FAQ: School Starts in August. Shouldn’t Our Fall Campaign Launch in August?

I get a lot of questions.  This question is high on the list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).

The Question:

School starts in mid August in our community.  Shouldn’t our fall church-wide campaign launch when school starts?

Assumptions that drive the question:

  • An attendance surge often coincides with school starting.  “Our congregation is back after taking vacations in June and July.”
  • People often report being too busy to join a group in late September.  “They’ve already arranged their family calendars and commitments before a late September launch of a church-wide campaign.”

My Answer: You probably should not launch in August.  At least not without wrestling through several major questions.  Here are the 4 questions that must be answered:

When will you promote your church-wide campaign?  The most effective campaigns are well promoted.  For example, although Saddleback’s fall campaigns typically begin in late September or early October, it’s not unusual for Rick Warren to begin talking about their fall campaign in late spring.  A successful mid August campaign would need to begin promotion no later than late May or early June.  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign?

Who will lead the new groups you hope to launch?  The most impactful campaigns engage a wave of new small group leaders.  Rather than being content to tap the usual suspects, the HOST strategy is implemented specifically to offer potential leaders an opportunity to put their toes in the water.  A successful mid August campaign would need to begin recruiting group leaders no later than early July.

Who do you hope to connect?  Church-wide campaigns offer the very best opportunity to connect the largest number of unconnected people…provided the campaign is well planned and strategically implemented.  Unconnected people are infrequent attenders and may be attending for the first time in many weeks right when your campaign is launching.  A successful mid August campaign would need to take the traits of unconnected people into consideration.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

What is the purpose of your church-wide campaign?  This is a critical question.  Campaigns can unify churches, deepen the prayer life of members, and make stronger disciples.  They can also reach the friends, neighbors, co-workers and family of hosts who invite them to join their group.

  • Note: Attempting to do “all of the above” is a recipe that leads to ineffective campaigns.  Far better to develop a clear objective and design everything around it.
  • Note: Churches that have a clear understanding of their objective (i.e., what they will call success) have the best opportunity to succeed.

My Takeaway: Although I am regularly asked this question, I sincerely believe it is best to follow my 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

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

Don’t Miss Matt Chandler’s Newest Study: Recovering Redemption

recovering redemptionHad the opportunity to take a look at Matt Chandler’s newest study this week.  Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, is one of America’s most popular preachers.  He is the author of a number of books and a regular contributor of Bible study  curriculum.  In Recovering Redemption: How Christ Changes Everything Chandler “gets to root of brokenness and our destructive patterns of behavior.”

Recovering Redemption is a 12 session DVD-driven study.  The video segments are classic Chandler.  28 to 36 minutes each, this is weekend sermon footage recorded live at The Village Church in 2013.  Chandler is a powerful speaker in the way few preachers are and these messages are no exception.  The DVD also includes several personal stories of redemption.

The Recovering Redemption study is designed to include three important components.

  • Attend each group experience (where you’ll watch the video, complete the viewing guide and participate in the group discussions).
  • Complete the content in the member book
  • Read Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer’s book Recovering Redemption

The member book (also referred to as the Bible study workbook) includes:

  • A video viewing guide that is designed to help members focus attention on the teaching, capture important ideas, and take notes.
  • Discussion questions for each session that will guide your conversation about the video and also about learnings in the weekly Bible study.
  • Each week includes three personal Bible studies that will take members deep into the topic.

A companion book by the same title is available to be read alongside the study.  Cowritten by Chandler and Michael Snetzer (a groups pastor at The Village Church), is very readable.  Written in an almost conversational style and packed with stories and illustrations that make the concept leap off the page, the book will help members take the message even further.

Recovering Redemption is an extremely powerful study.  If you’ve never heard Matt Chandler, you’re in for a kind of treat.  Although deeply theological, his messages always break through my personal bias toward seeker sensitive in the first few minutes and I find myself listening intently, caught off guard and fully immersed in what God’s word has to say to me.

I begin my review of every Matt Chandler study with my own bias completely in control and within minutes find myself thinking about all of the small groups that really need this study.  Recovering Redemption is a must add to your recommended list.  I highly recommend it.

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.”

Connecting Millennials: What Are You Doing That’s Working?

What are you doing to connect Millennials?  You know the generation, right?  Sometimes referred to as “Generation Y”.  Everyone seems to have their own idea about the actual years included in the generation, but if we say they were born between 1982 and 2004, they are roughly 10 to 32 years old today.  And by the way…there are over 80 million of them in the U.S. alone.

It helps me to think about the Millennial generation in two main brackets: 16-24 and 25 to 34.  Can you picture them?

You can learn a lot about them from Barna’s Millenials Project.  For example,

“The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and twenty-somethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28% of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11% of dropouts who say the same.”  5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to the Church

But…my question today is what are you doing to connect them?

What is working?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Quotebook: When An Organization Begins to Die

I loved Bob Buford’s book, Drucker & Me.  If you’ve not picked it up yet, I highly recommend it.  It’s a behind the scenes glimpse of one of history’s greatest strategic minds.  It’s also highly practical and you will come away with a great set of takeaways.

Here’s a one liner that instantly made it onto my post-it note wall:

“An organization begins to die the day it begins to be run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the customers.”  Drucker & Me

Powerful and sobering.  Early on I was influenced by a talk given by Jim Dethmer where he pointed out that Willow Creek’s primary customers, their end users, were not the people in the seats.  Their customers were the people not in the seats.

Dethmer’s line of reasoning was that Willow Creek existed to reach the customer and that once reached that customer would become an envisioned and empowered “employee” who would join the mission of reaching other customers.

Made great sense when I first heard it in 1991.  Makes even more sense today.

“An organization begins to dies the day it begins to be run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the customers.”

35 Mistakes, Blind Spots and Faulty Assumptions That Neutralize Small Group Ministry

I don’t know about you…but when I think back on my over 25 years of small group ministry experience, I can spot a truckload of mistakes, blind spots, and faulty assumptions that neutralized a thriving small group ministry.  And I’ve made every one of them.

I’m sure there are many, many more, but here are the first 35 that occurred to me.

35 mistakes: 

  1. I didn’t realize my senior pastor needed to be the small group champion.
  2. I didn’t understand my opportunity or responsibility to help my pastor be the small group champion.
  3. I believed I could build a thriving small group ministry without the engagement of key church leadership.
  4. I under-appreciated my own role in developing a culture of authentic community.
  5. I didn’t realize that a small group is the optimum environment for life-change.
  6. I didn’t recognize that the primary activity of the early church was one-anothering one another.
  7. I spent 5 years believing that the Meta Church model alone would build a thriving small group ministry.
  8. I spent another 5 years on the hunt for a problem-free small group model.
  9. I accepted the idea that meeting twice a month was ideal.
  10. I thought the most important ingredient in a small group was good curriculum.
  11. I didn’t realize that the usual suspects want to study topics that unconnected people don’t care about.
  12. I didn’t realize that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at my church again.
  13. I thought the best way to multiply groups was for groups to “grow and birth.”
  14. I thought the best way to identify potential small group leaders was to ask existing small group leaders for their recommendations.
  15. I didn’t realize that God has already answered the Matthew 9 prayer for workers and that most churches just don’t know who they are.
  16. I thought the small group connection strategy sounded crazy.
  17. I thought the HOST strategy sounded crazy.
  18. I didn’t see the exponential outreach potential of a church-wide campaign using the HOST strategy for several years.
  19. I didn’t appreciate the outreach limitation of a church-wide campaign using the HOST strategy until I attempted to use it in what turned out to be a fortress church.
  20. I have tweaked a less-than-effective strategy when I needed to admit that it was perfectly designed to produce the results we were experiencing.
  21. I didn’t realize that skilled Bible teachers could actually impede steps into leadership for group members.
  22. I didn’t recognize the potential of video-driven small group curriculum to help ordinary people start groups.
  23. I didn’t realize that the most connected people in a church have the fewest connections outside the church.
  24. I didn’t anticipate the time when it would be far easier to say “come over to my house” than “come with me to my church.”
  25. I didn’t appreciate the fact that options actually make choosing a next step more difficult.
  26. I didn’t know that the leap from the safety of the auditorium to a stranger’s living room was too big of a step.
  27. I didn’t understand that a six-week commitment to a group was short enough to help unconnected people say “yes” and long enough for them to begin to feel connected.
  28. I missed the significance of helping new groups survive the holidays.
  29. I underestimated the potential of a summer “book club” to connect men and women.
  30. I thought the best way to train small group leaders was to hold a required small group leader training course.
  31. I thought the best way to disciple people was one-on-one.
  32. I thought making disciples depended on a curriculum.
  33. I said “yes” to people who wanted to be a coach without testing their motives or their capacity.
  34. I over-appreciated the “instructor of technique” role of a coach (i.e., coaching leaders to add or improve their skills).
  35. I under-appreciated the modeling role of a coach (doing to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members).

What do you think?  Have one to add that I missed?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

7 Decisions That Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact

There are a few decisions that predetermine whether your small group ministry thrives or struggles.  Further, I think an honest diagnosis can actually predict your chances of small group ministry impact.  As you read, give some thought to how you’d score your own ministry.

Here are 7 questions that predetermine small group ministry impact:

  1. Will you position small groups as an essential ingredient or an enhancement?  You should understand at the foundational level that it is virtually impossible to build a thriving small group ministry if groups are viewed as anything other than essential.  When small groups develop a reputation as something that is a nice extra, an enhancement, that reputation predetermine ineffectiveness.  (+10 if essential, -10 if enhancement) See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  2. Will your commitment to small group ministry be evident 100% of the time (i.e., no matter where you are, what you’re doing or who you’re talking with)?  A great temptation for many pastors is to act as if every ministry is “just as important” as the rest.  When pastors give in to this temptation, communication becomes extremely foggy.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, it must be clear to your congregation (and congregational leaders) that group participation is essential.  (+10 if 100%, -10 if not) See also, Determining the Minimum and Recommended Dose and Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
  3. Will small groups be the way to belong and become or one option among many?  A very important concept for all of us to understand is that choices and options make taking the next step more difficult.  When the next step is easy, obvious, and strategic it is more likely.  (+10 if the way, -10 if one option among many) See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu and Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?
  4. Will your investment in leader development be intentional and proactive or haphazard and reactive?  Remember, whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  This reality makes leader development an essential ingredient of small group ministry.  (+5 if intentional, -5 if haphazard) See also, Life-Change at the Member Level and 7 Practices for Discipling and Developing Your Coaches.
  5. Will your resource allocation for small group ministry mirror your stated convictions?  You’ve said that being in a small group is an essential ingredient, but is that reflected in your resource allocation?  If it is truly an essential ingredient it will be reflected in your budget, staffing, on-campus room prioritization, and communication (website, bulletin, e-newsletter, etc.).  Carl George was right when he said, “Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”   (+5 if mirror image, -5 if poor reflection) See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  6. Do you have the necessary determination to maintain pursuit for multiple years?  Building a thriving small group ministry is an ambitious goal and not for the faint at heart.  To arrive at the preferred future of a church of groups and more adults in groups than your average adult weekend worship attendance will not happen in a single great effort or even in a short series of great efforts.  If you want to arrive at this preferred future, it will require commitment to the long pursuit.  (+5 if yes, -5 if no) See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future and Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  7. Do you have the patience required to commit to a small group model for multiple years?  Making a wise choice of small group model or system and then sticking to it for multiple years is very important.  Switching from one model to the next every time you read a new book or attend a new conference is deadly.  Idea fatigue and shiny object syndrome have killed more small group ministries than almost anything else.  (+5 if yes, -5 if no) See also, Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry is Schizophrenic.

Scoring: Add up your score.  35 to 50, you have a very good chance of building a thriving small group ministry.  25 to 35, a few strategic changes will move you in the right direction.  15 to 25, you’ve got some hard work ahead.  Less than 15, you may want to rethink your commitment.

Need help moving in the right direction?  You can find out about my Small Group Ministry Health Assessment right here.

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

Don’t Miss the New Beth Moore Study: Children of the Day: 1 & 2 Thessalonians

children of the dayHad an opportunity to preview Beth Moore’s newest study this week.  Children of the Day: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, is the latest in a growing line of women’s Bible studies and is going to be a great ride!

There are 9 DVD sessions (an introduction and 8 interactive teaching videos, each approximately 1 hour long).  I can’t think of any Bible teacher with more love for God’s word, more intensity and energy than Beth Moore.  Children of the Day is Exhibit A at this point.  Whether you’re a long time Beth Moore fan or brand new to her work, you are going to love listening to her teach.

Like the other Beth Moore studies you are familiar with, the Children of the Day experience includes a member book that is an important element.  The member book includes the video viewing guide with fill-in-the-blanks and space for note-taking.  Also included in the member book is the now familiar daily homework and Bible study (5 days a week).  Fairly intense, members can plan on investing about an hour a day in the homework.  In addition to the daily homework, a very helpful set of review questions will help participants talk about what they learned.

The member book also includes a special 28 day challenge (beginning week 5) that women may choose to participate in as they complete the final weeks of Bible study.

A very helpful aspect of the study are the levels of participation introduced in the James study in 2011.  Rather than feel any shame or embarrassment over failing to complete the homework, participants are encouraged to choose a level of participation.  The levels are as follows:

  • Level 1 watch DVDs only
  • Level 2 watch DVDs and complete weekly homework
  • Level 3 watch DVDs, complete homework, and write out 1 & 2 Thessalonians
  • Level 4 watch DVDs, complete homework, write out 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and memorize 1 & 2 Thessalonians

The leader kit also includes a comprehensive leader’s guide.  Whether you’re an experienced veteran leader or this is your first time leading a Bible study, you’ll appreciate the detailed instructions, tips and ideas included in the leader’s guide.

I have to say, this is a study that will powerfully impact lots of women.  Very timely, the themes of Children of the Day will definitely resonate with participants.  I have a feeling this study will be very popular!

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.”

Is It Time for a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions?

I don’t know about you, but I bet you’re not that different than me.  I regularly find myself surprised by divergent opinions about things that I assumed everyone would be on board with.  Just yesterday in a staff retreat virtually everyone at my table saw an idea from a completely different perspective than my senior pastor and me.  This morning I had an engaging conversation with a reader who sees the question in yesterday’s post through a much different lens than I do.

Can you relate?

Perspective, point of view, and underlying assumptions all play such a key role in how we see the world; in how we see everything.

This morning I was reminded again how important it is that we regularly take a fresh look at our assumptions.  And when I think about assumptions, I always think about a challenging and scary set of findings in a study done by authors Matthew S. Olson, Derek van Bever, and Seth Verry (reported in When Growth Stalls, a really helpful article over at HBR).

Their most scary finding?

Assumptions that a team has held the longest or the most deeply are the most likely to be its undoing.

Their most challenging finding?

(In order to avoid a growth stall) Leaders must bring the underlying assumptions that drive company strategy into line with the changes in the external environment.

My takeaway:

It will always be a good idea to spend some quality time unearthing the assumptions that form the foundation of your ministry.  I’ve written about this many times.  Here are some of the articles:

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

6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach

There are differences of opinion about the importance of coaching in the small group community.  Some have tried (more than once) to build a coaching structure and decided it just didn’t work in their environment.  Others have tried to provide certain aspects of coaching through a “call center” approach (i.e., call this number when you need help).  And some have concluded it is too important to be entrusted to volunteers and so it is a budgeted staff position.

I believe it is very possible to find the right men and women to serve in this essential role.  They’ve been in every church I’ve served and they are in your church too.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure, Part One.

Here are what I believe are 6 essential characteristics:

  1. Capacity.  To be crystal clear…high capacity.  Willingness to serve is not enough.  Warm and willing will not get the job done.  If you want to build an effective coaching structure, you must be on the lookout for high capacity men and women.  I describe this ingredient using Jesus’ line about the relative capacity of a seed (30, 60 or 100 fold) from Mark 4:1-20.  Jesus isn’t talking about the maturity of a seed.  He isn’t challenging 30-folds to become 100-folds.  He is simply observing that there are seeds that have a higher capacity.  Question: When you evaluate your current coaching team, what is the capacity of your coaches?
  2. Spiritual maturity.  The best coaches are a few steps ahead of the leaders they are coaching and steadily growing closer to Christ.  Since the primary thing I need the coach to deliver has to do with a kind of spiritual mentoring (doing to and for the leader what I want the leader to do to and for their members), spiritual maturity is an essential ingredient.  Question: Are you investing in your coaches?
  3. Teachability.  The kind of men and women who make great coaches know that like Paul they have not yet arrived (see Philippians 3:12-14).  The best coaches are being mentored and passing on what they are learning.  Question: Are the coaches on your team teachable?
  4. Availability.  The right people will almost always be very busy people.  High capacity people are rarely sitting around looking for something to do.  Still, it makes no sense to recruit people to a role that to which they can’t give quality time.  At the same time, this is a role that is right in the sweet spot of abilities for many and they will respond to the right challenge.  I ask for a 1 to 2 hours a week commitment (which can often be done on the phone).  Question: Have you recruited people who can’t give the time needed?
  5. Productivity.  I often refer to this ingredient as fruitfulness.  Many high capacity leaders are simply in the wrong seat on the bus (to use the Jim Collins metaphor).  I think if you’re building a coaching structure, you need to monitor productivity.  Question: Have you recruited players who are actually bearing fruit?
  6. Passion.  I often refer to this ingredient as fulfillment.  It is very possible for a high capacity individual to not have passion for the coaching role.  A high capacity player can be productive for a season without passion, but they will not stay in the role for long.  If you want to build an effective coaching structure you’ll need to look for passion.  Question: Are your coaches fulfilled but not fruitful?

Need more?  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System and How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

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

Does It Really Matter If the Group Leader* Is a Believer?

File this under things that make you go hmmm.  Admittedly, you might be filing it under things that make you think heretic…but I want you to seriously consider this question.  I think it’s a valid question.  And I think it’s a good one.

Does it really matter if the group leader* is a believer?

What do you think?  Where do you stand?  You might be absolutely, 100% certain and without a doubt that the group leader must be a believer.  But I just want you to have an open mind for a few minutes.

Here’s where I land on this one:

First, for me it definitely primarily depends on two factors:

  • Who is in the group and how did they get there?  If someone picks up a HOST kit and invites their own friends to join them, I don’t have a problem if they are not yet a believer.  After all, I’ve chosen a study that is on a topic I want them to be exposed to, why wouldn’t I want their friends to have to wrestle with the topic?  On the other hand, if someone signs up to host a group and needs my help filling their group, I have no trouble requiring them to fill out a questionnaire (that asks about their faith development), attend an orientation, and meet with a coach (where we can discern further).  See also, Leader Qualifications: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?
  • Is the group open to new members and how will they find it?  If the group is an invitation only group and not advertised on our small group finder, I don’t have a problem.  I’m actually glad that the current members (who in most cases are a step or two behind the host spiritually) care enough about their friends to invite them.  Also, I’ve worked hard to provide a study that will guide the group (leader and members) toward a decision or next step.  On the other hand, if the host tells me that they need help filling their group, I have no trouble requiring them to fill out a questionnaire (that asks about their faith development), attend an orientation, and meet with a coach (where we can discern further).
  • Note: In my mind, both of these factors invalidate concerns about the influence a leader has on their members.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety of the Flock.

Second, widening the net to include more potential leaders allows our campaign to reach more unconnected people.

  • If I allow anyone who has a few friends to pick up the study and do it with their friends, I’ve just increased the number of people who will be exposed to the study.
  • If I choose the right topic and allow anyone to start their own group, there is a high probability that people I will never meet will connect.
  • Note: If you’re doing an off-the-shelf study (something that can be purchased online or at a bookstore), you can’t control this anyway!  Right?

Third, I can set up my process to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic for new leaders to step into our leadership pathway.

  • I can gather contact information when they pick up the host kit.
  • A coach can contact them to establish a regular touch.
  • I can provide a coaching email every week.
  • I can invite them to attend a host rally during the campaign (where they’ll connect with a community of leaders) and invite them to take a next step (Saddleback regularly invites hosts to make a decision for Christ and be baptized).  See also, Steve Gladen on the Power of  HOST Gatherings.

Where do I stand?  I want to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic to continue.  Where do you stand?  And why?

Where do you stand?  Why?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

*Teacher, Leader, Shepherd, Host: What’s in a Name?

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