Top Posts of 2013 (1-10)

I looked back over the year and put together a list of my top 10 posts written in 2013.*

You may not realize this, but there are almost 1300 posts here at  I’ll cross the 1300 threshold in the next 2 weeks.  Thanks for coming along!

Here are my top 10 posts written in 2013.

  1. 6 Communication Mistakes that Limit Ministry Effectiveness
  2. Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change
  3. New from David Morlan and D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In
  4. Top 5 January/February Church-Wide Campaigns for 2014
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People
  6. 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry**
  7. Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.
  8. Skill Training: Healthy Groups Integrate Four Components into Every Gathering
  9. Required Reading for Small Group Pastors and Directors (Systems)**
  10. 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience

Here is #11 to #20.

*My monthly Top 10 Posts series lists the most viewed posts in a given month regardless of when they were written.

**Published in the last week of 2012

Top Posts of 2013 (11-20)

I looked back over the year and started to put together a list of the top 10 posts written* in 2013.  It was too hard to just go with the top 10…so I expanded the list to the top 20.

You may not realize this, but there are almost 1300 posts here at  I’ll cross the 1300 threshold in the next 2 weeks.  Thanks for coming along!

Here are my top posts written in 2013, number 11-20 (I am not a coder and couldn’t figure out how to make it say “11″ to “20″):

  1. Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples
  2. Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind
  3. 10 Commandments of Small Group Ministry
  4. 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders
  5. Top 10 DNA Markers for Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures
  6. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader
  7. 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting
  8. 5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry
  9. Dilbert on What Not to Say to Your Senior Pastor
  10. 5 Cross-Cultural Church-Wide Campaigns that Ought to Be on Your Radar

Here is #1 to #10.

*My monthly Top 10 Posts series lists the most viewed posts in a given month regardless of when they were written.

Small Group Nightmare from Day One Productions

Sometimes you just need a really good way to promote the value of community.  Here’s a great one from Day One Productions.  Small Group Nightmare is available at Worship House Media.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

An Inadequate Explanation for the 1st Century

What’s your explanation for what happened in the 1st century?  I mean, how do you think the church grew from 120 in an upper room to what many believe was more than 100,000 by the end of the 1st century?

Think it happened in rows?  Think it happened because everyone had an apprentice?  Think it happened because they implemented an exhaustive leader recruitment strategy and a 12 week intensive leader training program?  See also, Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment and Disciples Are Rarely Made in Rows.

What do you think happened?  How did it grow exponentially?

Personally, I think most of our programs and strategies, what we hold out as solutions to the current evangelism and discipleship malaise are inadequate explanations for what happened.

I think–and I’m clearly reading between the lines here (which is more than a little uncomfortable for a Southern Baptist)–that the best explanation for the 1st century is actually that the people who were closest to the edges were so taken by a radically different life that they couldn’t help but tell their family and friends.

See, just like today, the usual suspects, the insiders, the core and committed didn’t actually have friends or family who were on the outside.  Who did?  Who had friends in the community?  The folks on the outer edges of the congregation.  The folks in the crowd.  Which is why we must forever make it easy for those closest to the edge to play important roles in inviting and including their friends and their family.  See also, Important Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s EdgePreoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People and Connecting the Widening 60% (who are unreachable by the attractional model).

Believe what you want.  Insist on requiring membership for group leaders.  Raise the bar for group leadership.  Maintain impeccable standards.  The test is not a problem-free leader track.  The test is not meeting the standards of an elder or a Proverbs 31 woman.  The test is 120 to 100k by the end of the 21st century.

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

The Countdown Is On! Will You Be Part of My 2014 Coaching Network?

I have five spots left in my 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  It’s not too late…but it will be soon.

I love blogging about how to connect unconnected people and how to build a thriving small group ministry.  I’m always excited when I get to speak at a conference, whether it’s live or on a webcast.  I love it when one of my articles gets picked up in a magazine.

All good things…and I love doing them.

But, can I tell you something?  What I really love doing is helping my coaching network members move their ministry forward.  It’s just what I love doing the most.

I ran into a few coaching network alumni at the re:group conference a couple weeks ago.  Here’s what they had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor,, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

I want to invite you to join my 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century.

The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense to many that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. The coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

My 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in January and I still have 6 openings. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

Rick Warren’s Newest Church-Wide Campaign: Transformed: How God Changes Us

transformed campaign kitI had an opportunity over the weekend to preview the newest church-wide campaign from Rick Warren and Saddleback Church.  If I told you I look forward every year to the next campaign from Saddleback…you’d know I was telling you the truth, right?  Listen, Transformed: How God Changes Us is brand new, hot off the presses, and might be just what the doctor ordered for your church.

If the early part of the year is made for turning over a new leaf and a new beginning, Transformed is really well conceived.  Anchored in the apostle Paul’s profound truth in Romans 12:2, this campaign will guide and grow your church by exploring what the Bible has to say about every essential area of our lives: Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Relational, Financial, and Vocational.

DVD-driven, Transformed is a 7 session study that accompanies a 7 week message series.  The national launch of the campaign is March 2nd, 2014 (this is actually when it begins at Saddleback).  Like all of Saddleback’s campaigns, this one is the complete package and is a true church-wide campaign with material for the whole family.

The DVD segments are classic Rick Warren.  It’s Rick 2.0, slimmer and the Hawaiian shirt has been replaced by a black t-shirt.  He gives all seven talks seated at a small table on a beautiful patio in southern California.  The talks average 25-35 minutes long.  I’d say for almost anyone else, they’d be a little long, but for Rick Warren, they’re right on target.  Still have to say…he is the master of this style of communication.

The small group study guide now includes a daily journal, the DVD based study guide, Sunday sermon notes, and devotional extras all in one resource. It’s really designed to be a keepsake for your members.  In addition, I noticed several innovative new wrinkles that I know you’ll find helpful (for example, a new section allows members to set 3 month goals for each of the sessions and another includes the complete answer key for the entire DVD).

The campaign starter kit includes many tools to help you customize the campaign specifically for your church. Includes Transformed logos, powerpoint templates, and web banners.

Beginning in March, 2014, there will be a free downloadable Transformed sermon series taught by Pastor Rick Warren.  In addition, a free Easter message, ”Easter Changes Everything,” will also be downloadable.

This campaign is fully loaded!  If you’re looking for a theme that will help your congregation build a solid foundation, I can highly recommend Transformed.  I found myself thinking about when I’ll be using it and what it will mean to our congregation (even into the crowd with the right promotion), and I am really looking forward to this one!  I’m thinking it’s right on target!

5 Powerful Ideas That Could Reshape Your Ministry Approach

From the mundane and everyday to the extraordinary and once-in-a-lifetime, all of us have puzzles we are trying to solve.  Sometimes a single new perspective is all that’s needed to solve a difficult puzzle.  I love Alan Kay’s wisdom that “perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

The thing is, I don’t know what your puzzle is.  No clue.  Well…to tell you the truth…I can kind of guess what some of them might be.  And here’s the best part.  I think one or more of these 5 powerful ideas could help you solve the puzzle!  They’ve helped me over and over.  Bet if you try them on for size, it’ll be like adding 80 IQ points!

5 Powerful Ideas

  1. There is no problem-free.  This simple idea when inserted into a discussion about the best way to do anything is an extremely powerful idea.  The truth is there are no problem-free ways of doing anything.  Every strategy, every solution, comes with its own set of of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  2. Next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.  This is a kind of mashup of a key practice from Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry (that we need to be thinking steps, not programs) and Rick Warren’s concentric circle metaphor.  Doesn’t it just make sense to design in steps for everyone who is already part of your church (from the crowd to the core) and first steps for their friends?  See also, Think Steps, Not Programs and Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.
  3. “If you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do things no one else is doing.” Some things are just self-evident.  I think this great line from Craig Groeschel is one of those things.  It really makes sense, doesn’t it?  It’s a version of Einstein’s great observation that “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results.”  Groeschel’s observation?  If you want to reach different people…you’ll need to do a different thing.  My take on it is that the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.  See also, How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting.
  4. “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Again, some ideas are jaw-droppingly self-evident.  Clue Phone: the reason the strategy isn’t working has nothing to do with the weather.  It can’t be blamed on a full moon.  It’s not the economy.  Bottom line?  It’s the way your ministry is designed!  If you want different results, you’ve got to change the design.  See also, Ten Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry.
  5. Great questions are the foundation for great answers.  Want to make great ministry decisions?  Make a commitment to spend the first part of your meeting ensuring you are asking the right question(s).  Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

Don’t Miss This New Resource: Forge Guides for Missional Conversation

forge guide missionHad time this week to work my way through a new series from Intervarsity Press.  Created in partnership with Forge (an organization that cultivates missional community across the United States by identifying, developing, and nurturing missional leaders), this is pretty interesting stuff!

The Forge Guides for Missional Conversation is a 5 book series and while each of the guides is valuable on its own, “together they are sort of curriculum for a movement.”  Individually, the guides “were written to help you think about what it might look like if you, your group or your church were to develop a missionary imagination for everyday living.”

The five titles in the series are:

Each of the guides is embedded with four practices that together deliver quite a punch.  I think it’s fair to say, they weren’t assembled carelessly.  Designed to help groups thoughtfully consider next steps that will stretch, the four practices are:

  • Dwelling in the Word: a time to hear from Scripture through communal reading and listening.
  • Contextual Analysis: designed to help inculturate and translate the gospel into local contexts.
  • Theological Reflection: designed to help your group seek to know God truly and become wise in knowing God.
  • Missionary Imagination: intended to help each individual in the group gain a better sense of their missionary calling.

A before we meet again section is included to provide some direction for between meetings.  A combination of scripture to reflect on and activities to guide into an experience, this section will not overwhelm but will help reinforce the takeaways of the group time.

A very simple leader’s guide is included in all five guides.  Although not elaborate, there is good direction provided.

If you’re looking for a resource that will help your group take the next steps in the missional conversation, the Forge Guides might be just the ticket.

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 may 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.”

Use a Year-End Review to Help Your Small Group Members Grow

If you’ve ever gone on a long hike through rugged terrain you probably know how important it is to periodically check where you are against where you’re going.  I’ll never forget an 8 day experience I had as a twelve year old Boy Scout, hiking through a section of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.  I learned some important lessons on that trip.  Not the least of which was to pay attention to where I was but never lose sight of where I was going.

The apostle Paul seems to have learned that lesson too.  In his letter to the Philippians he wrote,

“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

How to do a year-end review:

It’s a great idea in your small group to periodically check where you are against where you are going.  It makes a great year-end (or beginning of a new year) exercise.  Here’s a few ideas to help you get started:

  1. Talk with your group about basic idea of a year-end review.  It might help your members really grasp the importance if they think about the hiking illustration first and then talk about a few key verses that teach the goal of becoming like Christ (Colossians 1:28, Ephesians 4:11-16, Hebrews 5:12-14, etc.)
  2. Spend some time talking about where you long to go (the attributes that need to be developed or the temptations that need to be conquered).  You might want to review Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 7:15-25, and 1 Corinthians 10:13.
  3. It can be powerful to use a spiritual health assessment tool as a way to evaluate where you are right now.  You’ll find a link to a free version of Saddleback’s Spiritual Health Assessment in this post: Skill Training: Equip Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow.
  4. The next step is to talk about where you need to go.  Remember, it’s good to have an accurate sense of where you are right now, but if you don’t keep your eyes on where you are going you can hardly expect to get there.  The Spiritual Health Plan gives you a tool that can help you think about where you need to go.  You’ll find a free version in this post: Skill Training: Equip Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow.

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

Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Schizophrenic

Schizophrenia is no laughing matter.  It’s serious business.  Still…it’s a perfect way to think about ministry that needs therapy or medication.

Here are the top 10 signs your small group ministry is schizophrenic:

  1. You do the same thing year after year and expect different results.  You remember what Albert Einstein said.  ”The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again…and expecting different results.”  See also, Ministry Design Determines Results
  2. Your strategy changes every time you attend a conference or read a new book.  Idea fatigue and shiny object syndrome are the names for this illness.  Trust me.  When you choose a system you need to commit to it for 3 years.  See also, How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy.
  3. Your preferred future looks like the blackboard in A Beautiful Mind (or Dr. Gene Scott, depending on your theology).  Simple almost always wins the day.  Again, Albert Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  4. You try to please everyone and become all things to all people at the same time.  People pleasing only muddies the water.  The most effective ministries narrow the focus and then think steps, not programs.  See also, Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups and Think Steps, Not Programs.
  5. When you look at rows you see circles.  Calling a row a row is the essence of truth-telling.  Looking at a circle and seeing a long row that curves is wishful thinking.  See also, Life-Change, Circles and Rows.
  6. You change your mind about who can host from week to week (or service to service).  Watching Saddleback’s team gradually move from only members can host a group to their current arrangement has been a good lesson in reasoned approach.  Understanding that there is no problem-free is essential.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment and Customized Leader Requirements and Benefits.
  7. You’ve implemented a 52 week leader training course and can’t find enough quality leaders.  The idea that there is a correlation between the height of the leader bar and the quality of the candidate is a false premise.  Although counter-intuitive, the reality is that accepting volunteers for leader training coupled with providing members more than occasionally sets up commissioning leaders who can’t fill their own group.   See also, 5 Keys to Finding More Leaders.
  8. You’ve chosen David Platt’s Radical for a church-wide campaign and couldn’t understand why neighbors wouldn’t come.  Let’s be clear.  There’s nothing wrong with Radical.  The problem is in choosing a study that calls for serious commitment and not addressing the fact that only those ready to come and die will get on board.  See also, Does What You’re Promoting Matter to the Right People?
  9. You became a church OF groups right after you began calling everything a group.  If this happened in one church…it happened in 10,000 churches.  Changing what you call them is delusional.  See also, Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  10. You call your staff meeting a group so your senior pastor can be in a group.  See also, The Role of the Senior Pastor.

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

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