A New Strategy We’re Testing

testingA New Strategy We’re Testing

We’re testing a new strategy at Canyon Ridge I thought you might want to know about.

Here’s the basic concept

The basic concept of the strategy is based on this question*:

Since our weekend message series are conceived and developed to move our congregation in a certain direction, could we identify (or create) next steps that can more naturally be promoted as the best next step (based on the content of our weekend message series)?

See where this is going?

When you think about your church’s normal plateful of events, programs, and activities and the tremendous pressure applied by every ministry owner and their constituents to promote their events, programs and activities from the stage…

I think you see where this is going. Right?

Forget the push from every ministry, program, event, and activity to promote their thing.

Sometimes it’s difficult to promote strategically important next steps naturally in the sermon or even in the announcements when what you’re promoting seems to come from left field. For instance, when you’d like to take advantage of your senior pastor’s influence by having him mention the upcoming small group connection in his message…but his message is on having an impact in the world.

Now…honestly, there is a little chicken and the egg going on here, but I think you see where I’m going.

An example of the new strategy at work:

Remember, the essence of the new strategy is to identify (or create) next steps that can more naturally be promoted as the best next step (based on the content of our weekend message series).

Two tracks to look at:

On the weekend message series track: Our current message series is called Margin and the four messages will unpack the need for financial, calendar, and relational margin. We began 2017 with a series called Impact: Be One. Have One. Our teaching team felt it made sense for the following series to be on having enough margin to include the most important things in life (that often get crowded out by a lack of financial, relational, or calendar margin).

On the providing the best next step track: At the same time, our Groups team hoped to promote a short-term on-campus strategy (that leads to off-campus groups) in order to connect unconnected people. We had planned to offer three options: Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, Authentic Manhood, and Comparison Trap (for women), promote them via announcements, sermon mentions, website content and church-wide emails and generate sign-ups with a bulletin insert. We’ve done this for three years running and it’s been reasonably effective. You can find out more about this strategy right here.

Where the new idea comes in: In order to take advantage of the natural momentum of the current message series on margin, we’re highlighting a short-term on-campus study called Simplify by Bill Hybels. We’re mentioning Simplify in both our weekend messages themselves and the announcements because it is a natural next step that can be promoted out of the margin series. The original three options (i.e., Laugh Your Way, etc.) will be promoted on the back side of the bulletin insert.

Can you see it? I’ll keep you posted as we test the new idea. It feels like a good step to me.

*Note: We are always asking questions about what we’ve just finished doing, currently doing or thinking about doing next. See the further reading for some of the best questions we ask.

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

Further Reading:

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What Would You Say to Your First Year in Small Group Ministry Self?

essential skills

What Would You Say to Your First Year in Small Group Ministry Self?

Maybe you’ve been asked a version of this question. Probably you’ve heard a version of it asked of a guest on a talk show or a podcast.

Usually it’s something like, “What would you say to the 25 year-old you?” Or, “What advice would you give the 21 year-old you?”

I can tell you this, there are some things I’d want to say to my first year in small group ministry self:

Focus on your own spiritual growth first

Focus on your own spiritual growth first. Make sure you’re being discipled and mentored by some fully authentic Christ followers who are the kind of people and leaders you want to be when you grow up.

I’ve always thought of this as, “In case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first.”

I didn’t know to do this when I began in ministry. As it turned out, my senior pastor introduced me to Eric Swanson, a Campus Crusade Campus Director in town for a couple months of that summer. It’s a massive understatement to say I’m thankful that happened. It set me on a path that 35 years later is still the right one. See also, Investing in Your Own Personal Growth.

Build a team as you find the players

Build a team as you find the players. One of the things I learned from Eric was the life-giving importance of team ministry. I can remember looking forward to the day I would work on a team like his. And I look back with gratitude that I began building my own team in the very beginning. We were all volunteers, but we enjoyed the essence of what Eric’s team had.

The chance to pray together and dream together almost pales in comparison to the moments you’ll laugh together or celebrate a victory together or even cry together when ministry or life is hard. See also, Sole Proprietor? Or Builder of a Great Team?

Prioritize launching new groups

Prioritize launching new groups. I had to learn to do this. And it didn’t come naturally. What came naturally was prioritizing the group leaders and groups I already had. Doing anything other than taking care of what I already had was counterintuitive.

Prioritizing anything other than the needs of the group leaders and groups I already had seemed like the opposite of the old maxim, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

But the truth is, launching (and sustaining) new groups is a key to building a thriving small group ministry.

I didn’t know it when I began, but I’m glad I learned it early. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

Always be identifying and recruiting leaders of leaders

Always be identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders. I didn’t learn this in the beginning. And I didn’t learn it all at once. It sort’ve came to me in stages over time. I learned the concept from Jim Dethmer and he learned it from Carl George. But I’m glad I learned it early on in my ministry. Alongside prioritizing new groups, this practice is a game-changer.

When you have eyes to see, there are always men and women who, when compared to everyone else, are simply higher capacity leaders. They are the hundred-fold or sixty-fold seeds in Jesus’ parables. It’s not about maturity. It is about capacity and it’s largely built-in. In many ways they were born that way.

Learn to spot them. And learn to recruit them to a seat on the bus where they can have the greatest impact. See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.

Do TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do to their members

Do TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do to their members. I didn’t learn this in the beginning. I wish I had. This simple practice makes so much possible. And, as you employ the practice of identifying and recruiting leaders of leaders it allows you to scale caring for leaders (and members) in a way that nothing else does.

Learn to do this as early as you can. Don’t put it off. This practice is at the very heart of building a thriving small group ministry. See also, The Best Training for Small Group Leaders.

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4 Tell-Tale Signs Your Small Group System Is Broken

tell taleYou know how certain things in life are tell-tale signs something is wrong? For example, when your car’s bouncing down the road and the tires are wearing unevenly…it’s a tell-tale sign that your car’s wheels need to be aligned . Or when your thermostat is set on 72 but it’s 82 in the house and the air conditioner is blowing hot air. Or how about when your debit card is declined the morning after your paycheck is deposited?

Tell-tale signs.

Did you know there are tell-tale signs that your small group system is broken?

4 Tell-Tale Signs Your Small Group System is Broken:

Your total number of groups is remaining the same year after year.

Your total number of groups is remaining the same year after year. If your total number of groups isn’t growing, it’s a tell-tale sign something is broken. Even if your church’s attendance is flatlined, a growing total number of groups is an indication of a healthy small group system.

A flatlined total number of groups may indicate a number of issues:

  • You are simply adding new members to existing groups (instead of focusing on launching new groups).
  • As existing group leaders move away or “take a break” you’re finding a replacement (instead of letting the group die).
  • You haven’t taught your group leaders to “fish for new members” themselves (and they’re relying on you to send them replacements.

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?

Your percentage connected remains the same year after year.

Your percentage connected remains the same year after year. If your percentage connected is not increasing year after year, it is a tell-tale sign something is broken (or inadequately designed). Even if your church’s attendance is increasing, a healthy small group system (or the right small group system) will allow your percentage connected to increase year after year.

A flatlined (or decreasing) percentage connected my indicate:

  • Your menu of belong and become options is too broad and needs to be pared down (to narrow the focus to only the best option(s).
  • Your system is inadequate to the challenge and simply isn’t designed to expand quickly enough.

See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected?

You’re not sustaining the new groups you are launching.

You’re not sustaining the new groups you are launching. When you are launching new groups but you’re not sustaining a high enough percentage of them, it’s a tell-tale sign something is broken.

A low percentage of new groups sustained may indicate:

  • You’re not providing appropriate support for new group leaders (i.e., you don’t have an effective coaching structure in place).
  • The method you’re using to launch new groups is poorly designed (i.e., a flaw in the launching strategy may actually predict poor affinity or unreasonable expectations).

See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Groups You Launch

Groups members show few signs of life-change.

Groups members show few signs of life-change. It is a deeply held assumption that the optimal environment for life-change is a small group. If life-change is not happening in a meaningful way (and stories of life-change are hard to find), it is a tell-tale sign something is broken.

A lack of life-change evidence may indicate:

  • A poorly designed method of gathering stories.
  • A lack of intentionality in doing TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do TO and FOR their members.
  • A laissez-faire attitude or lack of intentionality in guiding the selection of group curriculum.

See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change and 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.

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FAQ: What Does a Good First Step Out of the Auditorium Look Like?

FAQ- A Good First StepFAQ: What Does a Good First Step Out of the Auditorium Look Like?

I get questions. A lot of questions. Sometimes they come in a comment here on the blog. Other times a reader will simply reply to one of my blog posts. And still other times questions come at a workshop or conference session  I’m leading.

Here’s a recent version of a frequently asked question about designing a great first step out of the auditorium:

I serve in a more traditional environment that doesn’t currently have a first step out of the auditorium. What is typically covered in this first step at other churches?

We do a membership class 2-3 times per year and launch new life groups twice a year. Otherwise, we have many open group and service environments each week that we point people to through our announcements and bulletin.

Is this something would be (should be) happening more frequently? We do receive guests every week, but not a large number. Our average worship attendance is 320.

Here’s my answer:

Essentially, a first step out of the auditorium should seem reasonable and doable to the people that need to take it. I often say whether something is reasonable and doable is in the eye of the beholder (i.e., Design it with the people who need to take it in mind).

What are some things we must keep in mind about the people who need to take the first step?

Infrequent attenders

First, the people who need to take the first step are infrequent attenders. If you want them to take the first step you’ve designed, it should be talked about frequently enough to hit their radar when they’re ready to respond.

Since they’re infrequent attenders your first step should also be offered often enough to be available when they’re ready to respond.

An important litmus test of the any step you design is, “Is it easy, obvious and strategic for the people who need to take it.”

The priorities of the crowd and community

Second, the people who need to take the first step have the priorities of the crowd and community (i.e., not of the congregation, committed and core). If you want them to take the first step you’ve designed, it should be designed with their priorities (and their commitment level) in mind.

  • It should be convenient. If your first step is inconvenient (i.e., wrong day, time, place, length, etc.), it will be put off. Remember, they have the priorities of the crowd and community.
  • It should feel like a reasonable exchange for their time. What’s reasonable? Think in terms of what they are giving up to take the first step you are offering (i.e., several hours of their day off, watching their team, an afternoon in the pool, etc.). Remember, they have the priorities of the crowd and community.
  • It should offer a taste, not a 5 course meal. A taste requires only a willingness to try something out. I may choose to do that if even it is something I’ve never tried before. However, a 5 course meal of strange and foreign will probably not be selected.

Don’t need to know there is a built-in next step

Third, the people who need to take the first step don’t need to know there is a built-in next step. If your first step is designed with their interests and preferences in mind, taking it will almost be an afterthought. And the carefully designed next step that you offer at the end of the first step will seem like the natural thing to do next.

A better first step

In churches your size, a better first step is probably a nearby room or a booth or kiosk in the lobby staffed by really outgoing and helpful volunteers right after every service. A quick overview of selected next steps could be offered, and maybe a simple gift of some kind, in exchange for a simple contact form completed (name, best phone, best email, check boxes for interest).

Our first step

We have a very conveniently situated space called “The Corner” that is 20 feet outside our auditorium. We mention it every service in the welcome (i.e., “Hey, if you are joining us for the very first time, welcome! We want to send you a little something to say ‘Thanks’ for being a part of our weekend experience… so make sure to fill out the Connect Card in the weekend program & drop it in the offering bucket as it’s passed later in the service. We’ve also got a place just for you; it’s called The Corner. There are some great people there who are more than willing to answer any questions you might have.”

Something like The Corner provides an appropriate first step for unconnected people who are ready TODAY to take that step. If your membership class happens infrequently, you need something that is designed with their interests and priorities in mind. And whatever you design should always have the right next step embedded in it.

Our next step

We offer an experience called NEXT about 8 or 9 times a year. It is the closest thing we offer to a “membership class.” It is actually a next step in many ways.

  • We offer it right after our 4:00 p.m. service on Saturday and right after our 11:00 a.m. service on Sunday.
  • It lasts about an hour and includes a light lunch or dinner and childcare.
  • Participants are seated at round tables with a table host.
  • NEXT features a short welcome and “here’s our vision” moment from our senior pastor.
  • The balance of the hour includes three short videos that cast vision for connecting in a Life Group, serving, and being baptized. Each video is followed by a short discussion led by the table host.
  • Next steps for (1) connecting with a Life Group, (2) participating in a “back stage tour” (a behind-the-scenes look at serving opportunities on the weekend), or (3) committing to a baptism opportunity are scheduled in the following weeks.
  • Participants fill out a card during the hour indicating what their next step(s) will be.
  • Next Step commitments are followed up with email and phone call reminders.

Further Reading:

Evaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

first stepEvaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

Most churches have already adopted, adapted or developed a “first step out of the auditorium” that is regularly promoted and held on a regular basis. It may be Saddleback’s CLASS 101, an adaptation of some other first step class, or a class completely of your own design, but most churches have this strategy in play (and let’s just say, if you don’t yet have a “first step out of the auditorium” you need to!).

The basic question is, how effective is your first step out of the auditorium?

Don’t Miss THIS

The more advanced (and more pertinent to all of us) is how effective is the connection potential of your first step out of the auditorium? Don’t miss this point. A well designed first step out of the auditorium points participants to a carefully crafted next step.

A well designed first step out of the auditorium points participants to a carefully crafted next… Click To Tweet

Evaluate your “first step out of the auditorium”:

  1. Are you holding it often enough and promoting it regularly enough to capture the attention of unconnected people (who are typically infrequent attenders)? Your church’s size and the number of new or unconnected people you hope to see take this first step are probably determining how frequently you are holding the class. How frequently you are holding the class is probably determining how regularly you are promoting it. Note: If your size and number of new or unconnected people make the first step awkward to hold on a frequent basis, it may the wrong first step. An intermediate first step held more frequently, designed to feel good with only a few people, may be begging to be implemented.
  2. Is your “first step” easy to take? Is it at a convenient time? Does the way you offer it remove obstacles (i.e., by providing childcare, including a meal or a a snack if the time dictates, short enough to fit in busy schedules, etc.). Note: Pay close attention to any obstacles or issues that prevent offering an easy “first step” (i.e., another ministry or program has the best room reserved, childcare can’t be offered at the best time, etc.). Removing obstacles is not a nice extra. It is essential practice if you want to connect infrequent and unconnected attenders.
  3. Is your “first step” obvious? Are you offering it in a way that is unopposed (that is, alone on the calendar or time slot as the singular opportunity)? Is it clear from your promotion that this class or experience is the thing you want everyone to do? Or does it actually feel like one of several equally valid next steps? Note: While all of these steps are challenging, converting from a buffet of options to a single best choice might be the most difficult. Until you are able to take this step, it will be challenging to offer an obvious first step out of the auditorium.
  4. Is you “first step” strategic? Does the class or experience point attenders to a clearly marked next step (or a very narrow set of possible next steps)? To be strategic your “first step” must offer built-in and predetermined next steps that are designed for infrequent and unconnected attenders to take. These built-in and predetermined next steps must be easy, obvious and strategic themselves. Note: This is where you must do some of your best work. If your “first step” does not include as one of a narrow set of next steps attending a connection or signing up for a short-term group, you are leaving a very important opportunity on the table.

How did you do? Do you have a “first step” out of the auditorium? Are you holding it often enough and promoting it regularly enough? Is it an easy step? Is it an obvious step? Is it strategic?

Your answers to these four questions will reveal your assignment going forward.

Further Reading:

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Is THIS What’s Keeping You from Your Goals?

goalsIs THIS What’s Keeping You from Your Goals?

If I know you, you’ve worked very hard to start the small groups you’ve started. You’ve recruited leaders that worked out for the most part and you’ve made announcements, and run blurbs in weekend bulletins, and sent out emails, and even got your pastor to mention small groups a few times. And still you’re having trouble getting unconnected people to sign up for a group.

You’ve tried several times to connect people in waves using a small group connection or GroupLink. You’ve run two or three different church-wide campaigns. You’ve tried small group fairs and tried updating your online finder.

And still, at the end of the day, are right about where you have been all along in terms of percentage connected.

When Pete Wilson published What’s Keeping You Up at Night? you already knew what was keeping you up at night.

But do you? Do you know why you’re stuck? Why you’re not reaching your goals? Why you keep trying and keep falling way short?

Of course, there could be a number of reasons. I’d love to talk with you one on one about it.

But could there be a simple explanation?

What if there was a really simple explanation?

Think about this

It turns out that we are most often kept from our goals “not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”

“We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” Robert Brault

Ouch! Could it be that obvious?

What if the reason your percentage connected remains stuck at 32% is that too many other steps are easy to take and more obvious? That is, it’s not easy for unconnected people to choose the small group option because there are too many other options. See also, A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups, Think Steps, Not Programs, and Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious and Strategic.

What if the reason your attendance at your small group connection is way less than you hoped is that there were too many other easier selections to make when it came right down to it (i.e., you also offered sign-ups for everything under the sun during the same weeks leading up to the connection).

If you want to connect unconnected people you have to make it way easier to do than anything else, way more obvious than anything else, and way more strategic than anything else.

Not kind of easier or kind of obvious or kind of strategic.

Way.

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

Further Reading:

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7 Things You Might Be Missing about Unconnected People

things-you-need-to-know

7 Things You Might Be Missing about Unconnected People

Ever wish you could suddenly unravel the mystery of how to connect the unconnected people in your church? You know–the ones that no matter what you try, no matter how hard you try–they really don’t seem to want to do anything more than sit in a row. Maybe you wish you’d just sit bolt upright in the middle of the night and yell out “Eureka! I know how to connect unconnected people!”

Or maybe you’ve just given up and assumed if God really wanted everyone connected in a group He would have given everyone the same level of desire to be part of a group!

Although I’ve frequently written about unconnected people, I’m not sure I’ve framed their situation quite this way.

7 things you might be missing about unconnected people:

  1. Unconnected people are almost never loners. They are connected already, just not to other people at your church. In fact, I’ve said for many years that the least connected people in your church are the most connected people outside of your church (and conversely, the most connected people inside your church are the least connected outside).
  2. With very few exceptions, all of us are pre-wired for community. While unconnected people seem to be wired differently, they often are already experiencing a version of community somewhere else.
  3. Their taste buds don’t find the same topics appealing. Topics that long-time participants find fascinating rarely do it for unconnected people. Just like the taste for coffee, beer or wine, and brussel sprouts is an acquired taste, the key is to find topics in which unconnected people are already interested.
  4. Since almost nothing new is ever purchased without first sampling, trying on for size, or test-driving for feel, why would connecting to a small group be any different? The longer the initial commitment sounds (“sign up for the fall semester” or “sign  a 12 to 18 month covenant”), the more cautiously an unconnected person will approach connecting. Conversely, the more the invitation sounds like a test-drive or a taste-test, the less concerned an unconnected person will be.
  5. Unconnected people are not all the same. Within the broad category of unconnected people there are extroverts and introverts. There are socially adept people and there are socially awkward people. There are unconnected people who make great first impressions and those who don’t. While one strategy may work for extroverted, socially adept unconnected people who make great first impressions, the same strategy may feel like a death sentence (or at least life in prison) to the introverted, socially awkward spouse who makes a terrible first impression.
  6. Unconnected people are rarely regular attenders. They may only attend your weekend service on the weekends they have their children, or have Sunday off, or their team plays on Monday night. There are many reasons they only infrequently attend your weekend service.
  7. Unconnected people are often most comfortable with the familiar. While there are unconnected people who seek out new experiences and are the first in line for the new ride at Disneyland or the new latte at Starbucks, there are also many who are drawn to the familiar. At the same time, there are some who will only try the new restaurant if it’s in a familiar part of town or if it serves a familiar dish.

The Key Takeaway: Like all good designers, if you want your product to be purchased and used, you must know your customer. Becoming a student of unconnected people will help you understand them and create better next steps for them (and even first steps for their friends).

Further Reading: Top 10 Posts on Unconnected People

Image by Javier Morales

How to Communicate with Leaders (and Hosts)

how-to-communicateHow are you communicating with your small group leaders and hosts (remember, I’m differentiating between those just getting a toe in the water and those stepping onto the leadership conveyor belt)?  How hard (or easy) is it for you to get the word out about upcoming events, recommended curriculum, and leader development?  How do you do it?  Still using a print newsletter?  Sending an email out to a list?  Smiling and dialing?  In this post I want to point you to four easy-to-use tools that will make communicating with your team easier and more effective. See also: How to Help a HOST become a Small Group Leader.

First, give your leaders a way to get information 24/7. You may have a great website and a really cooperative webmaster…but most of us don’t.  The truth about most church websites is that finding what you’re looking for is a challenge and adding or changing content is even tougher.  What’s the answer?  Use a blog linked to your website that you and your team can update!  It’s easy to use and inexpensive to provide (less than $60 a year).  There are several web-based programs that make it so easy that even a caveman can do it.

You can see the blog I’m creating for life group leaders at Canyon Ridge right here.. If I have a training event that I want to promote or curriculum that I want to recommend it is easy to add and I can do it without waiting on our webmaster. Even better…I can set it up so that when I add the content my leaders are notified!

If you want to know How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes, click here. Michael Hyatt does a great job of explaining and has helped thousands of people get started.

Second, provide training and encouragement without scheduling an on-campus meeting. You can do this several ways.  For example, a short teleconference is a great technique that your leaders will really appreciate.  Using a service like FreeConferenceCall.com allows your leaders to take part in a training session without driving over to the church. That is a huge idea!  For many of your leaders it will save them 30 minutes both ways by the time they get in their car and drive over.

Another idea that is being used more and more is providing a quick videoconference. With a service like Zoom you can do training or coaching huddles using a webcam and a computer. Zoom allows your leaders to click a link from wherever they are and join a video call in progress. If they don’t have a webcam they’ll still be able to see everyone who does. If only the leader of the call has a webcam it can still provide a way for you to communicate visually with your team. And the basic level is free! Also, for as less than $15 per month, the calls can be recorded and the captured video can be uploaded to your website (or the blog I mentioned above) for just-in-time access later.

Third, take advantage of an online small group finder to allow unconnected people to find a group 24/7. Most church management softwares (CMS) have good enough built-in applications that can make a web-based small group finder available. Some CMS even include the ability for your leaders to do updates themselves (or you can do it for them), It is a real advantage to be able to provide current information about available groups 24/7. Additionally, with a web-based approach any church-wide email can provide a link to your small group finder.  This can be used in combination with verbal and print announcements to encourage maximum response to a church-wide emphasis.

If your CMS doesn’t offer an easy to set up small group finder, you might take a look at ChurchTeams.

Finally, take advantage of social media to stay connected with your leaders. Your leaders are already on Facebook.  If you haven’t set up your page yet, there’s no time like the present. Twitter is another social media service that could be on your to-do list.

Need a new approach? You don’t need to move from A to Z in one move. Move to B. Add a simple blog that you can update yourself.  Implement the small group finder application in your CMS. The key on all of these new ideas is to take a first step!

Further Reading:

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5 Things to Do in January to Connect More People in 2017

january calendar

5 Things to Do in January to Connect More People in 2017

Want to connect more people in 2017? There are a few things you can do now to exponentially increase the number you connect.

Here are 5 things to do:

  1. Plan a connecting event in late January. If you run the event on January 29th, you’ll have several weeks to promote it. Use a strategy like a small group connection in order to launch the maximum number of new groups. Small group fairs or other events that add members to existing groups are better than nothing, but don’t come anywhere near connecting the largest number of people for the year. See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection and Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection.
  2. Think strategically about the placement of your 101 class. If your 101 class is designed to offer a short list of next steps and you’ve slotted your connection event to follow a week or two later, you have an easy and effective one-two step that leads to more people connected.  At Canyon Ridge we have a 60 minute experience called NEXT that is offered about every 6 weeks. The three next steps that are promoted during NEXT are baptism, an upcoming small group connection (1 or 2 weeks after), and signing up for a back-stage tour designed to expose unconnected people to serving opportunities. See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.
  3. Review your calendar of connecting opportunities for 2016 and make sure you’re offering a well-timed selection. We build in an annual church-wide campaign every fall. We also schedule at least two other major small group connections and one or two opportunities to choose from a strategically selected set of on-campus group experiences that lead to off-campus groups. In all, we try to always have an upcoming opportunity that will connect people who have attended NEXT. See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  4. Choose a church-wide campaign for the fall ministry season and begin the planning process for it. The right church-wide campaign run the right way will maximize the number of people connected in new groups. Although a church-wide campaign may fit on the calendar in other seasons, the fall is the best time. See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Take a serious look at offering at least one 6 week on-campus experience that leads to an off-campus group. What we call a Short Term group, offers a smartly selected topic that will appeal to unconnected people. For example, we use Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage to draw unconnected married couples. They’re seated intentionally with other unconnected couples like them (we actually segregate any couples who are already in groups to their own tables). The material almost leads itself but the most natural leaders always emerges by the 3rd week. In week 5 we begin suggesting that if they’d like to continue to meet together off-campus, we’d like to help them. See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.

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

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Image by Emma Kate

I’ve Just Added Two New Assumptions to My List of Assumptions

10-assumptions-that-shape-my-small-group-ministry-strategyWe’ve talked many times about assumptions. If you’ve been along for much of this adventure, you’ve probably read more than your share of articles on assumptions. If the idea of assumptions is unfamiliar to you, I’ve linked to a few of my favorites below.

I’m thinking about my assumptions about small group ministry today because of an email I received from a reader yesterday. Their question in the email was so obviously the wrong question that it caused to me to wonder why in the world they are doing what they’re doing. And that caused me to reflect on my assumptions.

Here is a list of my assumptions (about small group ministry):

  1. There is no problem-free solution.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  2. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.  Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy.  See also,What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
  3. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.  Circles, not rows.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  4. Joining a group in a stranger’s living room is the second scariest move (preceded only by coming to church for the first time).  This makes a safe and familiar on-campus first step out of the auditorium a key to connecting people.  See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear.
  5. The people with the most connections inside the church have the fewest connections outside the church. Conversely, the people with the least connections inside the church have the most connections outside the church. This is an understanding that makes HOST a great idea. See also, Exponential Outreach.
  6. Every group of ten has a relative shepherd (and most adults can quickly identify the person they’d be willing to follow). In a Malcolm Gladwell sense, everyone can see very quickly who the leader should be. See also, How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting.
  7. The leader of a group only needs to be a step or two ahead of group members. Even Jesus didn’t look for Jesus Jr.  See also, Top 5 Signs Your Church Really Wants to Be a Church OF Groups.
  8. *I need to make it as easy as possible to begin “leading” and nearly automatic that the new “leader” step onto the leadership development conveyor belt. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway.
  9. Whatever we want the members of a group to experience, the leader has to experience first.  This makes coaching or mentoring an essential ingredient for any small group strategy.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.
  10. *Prioritizing the launch of new groups connects the largest number of unconnected people. Prioritizing the needs of existing groups connects the fewest unconnected people. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

What question was so obviously the wrong question?

The essence of the question was, “Have you written anything on how to best connect people with (existing) leaders? One of my greatest issues right now is connecting people on a Sunday with (existing) leaders.”
What makes that the wrong question? Easy. Emphasizing connecting unconnected people with existing leaders (who already have groups), leads to connecting the fewest unconnected people. Prioritizing the launch of new groups (via a small group connection,  GroupLink, etc.) leads to the connecting the largest number of unconnected people.
*New assumptions to the list.
What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Further reading on assumptions: