to make?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  4. What have been your key learnings?  What have you learned is true in your setting that you didn’t know before?  What have you learned is actually an outdated assumption?  See also, Is It Time to Take a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions? and My Top 3 Learnings about Small Group Ministry This Year.
  5. What aspects of your design need to be carefully examined?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you want different results, you need to develop a different design.  Doing the same things again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (Albert Einstein).  Using the same strategy after you know it is ineffective is irresponsible and poor stewardship.  See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.

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

8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders

Help! I can’t find enough small group leaders!

One of the most common challenges for small group pastors is finding enough small group leaders.  To top it off, just when you think you’re getting a little bit of traction you learn that some of your best leaders are moving away or taking a break.

Can you relate?

8 secrets to finding an unlimited number of small group leaders:

  1. Leverage your senior pastor’s influence.  It is impossible to overstate the potential of your senior pastor as small group champion.  When your senior pastor learns to make the HOST ask effectively you will have unlocked a powerful secret.  Until you are learn to leverage your senior pastor’s influence you will be playing with both hands tied behind your back.  See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the HOST Ask.
  2. Set leader requirements at an entry level.  Setting your leader requirements too high only ensures you will not be able to find enough leaders.  Jesus himself was not looking for Jesus Jr. when he recruited the twelve.  See also, The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core.
  3. Keep your most important strategies focused on the edges.  There is nothing wrong with insisting that every leader have an apprentice.  It is a good strategy.  It is a biblical strategy.  It just has limited potential in most churches.  In most churches the largest number of potential group leaders are not currently in a group.  In addition, the least connected people in your congregation are often the most connected in the community.  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?
  4. Provide just-in-time coaching for new leaders.  You’ll retain more new leaders when you connect them to a coach (who knows the ropes) from the very beginning.  Remember, adults learn on a need-to-know basis and brand new leaders definitely have a need-to-know.  See also, 7 Core Ideas about Small Group Coaching.
  5. Get over the idea that the best candidates are people you know.  As your church grows it becomes increasingly less likely that your pastor and staff will know everyone.  This makes any leader identification strategy that depends on the personal knowledge of staff doomed to fail.  This make a small group connection (where the event itself identifies leader candidates) or the HOST strategy (which recruits people who know at least two other people) excellent strategies.  See also, HOST: What Does It Mean?
  6. Don’t expect the best candidates to volunteer.  A widespread trend in America is for people to migrate from smaller churches to larger churches where they will have access to more attractive opportunities.  Within the migration are many who were the 20% who did everything in their old church.  In many cases they are temporarily happy with the opportunity to arrive at 10:55, drop their kids in an excellent children’s program, sit in on a weekend service where they are anonymous, and be pulling out of the parking lot at 12:20 on their way to lunch.  They may respond to an opportunity to join a small group, but they will rarely sign up to lead one.  This trend makes a small group connection a very effective strategy because the event is designed to identify leader candidates.  See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  7. Create first steps that are short-term no-obligation test-drives.  You will engage many more leader candidates when you learn to create and implement first steps that feel like a test-drive.  If it feels like a lifetime commitment, you will miss out on many, many people who are reluctant to say yes.  See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.
  8. Create mission opportunities with built-in end dates.  At the same time many of the best leader candidates are people you don’t know, we all know that some groups are full of people who should be leading.  You know who they are.  You’ve probably even tried to recruit them to lead a group.  When you’ve tried they’ve said, “This group is how we are fed!”  Or maybe they’ve said, “We are already serving in two other ministries.  This is where we can get our own needs met.”  Sound familiar?  In my experience those same people will often respond to an invitation to “help start a new 6 week group and then you can go back.”  Essentially when you ask them to take a 6 week vacation.  See also, Take a Small Group Vacation.

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

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