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5 Keys to Keep in Mind When Choosing Your Small Group System


5 Keys to Keep in Mind When Choosing Your Small Group System

Yesterday’s post, Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72,000 in Groups*, prompted me to think about the similarities (and the differences) between North Point system and Saddleback’s system. In the midst of that process I thought about North Coast’s successful group strategy (consistently over 80% of their adults in groups) as well as a couple other significantly successful churches (i.e., Life.Church and Willow Creek in the 90s).

There are similarities between them. There are also some fairly significant differences.

Can we learn from them? Are there some common threads in the fabric of successful systems?

I think there are.

Here are 5 keys to keep in mind when choosing your small group system:

  1. Successful small group systems are championed by the senior pastor. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Larry Osborne or Craig Groeschel, when it comes to owning the small group champion role, they are very, very similar.  As the most influential people in their respective congregations, they own the champion role. They talk about their own group involvement and they regularly challenge everyone to join a small group. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Churches with successful small group systems run virtually the same playbook year round and year after year. This is significant. When you look closely at the churches who are best known for small group ministry success, they have chosen a system and ridden that system for many years. The way the system works is familiar to all but the least frequent attenders. It doesn’t change from one year to the next. See also, 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.
  3. Churches with successful small group systems regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies. Any and all variables are carefully evaluated and subject to modification. This may sound counter to the second key, but it is actually their commitment to the recognition that results are a product of designs. If you want different results, you must alter the design. Saddleback’s HOST strategy was about altering the design. Saddleback’s “if you have a couple friends” strategy was developed to alter the design. The addition of North Point’s short-term group offering was about altering the design. See also, Orchestrate and Evaluate Everything.
  4. Churches with successful small group systems have a clearly defined engagement pathway. Small groups are not necessarily the only next step they offer, but the importance of both being in a small group and how to join one is clearly articulated. While the size of the “become and belong” menu is quite different at Saddleback and North Point, it would be impossible to attend either without knowing exactly what to do right now. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  5. Successful small group systems have powerful rhythms that connect people in waves. When you look closely at the systems of churches with successful small group ministries, it is easy to spot the fact that they aren’t connecting unconnected people one at a time. Match-making is the exception. The rule is that North Point’s GroupLink starts waves of new groups twice a year. Saddleback’s annual church-wide campaign starts hundreds of new groups every year. North Coast’s semester system offers an easy way to join in three times a year. See also, Saddleback’s Not-So-Secret Strategy of Launching New Groups in Waves.

Image by Thomas Angermann

Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72,000* in Groups

north point ministriesOne of the churches you ought to be paying attention to when it comes to small group ministry is North Point Community Church (technically, North Point Ministries, which is their name for their 6 Atlanta churches and global network of more than 30 strategic partner churches). Led by senior pastor Andy Stanley, North Point has accomplished some amazing things and is on an incredible trajectory.

Full Disclosure: I have long admired Andy Stanley and the North Point team and strategy. A capstone statement Andy made in 2012 sums it up for me:

Let’s say that something happens to me, all the staff, and all the buildings simultaneously explode.  Let’s make it worst case scenario.  There’s no staff.  There’s no buildings.  And there’s no me.  Here’s what would happen.  On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the following week, thousands and thousands of adults would gather in homes all over the city and pray together, and do Bible study together and take care of whatever family members are left over and the church is going to go on.

Because at the end of the day, circles are better than rows.  And from day one, we’ve been committed to creating a culture that’s all about circles and not rows.  We are famous for our rows.  But the strength of our churches is what happens in circles.

Here are my top 10 reasons North Point has connected over 72,000* in groups:

  1. Andy Stanley has consistently championed the importance of being involved in a small group. The champion role has never been delegated. In addition to the role of champion, Andy talks regularly about his own small group involvement and the difference it makes in his life (and his family’s life). See also, 18 Great Lines from Andy Stanley and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. They’ve had consistent point leadership in Bill Willits (Executive Director of Ministry Environments for North Point Ministries) for their entire 20 year history. One of 6 founding staff members, Bill has provided strategic leadership, helping their team to meet the challenges and dynamics of one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country. Bill Willits is a featured speaker at GroupLife Southwest, a new small group ministry conference launching 3/27-28/16.
  3. They have consistently kept a narrow focus and offered small groups as the lone menu item to connect people and help them grow spiritually. This is deceptively significant. The fact that they’ve never had to take apart a legacy system from a previous paradigm is more than the result of just turning 20 years old. In addition, they’ve made wise decisions based on their strategy (and not on sentimentality). See also, Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  4. They’ve consistently made getting connected easy, obvious and strategic. A quick look at their website easily demonstrates the win they’ve clarified. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  5. They’ve had one numeric goal (to have 100,000 in groups) for 20 years. A singular focus has helped them determine time and again what is important and what is sideways energy.
  6. They’ve prioritized small group ministry in their budget. Stanley has said their one numeric goal “has shaped everything. It has shaped everything including our budget. Your goals shape where the money goes. Groups is the best bet.” As an example of their commitment to groups, recognizing the importance of the coaching component, they’ve staffed a “groups director” position that is essentially a coach to 60 to 80 small group leaders. They’ve also budgeted to help tackle the childcare challenge and offered reimbursement for childcare expenses for groups.
  7. GroupLink (their connection event) is a powerful twice a year engine that connects unconnected people in massive waves. Although there are other ways to start groups and other ways to get connected, their focused energy on this twice a year strategy is like a laser beam. See also, Three Observations that Made Me a Fan of North Point’s Closed Group Strategy and Distinctives of Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events.
  8. They regularly use baptism testimonies and virtually all of them point to the significant role played by the small group in  spiritual development. This is not a new development. Recognizing the power of story-telling happened early and is a time-tested strategy.
  9. They are committed to evaluation and regularly review their strategies and tactics for improvement. For example, after evaluating the length of time between when an attender begins to attend the weekend service and then joins a group by attending GroupLink (which has a 12 to 18 month commitment), they were concerned about the length of time and made a strategic adjustment. Adding a short-term group option, with only a 6 to 8 week commitment, shortened the time between beginning to attend the weekend service and joining a short-term group. See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step and Three Important Distinctives of North Point’s Access Group Strategy.
  10. They are committed to acknowledging that results are directly related to design. Andy Stanley said, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” Translated: Your results are not a fluke. They are produced by your design. If you want different results…you must change the design. This is always present in their thinking. They’ve relentlessly abandoned less productive strategies and programs (i.e., KidStuff and 7:22). See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design Is Inadequate.

This is my list of the top 10 reasons North Point has connected over 72,000 in small groups. Can I add a bonus reason? My bonus reason is likely to turn out to be very significant in the coming season. Recognizing that a different day is here (not just on the horizon), they’ve determined that in order to be true to their ambition (for everyone to experience life-changing community) they needed to make space in groups for people with a variety of lifestyles and theological beliefs. See also, Community for Everyone.

*North Point Ministries includes students and children who are in small groups.

See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups and Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Connected Over 80% in Groups.

Image by North Point Ministries


Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player is a Must-Read

the-ideal-team-playerI spent some time with Patrick Lencioni’s newest book this week. Like every one of Lencioni’s books, The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues is a great read. Like virtually all of his books (with the exception of The Advantage), The Idea Team Player is part fable (a very compelling and imaginative story about a businessman) and part model and practice (and very transferable).

Having heard him at this year’s Global Leadership Summit I knew I needed to dig deeper into the ideas he presented there (Virtually everything he talked about felt like indispensable information and tools we needed to know about). At the essence of The Idea Team Player is a “powerful framework that will help you identify, hire and develop ideal team players in any kind of organization.”

Trust me….this has real application for much of what we do (both from a paid staff  hiring standpoint and also from a volunteer recruiting standpoint).

While the fable portion of The Ideal Team Player is a page-turner and a very easy read, it also contains many insights that will prompt you to highlight, star or dog-ear pages. The fable also makes thinking about the model or framework presented in the second part of the book very understandable (and as a result, applicable).

The “model” section of the book includes several key components. First, Lencioni spends a few pages carefully defining the three essential virtues of the idea team player (humble, hungry, and people smart). A quick review of these virtues will help you more easily grasp the model.

Second, the model section offers a drawing, a visual way of seeing how the three essential virtues interconnect to produce ideal team players. With the visual, you’ll also come away with a helpful framework to think about the potential damage caused by a player with only one or two of the virtues.

Finally, Lencioni hits a home run in the application section of the model. Far beyond simply developing eyes to see the model clearly, the application section will be a toolbox all of will want to have at our disposal. Clearly not an afterthought, these applications will definitely end up being used by many.

The four applications presented are:

  1. Hiring
  2. Assessing current employees
  3. Developing employees who lack one or more of the virtues
  4. Embedding the model in an organization’s culture

If you do any hiring or recruiting, The Ideal Team Player is a must-read. I have no doubt this framework will quickly make it into our set of hiring and recruiting practices.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

humility“Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. It is no great surprise, then, that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player. Humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.” The Ideal Team Player

Image by peter skim

5 Tiny Plan Alterations that Lead to Completely Different Destinations

destinations5 Tiny Plan Alterations that Lead to Completely Different Destinations

Have you ever noticed that you only have to miss one turn to end up at an completely different destination? Happened to me most recently in London’s Harrods department store.

I don’t know whose idea it was to go to Harrods to shop for toys for our grandkids…but we went. And in the middle of our endless exploration of the toy section of this massive store…I needed to use the restroom.

“Excuse me…where’s the closest restroom?” I said to the clerk.

“Go through these next two sections and when you get to the hmm hmm turn right and then right again at the first hallway,” she said pointing in the direction.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Go through these next two sections and when you get to the hmm hmm turn right and then right again at the first hallway.”

“Ohhkaaay…I’ll give it a try.” And I did find one eventually. Just not the one right after the “hmm hmm.”

Seriously, have you ever noticed that you only have to miss one turn to end up in an completely different destination?

Have you ever noticed that tiny plan alterations lead to completely different destinations?

I regularly get emails from  readers trying to figure out what went wrong in their church-wide campaign (or small group connection, identifying, recruiting and developing coaches, etc.). Maybe you’ve emailed me.

A little detective work almost always reveals the #1 reason strategies don’t work: Tiny plan alterations lead to completely different outcomes.

The #1 reason strategies don’t work: Tiny plan alterations lead to completely different destinations.

Here are five examples:

  1. Instead of spending three weekends exclusively recruiting hosts for your church-wide campaign and then three more weekends recruiting sign-ups for your small group connection…recruit hosts and sign-ups for the connection on the same weekends. What could be the harm, right? Actually, if you want to recruit the largest number of hosts you must segregate the host ask weekends from the member sign-up weekends. Once you begin talking about “being in a group” vs “inviting a couple friends to do the study” you’ve recruited your last host. See also, Top 10 Reasons Church-Wide Campaigns Miss the Mark.
  2. Instead of sticking with the pure small group connection strategy (that guides new groups to choose leaders from amongst themselves), allow leaders of existing small groups that need a few new members to attend the connection and use it as a fishing pool. Disastrous! Instead of starting new groups (which is an essential activity if you want to build a thriving small group ministry) you end up simply propping up dying groups that have never learned to fish for themselves. See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.
  3. Instead of the hand-to-hand combat of recruiting busy, high-capacity leaders as potential coaches, simply announce that you need a few coaches and then accept those who are willing to serve. Again…disastrous! Settling for warm and willing when you only need hot and qualified (high capacity and passionate about groups) leads to a completely different coaching structure. It is one of the main reasons attempts to build effective coaching structures #fail. See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail.
  4. Instead of making the host ask (or the member ask) within your senior pastor’s message, simply include the ask in the list of your announcements. This little plan alteration has led to more train wrecks than I can remember. Never allow your senior pastor to delegate this essential activity. See also, How to Make the HOST Ask.
  5. Instead of scheduling the host ask (or the member ask) on weekends your senior pastor is preaching, make the ask on the weekends you’ve scheduled a visiting missionary or student-led Sunday. Please don’t miss the significance of who makes the ask. Your senior pastor is almost always the most influential person in your church. Substituting anyone else to make the ask always leads to a different destination. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

Image by renee_mcgurk

How’s Your Small Group Model Working in Today’s Shifting Culture?

shifting cultureHow’s Your Small Group Model Working in Today’s Shifting Culture?

Thought about that question?

What’s your reaction to the question?

I know there will be different opinions about this, but I believe we must pay attention to the culture (And by the way, paying attention is a lot different than paying homage to the culture). This is why I recently posted The Future of Small Group Ministry and Are You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

Like the the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chronicles 12:32 NIV),” we need to understand the times and determine what to do. Clearly there are major shifts under way in the culture (views on marriage, truth, morality, biblical illiteracy, etc.).

The question today is how’s your small group model working in light of today’s shifting culture?

Maybe an earlier question might be, “How might the shifting culture affect the effectiveness of the small group ministry model we use?”

Do you have a reaction to that question? If you do, please leave a comment!

Here are 5 ways the shifting culture might affect the effectiveness of your model:

  1. Depending on how you choose new small group leaders, it may become increasingly unlikely that new leaders will come factory equipped with biblical knowledge. Biblical knowledge may have to be an after-market install.
  2. How you describe the kinds of groups you offer may need to be revisited. Questions like, “Who can join a couples group?” and “How will we offer community to everyone?” will need to be answered.
  3. How you train small group leaders will need to be evaluated. Training leaders to facilitate dynamic discussions is very different than equipping them to care for group members with a different worldview.
  4. The primary entry point may need to be evaluated. Once you have connected the most likely to connect (which has already happened in many instances) you may need to find new ways to connect beyond the usual suspects.
  5. As average attenders attend weekend services less frequently, it becomes increasingly more important that deeper connection happens elsewhere (and not just on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.).

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

Further Reading:

Image by Kat

Today Only! These Mini-Courses Are 25% Off

Happy Labor Day Sale!

Sorry! Times up! You can find out about my regularly priced mini-courses right here:

  • How to Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry launches this Thursday and is my newest 4 session mini-course that will take you through what I believe are four essential steps.  This course is based on my most requested and most popular workshop, it draws more positive comments and rave reviews than anything else I talk about. (Full course description right here).
  • How to Maximize YOUR Church-Wide Campaign: No other strategy for launching new groups is as powerful as the Church-Wide Campaign strategy. This mini-course will teach you how to recruit way more leaders than you ever thought possible, launch more groups than ever before, connectWAY beyond the usual suspects, and recruit and train the coaches you need in order to sustain the new groups you launch. (Full course description right here).
  • Building an Effective Coaching Structure is not easy…but you can do it. There is no substitute for doing it the right way. Conferences and seminars are great…but can be an expensive proposition when you’re talking about sending a team. Why not take advantage of step-by-step training from the comfort of your home or office? (Full course description right here).
  • Basic Training for New Small Group Coaches is a follow-up course to Building an Effective Coaching Structure (BECS). Where BECS teaches you how to identify, recruit and deploy coaches, it doesn’t equip you to train the new coaches you recruit for their very first assignment. I designed Basic Training for New Small Group Coaches to be used two ways. You can take advantage of my trainings and teach them to your new coaches. OR, you can simply offer the link and password to your new coaches and allow me to train them! (Full course description right here).


Add Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters to Your Leadership Training

intentional livingI’ve been making my way through John Maxwell’s latest book these last couple weeks. Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters wasn’t on my radar when the summer began, but a few things Maxwell said at the Global Leadership Summit prompted me to think this book might be required reading for small group pastors and coaches.

Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters might be required reading for small group pastors and coaches.

Can I tell you why I think that? It’s simple, really. One of the main takeaways from Intentional Living is the philosophy and the playbook for adding value to others. Can you see why that might be important for a small group pastor or coach? That’s right. Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first. And adding value is shorthand for doing just that.

Intentional Living is literally packed with great takeaways that will help you and your ministry today. Your role, no matter what it is, at its foundational level is almost certainly about adding value to the people you serve. You may be unfamiliar with the term adding value, but it is at the very essence of what it means to serve others in the way that Jesus did.

Like every John Maxwell book I’ve ever read, it is full of great one-liners and personal stories. Also like every one of his books, Intentional Living is full of very practical takeaways; practices you can begin to put into place as you read the book. I came away with many, many great ideas and a few that have already moved from good intentions to intentional living. I know you will benefit that way too.

Every chapter also includes an intentional assignment, an exercise that can be a practical next step. I loved it because I could see it would help me. I also recognized immediately the potential for this book to become a resource we could take every member of our groups team through (staff, coaches, and leaders).

If you’re looking for leadership development ideas, I highly recommend Intentional Living. This is very powerful book and I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

doing what we can do“We should never let what we cannot do keep us from doing what we can do.” Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters, p. 6

Image by Michael Bentley

What Are You Trying to Produce?

produce assembly lineOne of the questions I ask all the time is, “What do we want people to do?” Another is, “What do we want people to become?” The correct answers to these questions are not generalizations (i.e., fully devoted followers, disciples, etc.). The correct answers are very specific and defined.

Think about these two questions. Can you see that they are both about next steps? Can you see also they are both about outcomes and products?

When we think in advance about what we want people to do we are more likely to design the program, event, or message with that next step in mind. When we think in advance about what we want people to become we are more likely to design the program, event, or message with that outcome in mind.

Thinking in advance about outcomes and products is at the very heart of designing effective next steps and first steps. When we take the time to thoughtfully determine these two things in advance (i.e., “What do we want people to do?” and, “What do we want people to become?”), we dramatically increase our chances of succeeding, of actually arriving at the preferred future we dream of for our ministry and for the people we are leading.

Can you see that asking these questions in advance actually helps clarify what a win will be for the program, event or message we are planning? That’s right. Determining and declaring on the front end the outcomes and products you desire will not only help you plan the program, event or message, it will enable you to know whether you are winning.

I love this quote from Mike Bonem’s Leading from the Second Chair:

“I am convinced that the reason for so much burnout, lack of commitment, and low performance in our churches among staff and members is directly related to the failure to declare the results we are after.  We don’t know when we are winning.”

Would you like to decrease burnout, lack of commitment, and low performance? Spend more time determining in advance what you want people to do and what you want people to become. Be specific. Define the next step you want people to take and what you want them to become. And then design the event, program or message with that outcome, with that product in mind.

Further Reading:

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