Building community has been at the heart of my mission for a very long time. I can’t imagine my life without it. I cannot imagine the loneliness of so many who don’t have what we have.
I know that when I do the percentage connected calculation there are many, many people in my church that have no one to turn to when tough times come. They have no one to celebrate life’s wonderful moments and no one to weep with them when life is hard. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at our church again. See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected? and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
I know all of this about my church. And I know it about your church too.
Therefore I press on with my mission.
Here are my top 10 articles on building community:
- This Is Why We Need Community
- Four Countercultural Characteristics of Authentic Community
- Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You
- 3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community
- 5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step Toward Community
- True Community or a Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?
- Building Biblical Community (featuring Bill Donahue and Steve Gladen)
- This Study Changes the Game: Community: Starting Well in Your Group
- New from Heather Zempel: Community Is Messy
- Review: The Good and Beautiful Community
Even after almost three decades of promoting small group ministry and writing about why we need community, I am still amazed and saddened that so many live in a kind of isolation. There is profound wisdom in this quote from Basil, an early church father.
“When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable.” Basil
If you haven’t heard, we lost our youngest son last Thursday when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Eric was 19. He was full of life. He was known for his amazing smile and the relentless way he included people. Our last conversation with Eric centered on his excitement about next week’s meeting of his small group for 7th grade boys. It makes me smile thinking about his enthusiasm.
And then he left with a new friend to have dinner. And then he was gone.
These last few days we’ve been surrounded by our community; our friends. They’ve shown up at our door. They’ve called relentlessly and sent text messages and posted on Facebook. We’ve heard from friends across the country and around the world. We’ve heard from Eric’s friends and their parents about how much he meant to them and how much they loved him.
Our hearts are truly broken. We miss our son deeply. We mourn his loss. And at the same time we know for sure we will see him again. And he will still be smiling.
In the meantime, we are surrounded on all sides by our friends; by our community. And as we are surrounded, we grieve just a little for unconnected people who suffer a loss and don’t have what we have.
- In community we can know and be known.
- In community we can love and be loved.
- In community we can forgive and be forgiven.
- In community we can challenge and be challenged.
- In community we can celebrate and be celebrated.
- In community our joy is doubled and sorrow is halved.
As we mourn, we are surrounded. We can’t imagine the loneliness of people who don’t have what we have. And we recommit to the mission of connecting unconnected people. See also, 10 Articles on Building Community and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
You know that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).” You know the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination. You even know Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”
You know all these things. And at the same time…you’re hesitant to try a new strategy (or shut down an ineffective one). Why? You probably need to break free of a stranglehold with a death grip on your ministry.
6 Strangleholds with a Death Grip on Your Ministry
- The pursuit of problem-free. This delays more ministry than any other stranglehold. Remember, there are no problem-free strategies, systems or solutions. Every strategy, every system and every solution comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
- Indecision about the best way. Obviously, this stranglehold is related to #1. Still, it is motivated differently. If you find yourself stuck even after choosing the set of problems you’d rather have, you are probably dealing with indecision about the best way.
- Fear of failure. Perhaps your culture doesn’t allow courageous tries that sometimes miss the mark. I like to think that “Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” If you only try things that are guaranteed to succeed, you’ll never get far enough from the familiar to break new ground.
- The lure of compromise. The scariest steps are often the first steps into a new idea. One of the biggest strangleholds is the last step before a new strategy takes flight. The most powerful aspects are often eliminated because it’s too easy to do what’s familiar. See also, 5 Compromises that Derail Small Group Ministry.
- Placating the usual suspects. It’s too easy to look the other way while the favorite programs and ministries of insiders (the usual suspects) aren’t designed to meet the unconnected people. See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and The Perils of the Inside Outside Disconnect.
- The lure of the status quo. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, the easiest stranglehold to be captured by is the lure of the status quo. “Isn’t the way we’re doing it pretty close to good enough?” Change is hard and the thought of the work ahead will cause many to put off what must be done.See also, Beware the Lure of the Status Quo.
What do you think? Have one to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.
Want to stay the course in ministry? Want to do more than survive? There are a few non-negotiable, irreplaceable practices.
- A daily time with God. There are a number of ways this can happen and every small group pastor will have their own favorite, most satisfying path. But whether it is reading and meditating on a passage of scripture, listening to a worship playlist, journaling, or reading from a devotional book (or some other method), a daily time with God is an essential practice.
- A small group of true friends. Not acquaintances and not just a small group that meets from 7 to 9 every other Thursday. It goes without saying that you need a small group. What you need though are friends. The kind with whom you can truly share life. The kind with whom you can laugh long and hard. The kind with whom you can cry.
- A small group of “fellow soldiers” on mission. Building a thriving small group ministry is never a single campaign effort. It happens over years. If you want to endure, you must have a small group of fellow soldiers who share your passion for community and the mission of making Christ followers. Paul called Epaphroditus his fellow soldier in Philippians 2:25.
- A steady intake of new ideas. If you want to endure, you must be a learner. Read widely across multiple fields (Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins, Steven Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, etc.). Listen to a variety of podcasts (Catalyst, TED Radio Hour, Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, Freakonomics Radio, etc.). Attend conferences (Leadership Summit, Catalyst, etc.). Watch Leadership Network’s online conferences (The Nines, etc.).
- A balanced life. Work-life balance can be difficult to cultivate but it is an essential ingredient for an enduring small group pastor. It doesn’t really matter what other activities and interests you cultivate as long as you have a life outside of work. Gardening, cooking, blogging, hunting, traveling, etc.
- A healthy diet. This may go against every taste bud, but if you want to endure and participate for the long run you will need to develop a healthy diet. That doesn’t mean you never have pizza or a hamburger. It means you are eating the foods that contribute to a healthy body.
- An exercise routine. This can be as simple as a 30 minute daily walk or as strenuous as a crossfit session (or anything in between). It really doesn’t matter. The key is that your body needs regular activity and without it you can’t expect to endure for long.
When I’m struggling to stay the course, I almost always discover that one or more of these 7 practices are weak or missing in action.
What do you think? Have one to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.
I’ve said many times “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” I’ve also pointed out that life-change at the member begins with you. It would be crazy to expect things would happen to anyone else if they’re not happening to you and me. Right? See also, Life Change at the Member Level and Life-Change at the Member Level Begins with You.
So far so good?
Model What You Want to Happen
Here’s what I want to point out today. Even the way you want things to happen at the member level must begin with you. For example, if you want your coaches to have frequent personal interaction with your small group leaders and you want that interaction to be in person or on the phone (i.e., not an email and not a voicemail)…that’s how you need to interact with your coaches. If all you do is send a group email to your coaches you can hardly expect your coaches to interact by phone or in person.
You must model what you want to happen at the member level. If you communicate with your coaches with a group email, they will do the same with their leaders. And…shouldn’t you then expect your group leaders to touch base with their members by group email?
You must model what you want to happen at the member level. See also, 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.
What do you think? Have a question to add? You can click here to jump into the conversation.
What do you do when your small group ministry struggles? I’ve written about the 10 powerful benefits of a thriving small group ministry and also about the 5 easily overlooked secrets to building a thriving small group ministry. But what do you do when your small group ministry struggles?
5 Steps to Take If Your Small Group Ministry Struggles:
- Evaluate your small group ministry. There are some ingredients that really are essential. If they aren’t present, you can’t build a thriving small group ministry. See also, Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
- Take a careful look at the design of your small group ministry. If it is true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley)”, you can be sure that your small group ministry’s design is flawed. See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.
- Invite a trusted ministry partner into the conversation. This is not about a gripe session. Including additional perspectives is an important aspect of accurate diagnosis. Partners might include your supervisor, your senior pastor and other staff members. Partners could also include high capacity volunteers (coaches or community leaders).
- Be a learner. Consider taking advantage of targeted learning (for example, my new short course Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group System). At the same time, studying a recommended book or reading list ought to be a regular part of your diet. I’m not suggesting that you change systems without careful consideration. That is one of the 5 reasons small group ministries fail. Rather, I’m encouraging you to be a learner. Never stop learning. See also, Required Reading for Small Group Pastors: Systems.
- Take advantage of the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider. This could be another small group pastor who leads a thriving small group ministry. It could also be an expert that you’ve come to trust. The key here is that there is an advantage to fresh eyes. You may also want to take advantage of personalized coaching call (like the easy to set up coaching calls that I offer).
The most important takeaway from this set of 5 steps to take is this: Once you realize that your small group ministry is struggling…you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your church, to do something about it. Remember, “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results (Albert Einstein).”
Can I help you? I’d love to help you build a thriving small group ministry.
Had an opportunity this week to preview a new study by Judah Smith. Jesus Is: Find a New Way to Be Human is an 8 session small group study that reveals the character of Jesus in a powerful way. Judah Smith is the Lead Pastor of The City Church, a multi-site church with thousands in attendance each weekend in the Seattle area. He’s also a popular speaker at conferences and events in the United States and abroad.
(From the introduction) “Jesus is ______________? That question was at the heart of a campaign The City Church launched with the goal of getting Seattle to think about Jesus. Given a chance to fill in the blank on a website, Jesus-Is.org, thousands of answers came in. “Some were profound. Some were hilarious. Some were spiteful. But all of them said something about the spiritual journeys of the people filling in the blanks.”
Jesus Is “breaks down who Jesus is and explains how understanding Jesus more fully will enrich your life and give new meaning to your existence.” The session titles are:
- Scandalous Grace
- Friend of Sinners
- With You Always
- Alive Together
- Accusers & Advocates
- Count the Ways
- With Us and For Us
- Live Like You’re Righteous
DVD-driven, Jesus Is features a series of simple but profound teachings by Smith. The videos are short, averaging 5 to 8 minutes in length.
The Participant’s Guide is simple but very effective. After watching the DVD, every discussion is set up with several scripture passages to be read aloud by the group. A well crafted set of thought-provoking questions prompt group discussion. Daily readings accompany each session and consist of a Bible passage, a short devotional thought and a few questions for reflection. Although there is no leader’s guide, this study is well-designed and easy to use for brand new and experienced group leaders.
Jesus Is will fill in a blank spot on many recommended lists. If you’re looking for a study that will help group members gain a deeper understanding of Jesus and His character, you need to take a look at Jesus Is. I liked it and I think you will too!
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.”
I read an article over the weekend by Bill Taylor over on the HBR Blog and came away with two great questions for personal reflection and self awareness. Taylor is the co-founder of the Fast Company magazine and the author of two of my favorite books (Practically Radical and Mavericks at Work). I’ve discovered more great insights in his writing than almost anyone else.
There were a number of great ideas in the article, but a line from John Wooden caught my eye:
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Here are the two questions (to help you keep on learning):
- Are you learning, as an organization and as an individual, as fast as the world is changing?
- Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting?
I guess I’m a collector of questions and I love these two. I thought you might too!