Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Dilbert on False Memories and Conversations with Executive Pastors

I’m not telling you to use this line…but it sure might come in handy.

A Church WITH Groups versus a Church OF Groups: What’s the Difference?

Many of my most frequently asked questions probably find their origin in the phrase “church of groups.”  Actually in a personal interpretation of the phrase “church of groups.”

You know how you can go about your life thinking that you know what a word or a phrase means and find out years later that you’ve been using the word or phrase incorrectly the whole time?  For example, I have a friend that says, “that’s a mute point.”  She means “moot” but has never quite caught that distinction.  I have another friend who uses the word “antidote” to mean both “the substance you take to counteract a form of poison” and “a short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person (which is the definition of the word anecdote).”

Does it make a difference to use the word or phrase correctly?  Yes.  Maybe it’s not always a big deal.  But it makes a difference.

What about understanding the difference between a church of groups and a church with groups?  I think it makes a big difference.

First, a little history.  The phrase comes from Building a Church of Small Groups, an important book by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, and essentially differentiates between the kind of church that has small groups as one of several menu items (that would be a church with groups) and the kind of church that does everything in the form of a group (that would be a church of groups).

In the introduction to Building a Church of Small Groups, Donahue and Robinson tell the story of “a bold declaration in 1992 to become a church where no one stands alone” and the effort to “intentionalize the practice of community to ensure that life-giving transformation was taking place.”  The end result was that in the decade between 1992 and 2001, Willow Creek moved from a church with small groups–that is, small groups being one of their programs–to being a church of small groups.  “Instead of ten to fifteen percent of the congregation connected into a small group, we have become a place where over 18,000 individuals are connected in 2,700 small groups (p. 14).”

With me so far?  Church with and church of.  I think that is clear to most.  Don’t miss the motivation, though.  To become a church where no one stands alone.  That vision and an intentionalized strategy and effort is what produced the church of groups.

Here are a two ways that churches get caught in the trap of moving from church with to church of:

By the way, if you send someone to get the antidote for a rattlesnake bite and they come back with an amusing story from City Slickers about the guy who backed into a cactus and thought he’d been bitten on the behind by a rattlesnake, it will make a difference.

5 Great Church-Wide Campaigns You Can Still Pull Off in September

I am regularly asked for church-wide campaign ideas that are easy to pull off.  Here are five of my current favorites that are easy to do and still very powerful.  I’ve reviewed all of them and you can read my full review by clicking “keep reading.”  And if you’re set to do a church-wide campaign, don’t miss my two part series, 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

Soul Detox: Every once in a while, a study comes along that just seems a perfect fit for the needs and interests of the culture.  Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World, based on Craig Groeschel’s newest book, is one of those studies.  With built elements of a church-wide campaign, this is a study that many churches will want to take a look at.

An engaging look at five of the most damaging issues in our culture, this is a very practical study.  Keep Reading

Stolen: Looking for creative small group resources?  You might want to take a look at Stolen, a new study from Chris and Kerry Shook.  Taking its cue from John 10:10, Stolen takes a look at how the Enemy uses our circumstances to rob us of treasures like passion, joy, peace, strength, and dreams. Recognized as one of today’s most creative communicators, Woodlands Church Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris, will lead you into a discovery of the ways you can reclaim the treasures God intended for you.

A six session study, the DVD segments have a creative twist that sets up the discussion.  Keep Reading

Love at Last Sight: Looking for a church-wide campaign that will grab the attention of your whole congregation?  What about a campaign that will actually capture the imagination of your community?

As we’ve talked about many times, the topic of your campaign determines the potential participant.  Choose the right topic…you can get really broad participation.  Choose the wrong topic, even one that you believe is an essential ingredient, and you’ll get only limited buy-in.  In fact, choose the wrong topic and you’ll be tempted to mandate participation.  And that is not the dream of a church-wide campaign, a church-wide spiritual growth emphasis.

If you’re looking for a topic that will appeal broadly, I’m not sure you’ll find a better match than the idea of relationships and that’s why I’ve eagerly anticipated the release of Love at Last Sight.  Keep Reading

Gospel Revolution: Looking for a study that will take your groups deep into a better understanding of the gospel?  You’ll want to take a look at Gospel Revolution: Recovering the Power of Christianity by J.D. Greear, the dynamic senior pastor of The Summit Church, one of the 20 fastest growing churches in the United States.

Based on Greear’s newest book, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, the teaching centers on the idea that “the gospel is not just the way we begin in Christ; it is also the way we grow in Christ.”  Keep Reading

WEiRD: There’s a new DVD-driven study that you’re going to want to take a look at.  New from Zondervan,  WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working is a great companion to Craig Groeschel’s popular book by the same name.

Inspired by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:13-14 and the central idea that the “broad road leads to destruction” (normal) and the “narrow road” leads to life (weird), the study takes a look at a set of topics that will make sense to Christians and non-Christians alike (making WEIRD a very compelling option for a church-wide campaign).

This one will take a little more work than the other four, but it’s such a compelling example, I couldn’t not include it.  A really good DVD and participant guide, you’ll have to visit the site to retrieve the sermons and other creative elements.  Keep Reading

Want more ideas?  There are plenty more where these 5 came from.  You’ll find an almost complete list in The Latest on Church-Wide Campaigns (2012).

10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign (6-10)

(This is part two of this article.  You’ll find Steps 1-5 in part one right here.)  Preparing to launch a church-wide campaign?  Or maybe wondering if you can still pull it off with the time you have remaining?  While not easy…it might be simpler than you think.  You’ll need to make some strategic decisions and depending on when you’re reading this, you may need to act decisively, but you can do it.

Ready to get started?  Here are Steps 6-10:

  1. Schedule two to four identical HOST orientation options.  The best sequence is to begin offering orientations 1 or 2 weeks after you begin recruiting.  You need to schedule multiple options for the same reason that you need to make the HOST ask several weeks in a row.  People don’t necessarily attend every week.  In addition, a 1 to 2 week lag allows you to send a letter or email with next steps and other expectations.  You might even be able to assign them a coach on the front end!  Need more?  See HOST Orientations that Work and Breaking: Add This HOST Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks.
  2. Recruit a set of launch-phase coaches that can help your new HOSTs get off to a great start.  Ideally, launch-phase coaches can handle 5 to 10 HOSTs each (with a 1 to 2 hour a week commitment for the 8 to 10 weeks of the campaign).  Need more?  See Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  3. Add an online small group finder to make it easy for unconnected people to connect with your newest groups.  You may not have a small group finder now, but it’s not hard to add one to your website.  My friends at can help you take your first steps.  Find out how right here.
  4. Schedule full on efforts to challenge everyone to be part of a group the two weekends before the launch.  You’ll find a lot about this idea in 5 Keys to Getting  Everyone Involved in a Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Choose a study to do next that is similar in kind to the first study.  If you recruit on the strength of “easy to use” and “just add water,” you’ll need to help your newest HOSTs choose a study that they have the skills to do.  Choosing the right follow-up study and beginning to promote it publicly in about week 3 or 4 of your launching series makes it even easier to sustain a high percentage of the groups you launch!  You’ll find a lot more on this topic in 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.

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

10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign (1-5)

simple stepsPreparing to launch a church-wide campaign?  Or maybe wondering if you can still pull it off with the time you have remaining?  While not easy…it might be simpler than you think.  You’ll need to make some strategic decisions and depending on when you’re reading this, you may need to act decisively, but you can do it.

Ready to get started?  Here are Steps 1-5:

  1. Choose the best start date for the message series.  I’ve found that there are two good options and one great option (For more, see my article When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign?).  In my opinion, the very best time to launch is mid-September to early October.  Many churches mistakenly use the date school’s back in as an indication of when to start the campaign.  Don’t be fooled.  If you want to connect people you’ve not yet connected, you need to wait until after Labor Day (see #3 for more on the calendar).
  2. Pick an off-the-shelf campaign that is plug-and-play.  There are many great campaigns and plenty of them have sermon outlines, powerpoint slides, artwork, and marketing suggestions that are downloadable or included on a resource CD.   Many are also readily available in the quantity you need and at very good prices.  (Watch Wednesday’s post for a list of what I think are the 5 best options).
  3. Schedule a HOST recruiting message series.  Pencil in a message series 7 to 9 weeks prior to the launch date that will allow 3 weeks to recruit HOSTs.  There are a wide range of topics for this series that will work.  Two important keys are that the best recruiter is your senior pastor and the best time to recruit is during a message.  Compromise on either key and your recruiting potential will be greatly reduced.  See Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row for more.
  4. Big Idea #1: Make it even easier to host another couple or a few friends.  On the heels of the 3 main weeks of HOST recruiting, add another wave by providing a “grab-and-go” pack that even a caveman could use with a few friends or even family members.  You’ll find the details in Add 5 to 10% More HOSTs with This Jedi Move.
  5. Do NOT mention joining a group during the three HOST recruiting messages.  This may seem counterintuitive, but as soon as you begin talking about being in a group (as opposed to hosting a group) you’ve recruited your last host (see #9 for when to begin recruiting members).

Here are steps 6-10.

P.S. I’ve written on this topic before, but never quite from this angle (see also How to Sequence a Small Group Launch and How to Develop a Timeline for Your Church-Wide Campaign).

Image by Lachlan Hardy

Top 10 Signs that a Small Group Isn’t Really the Optimal Environment for Life-Change

With apologies to Bill Donahue and the rest of the Willow Creek brain trust, here are the top 10 reasons that a small group isn’t really the optimal environment for life-change:

  1. 58% of women say they feel closer to Emily on the Bachelorette than the women in their Beth Moore Bible study.
  2. 67% of men say that they’ve never felt as close to another guy as when they discovered they were both rooting against LeBron James and The Heat.
  3. Have you tried the new Dr. Pepper 10?
  4. Nothing like a few passages from The Secret to really break down those barriers.
  5. As Dr Phil will tell you, “It’s better to be healthy alone than sick with someone else.”
  6. Apparently, New Slang by The Shins will “change your life, I swear.”
  7. There’s just something so invigorating about sitting in a row!
  8. Really, if you think about it, who hasn’t benefitted from some quality time with Homer’s Iliad.
  9. Once you’ve walked on red hot coals with Oprah you’ll never go back.
  10. “Doing life together” definitely takes a back seat to winning the PowerBall jackpot!

What do you think?  Got one I missed?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

33 The Series: A Man and His Design

Looking for new ideas for men’s ministry?  You might want to take a look at 33 The Series: A Man and His Design.  Building on many of the timeless truths taught by Robert Lewis in the original Men’s Fraternity study, this fresh new series includes new material on authentic manhood.

The design of 33 The Series make it easy to use in individual off campus men’s groups or as an on-campus men’s study.  Although it can be used by individuals, there are several challenges in the first two sessions to “do this study with a team.”

DVD-Driven, each of the six sessions include approximately 30 minutes of teaching along with a variety of creative elements, interviews, documentaries, roundtable discussions and moving testimonies .  The multi-generational and racially diverse teaching team makes this a very compelling series that will connect broadly. Presenters John Bryson (co-founding teaching pastor of Fellowship Memphis), Bryan Carter (senior pastor of Concord Church in Dallas, Texas) and Tierce Green (teaching pastor and executive pastor of small groups at Woodlands Church in Houston, Texas) provide inspirational and challenging teaching.

The Training Guide includes a note-taking section to be used while viewing the teaching segment, as well as a reflection and discussion guide that will direct the group experience.  In addition, you’ll also find an engaging set of short between-session reading assignments on a series of topics that will capture and hold the attention of group members.  Because of the way the questions are designed, no leader is required.

This is a study that’s designed to compel action.  Every session drives toward a personally selected strategic next step and the series drives toward an action plan.

Along with the six session teaching DVD, an included group leader resources DVD provides helpful guidance in the format and plan of your study.  The resources DVD also includes many of the creative elements as separate media files for those studies that prefer to deliver the teaching in a live format.  In addition, you’ll find ideas for promotional materials and tools on the resources DVD.

Additional volumes of 33 are in development and will include topics on a man’s wounds, traps, parenting, marriage and career.  You can register to be notified of future volumes and their release dates at  You can find out everything you need to know about the series right here.

If you’re looking for new ideas for men’s ministry, you’re going to want to take a look at 33 The Series: A Man and His Design.  I really like the feel of it, and I think you will too.

Top 10 Posts of June, 2012

Did you miss a day or two?  Here are my top 10 posts of June, 2012.

So much traffic happens in the archives that it’s very common to only have one or two posts from the current month break into the top 10.  Since I’m currently tweeting and posting to Facebook a couple gems from the archives every day, if you’re not following me on Twitter or connected on Facebook…you’re missing out on an additional resource!

  1. New from David Platt: The Radical Small Group Study (June, 2012)
  2. The Power of a Spiritual Training Partner (September, 2008)
  3. Top 10 Ways to Get to Know Your Neighbors This Summer (June, 2009)
  4. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills (June, 2010)
  5. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  6. Summer Reading List 2012 (June, 2012)
  7. New from Beth Moore | James: Mercy Triumphs (November, 2011)
  8. Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow (June, 2012)
  9. The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula (October, 2010)
  10. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups (October, 2008)

I love seeing where people were in the world when they checked out a page.  This month, there were readers from 82 countries around the world and thanks to Google’s translation capabilities, it happened in 36 languages!  Very cool!

What do you think?  Have a post in mind that didn’t make the list?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

The Circle Maker: a New Church-Wide Campaign from Mark Batterson

Based on Mark Batterson’s 2011 book by the same title, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears is now available as a church-wide campaign and it is one you are definitely going to want to take a look at.

Guiding congregations to learn “how to claim God-given promises, pursue God-sized dreams and seize God-ordained opportunities,” this is a study that will change the prayer lives of your members.  If your congregation could use some help in learning to pray, The Circle Maker is a church-wide campaign that you need to consider.

Along with sermon outlines, you’ll also find promotional materials, trailers, worship backgrounds, and other collateral pieces available at  This is what I call a really good plug-and-play right off-the-shelf church-wide experience.  It’s ready to go.  All you need to do is pick the right time to use it.

A four week DVD-Driven study, these are some of the very best segments I’ve ever reviewed.  The pitch-perfect  combination of well-chosen Bible stories, God stories from the miraculous beginnings of National Community Church (the church Batterson planted and leads in Washington D.C.), and several truly amazing stories from NCC members make every segment both powerful and memorable.

The Participant’s Guide includes everything needed for a great small group experience and between-session activities.  The thoughtfully crafted ice-breaker, a place to take notes during the video segment, and a skillfully written Bible study will help your group members engage in the topic. The opportunities for personal reflection and personal actions will help keep them engaged between sessions.  Written by Batterson (along with Kevin and Sherry Harney), this is a study that will take your members on a journey that will powerfully impact their prayer lives.

If you’re looking for a church-wide campaign that can deepen your congregation’s faith while helping strengthen their commitment to prayer, you’ll want to take a look at The Circle Maker.  I really loved it and I think you will too.

Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders: The Expanded and Updated Version

Looking for help building a coaching structure for your small group ministry?  You need to take a look at Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders by Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman.  Game changing when it was originally released in the early 90s, the expanded and updated version is out and it is the complete package.

I really like the design of this new version.  Interspersed with stories that illustrate the concepts, there are also frequent built-in opportunities for reflection.  Very readable, it’s easy to imagine this book as a manual for every coach in your system.  Making it even more training friendly, Equipping Life-Changing Leaders (a companion DVD resource) includes four segments that introduce the four content sections.

The content is divided into four sections:

  • A Vision for Coaching: If you’ve ever worked at building a coaching structure before, you know that one of the major stumbling blocks is an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of the purpose of coaching.  Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders provides an in-depth look at the vision that will open your coaching candidates eyes to coaching’s full potential.  You’ll find yourself referring to the ten qualities of highly effective coaches as you shape the values of your coaching system.  In fact, the 360 degree review idea included at the end of the chapter might be worth the price of the book.
  • Coaching’s Core Practices: At first glace, you might think that the three core practices (discover, develop, dream) are an oversimplification.  Upon further review I think you’re going to find that executed correctly this simple framework is going to make a big difference in the way your coaching structure functions.  The detailed explanation is very good and I found a number of practical ideas that I’ll be implementing in our own system.
  • The Coach’s Toolbox:  The simplicity of Coaching Life-Changing Leaders might be what I love the most.  Thoroughly explaining how to use the three simple tools of coaching conversations, leadership gatherings, and group visits will make a very real difference for many small group ministries.  The extensive collection of included examples is a great resource that will get a lot of use.  Clearly long-time practitioners, Donahue and Bowman very effectively recount their own practices.  You’re going to be looking at this section and using it again and again.
  • The Coach’s Life: The shortest section, this might be the most important for many churches building small group ministries.  The encouragement and guidelines to help small group coaches pursue Christlikeness and build sustainability form the foundation and the three essential personal spiritual practices provide a good review for most coaching candidates.

A simple but very helpful appendix includes some resources you’re going to end up using (I especially liked the “coaching hot potatoes” appendix).

If you’ve been struggling to build an effective coaching structure, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders.  It might even be the training manual you’ve been holding out for.  I like this resource and I think you will too!

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