Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Investing in Your Own Personal Growth

growth redwoodsI am convinced that whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups must happen first in the lives of our leaders. If you’ve been along for much of this conversation, you’ve already heard this. I suppose you might even be sick of hearing about it (hopefully not).

I’m also convinced that this principle extends upstream to indicate that whatever you want to happen in the lives of your leaders must happen first in the lives of your coaches and ultimately, what is happening in the life of the small group pastor makes possible the kinds of life-changing experiences happening at the member level.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of the Small Group Pastor and Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Your Leaders.

If it’s true that what happens in the life of the small group pastor ultimately impacts and affects what happens at the member level of our groups…it makes sense that we would pay attention to our own personal growth. That’s why I was very pleased to see 5 questions on our new staff evaluation tool at Canyon Ridge.

Grow Up

  • What is filling you up spiritually?
  • What’s God up to in your life right now?
  • How have you connected with God in the last 30 days?
  • What personal development targets are you aiming at in the next 90 days?
  • What are you doing right now to grow in your work related skills?

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

Image by Francis Eatherington

Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding at the Heart of My Strategy

circles crowd to coreI’ve written previously about ten ideas that have shaped my philosophy of ministry.  One of those ten ideas can be summed up in the phrase crowd-to-core.  What does crowd-to-core mean? Essentially, it means that instead of pouring everything into the most committed members with the expectation (or hope) that they will then go out and win others or disciple others (core to crowd), crowd to core focuses on building next steps that will help the crowd take steps and move toward Christ, toward the core.  See also Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends.

This is Purpose Driven Church terminology. Based on Rick Warren’s concentric circles (community, crowd, congregation, committed, and core), it is easy to see how it works conceptually. I describe our strategy by saying we want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.

Crowd-to-core is the opposite of a core-to-crowd strategy. If you’ve ever heard someone talk about discipling or investing in the core and committed (in anticipation of them investing in their friends), you’ve been listening to core-to-crowd strategy.  In some ways crowd-to-core versus core-to-crowd is a key difference between cell group philosophy and a number of small group strategies.

Core-to-crowd sounds good. It is often characterized as Jesus’ strategy (i.e., He invested in His disciples and they invested in the next generation, etc.). And while some of what Jesus did can be interpreted as core-to-crowd, it isn’t the best explanation for Jesus’ pattern of ministry to the crowd or His frequent challenge to the crowd to act on what they had heard (i.e., “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”). Crowd-to-core is actually a better explanation for what happened at Pentecost (and indeed much of what happened in the Book of Acts).

And it’s not that a degree of core-to-crowd doesn’t happen. It simply isn’t the foundation upon which the primary ministry strategy is built.  As a crowd-to-core strategy and philosophy is established, it is only a matter of time until the next steps you’ve designed lead sequentially to the congregation, committed and core. What are some of the next steps you develop for members of the core and committed and congregation? Developing mission ownership and activating ones gift-based, passion-driven ministry.

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

Image by Sérgio Bernardino

4 Bogeys* That Might Not Be on Your Radar…Yet

radarHave you ever said, “I’m not sure how I missed that!” Or maybe, “That caught all of us by surprise!” If you’ve said anything like that, you’re in good company.

Life has a way of encouraging preoccupation with that which is urgent, often at the expense of those things that are truly important. And sometimes that unnoticed blip on the screen turns out to be very significant.

To an air traffic controller a bogey is an unidentified aircraft; a suspicious blip on a radar screen. They don’t know what it is or whether it is friend or foe.

For my purposes, I’m defining a bogey as something more than suspicious and probably something quite deadly. See what you think.

Here are 4 bogeys* that might not be on your radar…yet:

  1. Belonging trumps believing and becoming. All three are important, but, although there are exceptions, belonging is a much higher motivation for most people. That said, it is more effective to make it easy to connect to a small group and build discipleship (becoming like Jesus) into the group experience than the other way around. If you’ve missed this bogey, you may have implemented a strategy that repeatedly hopes against all odds to leverage a lower motivation (becoming) as first step. For first steps to be effective, they must be easy, obvious and strategic. First steps can be clearly marked (obvious) and strategic (only leading where you want people to go), but unless they are easy (come and see vs come and die), they will only rarely be taken. See also, Would You Rather: Connect Unconnected People or Make More Disciples? and Create Connecting Steps that Are Easy, Obvious and Strategic.
  2. Until the why is clearly communicated, what is unfamiliar and how is irrelevant to unconnected people. You may have designed genius communication methods that clearly explain how to get connected.  You may have worked diligently to develop steps that are easy, obvious and strategic. But until you’ve made it easy to understand why doing life in community is so important, you will struggle to break through the most basic of barriers. Only after you’ve clearly and compellingly communicated the why will unconnected people see the essential qualities of what you are asking them to do. And only then will how to do it become relevant. Far too many of us are starting the conversation with how to get connected, overlooking the need to articulate what a small group is and never getting around to crafting a compelling why. See also, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
  3. Discipling and developing small group leaders is an essential activity, not a nice extra. This is why an effective small group coaching structure is not something you build later. You must acknowledge that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” That makes discipling and developing small group leaders an essential activity. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  4. Guiding the selection of study material is responsible, not intrusive. Responsible parents make certain choices for their children. Parents may go above and beyond to prepare meals that are nutritious and appealing, but knowing the importance of a nutritious diet, they don’t delegate meal planning to their children. In the same way, guiding the selection of study material is the activity of responsible small group point people. If you are providing little or no guidance you should not expect to produce mature disciples. See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #2: Effective at Connecting and Ineffective at Discipling and Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.

Image by Official U.S. Navy Page

Hebrews: Don’t Miss This Timely Bible Book Study

hebrews etbSpent some time this week with a new study from LifeWay’s Explore the Bible series. Hebrews is a 13 week study, divided into two study guides: Chapters 1-7 “introduces the Book of Hebrews and gives encouragement and hope to believers.” Chapters 8-13 “helps believers understand how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a New Covenant.”

The Explore the Bible series provides “deep, book-by-book study. Each study focuses on one book of the Bible (or section of a book) and features questions designed to encourage group discussion. These studies encourage transformational encounters with Scripture that help participants know the Word in a personal and meaningful way. And because the Word equips us “for every good work,” as Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3, these studies help adults understand how to live it out in their own life context (from the website).”

Why study the book of Hebrews? (from the website):

  • It was written to a persecuted people.
  • It was written for a church struggling to remain passionate about the gospel.
  • It elevates the superiority of Christ.
  • It reminds struggling believers that they have an advocate and brother in Jesus.
  • It urges believers to endure in the faith until Christ returns because He is returning.

A good leader’s guide is included in the member book. Each session features a creative activity designed to generate good discussion, along with questions that will help your members understand the context, explore the text and obey the text.

The Hebrews study is being featured as a special emphasis this fall by LifeWay. The emphasis includes free additional resources that will enable your church to use Hebrews as a church-wide study.  You can find out more about the emphasis right here.

I like the Hebrews study because the issues of the 1st Century world correspond so directly with those of the 21st Century. If you’re looking for a study that will help your members find hope in the middle of the 21st Century, be sure and take a look at Hebrews.

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.”

Thinking Thursday: The Power of Time Off

stefan sagameisterEvery seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook. He explains the often overlooked value of time off and shows the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali.

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

Image by Bret Hartman

4 Steps that Build an Effective Small Group Coaching Structure

stepsWho are you looking for when you are trying to find another coach? How do you recruit small group coaches? Do you have a tried and true system for building an effective small group coaching structure?

I was talking with one of the members of my 2015 small group ministry coaching network and I realized that I have a system, an ideal set of steps that I go through as I’m building a coaching team. I know I did not have this system when I began. And I know that what I have now is the way it should be, the way it should have been, and the way you should do it too.

Here are the steps that lead to an effective small group coaching structure:

  1. Develop a clear understanding of the role of a small group coach. I’ve pointed out for many years that it is first what and then who. Until you know what you want a coach to do, it is pointless to look for coaches. Whoever you recruit needs to fit the role. I believe the simplest way to understand the task is that I need coaches to do to and for (and with) leaders whatever i want the leaders to do to and for (and with) their members. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Small Group Leaders.
  2. Develop a clear understanding of the kind of person who makes the ideal coach. There is no shortcut for this step. When you become clear, crystal clear, on the person you are looking for, your decision process becomes so much simpler. Really there is no substitute. See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  3. Invite potential coaches to a test-drive. This may sound strange, but my ideal scenario is to ask my existing coaches to identify a small group leader or two from their huddle (4 to 6 leaders) who they think might be effective coaches. The invitation is essentially this: “You are doing a great job with your group. We’re launching a bunch of new groups this fall. Would you be willing to take a new leader or two under your wing for 10 weeks during the fall campaign? It’ll probably take you an less than an hour a week.” See also, How to Recruit a Small Group Coach: My “Secret” Formula.
  4. Evaluate your “launch phase coaches” at the end of the 10 week test-drive. You will have little trouble identifying the test-drive coaches who are actually doing what you recruited them to do. It will be obvious. All that will remain is to confirm that they are both fruitful and fulfilled in doing the job. Fruitful or fulfilled will not work. Fruitfulness is obvious. The right question(s) reveal fulfillment. “How does it feel to know that both of the group leaders you were coaching have decided to continue meeting?” See also, How to Do an Exit Interview for a “Launch-Phase” Coach?

Can you see how these four simple steps will build an effective small group coaching structure? It’s really not complicated. It does take some work. It does take conviction and a willingness to stay the course. But it’s not complicated.

Need more detailed help? Take my short course: Building an Effective Coaching Structure.

Image by Dermot O’Halloran

FAQ: When Should We Begin Promoting a Church-Wide Campaign?

5397530925_87102f74b2_zI get a lot of questions.  This is a good one and one you need to be thinking about as you plan for your next church-wide campaign.

When should we begin promoting a church-wide campaign?

That is a good question; don’t you think? And the answer might be a little different than you’ve assumed.

My answer? You should begin promoting your church-wide campaign 3 to 5 months before it’s scheduled to begin.

Here’s an example fall campaign timeline:

  • May 9-10 or May 16-17: Begin mentioning the fall campaign (i.e., by the way, we’re already preparing for a message series you’re not going to want to miss this September. You’re not going to want to miss Transformed: How God Changes You. It’s coming on September 19th and 20th. It’s going to be a great season here at Canyon Ridge. In fact, if you’ve got a couple friends and would like to host a Transformed life group, just fill out your contact card and write HOST at the top and drop it in the offering later in the service). See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game Again.
  • June 6-7: Begin mentioning a special packet designed to help your congregation get to know their neighbors. The packet includes a plan to hold a block party on either July 4th or Labor Day (or both). Include invitations, a Top 10 Ways to Have a Great Block Party, and other fun items. The simple form to be filled out when a packet is given out asks for contact info (which will be used to provide follow-up ideas and information).  The follow-up email suggests that the block party host keeps in mind the possibility of hosting a Transformed life group (and invite neighbors and friends from the block party). See also, What Can You Pull Off in 3 Weeks? A Block Party with a Purpose.
  • June and July: Tease the fall campaign in messages, announcements, in your bulletin/program, and on your website. Like a highly anticipated movie scheduled for a fall release, your campaign will benefit from a nicely times reminder or hint (i.e., even a subtle one inserted in your pre-service slides).
  • July 25-26 and August 1-2: Promote the block party kit again and highlight a Labor Day option (i.e., pick up your block party kit at HOST Central on the patio).
  • August 8-9: Begin your main HOST recruiting phase and highlight it exclusively for three weekends (in your pastor’s message and in the announcements). See also, Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Three Weeks in a Row and How to Make the HOST Ask.
  • August 29-30 to September 8-9: Promote the importance of attending every weekend of the series and being in a life group that is using the study that goes along with the weekend message series. Give clear instructions for how to connect with a life group. See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved in a Church-Wide Campaign and
  • September 19-20: Campaign message series begins.

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

Image by photosteve101

5 Best Church-Wide Campaigns for Fall 2015

14164934172_d5b87a8da1_cI don’t know about your church, but right about now is when many churches pull the trigger on a fall church-wide campaign.  And although there are two other windows when the impact of a campaign can be optimized, in many ways the fall is still the best of the three.  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign.

While choosing the best church-wide campaigns is certainly subjective, I’ve made these selections with over a decade of experience leading churches through the process of choosing, designing and launching powerful and trajectory altering church-wide campaigns.  See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign and Church-Wide Campaign Coaching.

Here are my picks for the 5 best campaigns for fall 2015:

transformed 3DVD-driven, Transformed is a 7 session study that accompanies a 7 week message series.  Although this campaign launched in 2014, this is a potent theme and should be on your radar.   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.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.

I like Transformed because it will appeal to both the congregation and the crowd (and in many situations to the community as well). Who doesn’t sense the need to change in some way? You can read my full review right here.


Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom is a powerful seven session study by Mike Foster and Garry Poole.  Built on God’s amazing grace, honest conversations with friends, and finding freedom from deepest pain and struggles, Freeway is way more than a study.  It’s an experience in the very best sense of the word.

I love this study.  If you’re looking for a study that will take people on a journey, a grace-filled journey, toward the life God dreams for them, you’ll love this study too.  Freeway is the kind of study that will cause you to see every other study in a new light.  Great stuff.  I loved it and I think you will too.

You can read my full review right here.

finding your way

Finding Your Way Back to God: Five Awakenings to Your New Life has the most powerful  outreach potential I’ve come across in a long time. If you’ve not had a chance to spend some time with the book yet, you need to make time!  This book is a game-changer!

Finding Your Way Back to God is being done as a campaign series as I write this review at Community Christian Church in the Chicago.  The resources you need to put on your own campaign will be available from July to December (including sermon transcripts, small group participant/leader guides, teaching videos, series bumper video, and website graphic).  You can sign up to find out more right here.

You can read my full review of the book right here.

Life on Mission largeIf you’re looking for a church-wide campaign that will help your whole congregation step into mission, Life on Mission is calling your name.  I found it very compelling and I think you will too.

DVD-driven, the sessions average 14 to 18 minutes in length and feature a combination of Harlow’s very engaging style of teaching, compelling stories from church members, and a collection of short vignettes by Mindy Caliguire, Tom Holladay, Gene Appel, Jud Wilhite, Lee Strobel, Cam Huxford, Kyle Idelman, Cal Jernigan and Alan Hirsch.  If you’re not familiar with Tim Harlow, he is the senior pastor of Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois, one of the fastest growing churches in America for 7 of the last 10 years.  I had the great privilege of serving on Tim’s staff at Parkview and am so excited that his teaching ended up in a campaign we can all take advantage of!  You can read my full review right here.

be the message

Be the Message is the newest campaign from Kerry and Chris Shook, founders ofWoodlands Church, a multi-campus church with attendance of over 18,000 outside of Houston, Texas.   No strangers to the development of church-wide campaigns, their previous campaigns (One Month to LiveLove at Last Sight, and Stolen) have been very popular.

Be the Message is a 5 session study based on a very simple idea: “the gospel is not about what you say.  It is about who you are and what you do–and how you can be God’s hands and feet in the world.”

Truly a church-wide campaign, the Be the Message Challenge Kit includes everything you need to do this campaign at your church (weekly sermon outlines, promotional artwork, outreach ideas, and much more).  Free downloadable children’s curriculum on the website makes it possible for everyone to have the same conversation.  You can read my full review right here.

Image by Kwibuka Rwanda

A Must Read: Finding Your Way Back to God

finding your wayFinally had the time to finish my review of a new book by Dave and Jon Ferguson.  Finding Your Way Back to God: Five Awakenings to Your New Life has tremendous outreach potential and if you’ve not had a chance to spend some time with this book, you need to make time!  This book is a game-changer!

Finding Your Way Back to God is very well-written and might be one of the easiest books to read I’ve ever come across.  At the same time, it is packed with provocative stories of life-change and redemption.

One of my favorite things about Finding Your Way Back to God is its built-in potential to be used as an “I’ll read it with you” resource.  If you have a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker or a family member that you’ve been hoping and looking for ways to help them take a step toward God, this is a book you need to know about.

As the subtitle indicates, there are five awakenings “that almost always occur in a person’s journey back to God.”  I like the way the authors describe the awakenings: “Where people start and what motivates them to begin this journey are often different, but the stages they go through are remarkably similar.”  The book explores five different “God, if you are real” prayers that are intended to arouse the five awakenings.

The book also includes an intriguing element; one that I am looking forward to sharing with a few friends.  Referred to as a Thirty Day Wager, the last chapter of Finding Your Way Back to God is actually a kind of 30 day journal to be used by anyone willing to put 15 minutes a day into an honest pursuit to find God.  If you take a few minutes to flip through these pages you’ll begin thinking about people you know who could be persuaded to make the wager.

I particularly like the potential this book has as the anchor for a church-wide campaign.  Finding Your Way Back to God is being done as a campaign series as I write this review at Community Christian Church in the Chicago.  The resources you need to put on your own campaign will be available from July to December (including sermon transcripts, small group participant/leader guides, teaching videos, series bumper video, and website graphic).  You can sign up to find out more right here.

I love the potential of this book.  Whether you give it away, read it with one friend, use it in your small group, or use it for a church-wide campaign, there is real potential for many, many people to find their way back to God.  I highly recommend that you take a look at Finding Your Way Back to God.

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.”

Thinking Thursday: Forget Big Change, Start with a Tiny Habit

bj foggWhat if someone told you to floss only one tooth everyday? Or start the new year, not with grand resolutions, but with a simple challenge.. like ONE pushup a day? BJ Fogg shows us that the key to lasting change does not lie in planning big, monumental changes, but in thinking really, really small. Chosen by Fortune Magazine as one of “10 New Gurus You Should Know”, Fogg directs the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

I heard about BJ Fogg from my friend Eric Swanson.  He’s mentioned Fogg many times.  The most recent mention is in his Leadership Network article The Minimum Viable Spiritual Growth Plan.  Here is a very good companion article.

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

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