5 Small Group Ministry Myths that Need Busting

I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here are five small group ministry myths that I believe need busting:

Here’s a look at the first small group ministry myth that needs busting:

Myth #1: An important key to growing the number of groups in your small group ministry is for every leader to have an apprentice.

What do you think?  Is that idea part of your philosophy of grouplife?  Based generally on cell group philosophy and particularly the Meta Church model, the essence of the practice of developing an apprentice is to replace yourself.  The genius of apprenticing is that it makes it theoretically possible for a small group to grow and birth every 12 to 18 months.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Do it enough times and you connect everyone to a group.  Theoretically.  See also, Do Healthy Groups Really Grow and Birth?

Truth:  It turns out that while apprenticing is a powerful leadership development practice (the best resource I’ve found for developing an apprentice is Community Christian Church’s Developing an Apprentice), it is only occasionally a dependable method of multiplying groups.  Oh, the idea sounds good on paper:

  1. Recruit an apprentice
  2. Grow your group to 12 people over a 12 to 18 month season
  3. Birth a new group where the apprentice takes 6 and the leader keeps 6
  4. Now you have 2 groups
  5. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Apprenticing as a group multiplication strategy does sound good, but has two major flaws.

Small group ministry myth #2?  Small groups are an effective way to connect people but ineffective at making disciples.  You can read about it right here.

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

Dilbert on Leading by Example

Sometimes…the truth hurts and you have to laugh.

leading by example

Two Things to Know about the Primary Point of Connection in Your Church

What’s the primary point of connection in your church?  Is it the weekend service?  This is a no-brainer question in most 21st century Western churches.  The primary way a person is connected is to the Sunday morning worship service (or Saturday night) of a particular local church.

Hear me on this.  I’m not suggesting that is a legitimate point of connection.  I’m only saying that the weekend worship service is the primary point of connection (weak though the connection is) for most members and attenders in our churches.

With me?  Isn’t that how it is in your church?

I realize that’s how it is for many, many people in our churches.  And I realize that it’s difficult to imagine it any other way.

Still, I think it’s important to note two things:

  1. The primary point of connection in the 1st century wasn’t a weekend service.  It was a group that met in a house (or by a river).  I love Andy Stanley’s line that the primary activity of the early church was one-anothering one another and when everyone is sitting in rows…you can’t do any one-anothers.”  See also, The Primary Activity of the Early Church.
  2. The primary point of connection in the mid-21st century won’t be a weekend service.  The time is quickly approaching when it will be much easier to say “come over” to my house or “meet me at Starbucks”  than “come with” me to church.  In some parts of the Western world it is already happening.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System and 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Peter Drucker famously pointed out that, “Tomorrow is closer than you think.”  William Gibson pointed out that, “The future is already here.  It’s just not evenly distributed.”

I’m not suggesting that you make one abrupt move to a group as primary point of connection, but I’d be remiss if I knew it was coming and remained silent.  And so will you.  Tag…you’re it.

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

Add “Drucker and Me” to Your Reading List!

drucker and meIf you’ve benefitted as much from Peter Drucker as I have, you will love Bob Buford’s new book.  Drucker & Me: What a Texas Entrepreneur Learned from the Father of Modern Management is both a fascinating read and packed with insight.  I very nearly read it in one sitting, could not put it down, and immediately decided to read parts again.  So good!

Buford’s Drucker & Me tells the story of his improbable 23 year relationship with Peter Drucker and how the hard-driving CEO of an extraordinarily successful privately owned cable television company decided to devote the second half of his life to “transform the latent energy of American Christianity into active energy.”  The author of Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance and founder of the Leadership Network, Buford recounts this story in a way that grabs attention from the opening paragraphs and never lets go.

I especially liked the way the story of Buford’s meetings with Peter Drucker highlighted the learnings that shaped transitions in his career and sense of calling.  As much as I really enjoyed Buford’s reflections about his meetings with Peter Drucker (and if you are a Drucker fan you will love them), my copy is marked up, highlighted, and bookmarked.

Drucker & Me is a goldmine.  I’ll come back to it again and again.  I’m also confident that you’ll be hearing about what I learned!

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.”

Are You Aware of a Culture in Search of Belonging?

Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (published in 1995) offered an eerie first glimpse at a changing America.  The title came from a trend noticed by the owner of one of the largest bowling alley chains in America who told Putnam about the declining participation in bowling leagues.  At the heart of Putnam’s study?  “How we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures — whether they be PTA, church, or political parties — have disintegrated.”

Have you seen this in your area?

I connect Putnam’s research with my own anecdotal findings in communities across America where only a small percentage of residents have family nearby.

What’s your community like?

About six months ago I referenced the findings of a 2013 Barna study.  There were a number of very interesting points, but two were very important for all of us to note:

  • Ten years ago, 10% of Americans saw themselves as lonely.  Today, that number has doubled.
  • The desire to find a few good friends has also increased and in certain key demographics there has been an even larger increase.

Are you paying attention to the symptoms?

One of the most important societal/cultural shifts in our time is the absence of connection; the painfully absent sense of family.

When you think about your church, when you evaluate your small group ministry, have you built in steps that help meet this need?  If you haven’t…you’re missing one of the most significant opportunities to connect people in our generation.

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

5 Keys to Building Small Group Ministry at the Corner of “Belonging” and “Becoming”

Want to make disciples who make disciples?  If you want to develop more than a program for high achievers seeking the most challenging merit badge, making disciples who make disciples must be built into the way ordinary life happens at your church.

Making disciples who make disciples must be built into the way ordinary life happens at your church [click to tweet].

This is a very big deal friends.  One of the most significant strategic misses in the 21st century is the belief that small groups are good for connecting people but making disciples requires something more.

If you’ve been along for much of this conversation, you know that one of my assumptions is that “the optimal environment for life-change is a small group.”  You might also remember that one of the major roadblocks to small group ministry is a myopic understanding of the culture that, among other things, holds onto “participation expectations are determined according to decades old pace of life realities.”

Add these two ideas together and you’ll probably arrive at my conclusion:

Making disciples who make disciples must be built into the way ordinary life happens at your church.

How can we do that?  How can making disciples who make disciples be built into the ordinary life of your church?  I believe it happens at the corner of belonging and becoming.

Here are 5 keys to building small group ministry at the corner of belonging and becoming:

  1. Celebrate small group involvement as a way of life.  Tell stories regularly.  Highlight testimonies frequently.  Take advantage of every available format (sermon, announcement, bulletin, website, e-newsletter, email, video, etc.).  See also, Gather Stories as If Lives Hang in the Balance.
  2. Build easy first steps out of the auditorium.  Remember, unconnected attenders are almost always infrequent attenders.  In addition to infrequent attendance, coming to church for the first time was a very difficult step.  If you want to connect unconnected people, you need to build first steps out of the auditorium with them in mind.  See also, 5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step Toward Community and How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  3. Develop a coaching structure that delivers a healthy span of care.  This key is often unfortunately missed.  In my opinion, you cannot expect #4 or #5 to happen without developing an effective coaching structure.  Very important to note though, that what is needed is care and life-on-life discipling.  Not accounting or reporting.  Coaches need to do to and for your group leaders what you want the leaders to do to and for their members.  See also, 7 Practices for Discipling and Developing Your Coaches.
  4. Model belonging and cultivate a sense of family.  Humans come factory equipped with a desire to belong.  Psychologists understand this.  Marketers understand this.  Cult leaders understand this.  The desire to belong is a very powerful human need.  We all feel it.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, your small group leaders need to learn how make belonging and a sense of family an ordinary part of grouplife.  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group and Do Your Small Groups Cultivate This Important Ingredient?
  5. Build a small group culture that is about becoming like Jesus.  Everyone has their own definition of what it means to be a disciple.  I’ve always found Dallas Willard’s definition of a mature disciple very helpful: “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”  At its core, discipleship is not about knowing.  It’s about becoming.  See also, 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience and 10 Things I Need to Know about Discipleship.

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

“Growing Up” Is a Must Add Discipleship Resource

growing upI’ve been working my way through a new book from Robby Gallaty this week.  You may not recognize the name, but you will definitely recognize the name of Robby’s mentor.  David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brookhills and author of Radical and Follow Me writes the forward and invited Gallaty, a new follower of Jesus, into a disciple-making relationship in 2003.

Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples is just what it claims to be.  A how-to manual that lays out a pathway and then escorts you along the pathway to being a disciple who makes disciples.  You may not agree with all of Robby’s conclusions or practices, but you can’t really argue with the effectiveness of the concept.  To grow from “a handful of people meeting in intentional D groups” in 2008 to the expectation of “more than 1000 people meeting in D groups” in 2014 is no small feat and a testament to both the conviction of the leader and the replication effectiveness of the system.

Gallaty, the senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church is is committed to making disciples who make disciples.  Growing Up is really the template or the roadmap that makes it happen.

The organization of Growing Up works for me.  The first three chapters make the case for the necessity and importance of making disciples.  Chapter four provides a roadmap for personal godliness.  And the remaining chapters provide a detailed look at the six disciplines core to the D group plan.  The six disciplines in Gallaty’s plan are:

  • COMMUNICATE: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  • LEARN: Mining for Gold
  • OBEY: Follow the Leader
  • STORE: An Eternal Investment Strategy
  • EVANGELIZE: Show and Tell
  • RENEW: H.E.A.R.ing from God

There are several aspects that really help make Growing Up a great resource.  I love the layout of the chapters on the six disciplines.  Personal stories make every concept easy to understand.  An excellent set of self-diagnostic questions are easy to see using on a regular basis.  Every chapter also includes practical exercises that make the practice very transferable.

If you’re in the business of making disciples who make disciples, Growing Up is a book that needs to be on your radar.  You need to read David Platt’s warning from the foreword though.  “Please don’t read this book.  Instead, do it.”  I have to agree with Platt.  This is that kind of book.

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.”

What Can a Class Do That a Small Group Cannot?

What can a class do that a group cannot?  Specifically…what benefits or upsides can a class provide that a small group cannot?

Ever have this conversation?

I have this one more and more frequently, both in person and via email or blog comment.  Long-time advocates of classes have difficulty seeing both the downside and the upside of the strategy.  Remember, there is an upside and a downside to everything.  No exceptions.

Can you see that this is another angle on the discussion of rows versus circles?

Here’s my take on the benefits (or upsides) a class can provide:

  1. A class can leverage the teaching gifts of a live master teacher to impart knowledge or information.  True, the members of a small group would also benefit from a master teacher, but it would impact a smaller number.  There is no upside to a class viewing video content.  A small group receives the same benefit.
  2. Because communication is typically one-way (with the exception of an opportunity for Q&A), a teacher can often cover more ground and deliver information more systematically.

Of course, depending on what you hope to produce, there are a number of disadvantages or downsides to a class.  There are a number of essential ingredients that produce life-change that are difficult to incorporate into a class.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

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

FAQ: How Often Should Our Group Meet?

How often should our group meet?

This might be one of my most frequently asked questions.  And it’s actually a very good question.

How often should our small group meet?

There are at least three important considerations:

First, keep in mind that especially when your group is just starting out, frequency is very important.  I suggest that new groups meet weekly because if someone misses a meeting it will only be two weeks between meetings.  If you only meet twice a month and someone misses a meeting, it will be a month between meetings.

Second, keep in mind that consistency plays a major role in connection.  Lyman Coleman pointed out over 20 years ago that six weeks is short enough for unconnected people to commit to and long enough for them to begin to establish a connection.  I’ve found that the stronger connective tissue that holds groups together is formed in weeks 7 to 12.  New groups that make it into their third six week have the best chance of forming an enduring connection.  See also, 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders

Third, keep in mind that the meeting itself plays a very small part in how men and women become like Jesus.  Whether you meet weekly or twice a month, it is those purposeful conversations over coffee or a meal or dessert that have the greatest potential.  It can be as simple as a text message or Facebook comment or as complicated as sitting in silence in a hospital waiting room.  Real connection grows in between meetings.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

The most frequent responses to my three considerations?

  1. People’s lives are too busy to commit to meeting weekly (let alone connecting between meetings).  This is true almost everywhere.  Your community is not unique.  Making disciples requires recalibration.  The right toe-in-the-water, a simple test-drive, is often enough to give them the taste they need to begin.  This is one of the reasons a church-wide campaign works so well.  See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone to Join a Group.
  2. People are too busy with other church commitments to commit to meeting weekly.  This is true almost everywhere.  If you want to make disciples you need to clarify the minimum and recommended dose.

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

Quotebook: Options and Differentiation

I am a fan of Simon Sinek’s thinking.  Start with Why has had a great influence on my thinking in the last several years.

I tripped across this line from Sinek last week.  Think about what it means for churches that are serving up a buffet of options:

“Companies that offer lots of options are often struggling to differentiate. Differentiation comes from clarity of Why, not excess of What.” Simon Sinek

If your church offers a menu of options (as opposed to a plated meal), might it be that the struggle is to differentiate brought on by a lack of clarity of Why?

By the way, Sinek’s take here reminded me of Youngme Moon’s insightful book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.  If you’re involved in strategy, it is a must read in my opinion.

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