Crowd Friendly Leader Qualification

Want to connect beyond the usual suspects?  A key to grouplife at crowd’s edge is crowd friendly leader qualification.  Sometimes referred to as “lowering the bar in terms of who can lead a group,” it really has to do with setting appropriate guidelines, procedures and expectations; determining answers to three very important questions:

  • who can lead
  • how they’ll be recruited and trained
  • what you’ll expect of them

Does it matter if the leader candidate is a member? Does it matter if they're a mature Christ-follower? Does it really matter if they're even a believer?
Remember, what we’re working on is developing a grouplife system capable of connecting beyond the usual suspects, connecting the widening 60% who are unreachable by the attractional model.  Allegiance to the status quo will not get it done.  That said, let’s look at answers to the three questions.

Who Can Lead?

One of the key aspects to remember here is that in most cases you’re going to construct situations where leaders recruit their own members.  That’s a big factor in determining who can lead.  Can you see it?  If you’re primarily inviting leaders to fill their own group, who will they recruit?  Won’t they largely recruit friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers who are a step or two behind them spiritually speaking?  Does it matter if the leader candidate is a member?  Does it matter if they’re a mature Christ-follower?  Does it really matter if they’re even a believer?  Think about it.  Remember, you’re giving them a study that will somewhat keep them on the rails.

On the other hand, if you’re in the habit of recruiting leaders, taking member sign-ups and then dealing out members to their groups…can you see how you might have reservations?  I wrote about this in Qualifications, Hoops, and Lowering the Bar.

How They’ll Be Recruited and Trained

I’ve written extensively about recruiting leaders (hosts).  How to Recruit Hosts, Messages That Recruit HOSTs, and Take Advantage of Testimony to Recruit HOSTs are just three of many articles on this important subject.  The key here is to thoughtfully consider the way you go about it and the hesitations and fears of the people who will say “yes.”   Who you anticipate recruiting ought to influence the curriculum you select and the way you present your orientations.

What You’ll Expect of Them

Won’t your expectations be influenced by who you anticipate will say “yes?”  Imagine the scenario where you successfully recruit a wave of hosts from the edges of your congregation.  You’ll have asked them to “open their homes for six weeks, serve a few refreshments and tell a few of their friends.”  What are your expectations?  That they’re making a six week commitment.  Will you expect them to keep their group beyond that?  No.  You might hope they do and you might help them keep going if they’d like to, but you’ll be clear on that expectation.

Will you expect them to be a true small group leader right out of the gate?  No.  You’ll expect them to open their home and be a host.  At the same time, you’ll probably connect them with a coach and do what you can to help them grow…but you won’t bait and switch them.  You’[ll have clear expectations.

Will It Be Problem-Free?  No.  It will be messy.  But then, “messy” comes with the territory.  It will be worth it, though, because for some of those that step up to open their homes it will mark their first real sense of God’s smile.  Beyond that, it will be a turning point for friends, neighbors, family members and co-workers who say “yes” to joining the group and end up joining God’s family.

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

May Decisions Bring Exponential Septembers

We’ve all heard the saying, “April showers bring May flowers.”  And no one questions that practical, Farmer’s Almanac kind of wisdom.

Did you know that May decisions bring exponential Septembers?  It’s true.  When you have the right conversations and make the right decisions in May, you dramatically increase the exponential power of your fall ministry season.

Here are five conversations you need to be having right now:

  1. How will you leverage the biggest opportunity to launch groups? Will you have a take advantage of a church-wide campaign?  Will you use a group-launching strategy like the Small Group Connection or GroupLink?  Will you implement a system like North Coast’s sermon-based groups or Nelson Searcy’s semester model?  I have my opinion about the best way to launch groups, but now is the time to have that conversation and make that decision.
  2. Who do you hope to connect? This is a huge question that rarely gets asked.  The answer to this question should determine the strategy you use and the topic you choose.  Want to connect beyond the usual suspects?  Better choose a topic that is understandable and relevant to the folks at crowd’s edge.  Want to help your congregation deepen their faith or learn to listen to God?  It will take a different topic to do that.  By the way, the answer to the question “who do you hope to connect” cannot be “everyone.”  A lack of clarity here will derail your best efforts on every other decision.  Need help on this question?  Read Who Are You Trying to Connect?
  3. What does the launch timeline look like? If you’re doing a church-wide campaign, when will you begin the weekend message series that holds it together?  When will you provide training or an orientation for new leaders?  When will you recruit leaders?  When will you recruit members?  How to Develop a Timeline might be a helpful article on this topic.
  4. Can you recruit some new coaches that will help you sustain a larger number of the new groups you will launch in September? Who are they?  When can you begin to talk with them?  When can you begin to train them to do what they’ll need to do?  My Top 10 Articles on Small Group Coaching is a good place to start, particularly How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  5. Is your senior pastor committed to playing the part that only they can play? Do they understand what is required of them?  Diagnosis: Senior Pastor Buy-In provides a good overview of the concept.

Trying to figure it out?  Sometimes the best move you can make is to bring in a strategic outsider with fresh eyes to join the conversation.  I’d love to help you.  Why not Email Me to find out how easy it is to get started?

My Main Takeaway from Exponential

First of all, I should say the Exponential Conference was great.  Loved it in 2010.  2011 was even better.  The main sessions were very good.  Francis Chan.  The usual assortment of representatives from Australia and the UK (Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Mike Breen, etc.).  Matt Chandler closing.  Got to hear TWO Eric Bramlett introductions (this one of Matt Chandler…very funny).  What’s not to like.

Great breakouts, too.  Caught a really good one with Mike Breen and Alex Absalom (co-authors of Launching Missional Communities: A Fieldguide).  Sat in a very good session with Will Mancini (the author of Church Unique and founder of Auxano).  Always challenging to catch one from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (the Tangible Kingdom and Tangible Kingdom Primer guys).

Had tons of really good hallway conversations.  Seriously, I ran into many, many of the leading thought leaders.  Wish you’d been along.

But…you know what my main takeaway was?  Many of the key players think core-to-crowd will get the job done.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love ‘em.  They’re some of my best friends in ministry and I really do love them.  But they think you can start with the core and work outwards.

Guess what?  I don’t believe for a minute that’s how it happens.  Love the notion of a missional community.  Convicted by the thought that 60% of adults are unreachable by the attractional model.  Absolutely certain that the core-to crowd approach leaves untapped the massive potential at crowd’s edge.

On the last day I found myself talking with a senior pastor, the founding pastor of a church of about 1100.  After he told me they were thinking they were closing in on the 15% tipping point mentioned by several speakers at Exponential as the stage where you were just about to get traction I said something like this:

What if you took into consideration that the 600 unconnected folks at crowd’s edge…who consider your church to be their church…would tell you that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends, have never been to your church?

What if you could come up with a topic that they’d be open to inviting their friends over to talk about (i.e., relationships, purpose, parenting, marriage, hope, etc.)?  And what if you could find a way to help 10% of the folks on the edges of your congregation actually invite their friends over to their house?

Here’s the kicker: What do you think is the easiest way to connect the largest number of unconnected folks from the 60% to a Christ-follower?  Start heading down the missional community path?  Or leverage the potential of crowd’s edge?

Full Disclosure?  I’m a fan of both.  I love the idea of a missional community.  I’m trying to come up with a way that I can start a Sunday afternoon, hangout with a bunch of great friends and bring your friends…to Mark and Debbie’s.  I absolutely LOVE the idea that Gabe Lyon’s presented in The Next Christians.  That is totally me.  But…I am resolute in my conviction that the easiest way to connect the largest number of people to an environment where they can experience the life-changing power of Jesus Christ…is to leverage the power of crowd’s edge.

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

Top 10 Posts of April, 2011

Here are my top 10 posts for April, 2011.  As is often the case, not all of my top posts were from April.  There was even an article from 2008!  I included two additional posts because a couple of my top 10 posts in April were my About and Subscribe pages.

It was also interesting to me that #12 was my archives page.  With over 600 articles here at MarkHowellLive, you might want to take a look in the archives, too.  No telling what you’ll find!

  1. 5 Questions Every Small Group Pastor Should Be Asking
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (2008)
  3. The Ongoing Open vs Closed Group Debate
  4. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills
  5. Review: Building Biblical Community (featuring Donahue and Gladen)
  6. About Mark Howell (interesting, this is actually the About page you read from Twitter)
  7. Subscribe to Mark’s Blog
  8. Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group System
  9. The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign
  10. Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System
  11. An Openness to New Ideas
  12. Archives

Missional Communities? Who’s In?

I’m wondering what you’re thinking about the missional community trend?  Are you giving some thought to how it works in your context?  As you know, I tagged it as one of the most important current grouplife trends earlier this year.

I’d love some feedback.  If you need some insight into the concept, you can take a look at my interviews with Mike Breen or Seacoast’s Josh Walters.

What do you think?  Are you giving it some thought?  Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

A Road Map to Crowd’s Edge

Wondering what I’m talking about when I use the term crowd’s edge?  You probably already have most of it, but just in case, here’s my definition.

Crowd’s Edge isn’t really a place.  It has more to do with the kind of folks that you find there.  It has to do with their mindset, their struggles, and their convictions.

In the sense of the diagram, the crowd refers to a segment of the total number of people who consider your church to be their church.  They may not come all the time, but if asked where they go to church…they’ll say they go to your church…even if it’s only once or twice a year.  And they may not know the name of your church.  They may refer to it as “the place we went last Easter” or “the church where we go for Christmas Eve services.”

I actually use “crowd’s edge” to describe the least connected folks in your church.  For example, they might technically be members of your church and you might think of them as being represented by “congregation” on diagram.  But as you’ll see below, the least connected members of the congregation share some similarities with the folks in the crowd.

Crowd’s Edgers are infrequent attendees, but they’re often one service away, one conversation away, one life event away, from deciding to make attending a more regular event.  It may be strange to think of it that way, but it’s the reason so many refer back to an Easter or Christmas Eve service and say “that’s when I really got it.”  Or they might refer to a message series that pulled them in (“We didn’t miss a week during the 40 Days of Purpose”).

Mindset, Convictions and Struggles

Their attendance pattern isn’t the main thing you need to know about them, though.  In fact, their attendance pattern is just a reflection of their overall mindset.  They just don’t see your church as an essential life ingredient.  Not to say they won’t eventually.  It’s just that right now…things are working out okay just the way they are.

When it comes to convictions, they don’t share yours…yet.  They might someday, but for now, they’ve got their own set.  For example, they may not see anything out of the ordinary about living together before marriage.  In fact, it might seem really odd to them that you see it differently than they do.  “Why not make sure it’s going to work before you dive in a really commit?”

You need to have an understanding of their struggles, too.  A lot of them are just like yours.  They just don’t have the same kind of support that you do.  And on top of that, their decisions (just like ours) often lead them in a direction that causes despair, loneliness, and a lack of purpose.

Their 10 Best Friends Have Never Been to Your Church

While you’re digging into an understanding of their mindset, convictions and struggles, you need to know one more thing.  If you interview the most connected people in your church (the usual suspects), you’ll discover that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends are also among the most connected people.  However, when you interview the folks at crowd’s edge, you’ll discover that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.  I talk about this in much more detail right here.

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

Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge

Want to reach people no one else is reaching?  According to Craig Groeschel, you’ll need “to do things no one else is doing.”

If you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you need to do things no one else is doing.  Craig Groeschel

That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?  After all, if what we’re doing now was capable of reaching them…it would already be working.

I love Groeschel’s line, but I like to add that the people we’re not currently reaching are most likely the widening 60% who are unreachable with the attractional model.

Where do we come in?  Easy.  While the 60% may be unreachable with the attractional model (come to our building), they are very reachable with a “come over to our house” approach.  They may not ever accept your invitation to “come to our Easter service,” but they’ll find irresistible the right “let’s have a block party” approach.

Want to be part of making that happen?  It will take something different.  In some cases, it will take something completely different.  And that completely different is at the heart of what I’m referring to when I talk about grouplife at crowd’s edge.

Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge

I’m beginning to realize that these keys to grouplife at crowd’s edge are a deeply embedded philosophy for me.  In many ways they are non-negotiables.

Here are what I believe are some of the keys to grouplife at crowd’s edge:

As I post this list today, I know I’m not finished.  As more keys occur to me, I’ll add them.  You might have some ideas about other keys to grouplife at crowd’s edge and I’d love your input.

What do you think?  Want to argue or add to to the list?  Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

An “In” But Not “Of” M.O.

While there are many keys to grouplife at crowd’s edge, there might not be anything more important than the ability to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  And let me add right at the beginning, I know this is a challenging issue for many.  But…I am convinced that we’ll participate in connecting the widening 60% (who will never be reached by the attractional model) only when we are culturally bi-lingual.

And let me be quick to note, the fact that you’re reading this indicates that you’re probably already practicing this key to grouplife at crowd’s edge.  Our challenge is almost always a slice of the congregations we serve.  A thin slice whose upbringing (or sometimes their own rescue from the perils of the world) has taught them that the wise thing to do is to be separate; to isolate ourselves from the world.

So…what are we to do about the thin slice?  Here’s a beginning:

First, we need to be sure in our own convictions.  Mine are based on a few important understandings:

  • Jesus was an “in but not of” operator.  You’ll only have to look at Matthew 9:9-13 to be firmly convinced.  By the way, I believe it was Matthew’s own experience of Jesus’ philosophy of ministry that enabled him to recognize Jesus’ compassion for the crowds.
  • We’re to be salt and light.  Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 5:13-16 ought to inform our interaction with the culture.  Salt must come in contact to impact.  Light must be in the dark to have value.
  • Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is explicit in its request.  “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.  They do not belong to this world any more than I do.  Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world (John 17:15-18).”

Second, we need to choose carefully who our heroes will be.  If including family, neighbors, friends and co-workers is to be a value in your ministry…you need to make heroes out of the groups and group leaders who make that happen.  We get to choose which groups you hold up as examples.  I guarantee you, if you consistently make heroes of the groups and leaders that are inclusive, it will make a difference.

Third, we need to be ready to give an answer to the thin slice.  We can be gentle.  We can be understanding.  But at the same time, if you want to reach people at crowd’s edge…you’ll need to be prepared for the questions and misguided complaints.

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

Fortresses and Hospices, Hospitals and Training Camps

How would you describe your church?  If you had to choose a primary metaphor…what would it be?

I don’t want to be prescriptive in any way.  I want you to fill in the blank.  I only include the following to start your thinking.

But how would you describe your church?  If you had to pick a single word to capture its essence…and then add whatever description to fill it out…what would it be?

Need a Little Help?

  • Fortresses: Exist to shelter people from the risks, temptations, creeping cultural issues, and immorality of a godless pagan world.  There is often a militant fervency.  It is always clear for whom the programming exists.  There is sometimes confusion about why growth is always transfer growth, but not often.  For the most part, there is clarity of purpose.
  • Hospices: Exist to provide a comfortable place to grow old and die.  There’s no militancy.  Instead, there is a built in comfort level.  There may be a longing for the old days and grand memories of seasons of relevance, but those days are long gone.  Now, the main preoccupation is honoring the past.
  • Hospitals:  Different than a hospice, the purpose of a hospital is to restore health to the patient.  There may be some programming that is designed to renew and refresh…but there is also a welcome mat that invites the prodigal, and far from God, home.  A true hospital makes has an open door, open arms and open heart policy that makes it easy for that to happen.  There is also an intentionality about the purpose of the restoration and a built-in expectation that “we’re here for your friends, too.”
  • Training Camps: Often found in combination with hospitals, these exist to equip everyone for impact in their circle of influence.  Whether it is an extended family, a neighborhood, a workplace environment, or longtime buddies from the park league softball team…there is an awareness that these are the 60% who are unreachable by the attractional model.

Why take the time to describe your church?  I am more convinced every day that only certain kinds of churches can actually play the game being played at crowd’s edge.  For many of us, connecting people at crowd’s edge will only happen in churches that truly get that we’re living in post-Christian America or Europe.

By the way, I believe one of the main reasons the church is growing exponentially in many other parts of the world is that grouplife at crowd’s edge is standard operating procedure.

Want to connect beyond the usual suspects?  The very culture of your church determines whether you can even play along.

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

A Willingness to Set Aside Your Own Interests

Don’t I ever get a vote?  Why do we always have to do what the newbies want to do?

Ever get an earful when you suggest a more inclusive church-wide campaign?  Or hear about it when you announce at the small group connection that the new groups will be studying something pretty basic?

What’s your response?  Have you ever caved in and used a study you knew wouldn’t get it done?

Perhaps the greatest challenge in small group ministry is to get clarity on who you’re trying to connect.  I wrote about it right here in part two of my series “If I Was Starting Today.”  Right on it’s heels is the challenge of holding firmly to your convictions about the interests of the people you’re trying to connect.

While I wrote about this in Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People, I didn’t write about what is sometimes the greater challenge: cultivating a willingness (in your congregation) to set aside their own interests (for the sake of the people who don’t have what they need).

Can I tell you something?  If you want to connect beyond the usual suspects, if you want to connect people at crowd’s edge…you’ll need to help your congregation develop the willingness to set aside their own interests for the sake of the people that don’t have what they need.

Lest you think this is a new challenge, in Philippians 2:3-4 Paul urges the people in the church at Philippi,

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

Our congregation’s natural inclination is to look out for their own interests.  Our natural inclination is to look out for our own interests.  It’s not new.  It’s not abnormal.  It’s extremely common.  But if you want to connect people at crowd’s edge…you’ll have to help your congregation see the big picture clearly.

The Four Lepers

One of the best stories in the Bible on a willingness to set aside your own interests is found in 2 Kings 6:24-7:11.  It’s the story of the four lepers outside the walls of the city under siege.  I’ve mentioned this story before in my sample host recruiting message right here.  Essentially, although they had little to gain personally, they felt convicted to share their great good fortune with the very same people who had kept them from entering the city.

Finding the Aramean camp deserted and the enemy’s abundant food and supplies abandoned, the four men ate and drank and carried off treasure, until their consciences got the better of them.

“This is not right,” they said.  “This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone!  If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us.  Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.”

Can’t Both Needs Be Met?

Short answer?  Absolutely.  It is possible to provide opportunities for everyone.  It’s possible.  But can I tell you what I’ve found?  It’s far more important to do everything you can to instill in your congregation a heart that says, “No really, let’s meet your needs first.”

Isn’t this really the lesson of Philippians 2:5-8?

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

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