Becoming More: A New Study from Lysa TerKeurst

becoming moreHad an opportunity this week to preview a new study from Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and speaker who helps everyday women live an adventure of faith through following Jesus Christ. As president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa has led thousands to make their walk with God an invigorating journey.

Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl is a 6 session study for women that “guides participants on an incredible, tremendously rewarding journey on which they will discover how to:

  • Build personal, two-way conversations with God
  • Study the Bible and experience life-change for themselves
  • Cultivate greater authenticity and depth in their relationships
  • Make disappointments work for them, not against them
  • Find incredible joy as they live out their faith in everyday circumstances

DVD-driven, the study features Lysa TerKeurst’s easy conversational and story-telling style.  Set up with an attention grabbing personal story, a short Bible teaching lays the foundation for the sessions discussion.  With an average length of about 15 minutes, the video teaching is in the range that holds attention very well.

The participant’s guide includes a video viewing guide and a simple set of discussion questions for each session.  Providing a daily experience, the each session also includes a Between Sessions Personal Bible Study.

TerKeurst’s very popular book by the same title makes an excellent companion (and the participant’s guide provides a reading schedule).

Becoming More Than a Bible Study Girl is a straightforward study that will provide a very good next step for women’s small groups or Bible studies.  If you’re looking for a study that will help group members take spiritual next steps beyond business-as-usual, Becoming More is a study you ought to take a look at.

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.”

Questions Small Group Pastors Should Never Ask

There are certain things every small group pastor needs to know from the very beginning.  These things are only discovered by asking great questions.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1.

There are also questions that should never be asked.  For the most part, they’re just the wrong questions!  Asking them sometimes betrays a misunderstanding of success.  Other times the very fact that the question is asked indicates a misguided assumption.

Questions Small Group Pastors Should Never Ask

  1. What is the minimum percentage connected we should accept?  This is the wrong question.  Small group systems that are designed to connect 50% or 80% or even 100% of the average weekend adult attendance miss the fact that most churches have a much larger number of adults than attend on an average weekend.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?
  2. How can we ensure only the most qualified leader candidates end up leading groups?  Holding out for the most qualified candidates actually ensures that you’ll rarely have enough leaders (or that you’ll attain a high percentage connected).  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Requirements Ensure the Safety of the Flock.
  3. Which small group model is problem-free?  The pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than almost anything else.  Wise leaders simply identify the problems that come with each model and choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  4. How can I personally provide care for my small group leaders?  Once a small group ministry has more than 5 to 10 groups this is the wrong question.  In order to avoid violating span of care constraints, an appropriate coaching structure needs to be built.  This allows the small group pastor to care for coaches and coaches to provide care for leaders.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  5. What is the best way to place new members in existing groups?  Wrong question every time.  The best practice is to train your existing leaders to fish for new members while focusing your attention on launching new groups.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups and Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.

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

Quotebook: Protecting the New

I have said for many years that I want my title to be “Disruptor of the Status Quo.”  If you know me…you know how perfect that would be.  And it would make perfect sense that my copy of Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc. is one marked up, underlined, bookmarked and starred book (except that my copy is on my phone using the Kindle app).

One of the ideas that grabbed my attention by the throat was the practice at Pixar of providing protection for new ideas.  Think about how critical it might be to protect new ideas where you work.  This is a quote worth writing out on a post-it and keeping where you can’t miss it:

“Whether it’s the kernel of a movie idea or a fledgling internship program, the new needs protection.  Business-as-usual does not.  Managers do not need to work hard to protect established ideas or ways of doing business.  The system is tilted to favor the incumbent.  The challenger needs support to find its footing.  And protection of the new–of the future, not the past–must be a conscious effort.”  Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.

See also, The Futility of the Mainstream, Beware the Lure of the Status Quo and Purpose or Pain: Two Antidotes for the Status Quo.

7 Powerful Benefits of a Church-Wide Campaign

I’ve written in the past about the exponential power of a church-wide campaign.  I know of no other strategy that provides the game-changing and trajectory-shifting potential of a well-timed and well-executed church-wide campaign.

There are at least 7 powerful benefits:

  1. Spiritual growth.  The powerful combination of a weekend message series, a small group study, daily devotionals, memory verses, and a number of other ingredients enables exponential growth.  A concentrated dose on the right topic will often result in a life-changing trajectory shift.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  2. One conversation.  When a church-wide campaign is truly a church-wide campaign (i.e., when there are resources for adults, teens and children), there can be one conversation around the dinner table.  Think about the power of every member of the family and everyone in the congregation talking about the same thing for 6 weeks.  See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign,
  3. Congregational focus.  Church-wide campaigns can fan into flame new vision and new focus.  Far beyond the impact of a message series alone, the right elements can focus conversations and alter perspectives.
  4. New groups.  No other strategy even comes close to the new group launching potential of a church-wide campaign.  A senior pastor’s encouragement to “attend a worship service and join a 6 week small group that is using the study that goes along with what I’m teaching” is a powerful incentive.  See also, Top 5 Advantages of New Small Groups.
  5. Additional leaders.  With the right strategy it is very possible to identify the additional leaders your congregation needs in order to take your ministry to the next level.  Doing what you’ve always done will get you what’s you’ve always gotten.  If you want to break through barriers you will need more leaders and the best way to discover additional leaders is with a church-wide campaign.  See also, 5 Keys to Finding More Leaders.
  6. Momentum.  They say the hardest car to steer is a parked car.  A well-executed church-wide campaign can energize your congregation and help build momentum.
  7. Community outreach.  Your church-wide campaign topic determines two things: (a) who will say “yes” to hosting a small group and (b) who will say “yes” to attending a small group.  Choose a topic that appeals cross-culturally and your congregation will find it easy to invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.  See also, The Easy/Hard Continuum and The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns (2014).

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

5 Dangerous Myths about Church-Wide Campaigns

There are definitely ways that church-wide campaigns miss the mark and there are keys to avoiding a church-wide campaign disaster.  There are certain things you need to do to have a great church-wide campaign. See also, Top 10 Ways Church-Wide Campaigns Miss the Mark, 5 Keys to Avoiding a Church-Wide Campaign Disaster and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

5 Dangerous Myths about Church-Wide Campaigns

There are certain myths about church-wide campaigns that set up bad expectations.  Hope and optimism are good things, but wishful thinking can set a congregation up for big disappointment right when they need a boost of encouragement.

People will believe anything and many believe that a church-wide campaign is…

  1. the solution for sagging attendance.  Can a campaign help reenergize a congregation and help inconsistent attendees become more consistent?  The short answer is yes, but only when the right groundwork has been laid.  The right campaign can encourage more consistent attendance when participants are challenged to make and keep commitments to “be here each Sunday and join a group that’s using the study that goes along with the message.”  Certain key ingredients make this commitment likely: a topic with broad appeal, a series of reasonable length (6 weeks is just right), and a study that is easy to do (homework tends to be a barrier).  See also, The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. the solution for reaching neighbors, friends, co-workers and family.  The right church-wide campaign can provide the perfect invitation.  Choose a cross-cultural topic from the easy end of the Easy/Hard Continuum and the invite will almost make itself.  Choose the wrong topic and you won’t be able to bribe your dearest friends to join your group.  See also, The Easy/Hard ContinuumHow to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign, and The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns (2014).
  3. the solution for disunity.  It is not actually the campaign that generates unity.  Developing a prayerful attitude.  A willingness to truly seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Opening God’s word together.  Those are the things that bring unity.  Still, choosing a church-wide campaign that encourages those things will move you in the right direction.
  4. an easy way to launch a small group ministry.  The right church-wide campaign coupled with the right preparation and the right follow-through will go a long way in the effort to launch a small group ministry.  Still, it requires a lot of energy, resources, and persistence.  Do the right things.  Do all of the right things…and when the dust clears you should have a great beginning; the kind of beginning upon which you can build a thriving small group ministry.  See also, What Is the Best Way to Connect the Largest Number of People?
  5. an easy way to “get everyone on the same page.”  In much the same way that a church-wide campaign isn’t a solution for disunity, it won’t be an easy way to “get everyone on the same page.”  The right campaign won’t hurt and coupled with a compelling vision may provide momentum that will move your congregation in the direction of the same page.

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

Dilbert on Intuition and Magical Thinking

Sometimes…you just have to laugh.  This is for that time.

magical thinking

Win 2 FREE Registrations to re:group: North Point’s Groups Conference

markhowell_siteJoin Andy Stanley and the North Point Groups team for re:group, one of the very best small groups conferences I’ve ever attended!  October 20th and 21st at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

You’ll be inspired and equipped with the nuts and bolts of building a small group culture for adults.  And they’ll do it in typical North Point fashion with main sessions, numerous breakouts, time for interaction, a few surprises, their most recent learnings–and lots of fun.

I’ve got 2 FREE registrations to give away! It’s a $360 value!  (Technically…it’s worth much, much more.  I came away with several killer ideas both of the last two years.  You’ll do the same this year).

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.  Be sure and use your first and last name (that’s how I find your Facebook post).  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win 2 Free Registrations to re:group, a $360 value #regroup14 @regroup14“

The contest ends on Monday, August 11th, at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

4 Small Group Coaching Insights that Might Be Eye-Opening

I’ve written a lot about small group coaching.  A LOT!  And yet…when I get into a real conversation with a small group pastor it almost always comes back around to coaching.  Almost always.  These conversations center on a few key questions:

  • How do I find the right people…the hundred or sixty-fold players you write about?
  • How do I recruit the right people when I find them?
  • What does a coach really need to do to be effective?
  • Do my existing small group leaders really need a coach?

Here’s how I answer these questions:

How do I find the right people…the hundred or sixty-fold players you write about?  Every church has these high-capacity people.  If you think about your existing small group leaders you can probably figure out who some of them are by just imagining them all in a group that gets locked in a room over the weekend.  By the end of the weekend, the highest capacity people will always end up leading the others.  Their groups will tend to be larger and their capacity will tend to show up in their day job (i.e., they’ll often lead others whether they work outside the home or not).

Still can’t see any of your existing small group leaders that way?  It might be that the highest capacity players aren’t small group leaders.  Sometimes they are leading in other ministries and view their small group as a “where we get fed or cared for.”  If they truly are the right people, they can still serve as a coach.  But be careful to recruit them the right way.  See also, Coaching FAQ: What Are the Essential Ingredients of an Effective Coach?

How do I recruit the right people when I find them?  If you’ve been in ministry any length of time, you know it’s a lot easier to get someone into a role than out of it.  That said, it’s always best to start with a test-drive or a toe-in-the-water.  I make it a practice to start by just asking for their help for a 10 to 13 week commitment.  I actually say something like this:

“Bob, I’ve been watching the way you lead your group.  You really know what you’re doing and you do a great job.  We’re about to launch some new groups and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to come alongside a few of our newbie group leaders and help them get off to a good start.  If you could give them a little attention for about their first 10 weeks, you could really make a difference.  Should only take about an hour or hour and a half each week, but it will make a big difference to them.”

Obviously, there is more to it than that but that’s how the recruiting conversation starts.  Notice that I’m not calling them a coach.  Also notice that I’m emphasizing the short term nature of the job.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

What does a coach need to do to be effective?  At its most basic level, the role of a coach is “to do to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members.”  The role of a coach isn’t about “checking on” or “making sure.”  It’s not even very much about “teaching how to lead a group.”

Since most new small group leaders can really get the hang of leading a group in the first 3 to 6 months, if coaching is going to be truly effective it must be about more than technique.  It must be about helping the leader to experience first whatever you want group members to experience.  Remember, you can’t expect a leader to give away something they’ve never experienced themselves.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.

Do my existing leaders really need a coach?  Not in their own eyes.  Existing leaders already know how to lead a group.  If they needed a coach, wouldn’t they have needed one when they first started?  Right?  Isn’t that what they are thinking?

I have found that the easiest way to provide the essence of what existing leaders really need is to approach it from a completely different angle.  Here’s the gist of what I do:

  • Invite them all to a gathering.
  • Group them at tables in a way that makes the most sense (i.e., life-stage, affinity, etc.).
  • Give them a guided experience and then ask them to discuss it at their tables.  The best experience I’ve found is teaching them to use Saddleback’s Spiritual Health Assessment and Plan.
  • At the end of the gathering challenge your leaders to meet again in the same groups in 30 to 45 days to talk about how they’re doing.

See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders.

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

5 Obscure but Important Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail

Yesterday I wrote about 5 totally obvious reasons small group ministries fail.  Today I want to focus on 5 obscure but critically important reasons small group ministries fail.  Not as obvious.  Just as real.

5 Obscure but Important Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail

  1. Someone other than the senior pastor is operating as the small group champion.  If you’ve been along for any length of time, this may not be an obscure idea to you.  But, a very common reason (but somehow below the radar) that small group ministries fail is that senior pastors insist on delegating the champion role.  When that happens, they doom the small group ministry to also-ran impact.  See also, 5 Things Every Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1 and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Small group participation acquires the extra-curricular label.  In order for small group ministry to succeed it must be seen as an essential ingredient.  This is different than offering small group ministry as one of several ways to get connected and grow in Christ.  When grouplife lands in the category of extra-curricular it ceases to be understood as essential.  If you believe life-change happens in circles, you must guard at all costs against the idea that the weekend service is enough and small group participation is extra (even a nice extra).  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  3. Limiting the “leader” role to the usual suspects.  If you’ve set your small group leader pathway to require participation as a member first, then as an apprentice (or at least a person of interest), you are missing out on what might actually be the largest pool of potential leaders at your church.  See also, 5 Blatantly Obvious Truths about Launching New Groups.
  4. Designing groups for fellowship and hoping for life-change.  Your ministry really is designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.  If it is designed to produce fellowship (or it is actually producing fellowship), it is no doubt designed to do that.  If you want something different, you will have to change the design.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #2: Effective at Connecting but Not at Discipling.
  5. Mix and match strategy designed by the already convinced for the unconvinced.  In the same way experienced Xbox or Playstation gamers can have trouble remembering when they first began to play, small group veterans (who sometimes clamor for a “deeper” or “more meaty” study) often struggle greatly to remember how it was for them when they began.  Allowing the already convinced to choose the next study or determine the minimum recommended dose is a recipe for failure.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

If your small group ministry is struggling, you need to spend some time wrestling with why.  It is not a fluke.  The reason it is struggling may be totally obvious or somewhat obscure.  Either way…good stewards of the opportunity will search for the reason.

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

5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail

The more I consult with churches around the country, the more obvious it is that there is a very basic set of reasons why small group ministries succeed.  There is also a basic set of reasons why small group ministries fail.  See also, Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures.

Here are 5 reasons small group ministries fail:

  1. Switching models on an annual basis.  Who hasn’t come home from a conference or read the hottest new book on small groups and at the very least felt the urge to switch?  Idea fatigue and shiny object syndrome are the names for this illness.  Trust me.  When you choose a system you need to commit to it for 3 years.  See also, How to Choose a Small Group Model or Strategy and Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Schizophrenic.
  2. Sticking with an ineffective model.  Unfortunately, one of the hardest lessons to learn is that there really is a connection between design and results.  Andy Stanley says, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”  If I had a dollar for every time a small group pastor told me that apprenticing was producing enough new leaders or that raising the leadership bar enabled them to exceed 100% of their adult weekend attendance in groups…I’d change my tune.  Until then, be quick to acknowledge that your results are directly connected to your design.  If you don’t like the results, it might be time to reevaluate and adopt a different model.  See also, Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
  3. Offering small groups as an entrée on a buffet.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you must position small groups as the way to get connected and grow in Christ.  As long as you are willing to position small groups as one way among several options…you cannot expect to succeed.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  4. Hit and miss emphasis of small group ministry.  Unconnected people are infrequent attenders.  Connected people are regular attenders.  If you want to connect unconnected people you must take advantage of every opportunity to promote small groups.  Use your senior pastor’s messages, personal testimonies, the website, church-wide email from your senior pastor, the bulletin, newsletters, etc.  And here’s the key: If you want to build a thriving small group ministry…there shouldn’t be a week that goes by where you aren’t talking about small groups.  See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups.
  5. Lack of commitment to leader care and development.  Launching new small groups is easy.  Sustaining new groups is not easy.  If you want to sustain a high percentage of the new groups you launch, you must make a commitment to leader care and development (i.e., build an effective coaching structure).  Putting energy and resources into launching new small groups without committing to leader care and development is poor stewardship and leads to small group ministry failure.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

Are you building a thriving small group ministry?  Or is yours struggling?  Which of the 5 totally obvious reasons is the culprit?

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

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