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5 Things to Remember When Planning Connecting Events

post itThere are certain things you must keep in mind as you’re planning events or strategies to connect unconnected people.

  1. Unconnected people care about what they care about.  In other words, what already connected people care about or are curious about doesn’t matter.  When you are choosing a topic or a small group study, the only people whose opinions count are the people you are trying to connect.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  2. Unconnected people are infrequent attenders.  They will not necessarily be there on the week you’ve chosen to announce or promote the connecting event.  If you want to give them the very best opportunity to connect, you must promote the connecting event several weeks in a row.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Unconnected People.
  3. Unconnected people are more likely to respond to a short-term test-drive (4 to 6 weeks).  The longer the commitment the less likely they are to respond.  It is far more effective to offer a short-term commitment with built-in next steps.  The longer the required commitment the smaller the percentage who will sign up.  The shorter the required commitment the greater the percentage who will sign up.  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Shortcuts You Need to Know.
  4. Unconnected people are looking for convenience.  Be sure you are scheduling the event at the most convenient time or times.  Plan to offer free childcare.  Provide an all-inclusive experience.  Every unnecessary step and everything that inconveniences them or forces them to go out of their way increases the chance that they will decline to take the test-drive.
  5. Unconnected people are often quick to change their mind.  While they don’t have to be, they are sometimes looking for a reason or excuse not to come (think about how often one spouse is interested and the other is not).  The more you can do to reinforce their commitment the better.  Confirmation and reminder emails are essential, a reminder phone call the day before, and an “even if you didn’t sign up” announcement the day of the event are all helpful measures that make attendance more likely.

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

Take Advantage of an Early Easter to Launch Small Groups

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image: CreationSwap.com user Phyl Brown

I’ve been thinking about the rhythms of connecting people and wanted to share an idea that you might want to consider.  With Easter, 2015  just about as early as it can possibly be (April 5th), there is still plenty of spring left before summer and it makes a lot of sense to launch another wave of small groups.

There are three steps to the idea.

Step One

As you know, we’re coming into a season (regardless of your hemisphere!) where many people are thinking, at least a little bit, about spiritual things.  Regardless of ones religious background, there will be a number of noticeable references to Lent and Easter over the next 40 days.

The weeks leading up to Easter can be a good opportunity to cast vision into existing small groups about opportunities to invite unchurched neighbors, friends, co-workers and family to Easter services.  A simple video of your senior pastor speaking directly to group members about the opportunity could be played in every group.

Step Two

Easter (April 5th) is quite early in 2015.  With over two months left before school is out for summer (at least in the United States), there is plenty of time for a connecting event and enough weeks to allow new groups to have a chance of solidifying.  See also, How to Launch New Groups Using a Small Group Connection.

If a study was selected that would appeal to infrequent attenders (who will be attending this Easter) as well as friends and neighbors, it could lead to an easy opportunity to connect unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Connecting Event with Unconnected People in Mind and Four Secrets of Connecting Unconnected People.

Promotion of a connecting event could begin the week before Easter.  The event could be scheduled for April 12th or 19th.

Step Three

Choosing the right study will make it easier to promote the connecting event and encourage unconnected people to join “a six week group.”  Of course, you’ll be doing everything you can to make it such a good experience that they will want to continue, but you’ll also be leveraging the power of a test-drive.  See also, 5 Studies that Will Connect People after Easter.

The right study will also make it easy for those who have invited friends and neighbors to host a group in their home that will do the study.  I’ll be posting an article next week that will highlight several good choices for post Easter strategies.

I hope this strategy helps you connect more people this spring!

Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Small Group Ministries

economic chartIn the world of economics, “lagging indicators are indicators that usually change after the economy as a whole does.”  For example, changes in the unemployment rate are lagging indicators that lag changes in the economy.  As the economy improves, more jobs are added and the unemployment rate decreases.  The Consumer Confidence Index and the Dow Jones Transportation Average are other examples of lagging indicators.  Their movement, up or down, trails changes in the economy.

Lagging indicators are useful for economists because they confirm the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of earlier strategies and actions.

Can you see where this is going?  Might there be lagging indicators that validate or invalidate the effectiveness of small group ministry disciple-making strategies and structures?  I believe there are a few that we should be tracking.

Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Strategies and Structures

This is a very preliminary list, but doesn’t it make sense that the following lagging indicators would be in evidence?

  • Growing evidence of a biblical worldview.  As more and more disciples are made, wouldn’t biblical principles infiltrate ordinary conversation among small group members?
  • A growing culture of generosity.  Couldn’t you compare the giving levels of small group members with the giving levels of those not in a group?
  • An others first mentality.  Doesn’t it make sense that a Philippians 2 attitude would begin to be in evidence?  With some work it should be possible to quantify a decrease in taking the best seat and an increase in setting aside what is due?
  • An abundance of ministry volunteers.  Wouldn’t every ministry have a surplus of committed volunteers?  Doesn’t the perennial shortage of ministry volunteers indicate an ineffective disciple-making strategy?
  • A pervasive attitude of humility.  If there was an effective disciple-making strategy, wouldn’t a growing percentage of small group members acknowledge that they have not yet arrived and readily recognize that they are not yet what they will be?
  • A persistent determination to clear up damaged relationships.  Don’t you imagine that an effective disciple-making strategy would greatly reduce the presence of petty grievances, malicious gossip, and barely covered ill will?
  • An increasing willingness to follow spiritual leadership.  Wouldn’t stubborn refusal to submit to spiritual authority steadily diminish when there is an effective disciple-making strategy?

Admittedly, in a growing church spiritual immaturity will always be present.  But in a church with an effective disciple-making strategy, there should also be the presence of an encouraging set of lagging indicators.

See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

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

5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design Is Inadequate

designIf it’s true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing,” it follows that the results you are currently experiencing clearly indicate whether your design is the right one or the wrong one.

See where I’m going with this?

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  If you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you must blame the design.  It is not a fluke.  Results are directly connected to design.

Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design is Inadequate

  1. You can’t find enough leaders.  If interest in joining a small group exceeds your ability to identify, recruit and develop small group leaders…you have an inadequate design.  The right design will produce an unlimited number of leaders and allow you to connect beyond 100% of your average adult weekend worship attendance.  See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders.
  2. You can’t find enough coaches.  If you are not able to identify, recruit and develop an adequate number of high capacity candidates, it is most likely that your design has incorrectly characterized the critical nature of the role.  The best candidates are almost always already serving in some capacity and will need encouragement and release to move to the right seat on the bus.  This is rarely an easy move and never without consequence.  As Carl George pointed out, “leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”  High capacity leaders might be the most finite of all resources and it the critical growth path includes a thriving small group ministry, the design must reflect wise reallocation of volunteers.
  3. Your percentage of connected adults is not increasing.  Many of us know this reality.  We find some new leaders and launch some new groups only to discover that some leaders decide to take a break or move away and some groups are always ending.  In a way our ministries are treading water.  A number of design elements can be responsible for a stuck percentage (A doubtful or conflicted senior pastor; a bloated belong and become menu; indecision about the best next step; a myopic understanding of the culture; or a leadership development disconnect).  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblocks.
  4. You are connecting unconnected people but not making disciples.  A pattern of launching new groups and connecting lots of unconnected people every year without the lagging indicators that evidence a growing number of disciples, is an indication that your design is inadequate.  See also, Four Leading Indicators of Groups that Make Disciples.
  5. You are making disciples but not connecting unconnected people.  Some inadequate designs have the opposite issue.  They can point to a trickle of new disciples on an annual basis but express frustration at the inability to attract the congregation and crowd to the disciple-making process.  While it is true that few will choose the narrow gate, the right design will maximize the opportunity to choose it.  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?

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

4 Foundational Questions for Small Group Ministries

questionsThere are several foundational questions that must be asked and answered in order to determine what your small group ministry will look like.  Think every small group ministry has the same end in mind?  You might be surprised.  Alan Kay pointed out that “Point of view (or perspective) is worth 80 IQ points.”  Spending sufficient time wrestling these questions to the ground will help clarify many things before you even get started.  Or at least, before you build the next layer.  See also, Avoid These Four Realities at Your Own Peril.

The way these questions are answered should play a role in how your ministry is designed.  And the design of your ministry absolutely determines the results you should anticipate.  See also, 7 Signs You Have a Bad Design for Small Group Ministry.

  1. What need(s) do people have that might best be met by a small group?  Which of these needs would be seen as most pressing?  Which of these needs could be met in the same small group?  While there may be some overlap in your answers and mine, your answers should define your direction.
  2. What will have to be true about the small groups in your ministry for men and women to be willing to try one?  This is a critical question to ask.  It isn’t a 5 minute discussion.  Spend adequate time here and the gold that you discover will help you with a whole list of important decisions.
  3. What are the required characteristics of small group leaders who can cultivate the experience you want your small groups to have?  “Required” is an important word in this question.  Aspects of the experience you want your small groups to have can be cultivated other ways (i.e., curriculum choices, training and coaching, etc.).  Some of what is required will be driven (or not driven) by the leaders you choose.
  4. What will have to be true about your leadership pathway to produce a sufficient number of leaders who have (or develop) the characteristics you have determined are required?  A “sufficient number” is determined by a number of factors.  I can’t determine the number for you.  I can remind you that the number of people whose needs you to hope to meet (see the first question) will play a significant role in determining what a sufficient number is.

I love a good question!  You can find additional great questions in The First 7 Questions I Ask When Evaluating a Small Group Ministry and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

8 Things You Need to Know about Small Group Leaders

open bookFile this list in the category of “things I know now, but haven’t always known.”  You’ve got this filing system too, right?  With experience, we learn what we really wish we had known back then.  See also, 5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Leaders.

Can I help you skip a step?  Or maybe help you rethink an idea or two that is still in the formative stages?

8 things you need to know about small group leaders:

  1. The best small group leader candidates may not be in a group yet.  The notion that in order to become a small group leader you must first be a member of a small group (and then an apprentice and then a leader) is an old-fashioned recipe for a stalled small group ministry.  Think about it.  Unless you’ve already connected the majority of the adults in your church, odds actually favor finding many of the best leader candidates outside your group rosters.  See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders.
  2. Some of the best leader candidates are unknown by staff members.  As a church grows and attendance slips beyond 200 it becomes more and more difficult for the senior pastor and other staff to actually know everyone.  For senior pastors and other staff members are routinely visible, being recognized by people who look familiar but are unknown becomes more and more common.  If this has already happened in your church, don’t miss the fact that some of the best leader candidates are unknown by staff members.  Note: This is why the small group connection strategy is so important.  It empowers group members to identify leaders.  See also, How to Launch Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  3. The best candidates almost never volunteer to be a small group leader.  The truth is that most of the best candidates are actually reluctant leaders.  And don’t miss the fact that many of the leaders in the best known Bible stories are reluctant (Moses and Gideon immediately come to mind).  Again, this is why strategies like the small group connection are so powerful.  Being chosen to lead is a powerful affirmation.  See also, The Upside of Reluctant Leaders.
  4. The most eager volunteers often have bad underlying motivations.  There is something destructive at work that prompts the wrong people to volunteer to lead.  Add below-the-waterline motivations (pride, control, desire for authority, etc.) to public appeals to “sign up for our leader training course” often result in the unfortunate pairing of unqualified leaders with those desperately seeking connection.
  5. The best small group leaders know they haven’t arrived.  Among the most important characteristics of life-changing small group leaders, the humble acknowledgement that they still have a long way to go is a key trait.  Disdain for spiritual formation and discipleship is not a trademark of maturity or arrival.  Rather, it is an indication of the miles yet to travel.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
  6. Small group leaders need to be discipled and developed.  “Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.”  If that is true, we need to pay careful attention to the development of a leadership development pathway.  If it is true, the role of a coach ought to be crystal clear.  See also, Life-Change at the Member-Level and Four Small Group Coaching Insights that Might Be Eye-Opening.
  7. Small group leaders come in all s.h.a.p.e.s and sizes.  The spiritual gift of leadership is not a requirement to lead a small group.  The particular spiritual gift or gift mix will often play a role in the way a group functions (for example, a group led by one with a shepherding gift may feel different than a group led by one with the gift of hospitality or mercy).
  8. The best small group leaders share the limelight.  The most meaningful small group experiences are rarely one man shows (or one woman shows).  To the contrary, the most meaningful small group experiences encourage the participation of every member.

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

4 Obsessions of the Extraordinary Small Group Pastor

man thinkingI’ve written quite a bit about small group pastors.  I’ve shared their most important contribution and what they need to know on day one.  I’ve talked about their most common rookie mistakes and biggest problems.

What I haven’t written about is what a small group pastor needs to be preoccupied with, obsessed with, in order to succeed in their role.  With an obvious reference to Patrick Lencioni’s fabulous book, here are the four obsessions:

Obsessed with connecting unconnected people.  Others may share this obsession, but if you’re going to build a thriving small group ministry it will be because there is an obsession with connecting unconnected people.  Far beyond any kind of vague awareness of their loneliness or sense that they are just a face in the crowd, this obsession is rooted in two certainties:

  1. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.
  2. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.

Your obsession with connecting unconnected people should lead you to develop deep knowledge of the real numbers of unconnected people in your crowd as well as deep empathy for their predicament.  This knowledge and empathy will open your eyes to the needs and interests of unconnected people.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

Obsessed with eliminating obstacles that keep new groups from forming.  If you truly want to build a thriving small group ministry you will be obsessed with removing obstacles that keep new groups from forming.

Obsessed with identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders.  Recognizing the essential role of the coach in the spiritual development of the small group leader (and ultimately of the group member), you will always be on the lookout for high capacity men and women who have the characteristics of an effective coach.  You’ll see the end in mind clearly and develop a compelling vision that will capture the imagination of the right people.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach and Life-Change at the Member Level.

Obsessed with delivering the right experience to small group members.  Knowing the truth about the ingredients for life-change, you’ll work diligently to develop leaders who can do more than host and be more than a facilitator.

This realization actually drives your obsession to identify, recruit and develop leaders of leaders.  This obsession with delivering the right experience to small group members will lead you to see the connection between what you do to and for leaders and what leaders do to and for members.

The obsession with delivering the right experience to members will help you evaluate small group curriculum, seeing the built in advantages and limitations.

At its essence, this obsession will drive you to see the critical importance of the leader in the promise of life-change.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

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

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.

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