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How an Effective Small Group Pastor Structures Their Calendar

rock-pebbles-sandHow an Effective Small Group Pastor Structures Their Calendar

You’ve made it through the hiring process, unpacked your books, and set up your office. You’ve even played around with your email  signature.

Now what?

What should you do with your time? How can you structure your calendar, your time, to have the greatest impact?

Dr. Steven Covey’s famous illustration of doing first things first is a great way to begin this discussion. On the table is a large glass container and three smaller containers filled with big rocks, pebbles or sand. The objective? Fit them all into the large glass container.

In the illustration you’re shown that if you begin by dumping the sand into the glass container, then add the pebbles, and finally try to add the big rocks…they will not all fit.

The alternative (and the point of the illustration) is that if you begin by placing the big rocks, followed by the pebbles, and then the sand, all three ingredients will fit into the glass container.

The moral of the story? Do the first things first. Start your day or your week by scheduling the big rocks (You can watch a short video right here if you’ve never seen it).

Why share this illustration with you today? If you want to be an effective small group pastor, you’ve got to put the big rocks into your calendar first. The big rocks do not take care of themselves. Only with intentional effort will the most important things get done. Without an intentional effort, many weeks, months, and even years, will come and go without accomplishing the things that must be done if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.

What are the big rocks? There are four big rocks, four main components, to the role of a small group pastor, at least as I envision it.

The Role of an Effective Small Group Pastor

  1. A behind the scenes instigator who sets in motion an annual strategy to connect people.  There are two key elements to this role.  First, the small group pastors with thriving small group ministries are almost always operate behind the scenes and are unknown by the congregation.  Second, they’re thinking year round about opportunities to connect unconnected people and designing strategies around those opportunities.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups Year Round.
  2. A role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) what you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  Since adults learn on a need to know basis, developing leaders is a customized and just-in-time practice.  When this role is played effectively, leaders learn to do what you want them to do to and for their group members.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of the Small Group Pastor.
  3. A talent scout always identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity people, managing a reasonable span of care.  The key here is that building a thriving small group ministry is a team effort and every congregation has high capacity people who will only be fruitful and fulfilled when they play a high-impact role.  5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4.  A Joshua to Moses or Timothy to Paul, looking for ways to help your senior pastor be the small group champion.  Never underestimate this aspect of the role of the small group pastor.  Thriving small group ministries aren’t built when the senior pastor delegates the role of small group champion, See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

These are the big rocks, as I see it. Put these things into your calendar first.

The Coaching Habit Is a Must Read for People Developers

coaching habitSpent some time with a new book from Michael Bungay Stanier this week. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever is probably something you ought to be taking a look at.

Stanier first caught my attention with Do More Great Work, an engaging book about productivity I discovered a few years ago. What I loved about Do More Great Work was its simple practicality; a set of simple and powerful exercises designed to help you find, start and sustain great work.

You’ll never guess what I found in The Coaching Habit. A set of simple and powerful questions designed to help you bring out the best in the people you coach (or should be coaching).

Stanier draws on years of experience training more than 10,000 managers around the world in practical, everyday coaching skills. I was immediately caught up in the easy-to-read and at the same time profoundly practical delivery of the ideas in the book.

At the heart of the book are 7 essential coaching questions that can be used very effectively to develop the people you are coaching. Yes, I am a fan of great questions and this is a very powerful set of questions.

A 21st century resource, The Coaching Habit references a number of podcasts and engaging training videos that enhance the experience (the videos are actually linked to in the Kindle version).

Don’t be distracted by the fact that this is a business book. If you lead a team or are responsible for developing and discipling coaches and leaders, your copy of The Coaching Habit will be just as marked up and highlighted as mine is.

If you’re looking for resources that will help you grow as a developer of people, don’t miss The Coaching Habit. I’ll be recommending this one to my whole team!

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.”

Will I See You at re:group?

markhowell_site1I’m already getting excited about re:group, North Point Ministries small group conference! May 2-3, 2016 at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, GA.

Are you going? Have you ever been?

There are very few can’t miss events. re:group is definitely one of them!

The plenary sessions are always so creatively done, very fun and very challenging. The selection of breakouts is something I love exposing our team to. Whether you are a point leader or a member of a groups team, you will leave with a much better toolkit than you brought.

Want a taste? Tune in right here to a special Conference webcast today (Thursday) at 1:00 p.m. (Eastern)For the past few weeks, they’ve been collecting questions about groups ministry on Twitter and Facebook. On Thursday, our team is ready to weigh in. You can join the conversation on twitter #askregroup and follow us at regroupco.

As a special bonus, webcast attendees who register for the re:group conference during the month of March will receive a free digital download of this webcast to share with your church.

I hope to see you there!



tom peters“Irrelevance comes from always doing the things you know how to do in the way you’ve always done them.” Tom Peters

My longstanding interest in the application of the ideas of great business writers (such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Gary Hamel, and Patrick Lencioni and many more), began in 1986 when I read In Search of Excellence.

Image by McKinsey

5 Great Post-Easter Studies

Looking for a way to connect unconnected people right after Easter? Yesterday I shared how to take full advantage of an early Easter to connect more people in groups.

Here are 5 great studies that will connect more people after Easter

transformedTransformed: How God Changes Us is the latest study from Rick Warren.  Anchored in the apostle Paul’s profound truth in Romans 12:2, this study explores what the Bible has to say about seven essential areas of our lives: Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Relational, Financial, and Vocational.

If you’re looking for a study that will connect less frequent attenders,Transformed has a number of advantages.  Rick Warren’s name is very recognizable and deals with a topic that is fairly cross-cultural (who doesn’t wish they could change something about themselves?).

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.



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.

resurrected bookThe Resurrected Life: Making All Things New is a 7 week study designed to be used following Easter. Part of a three study series (the Christian Life Trilogy), The Resurrected Life was developed by Rev. Charlie Holt and produced by LifeTogether. The rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lake Mary, FL, I first learned about Holt in 2004 when he led his congregation to do 40 Days of Purpose and then shared one of the most remarkable and powerful stories of community transformation.

I really like the potential of The Resurrected Life: Making All Things New and this series! If you’re looking for a series that will help your congregation explore the new life available in Christ, please take a look at The Resurrected Life.  I like this study and I think it’s a great resource that will help many congregations.

You can read my full review right here.

what keeps you up at nightWhat Keeps You Up At Night: How to Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams is the latest study from Pete Wilson, founding and senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN.

I love this line from the website: “Today’s world, with all its expectations, responsibilities, and shortcomings, has created an environment ripe for the kind of uncertainty that has shackled an entire generation. This small-group Bible study helps participants activate faith and trust in God that will propel them forward through fear and anxiety to peace, faithfulness, and trust.”

Based on Pete’s new book by the same titleWhat Keeps You Up At Night hits the bullseye of what I call a cross-cultural study. After all, doesn’t everyone have things that keep them up at night? That’s not a topic that only Christians care about. This is a study that neighbors, friends, co-workers and family will readily identify with and it will make a very easy invite.

You can read my full review right here.

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 to Take Full Advantage of an Early Easter to Launch New Groups

3634389112_232de8a535_bIn case you missed it, Easter 2016 is March 27th! Just about the earliest Easter can occur.

This is big news for all of us, because an early Easter offers an extra really good opportunity to connect unconnected people in groups.

Ordinarily, Easter happens a little too close to summer to allow new groups to meet enough times to firmly establish before the inevitable interruption brought on by vacations, sports leagues, summer camps, etc. Just when you get a new group going…they decide to take the summer off. And that’s all she wrote!

But, when Easter is early, the right strategies well executed will yield some new groups that have two full months and maybe part of a third before they start running into summer issues. And that’s enough time for them to be connected well enough to survive the summer.

Here are three strategies that will launch new groups:

  1. Schedule a small group connection in early April. If you begin promoting the small group connection on Palm Sunday, you can collect sign-ups on 3/20, 3/27, and 4/3 and then hold it on 4/10. Choose a great starter study and then help them help them continue by pre-selecting a follow-up study and providing them a strategy for surviving the summer.
  2. Launch gender or life-stage specific on-campus studies (that lead to off-campus studies) the week of April 10th. For example, scheduling a study like Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage will attract unconnected couples. Facilitated around tables, will allow attendees to experience the benefits of a group with the safety of an on-campus first step. Providing them a natural follow-up study to be done off-campus will encourage many groups to continue.
  3. Launch a church-wide campaign that begins the week after Easter. The right series will provide an excellent comeback incentive for unconnected people. Making it easy for unconnected people to join a new group or even invite a couple friends to join them in doing the study will give many the first step into community they need.

The key is to steward well this opportunity to launch new groups and connect unconnected people. We don’t get this chance every year. It’s a gift and the right strategy will connect people we would miss otherwise.

Image by Alicia

Further reading:


Last Chance at This Price: How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure

New and Radically Improved

Update: I only have 2 spots left (for the live version)

Will you take advantage?

How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure: The 2016 Version

Without a doubt, one of my most frequently asked questions is, “How do you build a truly effective small group coaching structure?”

Actually, this question is almost always phrased this way:

“HELP! We’ve tried to add coaching to our small group ministry and we Just. Can’t. Figure It. Out.”

As you probably know, I am not a theorist. I am a practitioner. I’ve been a small group pastor in 7 different churches. Seven churches.

I’ve built an effective coaching structure everywhere I’ve been. Don’t miss that.

My point is simply that I have a lot of experience in small group ministry. A lot of experience.

I’ve built an effective coaching structure everywhere I’ve been.

It is not impossible.

It is not complicated.

I can teach you my simple 3 step process. You will never look at coaching the same way again.

You can learn to build an effective small group coaching structure.

You’re Invited!

I want to invite you to join me for my new 4 session short course:

How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure: The 2016 Version

Here’s what you’ll gain:

  • A crystal clear understanding of what you actually need to build.
  • The tools that will help you identify the right coaching candidates.
  • My time-tested method of recruiting high capacity leaders of leaders.
  • Actionable strategies for developing the coaches you recruit.

What’s Included:

  1. Four 75 minute sessions (60 minutes of content + 15 minutes Q&A)
  2. Downloadable outlines (allowing you to capture every detail)
  3. Each session is packed with actionable takeaways
  4. All sessions are downloadable to share with your team
  5. Access to a password-protected site with additional supporting resources.
  6. 100% money back guarantee.  If you’re not completely satisfied…I’ll refund your money.
  7. Add a diagnostic coaching call at a special reduced rate (My regular price for a 60 minute call is $125)
  8. Questions?  Email Me for information.

When, Where and Other Details:

  • The first session is on Tuesday, March 1st at 11:00 a.m. pacific.
  • Sessions 2 thru 4 are on March 8th, 15th, and 22nd.
  • Regular pricing: $49.95
  • Add a diagnostic coaching call at a special reduced rate (My regular price for a 60 minute call is $100)
  • Questions?  Email Me for information.

Are you ready? I’d love to teach you how to build the kind of small group coaching system I’ve used in 7 different churches.

You can do it too. You’ll be glad you learned how…and so will your small group leaders!

Have a question? Click here to see my frequently asked question page!

Building an Effective Coaching Structure: 2016

Think about How These Barna Group Findings Affect Our Ministry

If you’ve been along for much of this conversation, you know how important I believe it is to have empathy for unconnected people. It is not a little thing to me. Designing connecting strategies that will actually connect the crowd and even into the community is a daily concern.

As a result, I’m always on the lookout for research that will reveal an angle I haven’t yet noticed.

And that led me to open today’s email from the Barna Group. This report was in the email: Five Ways Christianity Is Viewed as Extremist.  Can I be the first to say, “Oh my.”

Here’s an infographic that was included in the article:


Now, just think about what this means as we attempt to design ways to help unconnected people (friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family) get connected.

Here’s the thing. The people who are in your crowd are not really that different from the people in the community.

Further Reading:

5 Things that Keep Me Up at Night

3221158090_23cb327932_bThere are things that bother me enough to keep me up at night. Or wake me up in the middle of the night.

What kind of things? I have to admit that I’m rarely woken up thinking about things for which I have no responsibility. World peace? The state of the economy? ISIS? Never lay awake worrying.

But things for which I am accountable…I sometimes am awakened by those kinds of things.

Here are 5 things that keep me up at night:

  1. Are we doing the right things to connect as many unconnected people as we can? If I am deeply passionate about anything, this is it for me. I am constantly aware that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at our church again. And I know that every unconnected person in our crowd has a finite window of time when they are most receptive to connecting. And that window is always closing for some. And I want to be a good steward of every opportunity. See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
  2. Are we really making disciples? At the same time, while connecting unconnected people is the first step, it is not enough. I long for them to move from connecting, from a sense of belonging, to growing in Christ. To becoming disciples. How tragic to belong but never become a mature disciple! See also, Top 10 Posts on Discipleship and Making Disciples in Groups.
  3. Are we identifying and recruiting the right people to join our coaching team? Are we really setting our sights on high capacity men and women who love Jesus deeply and are passionate about shepherding small group leaders? Or are we settling for available. For warm and willing when only hot and qualified will have the kind of impact that changes the lives of leaders so they can change the lives of members? See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  4. Are we doing TO and FOR (and WITH) our coaches the things we want the members of our groups to experience? Or are we settling for what our coaches will do by default? Emailing instead of calling or meeting for coffee? Letting a voicemail suffice? Avoiding the harder conversations or the time consuming discipleship issues? See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Coaches.
  5. Am I using the resources with which I’ve been entrusted in a way that is likely to hear “well done” at the end of the game? Many years ago I heard a speaker at a conference say that his personal mission was to have the greatest impact on the largest number of people for the longest period of time. I liked that then. I like it now. That speaker went on to abandon his faith. I want to hear “well done” at the very end of the game. See also, 6 Questions We Should All Be Asking.

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

Image by Neil Honky

Hearing a Ringing Sound? It May Be the Clue Phone

6811253941_2b4d1d98ea_bI remember a memorable John Ortberg story told as an opener in a message. Couldn’t even begin to tell you what the message was about, but I vividly remember the story. Ortberg and Jimmy Mellado, now President and CEO of Compassion, were at Egg Harbor somewhere in Chicagoland. Mellado repeatedly orders waffles. The server says, “We don’t have waffles. This is Egg Harbor. We make eggs.” Finally, when Mellado again orders waffles, the server says, “Clue phone. This is Egg Harbor. We make eggs. Hear that ringing sound? It’s the clue phone and it’s for you.”

Turns out that a clue phone, according to Urban Dictionary, “is an imaginary phone, whose futile hope, is to alert the terminally oblivious to reality.”

Had to have been something I heard at a conference. Honestly, might have been Mellado telling the story, now that I think of it. Memorable though. And the idea of a clue phone has definitely been locked into my consciousness.

“Clue phone. It’s for you.”

Love the concept. Hate it when it is ringing for me.

How about you? Do you hear a ringing sound? Like maybe when you think about how things are really going in your small group ministry? Like when you think about whether you are really making disciples? Or when you stop to think about the way you’re really developing leaders? Or how many people are really connected in a meaningful way at your church? Or maybe it’s how many people are just one tough thing away from never being at your church again?

If you hear a ringing sound…first of all, good for you! You’re at least beginning to be serious about wisely stewarding what you are accountable for.

If you hear a ringing sound, can I encourage you to do some digging. Give some thought to setting up a diagnostic coaching call. Or maybe sign up for one of my short courses. Or reach out to a trusted friend who can bring fresh eyes to your situation.

Being able to recognize the sound of the clue phone is a good thing. It’s when it’s ringing and everyone hears it but you that’s the problem.

Image by iScene

Further Reading:

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