Review: The Good and Beautiful Community

Had a chance this week to take a look at The Good and Beautiful Community; the newest addition to James Bryan Smith’s Apprentice Series.  Published by InterVarsity Press, this series has been called by Dallas Willard, “The best practice I have seen in Christian spiritual formation.”

Like the two previous books in the series, The Good and Beautiful Community follows a familiar pattern.  Real-life stories illustrate the false ideas and personal narratives that may become a barrier to authentic Christlikeness.  A look at a biblical account from the Gospels (or elsewhere in the New Testament) provides a contrasting practice and points the reader/participant to replacing false with true narrative.

Along with this examination of a contrasting narrative, each chapter is followed by a soul training exercise; a kind of spiritual formation practice.  The appendix includes a Small Group Discussion Guide, which makes it very practical for this book to be used as a small group curriculum.

The focus of this final installment in the trilogy is “the second part of the Great Commandment: loving our neighbor as ourselves.”  What I’ve appreciated about the series is the built-in focus on the heart, based on the awareness that the human tendency is to put the emphasis on activity and not on the heart that motivates the activity.

Two Key Uses for the Book

I can see The Good and Beautiful Community being used a number of ways, two in particular that will have great application for many of us.  First, this book could be very helpful in developing the coaches in your system.  I’ve found it to be true that “whatever you want to happen at the member level in your groups has to happen first in the life of the leader.”  That said, once a coach experienced this journey, they’d have the frame of reference to help the leaders in their huddles.

The second use for this book will be to provide a curriculum for groups desiring to engage in their community.  In the effort to become involved in the lives of your neighbors, nothing will set the table better than learning to love them first.

If you’re looking for a study that will help your more seasoned groups take a healthy step in the direction of practicing Christlikeness, I encourage you to take a look at The Good and Beautiful Community.

Top 10 Posts for November 2010

In case you missed them, here are my 10 most popular articles for November, 2010.  As is often the case, not all of them were written in November.  There was one from 2008 and two from 2009.

  1. This Road Doesn’t Go “There”
  2. Where Do You Want to Go with Your Small Group Ministry?
  3. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  4. Escaping the Straightjacket of Conventional Thinking
  5. Accelerate GroupLife in 2011: T – 6 Weeks
  6. The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula
  7. Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups
  8. Four Steps That Help Groups Survive the Holidays
  9. Connections Pastor Position in a Great Church
  10. How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar

Accelerate GroupLife in 2011: T – 4 Weeks

Getting ready for a year when grouplife really accelerates?  After all you got done in week 1 and week 2 of our 6 week boot camp, you’ve got a break this week.  Sort of.

The number of groups that you hope to launch in January will determine how long it will take to get this week’s assignment finished.  Why?  You really want to end up with a coach, a mentor, for every new connection group.  Since it can be structured as a short-term assignment, it makes a perfect test-drive experience for potential coaching candidates.

Step One: Touch base with your existing coaches to prep them for the upcoming small group connection(s).  To really pull off the connection you’ll need a “monitor” for every table you end up with; someone who can keep the conversation moving, help confirm the leader(s),  and help with any last minute wrinkles.  Since you’ll want to assign each of your new connection groups a coach, it makes sense to have the coach you’ll be assigning them at the connection.  Not to intrude or influence the outcome.  More as an observer.

Step Two: If you don’t have coaches yet, now is a great time to recruit a few of your best candidates to help with the connection.  Here’s a collection of my best articles on coaching.  When you’re preparing for a church-wide campaign or a small group connection, you have an opportunity to recruit coaches for a short-term operation.

Here’s an article describing the kind of person who makes the best coach.  Even though you’re only recruiting for a temporary role (I usually describe it as 10 to 13 weeks), you want to recruit the kind of person that you really want on your coaching team.  You’re looking for a hundred-fold kind of person.  If they say yes to a short-term assignment and then choose to continue…you’ve taken a great step in building a coaching team.

Want a look at the job description we use for a short-term, launch-phase coach?  Email Me and I’ll send you an example.

As you probably know, this is part of a 6 week series.  You can read part 3 right here.

Question: Feelin’ the assignment? Does it make sense? Use the comment section to put in your two cents. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups

Ever heard the stories about Saddleback’s thousands of small groups and wondered what they’re really doing?  Maybe you heard the rumor that with Decade of Destiny they launched enough new groups to break 5,000 groups for the first time.  Not 5,000 people in groups.  5,000 groups!

Want to know how they’re doing it?

I hint at the reason in one of my most popular articles (The Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups, written in 2009).  But looking back at it, I really don’t come right out and say what I believe is the real reason; the real number one reason that Saddleback connects so many in groups.

It’s actually pretty simple.  The real reason Saddleback connects so many in groups is that their senior pastor is the small group champion.  Rick Warren is the face of small groups at Saddleback.  He’s the one doing the talking.  Ramping up for a church-wide campaign (like 40 Days of Purpose or Decade of Destiny), he’s the one talking about the importance of small groups.  At all of their Christmas Eve services, he’s the one describing the benefits of a small group.  Even when he’s not in town, watch for him on video talking up the next opportunity to join a group.

We had the opportunity to attend Saddleback for almost 2 years while I was on the Lifetogether team.  Interesting factoid: Steve Gladen, Pastor of the Small Group Community, wasn’t on the platform once talking about small groups.  Want another?  Ron Wilbur, the Pastor of Small Group Operations, wasn’t on the platform once talking about small groups.  Who was doing the talking?  Rick Warren.  And seriously, when he was out of town on weekends they needed to say something important about small groups there would be a video of Rick Warren promoting it.

I’ve watched this for years and wanted to do a man-on-the-street piece interviewing people coming out of Saddleback’s worship center, holding up a picture of Steve Gladen and asking them if they know who this is?  Seriously!  When I’m in town for Radicalis I’m going to try and do it.  Why?  Because you need to see that when it comes to talking about the importance of grouplife…they’re pulling out the biggest gun they have!

And let me be quick to say, this is not about the fact that it’s Rick Warren.  He’s no grand-stander.  And it’s not about Steve Gladen or Ron Wilbur.  They’re two of the sharpest grouplife experts in the world.  The real reason Saddleback connects so many in groups is that their senior pastor is the small group champion.


Two people need to read this and react to it.

  • Small Group Pastors and Directors (Paid and Unpaid):  You may believe you’re the most passionate about grouplife.  You may be the one who’s studied all the books and read all the articles.  You might even have the seminary degree in spiritual formation.  Here’s the truth: You still need to know that when you are the face of small group ministry it cannot be a church with more people in groups than you have at the weekend service.  And when your pastor asks you to be the face of small group ministry, you need to know that they are delegating away the role they were designed to play.  Your senior pastor makes the best champion.
  • Senior Pastors: You may believe that you are simply relying on the strengths of the most passionate small group advocate, but you are really doing no one a favor when you delegate away the small group champion role.  You may even believe it’s biblical to appear to be on a team of equals and want to give visibility to others on your staff.  No matter.  When you’re not the small group champion, you cannot expect to be a church of groups, where nobody stands alone.

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Question: What do you think? Does it make sense? Do you have your doubts? Use the comment section to put in your two cents. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Convergence: New DVD-Driven Small Group Curriculum with a Twist

Had a chance to preview Convergence: Where Faith and Life Meet, an intriguing new line of video driven small group curriculum.  Available on DVD or as a download, this is not an old-school famous talking head teach-a-lesson and then work-through-the-questions product.  This DVD-driven curriculum comes with a twist.  Instead of watching a short lesson, you really feel like you’re the third party in a great conversation, dying to ask a follow-up question.   Convergence will generate some unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary discussions.

(Be sure and check out the special promotion below)

Every segment is hosted by Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and features an interesting conversation with with “another well-known Christian author or speaker about the challenges that Christians face while trying to integrate faith with real life.”

The current library includes interviews with Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Randy Alcorn, Dan Allender, Phyllis Tickle, Tremper Longman and Lauren Winner on topics ranging from spiritual practices and personal growth to marriage and parenting; a great set available at a very attractive price, especially when the participant and leader guides are downloadable free.

I was able to take a look at all three segments from the Spiritual Practices DVD featuring Lauren Winner (Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline), and I have to say, I was definitely pulled in by the conversation.  The combination of Donald Miller’s engaging normal guy take on spirituality and the fascinating story of Winner’s migration from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity kept me glued to the conversation.  When it ended, I was ready to talk about how it might provoke a next step for me.

While the video segments are very engaging, it’s important to note that the segments provide just enough content to prompt an engaging conversation.  At 16 to 18 minutes (on the Spiritual Practices DVD), there will be plenty of time for discussion and the leader and participant guides (downloadable) feature the kinds of statements and questions that will help your groups engage in the topic.  In addition, you’ll find a series of valuable leader development articles in the Resources section on the Convergence site.

Special Promotion for the First 25 Readers:

To promote the new resource, the first 25 people from my blog will get a free download. To take advantage of this offer, just head over to the Convergence site and use the promo code HOWELL.

Next Step on the Convergence Blog Tour

You can join the next stop on the Convergence blog tour on Wednesday, December 1st over at Oil for Joy, Maegan Stout’s site.  She’ll be reviewing the Marriage DVD in the series…and she’ll probably have her own set of download giveaways!

Here’s a Sample from the Spiritual Practices DVD:

Lauren Winner on Spriritual Practices from All Things Converge on Vimeo.

Lauren Winner on Spriritual Practices from All Things Converge on Vimeo.

Christmas Reboot: Alan Danielson’s New Family Devotional

What’s your family tradition for preparing for and celebrating Christmas?  Especially if you’ve got kids at home, I want to encourage you to take a look at a Christmas Reboot, a new e-book from Alan Danielson.

25 short devotional readings, complete with activities for the whole family.  You can see a sample right here.

If you’re looking for a new plan that works with a family…you’ll want to take a look at Christmas Reboot.  At $7.99, you might even want to buy several and send them on to your friends.

Good stuff Alan!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you have a great day today!  As we get ready for our Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve got so much to be thankful for.  A God who loves us enough to provide a costly salvation.  Family and friends who love us.  A great job at a great church that really matches my passion to reach people for Christ.  The joy and challenge of working with a senior pastor who’s willing to take the risks I want to take.  The life-change stories we’ve heard on the heels of launching over 200 new groups.  An ongoing opportunity to help churches everywhere learn how to launch, build and sustain small group ministry.

Life is good today.

And I’m so thankful for it!  Thank you God for everything!

P.S. The Greenberg smoked turkey with cornbread dressing will help make today even better!  And can’t forget the cranberry relish or the candied yams or the green bean casserole.  And the pecan and pumpkin pies will be pretty nice, too.  Mmmmm.   I’m already hungry!

Review: Discovering Our Spiritual Identity

Looked over a copy of Discovering Our Spiritual Identity: Practices for the Beloved by Trevor Hudson this week.  New from InterVarsity Press, this will be a good addition to your recommended list if you’re looking for ways to “live out…[your] spiritual identity as God’s beloved.”

There are a number of aspects to really love about Discovering Our Spiritual Identity.  First, as Dallas Willard puts it in the forward, “Trevor Hudson states with utter simplicity and clarity the profound truths of Jesus Christ, about how we can live well and beautifully, no matter what our circumstances.”  If you’re like me and you’re looking for “easy to wrap your mind around”…you’ll appreciate the simplicity here.

Second, the practical exercises included in each chapter are the kind of holy experiment that can be done alone and then discussed with a group of fellow travelers.  Alternatively, they can be used as a kind of journal entry that will allow healthy interaction with the content.  Discovering Our Spiritual Identity is much more than a reading assignment.  It really is a set of 16 very practical steps that can be taken in a spiritual journey.

Third, each chapter concludes with a set of questions appropriate for a group or interaction with a spiritual director or partner.  While this would be a challenging interaction for some small groups (there is no leaders guide and the subject matter will require a level of maturity not always found in every group), many groups will find it just the thing to help them take essential next steps in spiritual growth.

I can imagine that many, many of the participants in our congregations would greatly benefit from interacting with the ideas and practices in this book.  Beginning with drawing a new picture of God and continuing on through sections on spiritual friendship, solitude and silence, and offering encouraging words, this is a workbook experience that has the potential to powerfully impact and redirect spiritual status quo.

If there is a concern about the book it is simply that without a leader’s guide it’s application will be limited to individuals/groups that have the required level of maturity.  At the same time, there will be many will find in Discovering Our Spiritual Identity a trajectory altering experience.

New Here?

New to  With almost 500 articles, there’s a lot here and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything.  Let me take a moment and show you around!

First, if you’re looking for a certain topic (i.e., church-wide campaigns, small group curriculum, small group strategy or leader tips), take a look at my archives.  I’ve created an archive short-cut on the menu bar at the top of the page.  Or, if you know the title (or part of it) of the article you’re looking for, use the Google search feature in the sidebar to the right.  It’s fast and very accurate.

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Finally, if you’re looking for personalized church-wide campaign coaching, strategic consulting, or a speaker for your upcoming retreat or staff development meeting…you can find out about consulting and speaking right here.

Accelerate GroupLife in 2011: T – 5 Weeks

Are you ready for a year that might double the number of people connected?  How about triple it?  There really are things you can do that will exponentially impact grouplife at your church (and in your community), but they’re only rarely accidental.

Most of the big system-wide moves in small group ministry are the result of planning and preparation.  In the first post in this series we talked about beginning to develop an annual calendar for 2011, specifically nailing down a date (or dates) for a small group connection in late January/early February, and starting the process of selecting the right curriculum for that connection.  If you need to get caught up, you can read the first post right here.

This Week’s Assignment

Like last week, there are two things you can do right now that will help generate more excitement and enthusiasm for your connection event. Continue Reading…