Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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A Sense of Who You Are

One of the things each of us needs is an accurate sense of who we are.  This is essential.

First, our appraisal needs to be accurate.  This is where 360 degree evaluations come in.  This is where Marcus Buckingham’s strengths assessment or the one in Stand Out (Buckingham’s new, even more powerful, assessment) come in.  An accurate assessment of our own gifts and abilities.

An accurate sense is essential, as the tendency might be for one’s assessment to tend toward either an inflated sense or deflated.

Inflated could be generated by illusory superiority, sometimes referred to as the Lake Wobegon effect, (named after Garrison Keillor‘s fictional town where “all the children are above average”).

Deflated isn’t the same as legitimate and healthy modesty.  Sometimes it can be the “aw shucks” variety that is really aimed at the “tell me more about how much of a difference maker I am” kind of deflated.  And sometimes it’s just that you don’t actually know who God’s made you to be.

Either way, it is essential that you find out.

Why are we talking about this today?  I have two reasons:

First and foremost, we’ll know what we’re going to be held accountable for.  If each of us are given responsibilities and opportunities “according to our abilities,” it will definitely pay off to know what our abilities are.  Right?  Need more on this one?  See The Right People in the Right Seats and More on the Right People in the Right Seats.

Second, and this is also huge, when we have an accurate sense of who we are, among other things, we’ll know how likely it is that the small group leaders in our organisation can do what we can do.  We need to be on guard against what is often referred to as “gift projection.”  That is, you are a gifted small group leader, able almost without preparation to shift the direction of a discussion and seize the moment…and you act like anyone can do it.


Every one of your small group leaders are wired in their own way.  They are not all the same.  They cannot all do what you can do.  You cannot do what some of them are wired to do.  Be careful that you make it possible for each of them to actually hear “well done.”  Some of your small group leaders will make it happen with the teaching gift.  Others will use sensitive and skillful facilitation.  Some will be so encouraging and filled with mercy that they will draw hurting people who just need a listening ear.  And some will pop in the DVD and fumble through the next 45 minutes hemming and hawing…and somehow the Holy Spirit will take what happens and feed everyone in the room.

Every one of these scenarios is possible…if everyone is allowed to be who God made them to be.  Knowing who you are and who they are is absolutely essential.

Want do you think?  Know who you are?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events

While every church has its own names for the three main types of small group connecting events (I’ll also tell you about a twist that I’ve found interesting and effective), there are certain key distinctives that set them apart.  I think it’s important to make these distinctions because sometimes people will tell me they’ve already tried a strategy, but when I poke around I realize that they’ve tried a version of it, but not the real version.  That’s very important to understand.

Here are what I’ve found the three types of events to be:

  • Small Group Connection: Developed at Saddleback, the essence of the small group connection idea is that unconnected people who want to join a group are invited to attend an event where groups will be formed.  A sorting process is used to group participants by affinity (life-stage, geography, meeting availability, etc.).  The process of the event itself helps identify leaders within each of the groups formed.  The main distinctive is that the connection process identifies leaders (where you previously had not identified them).  You can read more about how to do a small group connection right here.
  • GroupLink: Developed at North Point, Group Link is primarily an opportunity for unconnected people to connect with pre-qualified leaders.  While there are some similarities between Group Link and the small group connection, the main distinctive is that pre-qualified leaders are available and play an important part.  You can read a little more about Group Link right here.  You can order Group Link materials from North Point right here.
  • Small Group Fair: many churches hold a small group fair inviting many or all of their small groups to host a table or booth advertise or promote their group.  Unconnected people looking for a group are invited to “stop by the tables, talk with the leaders or members and see if they can find a good match.”  Described in the book Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, the main distincitive of a small group fair is that existing groups are given an opportunity to market themselves in a fun environment.  It’s important to remember that this method adds members to existing groups.

A twist on the small group connection strategy that I’ve found to work very well is what I call a Book Study.  I run it like a connection.  The main distinctive of this event is that leaders emerge over the course of the first few weeks.  Here’s the gist of the way it works:

  • We advertise the study (we’ve done studies like The Measure of a Man and Bad Girls of the Bible).
  • On the first day of the study we sort everyone out into tables of 6 to 8 people and then give them a few discussion questions to get them through the first night.  Then we give them their homework assignment (read the chapter).  We also have them jot down the name and phone number of the person on their right and commit to call that person during the week.  And then we say goodnight.
  • The next week they show up and we seat them at the same tables as the previous week.  After a very brief opener, we release them to discus the questions at the end of the first chapter.  In almost every case, a natural leader emerges during the second meeting.  At the end of the meeting, we give them their homework assignment for the next week.  We have them jot down the name and number of the person on their left, committing to call midweek.  And we say goodnight.
  • Two years in a row we’ve had them meet on-campus for the first 4 to 5 weeks and then off-campus for the last 2 to 3.  The best part?  Many of the groups are still meeting a year later.

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

Dilbert on Change

I thought this was perfect on the day after my article on 5 Assumptions That Stunt Small Group Ministry Growth:

5 Assumptions That Stunt Small Group Ministry Growth

King Solomon said “there is nothing new under the sun.”  I’ve been at this a long time and am convinced he had stumbled on a true truth of life.  That said, it follows that there are certain assumptions that come up over and over again and lead to a dead end every time.

Here are 5 that pop up all the time:

  1. Adding members to existing groups builds group health.  This assumption refers to the practice of sending reinforcements to groups that have members drop out or can’t seem to keep people coming.  Given the choice, it’s almost always more productive to start new groups, as opposed to propping up existing groups.  Groups that need help finding new members are rarely healthy and almost never the best option for genuine connection on the part of a new member.  When dealing with this issue, I often point out that I am a Darwinist.  I believe in the survival of the fittest.
  2. Apprenticing is about multiplication.  Not.  Apprenticing, in most cases, may be about leadership development but is almost never the best avenue of group multiplication.  Offering a single small group connection or launching a church-wide campaign every fall will almost always start more new groups and identify more new leaders than an apprenticing strategy.  Should every leader be working to replicate themselves?  Yes.  Should every leader be working themselves out of a job?  Yes.  Does the apprenticing strategy lead to more groups and more people in groups?  No…or at least, not as quickly as several other more effective strategies.
  3. “Depth” leads to life-change.  What most Christians need is not depth or an understanding of deeper teaching.  Most of us just need to do what we already understand.  That is within the grasp of the most basic and simplest teaching in an environment of encouragement and challenge.  The eleven men to whom Jesus entrusted the Great Commandment needed an explanation of some of His most basic teachings.  They didn’t have time to long for deeper or depth.  They were too busy doing basic.
  4. Rows and circles produce the same thing.  There may be a place for rows (a metaphor for instruction), but rows do not offer the same experience as circles (a metaphor for discussion and interaction).  Offering the two as interchangeable options leads to something other than the optimal environment for life-change.
  5. There is a small group system that will solve all your problems.  There is no question in my mind that the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than any thing else.

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

The Life You’ve Always Wanted: a DVD-Driven Curriculum from Zondervan

Although for many of us, John Ortberg’s best-seller, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, might be shelved neatly in betweeen If You Want to Walk on the Water You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat and The Me I Want to Be…I’m thinking it might really be begging for a second look…as a church-wide campaign.

The winning combination of:

  • a great topic (especially a great first of the year topic)
  • author name recognition (there are few better)
  • a very marketable title (think about what this title promises)
  • easy-to-use DVD-driven material (this is essential for the kind of church-wide campaign that can include everyone)
  • an easy-to-read trade book that provides more for those who will invest the time in between sessions
There really is a lot to like about this study!  John Ortberg is a very compelling guide in the six-session DVD.  The study guide questions are good and will prompt an engaging discussion.  The topic is an extremely timely one and will make for some very easy invitations.
What’s lacking?  If there was an included set of sermon transcripts and sermon outlines (you know they exist somewhere) along with some prefabricated marketing materials…The Life You’ve Always Wanted would be perfect right out of the box.  Still, and I think you’ll agree, this study comes with almost everything you’re looking for when choosing a church-wide campaign.  If you’re looking for a campaign that will help your congregation move forward, I’d definitely suggest that you add this one to your list!

Staying Spiritually Vibrant | New Simple Leader Tip from Bill Search

Love this simple encouragement from my friend Bill Search, Small Group Pastor at Southeast Christian Church and author of Simple Small Groups.  If you like this one, you’ll find a lot of great content right here.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Top 10 Posts of November, 2011

In case you missed them, here are my most popular posts for October, 2011.

Along with my top 10 posts, I also included two pages that had a lot of action:

  • the details on my small group ministry coaching network and
  • the notes and a link to the audio from my live interview with the Small Group Network’s Jay Daniell on 6 ways to start new groups)
Here are my top 10 posts:
  1. New from Beth Moore | James: Mercy Triumphs
  2. Small Group Ministry Coaching Network
  3. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  4. 2011’s Christmas Reading List
  5. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills
  6. Review: Not a Fan
  7. Group Talk Notes (including a link to the audio)
  8. You’re Invited to Join My 2012 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network
  9. Top 5 Signs Your Church Is Designed to Underperform at Connection
  10. Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People
  11. The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns – 2012
  12. The Second Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer

Three December Keys to January Impact

I’ve mentioned previously that there are three key opportunities every year to launch new groups.  If you’re reading this on November 30th, you’re about 60 days away from the second best opportunity.  And there are several things you can do right now to optimize the impact of a late January launch.

First, pull out your calendar and take a look at the first six weeks of 2012.  You need to pencil in several action items:

  • Whether you’re planning a small group connection, a GroupLink event or a small group fair, January 22nd, 29th, or February 12th are probably the optimum dates to choose from.  These dates are early enough to capture the attention of unconnected people who want to “turn over a new leaf” and start 2012 on the right foot.  Note that in the United States January 15th will be impacted by a three day weekend (Martin Luther King day) and February 5th will be impacted by the Super Bowl.
  • Plan to promote your event several weeks in a row.  Once you’ve selected the date of your small group event, just back up 2 or 3 weeks and begin promoting.  In most churches promotion is arranged in advance (i.e., now is the time to meet with your senior pastor, the staff member that gives the okay for bulletin inserts, and your web-master).  You can promote the event with announcements, bulletin inserts, and on your website.  The most important way to promote it is a timely moment in your senior pastor’s sermon.  If you need help understanding how to integrate an ask into your pastor’s sermon you can take a look at How to Make the HOST Ask.
  • Schedule a meeting with your coaches in early January to talk about their role in the upcoming event and make decisions about how the new groups will be coached.
Second, talk with your senior pastor about the January opportunity and ask for help promoting the event.  You might want to read my article 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry and even share it with your pastor.
Third, select a small group study that will be easy to use and easy to promote.  How to Choose Curriculum to Start a Group and How to Choose Curriculum That Launches Groups are both packed with ideas about what to look for in a launching study.  Think about the kinds of topics that will make sense to the people who are deciding whether joining a group is their next step.
I hope you’ll take advantage of the first of the year to launch new small groups.  It’s a great opportunity and with just a little planning can be a great first step for many unconnected people.  Need a little extra help or a pair of fresh eyes to look over what you’re planning?  You can schedule a coaching call right here.

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

Q Studies: Advancing the Common Good

Advancing the Common Good, the latest in the Q Studies series from Zondervan, wrestles with the big idea that the role of Jesus’ followers is not simply to announce his message of redemption and restoration to the world, but to live out that message for the world.

Advancing the Common Good is a five session study that leverages a combination of video, reading and discussion that will  introduce and deepen a counter-cultural worldview that reframes the Gospel and restores the Christ-followers role in culture.

The Q Group Study Series is unique in both format and content.  A DVD-driven study, the DVD sessions open with a kind of dialogue between host Gabe Lyons and Chris Heuertz, an activist and Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, a non-profit organization existing to serve among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor.  Fascinating on their own merit, these opening dialogues serve as introduction for a powerful selection of  talks and interviews from the annual Q event.

Advancing the Common Good includes DVD segments by three very diverse speakers as well as a reading and culture-shaping project:

  • Session One features a talk by Jo Saxton, a director of 3DM, a movement/organization  helping church leaders make discipleship and mission the heartbeat of the local church.  Saxton gives a talk entitled Being Provoked to Engage.
  • Session Two is driven by a Q Short (a 9 page reading) on the sanctity of human life.   Written by David P. Gushee, the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, the reading is found in the Participant Guide and also on the DVD-rom.
  • Session Three features Eboo Patel, the founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit building the interfaith youth movement. He is the author of, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim.  His talk is on An Interfaith Dialogue.
  • Session Four features an interview with Shannon Sedgwick Davis, a partner at Bridgeway Foundation, the charitable giving arm of Bridgeway Capital Management, Inc. The Houston-based investment firm commits one-half of its annual profits towards philanthropic endeavors that focus on eliminating genocide as well as the promotion of peace, reconciliation, and human rights around the world.   A passionate advocate for social justice and international human rights her entire professional career, her interview is entitled Not on Our Watch.

Whether you are providing curriculum guidance for small group leaders longing to engage their culture or you’re working to reshape understanding of mission, Advancing the Common Good is a study you’ll want to add to your recommended list.

Seek Social Justice: A New DVD-Driven Study from Lifeway

Looking for a way to introduce your small groups to social justice?  Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need is a new resource from The Heritage Foundation (published by Lifeway) that you might want to take a look at.   A DVD-driven resource, this six session study features a combination of interviews, behind the scenes glimpses into ongoing justice ministries, and commentary by social justice advocates like Charles Colson, Albert Mohler, and Star Parker.

Watching the story of Lisa and Roderick, Ron and Cheryl along with Mike Fechner and Velma Mitchell of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders might be one of the most heartening segments I’ve ever seen.  All six of the DVD sessions take a real-life look at an ongoing example of social justice ministry.

Each of the sessions feature a DVD segment, a thorough discussion facilitated by a great set of discussion questions, and very good integration of scripture.  Wrestling with issues of family and relationships, basic human needs, work, and human trafficking…this is a very good introduction to the concept of social justice from a fairly broad perspective.

The last 20% of the study guide is a very thorough leader’s guide.  This is an essential element of the study as many small group leaders will struggle with their own understanding of the topic.

If you’re looking for resources that will take social justice from a phrase or concept to an opportunity for engagement, Seek Social Justice could be the primer you’re looking for.

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