Is There a “Design Limit” Ceiling on Your Small Group Ministry?

Have you ever stopped to consider that there may be a design limit ceiling on your small group ministry?  Are you familiar with the term?  Think of a design limit as the maximum or optimum possibility of your system.

Four examples of design limits that are ceilings for small group ministries:

Example #1: You are committed to providing personal care for your small group leaders but you are trying to do it yourself.  A design limit is the built-in reality that everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can take care of more than about 10.  As you attempt to push past the design limit, stress fractures will eventually develop.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limit will require a different strategy for caring for leaders.   See also, Span of Care and How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

Example #2: You have been using Free Market/Semester system and for the first two years it has worked well.  Now entering your third year, keeping up with the catalog and recruiting enough leaders in advance to replace those who have opted to “take a break” is becoming more challenging every semester.  A design limit is the built-in reality of the administrative work and the fact that it is keeping you from investing in leaders and coaches.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limit will require a different strategy for launching new groups.  See also, An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System.

Example #3: You have set high entry requirements for group leaders (i.e., must be a member, must be a “tithing” member, must attend the 8 week new leader bootcamp, etc.) and are having difficulty finding enough leaders to connect the number of adults who want to join a group.  A design limit is the built-in reality that the number of tithing members who will invest 8 weeks in the 8 week new leader bootcamp is a ceiling on the number of groups you can launch.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limi will require a different strategy for recruiting new leaders.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock.

Example #4: You have placed high emphasis on every small group having an apprentice with the value that heathy groups grow and birth a new group every 12 to 18 months.  A design limit is the built-in reality that less than 50% of groups will birth a new group.  Breaking through the barrier of the design limit will require a different strategy to launch new groups.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups. Lots of New Groups.

What are the design limits in your small group ministry system or strategy?

Doing the work of identifying the design limits that are affecting your small group ministry is very important.  Turning a blind eye to design limits isn’t a winning strategy.  Remember, the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.

How can you identify the design limits of your system?

If you’ve been along for very long you know that I am a big fan of great questions.  I got two questions that I’ve found very helpful from Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management (a great read).

  1. What 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of our discipleship strategy?
  2. What are the limitations of our model that have failed to keep up with the times?

Need help?  There is great power in the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider.  Finding someone you trust from outside your organization who can look at your strategy with no emotional attachment can provide a much more honest evaluation.  You can find out about my consulting and coaching services right here.

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

What To Do Before You Plan Another Church-Wide Campaign

As you might imagine, I talk with church leaders almost every day about church-wide campaigns.  Home runs and whiffs.  What worked and what didn’t work.  What was great and what was absolutely terrible.

If you’re planning a church-wide campaign (or even thinking about planning one), can I give you a short list of things to do first?

Hold an autopsy without blame of your last campaign.  Whatever else you do, don’t plan your next campaign without thoroughly evaluating your last campaign.  That makes it essential to evaluate how it went last time and then make changes in your strategy that reflect your learnings.  See also, Top 10 Reasons Church-Wide Campaigns Miss Their Mark.

Key to Remember:

Albert Einstein was right when he said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

Carefully determine what you hope to accomplish with your next campaign.  This is a critical step.  Miss this step and you will almost always be the person that climbs the ladder to the top and then realizes it was leaning against the wrong wall.  What you hope to accomplish should determine the campaign you choose and how you prepare for it.

Some examples of what you hope to accomplish might be:

  • Unify your congregation
  • Connect as many unconnected members and attendees as possible
  • Help your congregation connect with their neighbors
  • Deepen the prayer lives of your congregation
  • Etc.

Key to Remember: It rarely works to choose more than one thing you’d like to accomplish.  Why?  The campaign you choose to unify your congregation or deepen the prayer lives of your congregation won’t be the topic that will appeal to the crowd or community.  See also, Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed and Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

Commit to do the things that make a church-wide campaign a win.  If you choose to do a campaign, commit to doing your campaign the way that will accomplish what you hope to accomplish.

Key to Remember: Like any of the Apollo missions, just a degree or two off course took the rocket on an entirely different trajectory.  Have a destination you hope to reach?  Do the things that lead to a win.  See also, Build Crowd to Core Flow in Advance

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

The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns (2014)

Saddleback released the 40 Days of Purpose church-wide campaign in 2002.  Although they had previously launched internal spiritual growth campaigns, this one really was a just-add-water option.  Of course, in 2002 it really was just about the only option.

Today, there are lots of options and there are more all the time.  I’ve reviewed many of them and cataloged them here for your convenience.  How to choose?  I’d highly recommend my article, “How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.”

The Nearly Complete List of Church-Wide Campaigns (as of 4/29/14)

Note: This list is alphabetical.  In most cases, I’ve linked to my own review of the campaign.

Small Group Ministry Myth #5: Only New Small Group Leaders Need a Coach

Note: This is part 5 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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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’s a look at the fifth small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #4: Only new small group leaders need a “coach”.

Where are you on this one?  Maybe you’ve tried to build an effective coaching structure and you just haven’t figured out how to do it.  Maybe you’ve built a coaching team full of warm and willing people instead of hot and qualified.  Maybe you’ve adopted a coaching philosophy that limits the role of a coach to something that can be accomplished in the first 90 days.  See also, 5 Assumptions That Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL.

Truth: This myth is based on an unfortunate misunderstanding about the purpose of a coach.

  • If you believe the role of a coach is mostly about providing best practices or tips on how to facilitate a better discussion or how to help your members plan to grow (or any of the other main skill-training topics)…then you’re actually correct.  Very few small group leaders need this kind of coaching beyond the first 90 days or so.
  • On the other hand, if you believe that “whatever you want to happen in the life of a member has to happen to the leader first,” you’ve already concluded that your leaders need someone who is doing to and for them whatever you want group members to experience.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.

True…many new leaders need help with technique in their first 90 days.  Beyond 90 days, every leader needs to be cared for and mentored by someone who is a few steps ahead.  How will that happen without a coaching structure?  Unless your small group ministry is unlikely to grow beyond 10 groups (the number of leaders YOU can care for), you’ll need to build in a plan to scale care (and discipleship) to mentor the leaders in your ministry…and that means a coaching structure of some kind.

Full Disclosure: One of the major issues with building an effective coaching structure is the practice of retroactively assigning coaches to existing leaders.  The truth is, existing leaders who have made it past the 90 day mark know that they don’t need help with technique.  If they figured out how to make it without a coach, why would they need one now?  Right?  That’s because they aren’t thinking about the role of a coach in the way I am (and hopefully you are).  What’s the fix?  It’s some version of a slow migration to a structure that is about care and mentoring.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  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.

Quotebook: When Change Efforts Fail

Have you tried more than once to introduce a new system or strategy to your ministry only to feel resistance?  In my pursuit of a better understanding of bringing change (which I end up doing a lot of) I’m reading The Change Monster by Jeannie Daniel Duck.

“When a stagnating company attempts one change effort after another, and repeatedly fails to achieve any lasting result, two damaging things occur: (1) management loses credibility and (2) the rest of the workforce becomes change-resistant.”  The Change Monster, p. 43

Would you say your team or your ministry is highly change-resistant?  You might benefit from The Change Monster.  The metaphor Duck uses throughout the book is outstanding and the strategies she introduces are very transferable to our business.

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.”

Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock

Note: This is part 4 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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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’s a look at the fourth small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #4: High entry requirements for leaders ensures the safety of the flock and gives members a model to follow.

Where have you set the bar for small group leaders in your church?  What are the minimum standards a potential leader must meet before they can become a small group leader?  Do they need to:

  • have a background check?
  • have 3 references?
  • have an interview with a staff member?
  • be a member of a group before they can be a leader?
  • be apprenticed by a leader before they can become a leader?
  • be a member of your church?
  • be a tithing member of your church?
  • sign a leadership covenant?

Where have you set the bar for small group leaders?  And why have you set it there?

The most common reasons given for setting high entry requirements for small group leaders are that

  • it’s biblical (James 3:1 is often referenced)
  • it ensures the safety of the flock
  • it gives members a model to follow

Truth: High entry requirements don’t necessarily deliver on the safety of the flock.  The fact that someone is a member or even a tithing member may be an indication of higher commitment, but shouldn’t be seen as litmus credentials. Who hasn’t seen instances of a well disguised wolf in the middle of the sheepfold?  A model to follow?  Membership status has little or nothing to do with truly being a model to follow.  In many cases meeting higher entrance standards only guarantee an insider or member of the usual suspects.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar? and Do You Know About This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

On the flip side, unnecessarily high entry requirements do narrow the field in terms of who is allowed or encouraged to take an initial step toward leadership.  In addition, a very serious consequence of recruiting leaders from the core and committed segments of the congregation predetermines that new leaders have little awareness of anyone outside of the most connected.  See also, 5 Seriously Wrong Questions about Small Group Ministry and Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  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.

Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study

Note: This is part 3 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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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’s a look at the third small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #3: Small group leaders and members know best what they need to study.

Who decides what the groups in your small group ministry study?  You?  Your small group leaders?  Do your leaders take requests from their members?  Do your groups vote on what they should study?

Who decides?

I realize that sermon-based small group ministries have what they’re studying handed to them.  And I know that most adult Sunday schools determine for their classes what they’ll be studying next quarter.

But don’t your group leaders and their members really know best what they need to study?  Who knows better?  Right?

Truth: Trusting group leaders and members to figure out what they should study in their group is a little like trusting your children to plan and prepare the family dinner menu.  Most groups will make good choices some of the time.  But if you want to make mature disciples, those who effortlessly do what Jesus would do, you will need to provide good guidance in the selection of study material.

If you don’t currently guide your groups in the selection of study material, you’ll want to carefully consider moves in the direction of limiting choices for group leaders and members.

  1. At a minimum, it makes sense to encourage every group to participate whenever there is a church-wide campaign.  In addition, there may also be a short list of required studies that are part of the annual diet.  For example, you may want every group to schedule 5 Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith or Just Walk Across the Room during the course of the year.
  2. Next, a recommended list can provide needed direction.  Many small group ministries require group leaders to submit for approval any study they’d like to use that isn’t already on the recommended list.  Here’s a sample of a recommended study list.
  3. Still better, you may design a curriculum pathway that provides a wise discipleship plan.  See also, The Importance of Discipling People with Wisdom.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  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.

Small Group Ministry Myth #2: Effective at Connecting and Ineffective at Discipling

Note: This is part 2 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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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’s a look at the second small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #2: Small groups are an effective way to connect people but ineffective at making disciples

What do you think?  Is that your experience?  I think this myth was firmly established by two main ideologies/philosophies:

  1. There is a group that wants us to believe that discipleship is something you do in rows.  It’s about learning about Jesus.  It involves a curriculum.  It is fill-in-the-blank.  It is about information.  It is not bad.  And it is not the way Jesus made disciples.
  2. There is another group that wants us to believe that discipleship is a one-on-one activity.  It is about a series of meetings covering a series of topics.  It is very relational.  It is about accountability.  It is not bad.  And it is not the way Jesus made disciples.

Truth: What happens in a small group shouldn’t be limited to connecting.  Your current system might lean in that direction…but it shouldn’t and it doesn’t need to.

Jesus made disciples in a group.  Paul made disciples in a group.  Life on life, in the midst of life.  There does not seem to have been a study guide.  The experience seems to have been customized for each individual follower.  I love Dallas Willard’s definition of a mature disciple:  “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

Can you see what might need to happen to your system?  What would your curriculum pathway need to be?  What would be true of the leaders in your system?  Your coaches?

Want to go there?  There are several things you must consider to even begin:

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  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.

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

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