Quotebook: Thoroughly Conscious Ignorance

As you know, I’ve long been an advocate of being a learner.  Reading broadly, stoking curiosity, exploring stacks of seemingly unrelated material and curating collections of great questions are all part and parcel of the journey.

Watching Stuart Firestein’s TED video on the pursuit of ignorance was just one of my most recent excursions.  I came away with several great quotes and a new appreciation for my own willingness to experiment in a search for better ways to connect people and make followers of Jesus.  If you’ve never seen it you can watch it right here.

Here is the quote that caught my attention:

“Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.”  James Clerk Maxwell

I know this is ostensibly a quote about science.  No matter.  It is actually about the idea that only when we are aware (conscious) of our own limited knowledge (ignorance) of how things work, will we become open to what is still possible.

Why is this important?  Clearly, our current strategies have proven ineffective at connecting the widening 60%.  Want to connect them?  I do…and it will take a collection of strategies we have not yet discovered.  See also, Different Leads to a Church OF Groups.

You Know You Have the Right Small Group System When…

How do you know you have chosen the right small group system?  Can you know?  I think you probably can.

While there are at least half a dozen different small group systems, none of them are problem-free.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, How to Choose a Small Group System or Model.

So…how do you know you have chosen the right small group system?

You know you have the right small group system when…

  • …its design is consistent with the business you are in.  For example, if you claim to be in the disciple-making business, your system must be designed to make disciple-making an ordinary and everyday outcome.  Pointing to the exceptions as evidence is not proof that you have the right system.  See also, If I Was Starting Today and The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.
  • …what you’ve predetermined you will call “success” is actually happening on a regular basis.  If you’ve written down what you will call a win and it’s actually happening, then you’ve probably chosen the right small group system.  If what you’ve predetermined you will call success only happens on the whiteboard when you’re casting vision and dreaming about your preferred future…there’s a pretty good chance you’ve chosen the wrong system.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 3 and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.
  • …it effectively engages the kind of people you have identified as your primary customers.  For example, if you claim to be about connecting unconnected people your system will be designed to keep their interests at the center of the bullseye.  If you regularly choose study topics that appeal to the appetites of the already connected (and already convinced), there is something wrong with your system.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer.
  • …your percentage connected is gaining on (or has surpassed) 100%.  If life-change happens best in circles, not in rows, then your system must be designed to connect unconnected people at a faster clip than your crowd is growing.  Is that not self-evident?  To use Andy Stanley’s line, “Your ministry (your small group system) is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”  See also, 5 Keys to Taking New Ground in 2014.
  • …finding enough small group leaders is not a barrier to growth.  This is a test that must be run on small group systems.  If you “love your system” but struggle to find enough qualified leaders to launch a sufficient number of new groups, it is not an unsolved mystery.  There is a direct link between they system you are using and your ability to identify, recruit and develop leaders.  See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry.

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

Here’s Where I’ll Be This Summer

What are your summer plans?  I’ve got a few dates that I thought you might like to know about.

I’m going to presenting a free workshop, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry,  in 4 west coast* cities in August.  

  • Seattle: Monday, August 4th from 9:15 to 11:15 a.m. at Calvary Renton Baptist, 1032 Edmonds Ave NE, Renton, WA 98056
  • Phoenix: Tuesday, August 5th from 9:15 to 11:15 a.m. at North Phoenix Baptist Church, 5757 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012
  • Denver: Monday, August 11th in Denver from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Mission Hills Church, 20 Southpark Dr. Littleton, CO 80120
  • San Diego: Tuesday, August 12th in San Diego from 9:15 to 11:15 a.m. at LifeWay Christian Store, 8807 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92123

You can register for my FREE workshop right here.

Can’t make it?  Stayed tuned!  I’m always adding new opportunities.

Here are two more training opportunities (not free, but well worth the cost):

  • Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season: My new four week short course is designed to give you a few ideas and strategies that will help you launch more groups, connect way beyond the usual suspects, sustain the groups you launch, and build next steps for everyone you connect.  You can find out about it right here.
  • Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network: Launching in September, this is a 6 month coaching experience that will help you whether you are an experienced veteran or new to small group ministry.  You can find out about it right here.

Win a Freeway Church Wide Campaign Kit and Group Kit!

freeway

This contest is closed!  Stay tuned for more opportunities to win!

I am so excited about the one of the best give-aways I’ve ever offered!  Freeway is one of the freshest studies I’ve ever reviewed.  New from Mike Foster and People of a Second Chance, 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 am always on the lookout for topics that are cross-cultural, that is they make sense to our friends, neighbors, family and co-workers, too.  Freeway fits this bill perfectly!  You can learn more about it right here. To support the contest, People of the Second Chance has put together a great offer!  Two winners will receive:

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do both to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win a Freeway Church Kit by Mike Foster, a $297 value  http://bit.ly/1zMfNEr”

The contest ends on Monday, July 21, at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor

There are a number of very important ingredients in the role of small group pastor or director.  It isn’t a job for the faint of heart. and wishful thinking won’t get it done.  See also, FAQ: Do You Have a Job Description for a Small Group Director?

There are five things every small group pastor needs to know on day 1 and the very first thing they need to know is their role.  While there are a number of key aspects to their role, and all of them are important, I believe there is a most important ingredient; a most important contribution.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1 and 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.

The most important contribution of a small group pastor is to be a role model

I believe the most important contribution of a small group pastor is to be a role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) whatever you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  Does that sound familiar?  It should.  It is simply the natural extension of one of our most basic assumptions:  Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.

This is not a new idea.  It is an old idea.  It is at the heart of building a thriving small group ministry.  It is actually one of the 5 most overlooked secrets of building a thriving small group ministry.

So here’s the million dollar question: are you making this most important contribution?

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

“They Just Don’t Know What’s Good for Them” #irrationality

“They just don’t know what’s good for them.”

“If they knew what was good for them, they’d sign up for a small group.”

“If they knew what was good for them, they’d attend worship and stay for Sunday school.”

“If they knew what was good for them, they’d be leading a small group.”

Ever said anything like that?  I think it’s safe to say all of us have said something like that.  And that’s understandable.  It’s probably even human nature.

It’s understandable and it’s probably human nature…but it’s actually a kind of irrationality.

I love Peter Drucker’s take on the idea that the customer is irrational (a common complaint in business).

“To assume–as has lately become fashionable–that customers are irrational is as dangerous a mistake as it is to assume that the customer’s rationality is the same as that of the manufacturer or supplier–or that it should be.”  Peter Drucker, Managing for Results

Next time you feel overwhelmed by the need to say that “they just don’t know what’s good for them,” keep in mind that they don’t share your worldview…or your irrationality.  See also, Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril.

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

5 Small Group Ministry Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know

Ever had this happen?  You’re doing a repetitive task the same way you’ve been doing it for years and then someone sees what you’re doing and tells you an easier way.

Or how about this, you’re driving somewhere you’ve been a million times and someone in the backseat says, “Did you know that there’s a much faster way?”

It’s kind of like that in small group ministry, you know.  There are definitely secrets and shortcuts that will get you where you want to go faster and more effectively.

Here are 5 small group ministry secrets and shortcuts:

  1. There are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  This may not seem like a shortcut, but believe me, the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  Wise leaders recognize that there is no problem-free and simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  2. If you’re having problems recruiting enough leaders, you’re using the wrong strategy.  If you’re still signing up leader candidates to attend the upcoming leader training course, you are overlooking the elephant in the room.  A significant percentage of leader training sign-ups (in a system where members are supplied) have below-the-waterline issues and will never lead a group.  Far better to leverage preexisting relationships (i.e., “If you have a couple friends you’d like to invite, you can host a group”) or leverage the ability of members to wisely choose leaders from amongst themselves.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock and Top 10 Articles on Starting New Groups.
  3. Offering a short test-drive is the best way to engage more people in small groups.  If you want to connect more of your adults to groups, shift your offer from a 13 week commitment (or a 12 to 18 month commitment) to a 6 week test-drive.  Lyman Coleman was right when he recognized that 6 weeks is short enough to commit to and long enough to help people begin to feel connected.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. Restocking dying groups with new members is almost always a bad idea.  It will seem cruel to some, but it is far more effective to teach existing group leaders and members to fill their own groups and focus your limited energy on starting new groups.  See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.
  5. The best way to recruit small group coaches is to simply invite the right people to “help for a few weeks.”  Inviting the right people to help for a few weeks by “coming alongside 2 or 3 of our new small group leaders” gives you a chance to see them in action.  The right people will be both fruitful and fulfilled.  You only want people who are both fruitful and fulfilled.  Go for both.  Don’t ever compromise.  It’s a lot harder to get someone into a job than out of one.  See also, Three Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up.

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

Don’t Miss This New Study for Women: Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus

hebrewsSpent some time with a new study from Lisa Harper this week.  Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus is a 7 session study that takes an engaging look at “two contrasting realities: Jesus is supreme, yet Jesus is approachable.”  I reviewed Malachi: A Love that Never Give Up, an earlier study by Harper, about 18 months ago and loved that one.  Hebrews is no different.  I loved it and I bet your members will too.

DVD-driven, each of the video sessions is 30 minutes to 39 minutes long.  Although the video is a little on the long side by ordinary standards, Harper is such a gifted teacher that these sessions fly by.  A great story-teller, you will find yourself captivated (as I did).

Each session in the member book includes a video guide designed to help everyone capture the key ideas in Harper’s teaching as well as a short set of discussion questions.  In addition to these session resources the member book includes a weekly Bible study to be completed independently.  Along with the Bible study, the independent portion also includes a creative exercise of some kind.  For example, week one’s assignment is to rent and watch To Kill a Mockingbird and think about several application questions.  Finally, every session includes a “extra credit questions for Bible nerds.”

Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus is a powerful study.  It ought to be on your radar.  If you’re not familiar with Lisa Harper, you will be soon.  This is good stuff.  I think your members will really find themselves captivated and with a new appreciation for the book of 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 will receive an affiliate commission. In addition, LifeWay is a regular sponsor here at MarkHowellLive.com. 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.”

Take Advantage of My New Short Course: Supercharge Your Fall

Want to supercharge your fall ministry season?  Sign up for my new four week course and buckle up!  It’s short.  It’s action packed.  And has a money back guarantee.

Supercharge Your Fall

  • Launch more groups than ever
  • Connect way beyond the usual suspects
  • Sustain more of the groups you launch
  • Build next steps for everyone you connect

What’s Included:

  1. Four 75-minute conference calls (60 minutes content + 15 minutes Q&A)
  2. Downloadable outlines (allowing you to capture every detail)
  3. Each session is packed with actionable takeaways
  4. All calls are recorded and downloadable to share with your team
  5. Password-protected site with additional supporting resources.
  6. 100% money back guarantee.  If you’re not completely satisfied…I’ll refund your money.

When, Where and Other Details:

  • The first session is on Thursday, July 24th at 11:00 a.m. pacific.
  • Sessions 2 thru 4 are on July 31st, August 7th and August 14th.
  • Regular pricing: $49.95
  • Take advantage of a 20% discount ($39.95) through July 16th.
  • Questions?  Email Me for information.

Ready to jump in?


Registration Prices



  • Can’t make all four weeks?  No worries!  Every call is recorded and downloadable the same day.
  • Already have your fall programming buttoned up?  What if one idea per week was just too good to pass up?  You’d figure out a way to implement it, wouldn’t you?
  • New to small group ministry and not sure you’ll catch on?  I am known for clear, step-by-step strategies that can be implemented by experienced pros and rookies alike.
  • Seasoned veteran and already know the basics?  I guarantee you’ll come away with an idea every week that will help you connect a dot you’ve never noticed before.

Ready to jump in?


Registration Prices



Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril

I know there are some who object to references to customers and products and marketing…but some things are made so clear by shifting the vocabulary from church to business.

Alan Kay, the computer scientist, said “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”  His famous quote is also recorded as “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Either way, he’s pointing out that acquiring a different perspective or point of view can make us a lot smarter.

For example, here are 4 realities that Peter Drucker identified in Managing for Results.  See if these add up for you and actually provide a helpful new perspective about the design of connecting strategies for unconnected people:

  1. “What the people in the business think they know about customer and market is more likely to be wrong than right.”  Can you see the truth in Drucker’s thinking?  Can you see how it might apply to our work in designing strategies to connect unconnected people and make disciples?  See also, Design Your Connecting Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  2. “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  The obvious question is, what do we think we are providing for unconnected people and are we providing what they actually value?  See also, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps.
  3. “An important corollary is that what the producer or supplier thinks the most important feature of a product to be may well be relatively unimportant to the customer.”  Again, what if an active conversation with unconnected people revealed that they don’t actually value what we think is something they ought to value?  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. “The customers have to be assumed to be rational.  But their rationality is not necessarily that of the manufacturer; it is their own rationality.”  How many times have we said, “If people just knew what was good for them they’d sign up for a small group!”  What if we simply embraced the idea that our customers have their own rationality and the sooner we learn what it is the sooner we’ll begin to design connecting strategies that appeal to unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Small Group Ministry for Results.

See also, Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.

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

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