Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Quotebook: The Choice Between Risk and Comfort

boatI love this line from John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.

“The decision to grow always involves a choice between risk and comfort. This means that to be a follower of Jesus, you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life.” John Ortberg

As I’ve been thinking about next steps for our ministry (and challenging you to do to the same), this quote is a powerful reminder of an essential choice.

The line also begs a question: What have I chosen? Comfort? Or risk? See also, What Baby Steps Will You Take Today?

Image by Domiriel

Thinking Thursday: Derek Sivers: How to start a movement

derek siversWith help from some surprising footage, Derek Sivers explains how movements really get started. (Hint: it takes two.)

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What Baby Step Will You Take Today?

running on the beachMost changes begin as baby steps. As I write this post I am learning to be a runner. Three (or four) runs a week with two (or three) walks interspersed for recovery. I am averaging 16 running miles a week (with another 8 walking). Most days my run is a combination of run, walk and breathing hard. I used to say, “Run, Walk and Gasp,” but there’s no gasping going on anymore. I began learning to be a runner to lose weight. I’ve lost 30 lbs and feel very good. I’m also learning to enjoy the run. In fact, I actually crave it…right up until the moment I leave the driveway and begin. ūüėČ I didn’t begin learning to be a runner by running a half marathon or even running one mile. I began by going for a run or a walk every day. On the days I went for a run it was mostly walk with a twist of running. I used the Nike running app to track my time and set goals to reduce my time. Most changes begin as baby steps. In the same way I began running to lose weight, you may need to take a baby step that simply starts your small group ministry moving in the right direction. See also, 10 Simple Things You Can Start Doing to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry. Are you ready to take a baby step? Image by A. Strakey

Quotebook: What Successful People Do (and Failures Don’t)

¬†success failureRecently I wrote about¬†7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs. ¬†I know of no workaround that will enable a small group pastor to avoid the development of these skills. ¬†I’ve met many small group pastors who have tried to get by without them, but the truth is these skills are essential and unavoidable.

I’ve been working my way through an excellent book over the last two weeks. ¬†Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life¬†by Orrin Woodward might turn out to be the book of the year for me. ¬†When I read this paragraph I immediately thought about those small group pastors that struggle to get the job done.

‚ÄúThe successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don‚Äôt like to do. They don‚Äôt like doing them either necessarily. But their dislike is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.‚ÄĚ E.N. Gray

I don’t know what you think. But I do know this. If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, developing these 7 skills is a non-negotiable. Further, truly successful small group pastors will do the things that unsuccessful small group pastors won’t.

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Skill Training: How Transparent Should I Be as a Group Leader?

transparentQuestion: How transparent should I be as a small group leader? Should I share my struggles with the group? Or should I seek to be an example to my group?

This is a good question, don’t you think? Isn’t it the internal debate that every leader has?

In my post, 8 Habits of Life-Changing Small Group Leaders, I point out several interrelated habits that I believe must be cultivated by every small group leader.

First, small group leaders need to make time with God a daily priority. ¬†A regular and ongoing conversation with God adds an essential ingredient to spiritual growth. Spending consistent time with God, reading His word and praying, are not elective activities. Jesus modeled this essential habit. ‚ÄúVery early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.‚ÄĚ Mark 1:35 NIV

Second, small group leaders need to follow the best example and offer a good example. The Apostle Paul urged the members of the church in Corinth to ‚ÄúFollow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV).” This is an important teaching. He’s not asking them to do anything he’s not doing. He’s challenging them to follow his example (as he follows the example of Christ).

A little frightening, right? But is it too challenging for a small group leader? I love Paul’s words to the ordinary church members at Ephesus: “As a prisoner¬†for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy¬†of the calling¬†you have received.¬†Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another¬†in love.¬†Make every effort to keep the unity¬†of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3 NIV).”

Third, small group leaders need to know they haven’t arrived.  One key to this habit is developing an openness about your journey that allows you to share the fact that while you are becoming more like Jesus, you are not yet fully like Him. You still have struggles. You still stumble.

I love the Apostle Paul’s words to the church at Philippi: ‚ÄúNot that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,¬†but I press on to take hold¬†of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.¬†Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind¬†and straining toward what is ahead,¬†I press on¬†toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called¬†me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV).”

Let’s get practical:¬†The question today is how transparent should I be as a small group leader? Here are 5 guiding principles:

  1. Trying to appear to have it all together isn’t helpful. If the Apostle Paul acknowledged that he was a work in progress, you can too.
  2. Use discretion when determining what to share and with whom to share. Some hurts, hangups or habits can be shared openly. Some specifics are better shared with an accountability partner or coach/mentor.
  3. Model the depth of appropriate sharing. As you are open about your own journey, your members will often begin to develop a comparable openness. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level Begins with You.
  4. Practice sub-grouping for prayer and accountability. Developing the practice of sub-grouping for prayer and accountability will help you and your members to learn to be transparent. See also, Skill Training: Sub-Grouping for a Deeper Connection.
  5. Enlist an accountability partner. Modeling this spiritual practice will help your group members to do the same. There are some hurts, hang-ups and habits that should be shared at this level. See also, The Power of a Spiritual Training Partner.

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Quotebook: John Ortberg on Leadership and Disappointment

disappointmentLove this one from John Ortberg’s¬†Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Influence of the Inescapable Jesus.

‚ÄúLeadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.‚ÄĚ

Image by Phil Warren

Thinking Thursday: Seth Godin: The Tribes We Lead

Seth GodinSeth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

5 Things You Need to Know about Your Small Group Model

assembly lineWhen you choose a small group model, system or strategy there are several things you ought to know. Need to know, really. The model you choose should be based on an informed choice. One of the worst things you can do is flip abruptly or frequently between models. See also, 5 Totally Obvious Reasons Small Group Ministries Fail and Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry is Schizophrenic.

Here are 5 Things You Need to Know:

  1. There is no problem-free small group model. Every model comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they would rather have. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System or Model.
  2. The to-do list that come with the model you choose. In addition to a set of problems, every model comes with a list of activities that must be accomplished in order for the model to work effectively. For example, most Semester models necessitate confirming the availability of every leader and the study they will be doing for the upcoming semester. Sermon-Based models require a quality study to be written every week and distributed to group leaders. See also, An Analysis of the Sermon-Based Model and An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System.
  3. What your model will make simple and ordinary. One advantage of a model is that it makes complex things simple. Another advantage is that the right model makes extraordinary things ordinary.
  4. What your model will make more difficult. A slightly different issue, every model makes a small set of things more difficult (when compared to another model). For example, the Free Market model can make finding new leaders more difficult (when compared to other models). The Meta Church model rarely births new groups fast enough to absorb unconnected people in a growing church. See also, Choosing What Not to Do.
  5. What your model won’t do. Don’t miss this. Every small group model has limitations (i.e., things it won’t do). For example, apprenticing new leaders takes time and the Cell Church model won’t reproduce leaders faster when the need is greater.

I’ve written quite a bit about the distinctions of small group models, systems and strategies. Your choice of model is one of the 7 decisions that predetermine small group ministry impact. See also, Small Group Models¬†and How to Choose a Small Group Model or System.

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Small Group Ministry Case Study: Choosing Your Customer

customerIf it’s true that your ministry (or program) is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing, then the design of your ministry is almost everything.

There are several key components of ministry design. According to Peter Drucker, three main components are:

A significant aspect of my work with churches and ministries is to help them choose their customer. A key component of design is the intentional selection of a customer. Many start out believing that their ministry or program really can meet the needs of everyone. This is a theology of wishful thinking. The truth is that a common ingredient of failed ministry design is the illusion of being all things to all people.

This is a very bad strategy.

Far better to focus on choosing your customer.

Here’s what I mean.

Designing for a Specific Customer: A Case Study

Outback Steakhouse, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar,¬†Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill are all owned and operated by¬†Bloomin’ Brands Inc. ¬†P.F. Changs China Bistro and Pei Wei Asian Diner¬†¬†are owned by Centerbridge Partners.

Think about the restaurants in these two parent companies. Why would Bloomin’ Brands own both Fleming’s and Outback? Why would Centerbridge Partners own both P.F. Changs and Pei Wei? ¬†If you’ve been to these restaurants you probably shouted back an answer just now. ¬†It’s obvious, isn’t it? ¬†Each restaurant pair is designed to appeal to a different customer. The Fleming’s diner anticipates spending in the neighborhood of $100 per person. The Outback customer will spend closer to $30 per person. ¬†Does Fleming’s feel bad when someone chooses Outback over them? ¬†What do you think?

Why would Centerbridge Partners own both P.F. Changs and Pei Wei? ¬†Same basic idea. ¬†Eat at Changs and plan to spend about $50 per person. Eat at Pei Wei and spend closer to $25. ¬†Does Pei Wei feel bad when they don’t attract a Changs customer? What do you think?


When you design your ministry, think carefully about the customer you most want to reach. Design the ministry for them. Don’t feel bad when you can’t be all things to all people. Instead, design a different step for the people that haven’t yet been reached.

Image by Didriks 

3 Questions You Should Be Asking about Your Small Group Ministry

questionsYou have a set of problems you’d like to solve.

Too many unconnected people. Not making enough disciples. Can’t find enough leaders.

Sound familiar?

Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

When I think about problems, I try to stay focused on determining the right questions.

Peter Drucker noted that, “The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions‚Ķ Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question‚ÄĚ

Are you asking the right questions?

Here are the questions I think you should be asking:

  1. What are we trying to do? This is a very important question and really another way of asking, “What business are we in?” Don’t miss this question. If you don’t ask this question you may very well end up with a small group model, system or strategy that won’t actually do what you want to do. For example, some small group strategies will connect unconnected people but won’t make disciples. Others will make disciples but will only appeal to the tastes of high achievers. See also, If I Was Starting Today¬†and Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group System.
  2. Who do we hope to connect to a small group? This is another very important question and is a version of asking, “Who is your primary customer?” The answer to this question ought to inform the strategy you use to connect people. The kind of person you hope to connect should dictate the way you market connecting opportunities, the studies you use to start new groups, the length of the commitment you require, and many other aspects. And don’t fall for the false hope that everyone can be your primary customer. The product that attempts to appeal to everyone appeals to no one. See also, Clue #4 When Designing Your Small Group System.
  3. What will we call success?¬†Another very important question. Sometimes framed as, “What will you call a win?,” this is a question to which the answer should be determined before you begin. Waiting until the results are in to determine whether your strategy succeeded is more than just foolish. It is foolish but it is also dangerous. When you wait for the results to come in you are more likely to justify a miss. When you thoughtfully declare in advance what you will call success, the lack of wiggle room will force you to evaluate more honestly. See also, Clue #4 When Designing Your Small Group System.

These are the main questions, but there are a few others you may want to ask.

  • Who can be a leader?¬†The answer to this question will determine some important aspects of your small group ministry. The higher the bar you set, the more difficult it will be to find the number of leaders you need. The lower the bar you set, the easier it will be to find them but the more important an excellent coaching structure will be. See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?
  • What will we call a group?¬†This answer to this question will either narrow your focus (make it more like a laser) or broaden your focus (more like a floodlight). Keep in mind that the design of your ministry will determine the results of your ministry. See also, Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Schizophrenic.
  • Will groups be the only way to do what we’ve decided they will do?¬†Essentially a follow-up question to #1 above, clarity surrounding the answer to this question is a must. Calling everything a group will create a simpler (but less potent) pathway. See also,¬†A Sm√∂rg√•sbord of Destinations vs. Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.

Are these the only questions? Not by a long shot, but I do believe they are the most important.

Image by Luis Sarabia

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