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Are You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

future red skies at dawnAre You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

As I wrote Monday’s post, I tried very hard to imagine the days ahead. I read the reports Barna is producing (you can sign up for their updates right here).  I’m always reading the latest book by David Kinnaman, Gabe Lyons, or James Emery White (see below for some recommendations).

I want to be a learner; a student. And I want to be a wise steward of what God has given me.

I’ve also had the strong sense (for many years) that while Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27) can be applied to everyone, they have sobering applications for leaders. And for leaders of leaders? Oh my.

Since we are stewarding people, I believe we must understand the times and we must be looking ahead.

I’m more than a little concerned by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

And I don’t want to keep it to myself because at some level I think I’m responsible to pass on what I’m learning. As Andy Stanley has said, “As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.”

Here are four keys to preparing for the future of small group ministry:

Four Keys to Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry

  1. Actively train your coaches and leaders to skillfully communicate biblical truth in a language the culture can understand. This is a non-negotiable. As the culture races to biblical illiteracy we must actively train leaders to speak the lingua franca. Just like the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill, we need to be able to communicate in a way that makes sense in a post-Christian culture.
  2. Make being others centered and loving your neighbor as yourself the centerpiece of your ministry. If we want our ministries to be anything other than a warm and cozy fortress for the already convinced, we must be ever on the lookout for natural opportunities to prioritize the needs and interests of the community.
  3. Focus your effort on doing TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do TO and FOR their members. This should always be front-of-mind. Making disciples is an organic process that is contagious and communicable. If we are not doing the right things TO and FOR our leaders, we can hardly expect leaders to do the right things TO and FOR their members.
  4. Begin decentralizing the majority of your leader development and encouragement. If you haven’t already begun, now is the time to make the change from centralized to decentralized leadership development and encouragement. Develop and encourage your coaches in huddles where they live or work. Equip your coaches to do the same thing with the leaders they shepherd.

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

Further Reading:

Image by Michael Levine-Clark

Quotebook: Andy Stanley on Emptying Your Leadership Cup

empty cup“As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.” Andy Stanley

This clip from Leadercast 2014 is very helpful in understanding this concept.

Image by Melissa Youngern

The Future of Small Group Ministry (and how to prepare for it)

future weather vaneThe Future of Small Group Ministry (and how to prepare for it)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve long been intrigued by a somewhat obscure Old Testament reference to the men of Issachar. Tucked away into a long list of those who joined David when he was banished by King Saul, we’re told about the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chronicles 12:32 NIV).”

Do you understand the times? Do you know what we should be doing? Can you see where things are going? Have you taken the time yet to stop and think about what where things are going means for small group ministry?

When you read the reports coming out of the Barna organization, when you read what Gabe Lyons, David Kinnaman and James Emery White are writing, for that matter when you simply listen to the news and read the headlines, it’s not hard to feel a change in the wind. The truth is, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed (William Gibson).”

As I think about what is coming, here’s what I think is the future of small group ministry…and how to prepare for it.

The future of small group ministry (and how to prepare for it):

“Meet me at Starbucks” will be a much more common invite than “meet me at my church.”

As even the most attractional churches become less appealing to post-Christian America, it will become much easier to invite someone to “meet me at Starbucks (or the pub.” As a first step for unchurched (or dechurched) friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members, “Come to my church” will just seem so 20th century. On the flip side, the next Christians will see their home for what it really is: the 21st century equivalent of an excellent host in the 1st century.

“Tonight we’re studying John chapter 15” will require a lot of explanation.

You do realize that the further we go into the 21st century, the less biblically literate the culture becomes. Every study demonstrates this conclusively. This means you need to anticipate that even references that were assumed all your life (who Joseph was or that the Gospel of John was written by one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers) are now obscure and remote, Culturally savvy group leaders will approach teaching opportunities like Paul did in Acts 17 and assume unfamiliarity while deftly connecting spiritual truth with what is familiar.

Connecting strategies will be tilted toward strong ties.

Face it. The most connected people in your congregation are the least connected people in their neighborhoods and offices. The least connected people in your congregation and crowd are almost always the most connected people in the community. When the least connected people in your congregation and crowd participate in a social event (office party, block party, Little League game, softball league, etc.), they are strengthening ties with people who have never attended your church. Why not leverage these already established strong ties?

If all of your connecting strategies depend on unconnected attenders signing up to attend an event that happens on-campus you are already missing out on the most natural way to connect people. Wise leaders will gravitate toward and develop new strategies that leverage pre-existing strong ties.

Vision and training will focus on cultivating friendships in the community.

As the shift to a Post-Christian America accelerates, it becomes ever more important to envision and equip members to invest in their neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances and family, cultivating genuine friendships in the community. What about your fall festival and your Easter egg hunt? Wise observers of culture will innovate and experiment with neighborhood and even cul de sac expressions that make introductions and developing friendships more likely.

The value added element will be relationship and the byproduct will be discipleship.

Belonging absolutely precedes believing or becoming. If this isn’t obvious, refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There was certainly a time in the mid 20th century when it was still common to grow old in the neighborhood you were born in, to know your neighbors and even socialize with your co-workers. As mobility increases and neighborhoods and cities become more and more transient, loneliness and a vague sense of disconnection grows. Wise leadership will make it ordinary to prioritize and normalize loving your neighbor as yourself. See also, 5 Things I Wish You Knew as You Build Your Small Group Ministry.

Leader development and encouragement will be almost entirely decentralized.

Churches everywhere are beginning to discover that the pace of life is making centralized gatherings more difficult to demand and less productive to implement.  Far easier to instill and more productive are decentralized gatherings at the local coffee shop or for that matter, in the living room or kitchen.  See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.

Storytelling will emerge as a best practice in thriving small group ministries.

We live in the era of storytelling. Yes, people have always been captivated by stories, but today more than ever before to tell a compelling story is to catch and hold the attention of a culture that suffers from an attention deficit disorder. We do have the greatest story. If we want to convince the unconnected crowd and community of the priceless value of authentic community, we must become better storytellers.

Organic connecting practices will be the rule rather than the exception.

You may have become a master at planning and executing connecting strategies (small group connections, GroupLink, small group fairs, etc.), but the further we step into 21st century post-Christian America, the more important organic connecting practices will become. As even the most attractional churches become less attractive destinations, it will become more and more important that we naturally, organically, build relationships with neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members. Effective small group ministries in the future will feel much more like interconnected hubs of relationship woven into the fabric of the neighborhoods, workplaces, and third places of our cities.

Disciplemaking will be the priority and practice of ordinary Jesus followers.

As the 21st century post-Christian America feels more like the pre-Christian 1st century, the lives of authentic Jesus followers will become more and more attractive to a culture several generations removed from experiencing the life-on-life impact of people who truly love their neighbors as themselves. That kind of love is the basis for true disciplemaking as come and see leads to taste and see.

Click here for 4 Keys to Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry.

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

Further Reading:

Image by Frank Alcazar

Dilbert on Having an Accurate Worldview

Sometimes you just need to laugh…

an accurate worldview

This Concept Might Change Your Strategy

circle and squareSpoiler Alert: The most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.

Four Things You Need to Know

I use this drawing to illustrate an important concept.  There are four things you need to know in order to understand the drawing,

First, the circle represents your adult attendance on Easter.  As you know, the difference between your average adult attendance and your Easter adult attendance is not that everyone brings a friend.  Instead, the main reason your attendance is higher on Easter is that everyone comes on the same weekend. See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?

Second, the square represents the people in your congregation who are truly connected.  That is, if something happened to them or a member of their family, someone else in your congregation would find out about it within 24 hours without anyone calling the church.  A pink slip at work.  Marital issues.  A scary medical diagnosis.  A teenager who goes south.  24 hours.  Someone else knows.

Third, if you were to interview the folks in the square (the most connected people in your congregation) and ask who their 10 closest friends are in your area, you’d find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of them are also inside the square.  Now, before you get excited, there are exceptions (many church staff members, those with the gift of evangelism, etc.).  But in general, the most connected people in your congregation are the least connected in the community.

Fourth, when you interview the folks in the circle you’ll find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.  Let me repeat that:

When you interview the folks in the circle you’ll find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.

Here’s the big idea: If you want to recruit hosts who can fill their own group with unconnected neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members…you need to learn how to recruit from the circle.  Churches that keep going back to the well of the usual suspects (the most connected) shouldn’t be surprised when hosts from the square don’t know their neighbors.

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

Further Reading:

Quotebook: There Are No Problem-Free Systems, Models or Strategies

ProblemFree“There are no problem-free systems, models, or strategies. Every system, model and strategy comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.”

I refer to this “quote” in almost every consultation, coaching call, workshop, and seminar I give. I believe this line is a version of something Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, but I’ve never confirmed it.

Regardless, I believe the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than almost anything else. I also believe there are no problem free small group ministry systems, models or strategies.

How Do You Train New Small Group Coaches?

new coachI’m curious. What are you doing to train new small group coaches?

I know many struggle with even getting a coaching structure going. I also know that many have given up on even offering coaching (as a result of ineffectiveness).

But…if you have coaches, how do you train them as they begin?

Since you’re a reader here, I assume you’ve already looked at my strategies for building an effective coaching structure (Perhaps you’ve even taken advantage of my mini-course: How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure – The 2016 Version).

Still, what are you doing to train new coaches as they begin?

Remember, the number one predictor of new groups that survive and flourish is that they have a coach who is walking alongside them from the very beginning.

If you don’t have a plan or you need help, you really should take advantage of Basic Training for New Small Group Coaches (my newest mini-course). This new mini-course can be used two ways:

  1. You can take it yourself and then use the handouts and other resources to train your new coaches.
  2. You can simply provide the link to the resource page and password and let me train your new coaches.

Either way…your new coaches start their ministry the right way. It’s a win – win.

So…what do you think?  How are you training your new coaches?  Have a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Keri-Lee Beasley

5 Ideas You Ought to Be Testing This Fall

idea testing

5 Ideas You Ought to Be Testing This Fall

I have never been more proud than when my prospective boss at Parkview was told, “If you’re okay with a mad scientist, Mark will be a good hire.”

And no other statement has rocked my imagination like this one from Craig Groeschel: “If you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do things no one else is doing.” Translation: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep reaching who you’ve always reached.

Here are 5 ideas you ought to be testing this fall:

  1. “If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with…” If you haven’t yet tried Saddleback’s latest innovation, this fall is the perfect time to test it. The HOST strategy was a remarkable 2002 innovation created by Brett Eastman and Saddleback’s small group team at Rick Warren’s insistence that they “add a zero” to their goal. Their latest iteration (“If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with”) has dramatically improved the outcome. See also, Saddleback Has Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  2. Auditorium section leaders to warm up your weekend service. If the safety and anonymity of your auditorium is a mixed blessing (i.e., allowing less extroverted or newer attendees to ease into your weekend experience), what would happen if a team of relationally gifted volunteers began to own sections of your auditorium. And what if their primary mission was to meet and get to know the people who habitually sit in that section with the ultimate aim of offering each person they meet a next step? Willow Creek has been using this strategy for several years (and I hope to have an interview with them soon about it).
  3. On-campus studies (that lead to off-campus groups). There are many people who attend our churches for whom simply attending the weekend service has required great courage and willpower. What is so familiar and normal to most of us is actually uncharted territory for a generation of people for whom even attending a church is a new experience. When we ask them to leave the safety and anonymity of the auditorium and join a small group that meets at a stranger’s house, we should not miss the fact that we are asking them to take an even more courageous and daring step into the unknown. On the flip side, what if you simply chose a study that same kind of person would find interesting and offered it on-campus at a convenient time? And what if the seating was at round tables with 6 to 8 other unconnected people? And what if about 4 weeks into a 6 week study you suggested that if they were enjoying the company of the people at their tables they may want to consider continuing to meet somewhere else? This is the essence of a strategy we’ve been using for a couple years. See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.
  4. Intentionally designed community incursions. What if you identified 2 or 3 no-brainer opportunities for church members to spend time with the people who live on their street and in their neighborhood? For example, what if instead of (or in addition to) holding your annual Harvest Festival or Trunk-or-Treat you equipped your members to create fun and inviting outposts on their driveways? Or what if instead of having a movie night in your auditorium or fellowship hall, you equipped your members to host block party movie nights on their cul-de-sacs? See also, Connect with Neighbors This Fall: Top 10 Ideas for Small Groups.
  5. Launch a neighboring initiative or pilot. This is more than a twist on #4. The Art of Neighboring  is a great book we all ought to be reading. Written by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring was prompted by a joint church movement developed in Denver in response to a comment made by Arvada, Colorado mayor Bob Frie.  When asked, “How can we as churches best work together to serve the city?” Frie said,” The majority of the issues that our city is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” What if you read the book and then launched a neighboring initiative (or even a pilot)? See also, Don’t Miss This Great Resource: The Art of Neighboring.

Image by Freaktography

Take a Fresh Look at LifeGuide Bible Studies

sermon on the mountLooking for some easy-to-use Bible studies you can recommend to your small group leaders? You might want to take a fresh look at IVP Connect’s LifeGuide Bible Study series.

Although the LifeGuide Bible Study series is not new, it will be to many small group leaders and group members. While more than 15 million LifeGuide studies have been sold over the years, it’s likely that it will be unfamiliar to most of your group leaders and members.

Since it is very common for group leaders to look for a study that will guide their group through a book of the Bible, a particular part of the Bible, or an important topic of the Bible, there’s even a LifeGuide Finder designed to help your leaders choose the right next Bible study for their group. You can sample it right here.

I particularly like the easy-to-use format of these studies. Every study includes a helpful “Getting the Most out of ____________” section that does a good job of introducing the significance of the Bible book or topic as well as important themes. Leaders and members who want to really dig in deeply will want to read this section.

An inductive Bible study, the individual lessons within each study are straightforward and well-written, designed to help members discover for themselves what the Bible is saying. A group discussion starter question (like an ice-breaker) is included to prime the discussion pump. There is also a question for personal reflection that will help focus members on the important topic about to be discussed. The flow of the study questions takes members from observation to interpretation to application.

Leader’s notes are included in every study guide, making this study an easy one for members to take turns facilitating.

If you’re looking for a series of reliable and easy-to-use studies for groups ready to dig into the Bible, consider bookmarking this site to pass on to your leaders. I like this series and I’m sure your leaders and members will as well.

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.”

How Keen Is Your Cross-Cultural Awareness?

cross culturalHow Keen Is Your Cross-Cultural Awareness?

If you’ve been following the conversation here for very long you know that I believe all signs point to a rapidly shifting culture, quickly moving to a post-Christian America.

Hopefully, that is not breaking news for you.

Clearly, there have already been massive shifts in culture with more to come.

And that leads me to today’s question: How keen is your cross-cultural awareness?

Put another way, how keenly aware are you of the difference between your preferences, understandings and assumptions and those of the unconnected people in your crowd and community (and I would argue, even those of the outer edge of your congregation)?

How keenly aware are you of the difference between your preferences, understandings and assumptions and those of the unconnected people in your crowd and community?

I’m not sure how to measure cross-cultural awareness, but I do know our ability to connect unconnected people absolutely depends on it. If cross-cultural awareness is measured on a continuum, we must be on the keen end if we want any hope of successfully connecting unconnected people and making disciples.

cross-cultural awareness

Indications you have a keen awareness

  1. You don’t assume biblical literacy
  2. You don’t assume everyone believes the Church provides something essential
  3. You don’t assume a Christian worldview
  4. You don’t assume the terminology of the Church is familiar
  5. You don’t assume commitment
  6. You recognize cross-cultural affinities (cause, family, freedom, etc.)

Indications you have a dull awareness

  1. You regularly reference biblical stories or principles, assuming prior knowledge
  2. You talk about the Church as if everyone assumes it provides something essential
  3. You have trouble anticipating the differences in a secular worldview
  4. You assume everyone gets the lingo
  5. You assume what you’re offering will inspire commitment
  6. You don’t understand why only the core and committed sign up for what you’re offering.

Key Takeaway

If you want to connect the unconnected people in your crowd and community, developing a keen awareness of their preferences, understandings, and assumptions is essential.

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

Further Reading:

Image by Scott Beale

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