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Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change

life changeWant to have the kind of group where real life-change happens?  Want to know that you’re meeting is actually designed to be the “optimal environment for life-change?”

The way your meeting is designed makes a difference.  Remember, your meeting is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.*

Here are the key ingredients for life-change:

  • A welcoming and inviting atmosphere.  This is about a genuine sense of hospitality.  A relaxing and comfortable space goes a long way in setting the mood for a productive meeting.  Some groups never have more than something to drink and a little to nibble on.  Others begin every meeting with a meal together.
  • An irrepressible sense of joy and fun.  There will be times when you just can’t stop laughing.  There will be the sense that God is laughing or smiling right along with everyone else.
  • A predictable start and stop time.  This is often overlooked.  There may be groups that can function without clear expectations about when the meeting starts and stops…but they are not the norm.
  • A sense of safety.  The security that weaknesses and struggles can be expressed is an essential ingredient.  The knowledge that what is shared here, stays here, cannot be overemphasized.
  • A growing trust that group members have each other’s best interests in mind.  This means members can be tender and tough.  This means there can be authenticity and vulnerability.  As there is the offer to come as you are, there is the challenge to not stay that way.
  • The infusion of God’s word.  There might be meetings where there is only a meal, game-night or a movie…but there will be a growing sense that this is a biblically functioning community.
  • There will be much more than teaching.  There will be multifaceted communication.  Far beyond leader to members or even member to leader, there will be member to member, too.  Group time will be a conversation and it will include affirmation and challenge, celebration and shared sorrow.
  • There will be both intentionality and spontaneity.  A pathway will be laid out and the unexpected will be welcomed.
  • There will be a prayer that pervades the meeting…and it won’t stop when the meeting ends.  A sensitivity to the movement of the Holy Spirit will prompt the group to stop and pray for each other.  There may be a time to pray at the end of the meeting, but it won’t be the only time that prayer happens.
  • The meeting might have a start and stop time…but there will be lots of contact outside the meeting.  In fact, it will seem natural to do life together and odd to only see each other at the meeting.

Question: Is your meeting designed with these ingredients?  Which ingredients do you need to add?

*This is a version of the Andy Stanley quote, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”

Image by Antoine Gady

Is The Bible Miniseries on Your Radar?

Bible_Abraham_Sarah_378776492-PDid you see it?  Or miss it?  Either way, it’s not too late to catch Episode 1 later this week on the History Channel.

Produced by Mark Burnett (producer of Survivor, The Voice and The Apprentice) and Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel), this series is set up to be the main topic of a lot of water cooler conversations.

Want to talk about the series in your small group or Bible study?  Download this free host kit!

Want more?

  • Saddleback has just started History Makers, a 5 week series that accompanies the miniseries.  You can watch week one right here.
  • LifeChurch.TV has a downloadable Bible Series Discussion Guide right here. (HT @LibbyMyrin)
  • YouVersion (the Bible app) has a reading plan for each week of the Bible Series.  You can find out more about it right here. (HT @LibbyMyrin)

Listen, this series has the potential to be a very powerful opportunity to talk about the great stories of the Bible with neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family.  Don’t miss this chance!

Did you see it? What did you think?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Posts of February, 2013

New from Mark Batterson: The God Anthology: Exploring the Depths of God

the god anthology 2Took some time this week to dive into a new DVD-driven study from Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church, a multi-site church in Washington D.C.  When Batterson has a new study, I look forward to previewing it.  In my opinion, Batterson regularly tackles theology more creatively than almost anyone else and  The God Anthology: Exploring the Depths of God is a great example!

In a way, the idea behind The God Anthology is pinned to A.W. Tozer’s great line, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”   Exploring the depths of God by examining six of God’s attributes:

  • Mystery
  • Holiness
  • Incomparability
  • Mercy
  • Jealousy
  • Sovereignty

The 6 session study is anchored by 6 video segments.  At 10 to 17 minutes long, the segments are just the right length to hold attention very well.  Batterson is a master of metaphor and example and the teaching here is a very good example.  Filmed on location at The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, even the setting is beautiful and compelling.

The study guide is easy to use and includes everything you need to pull off a fairly theological study.  A great set of questions launches each of the sessions.  Also included are a video session outline (for capturing the big ideas and important concepts) and a very thought-provoking, conversation generating set of discussion questions anchored by scripture.  Each of the sessions also includes a Pursuing God section designed to provide three daily devotional readings that will help group members further pursue the conversation through the week.  Importantly, the study guide also includes a helpful leader’s guide with important tips and ideas for each session.

Along with the DVD and study guide, The God Anthology includes a music CD with original music composed and arranged by the National Community Church worship staff for each of the critical aspects of who God is.  Intended to enrich the small group experience, the CD can be played during the group meeting.

If you’re looking for a study that will help group members deepen their understanding of God, The God Anthology is one you need 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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

A “Possibilities” Based Approach

I listened to a fascinating webinar yesterday that featured Roger Martin (Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business) and A.G. Lafley (former CEO of Proctor and Gamble).  Their talk focused on a way of thinking about possible strategies.  After the webinar I downloaded a paper from HBR that detailed some of their ideas.

A possibilities-based approach requires at least three fundamental shifts in mind-set:

“First, in the early steps, they must avoid asking “What should we do?” and instead ask “What might we do?”  This is an intriguing start, don’t you think?  What if when thinking about ministry strategy we shifted our thinking from “should” to “might?”  For example, instead of asking, “What should be offer to connect people?” we’d begin asking, “What might we offer to connect people?”  Sounds simple, but the shift from should to might is a very significant beginning.

Second, in the middle steps, managers must shift from asking “What do I believe?” to asking “What would I have to believe?”  Once you’ve collected a handful of interesting possibilities (what might we do?), you begin to ask the question, “What would I have to believe (about each of the possibilities)?”  I’ve referenced Roger Martin’s great question previously: “What would have to be true in order for this idea to be a fantastic choice?”  This is a version of that question and the thinking behind it.  Possibilities-based approach relies on assembling a set of conditions that would have to be true about each of the strategies posed.

Third, the possibilities-based approach forces managers to move away from asking “What is the right answer?” and concentrate instead on “What are the right questions? What specifically must we know in order to make a good decision?”  It has long been my understanding that great questions, the right questions, are much more important than the right answers.  It is possible to have the right answers to the wrong questions and not realize it until too late.

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

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Want to dive into the topic?  You can learn a lot more from their paper, Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy.  Also, Roger Martin’s book, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage is one of my favorite books and very helpful for strategic thinkers.  His newest, along with A.G. Lafley is Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.  My copy is in the mail…I can’t wait to dive into 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 will receive an affiliate commission. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

The Upside of Reluctant Leaders

reluctantIt’s almost completely counterintuitive, but the best small group leaders tend to be reluctant leaders. [click to tweet] The best coaches or community leaders are almost always reluctant leaders.  See also, What Makes People Follow Reluctant Leaders.

My first real clue about this was back in a season when (like many small group ministries) I was using a multi-week small group leader training course to prepare potential leaders for their first group.  The course attendees included men and women who had been hand-picked (we knew them and they seemed like they had the stuff).  Not wanting to miss any potentially promising candidates, we also ran a blurb in the bulletin and usually had a number of sign-ups from there.  So the course was a mix of the two types of candidates.  Hand-picked and volunteers.

Do you know where this is going?  Over time I began to realize that a fairly significant percentage of the volunteers had below-the-waterline motivations that weren’t healthy (i.e., they wanted to be in authority, they had their own agenda or a certain curriculum they wanted to use).

The last straw happened during a short period when I was still running the small group leader training course but was also holding small group connections (which allow the group to choose their own leader).  Can you guess what happened several times?  That’s right!  The new group formed at the connection did not choose the volunteer candidate from the small group leader training course!

I probably connected the last dot during a short meeting with the leaders who had just been chosen at a small group connection.  One of them said, “I came expecting to be in a small group and I ended up the leader.  It feels like a bait-and-switch…just a little bit.  I’m okay.  But it caught me off guard.”

Here’s the gist of what I said back:

“Did you know that in the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, there’s not a single story about someone volunteering to be the leader.  None of the great stories are about volunteering to lead.  All of the stories are about being chosen.  The closest thing to a volunteer leader was Nehemiah, and that’s really not what he did.  They didn’t volunteer.  Old Testament or New Testament.  Chosen.  Moses.  Gideon.  Abraham.  James and John.  Peter.  Paul.  Chosen.  There aren’t any great stories where someone came up and said, “I’d like to volunteer to be a leader.”  All of the great stories are about God choosing a leader.  And the best story is about how David was chosen.  Remember how it goes?

“Samuel is sent by God to anoint the next king of Israel and he goes to Jesse’s house.  When he gets there Jesse automatically brings out his oldest son.  Naturally.  He did what was expected.  I believe that in that moment the Holy Spirit whispered to Samuel, “That’s not him.”  So Jesse brought out the next son.  “That’s not him.”  This went on until there was only one left.  David.  And when Jesse brought out David, Samuel heard, “That’s the one.”

“Interesting about Samuel, we learn about his ability to hear God much earlier, when he was a little boy living with Eli the priest.  And so we know that Samuel can actually hear God speak.  But I believe that as you were sharing your answers with the group today, they heard something deep in their heart about you.  I don’t know what it was.  But I believe they heard it and that’s why they pointed to you.”

Reluctant.  The best leaders are almost always reluctant.  [click to tweet] Be cautious about approving leaders who don’t have some reluctance.  It’s one thing to encourage many to HOST a group and invite their own friends to join.  It’s another thing entirely to approve a leader you’re not sure of and send them members.  Look for reluctance.  Design your steps to make room for reluctance.

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

Image by Fechi Fajardo

Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed

circlesWorking to connect beyond the usual suspects?  Beyond the core and committed (to use Saddleback’s terminology)?

You may occasionally connect someone from the outer edge of the congregation or crowd with a business as usual strategy…but you won’t connect many.  And you won’t connect anywhere near the number you need to…unless you develop an understanding of these keys:

First, you need genuine, fresh-eyes insight into the real interests of the unconnected people in your church.  Not what you wish they were interested in.  Not what you hope they care about.  And definitely not what they should be open to.

If you want to connect beyond the usual suspects you must be able to see the world, the world of unconnected people, for what it really is.  You need to know what their interests and hopes and frustrations and longings actually are.

This discovery will require spending time with them.  In order to really understand them you’ll have to go where they are, do what they do, listen to the radio stations they listen to, watch the TV shows and movies they’re watching.

Like any truly effective missionary…you will have to genuinely know their world.  See An In But Not Of M.O.

Three resources I’ve found extremely helpful are The Next Christians, Rumors of God and The Church in an Age of Crisis.

Second, you need to see your own existing programs and strategies and curriculum for what they really are.  A casual assessment will not get the job done.  A careful, brutally honest, diagnosis is what is absolutely required.

If you want to connect beyond the usual suspects you must see the potential of what you’re currently doing with eyes wide open.

How will you do this?  It won’t be easy.  To honestly assess your existing programs and strategies and curriculum will take time and energy as well as the willingness to ask tough questions.  Asking tough questions almost always probes in the cavities of a long lost why.  Do enough probing and feelings will almost certainly be hurt.  See Diagnosis: Brutal Honesty about Your Present, The Pursuit of Problem Free,  and Innovation Step One: Acknowledge What’s Not Working.

Third, once you really know the people you’re trying to connect and you’ve seen your existing programs and strategies and curriculum for what they really are…you will be faced with a great challenge.  Press ahead on the current trajectory, all the while knowing that the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.  Or move onto a new trajectory, filled with uncertainty and the hope of hearing “well done.”

I hope you’ll take the road less travelled.  I hope you’ll choose the unfamiliar path…the one that leads to becoming the kind of church that connects far, far beyond the usual suspects.  In fact, I hope you take the path that actually transforms communities as a result of widespread life-change.

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

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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Essential Reading: The Church in an Age of Crisis

church in an age of crisisHad a chance this weekend to devour The Church in an Age of Crisis; the newest book from James Emery White.  White, the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the blogger behind the Church & Culture blog (a must-read for anyone interested in life at crowd’s edge).

The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity is a fascinating, gut-wrenching, and terrifying read.  Anything but a page-turner…but only because every other paragraph contains a wait…what?  Can that be true? moment.  Definitely in the category of The Next Christians as essential reading for anyone attempting ministry in the 21st century.

I was both rocked and intrigued by what I discovered in this book.  Rocked at the thought of how different life is for the Church in 21st century western culture.  Intrigued (and challenged) by the thoughts of what it will take to change the trajectory.  I have no doubt that you will all feel the same way.

As the subtitle declares, The Church in an Age of Crisis dives into 25 new realities facing Christianity.  Ranging from issues of faith and mindset, to marriage and family, and then on to media, technology and mission…the book is literally packed with cultural references that will both leave you scratching your head, wondering how did this happen, and shaking your head, thinking how can we change course?

Setting the tone for the whole book is White’s brief acknowledgement of the enigmatic biblical references to the “men of Issachar,” who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”  Friends, we must be like the men of Issachar.  We must understand the times and the best course to take.  If you want to play a part in a trajectory change…The Church in an Age of Crisis is a must read.

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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Dilbert on Precedent and the Status Quo

I know most of you won’t understand–actually, I think all of you will understand.  Hopefully, we can laugh (while plotting another run at the status quo!

how we have always done it

Wanna Play? What’s Your Best New Idea for Connecting People?

I’ve always been amazed at the real potential to be found in looking at something from another angle, a different point-of-view, a new perspective.  That’s probably why I’ve always loved the line from computer theorist Alan Kay:

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

One of my favorite reads in recent years was Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From and one of the best ideas in the book is the concept of the adjacent possible–the notion that as each advance is made, new possibilities emerge.  See Where Do You Want to Go with Your Small Group Ministry.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, an angle emerges that you’ve never noticed before.  Just when you’re reveling in the amazing potential of the small group connection, the HOST strategy comes out of nowhere.  A few months ago I heard about a way to leverage the exponential power of the HOST strategy and a church-wide campaign with a twist of Group Link.

Wanna play?  What are you trying (or considering) that may make it possible to connect beyond the usual suspects?  Who knows!  What you’re considering may be the breakthrough everyone needs!

What do you think?  Have an idea you want to share?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”
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