Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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What in Your Ministry Is Off-Limits for Debate?

off limitsI loved the most recent edition of the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.  On the topic of introducing change, this is an essential listen! (See below to listen to the podcast)

There’s a lot to digest in the podcast, but the section I listened to several times had to do with a quote about assumptions included in Andy Stanley’s upcoming book, Deep and Wide.  Here’s the quote:

“The assumptions a team has held the longest or the most deeply are the likeliest to be its undoing.  Some beliefs have come to appear so obvious that they are off-limits for debate.*”

Think about the implications of those two sentences.  What are the assumptions that you’ve held the longest?  What assumptions do you hold most deeply?  What beliefs have become so obvious that they are off-limits for debate?

You could spend some very productive time working through those questions.

I’ve written about assumptions right here.  Need more?  See The Danger of Unexamined Assumptions, Testing Long-Held Assumptions, and Unearthing Underlying Assumptions.

All of this is a very productive conversation that you can have with your team.  You can listen to the podcast in it’s entirety right here.  Or you can download it from iTunes right here.

*Although the quote is attributed to Richard Harrington on the podcast, I believe it is actually from Stall Points by Matthew S. Olson and Derek Van Bever.  You can get many of their best ideas in an HBR article, When Growth Stalls.

Image by Ed Schipul

Disciples Are Rarely Made in Rows

Maybe it depends on your definition of disciple, but in my experience disciples are rarely made in rows.

Don’t get me wrong.  Rows are good for some things.  You can fit more chairs in a room that’s set up theater style…in rows.  You can disseminate information to a larger group seated…in rows.  You can leverage the teaching of a gifted communicator more effectively…in rows.

You just can’t make disciples in rows.  Or at least it’s not likely.  And rows certainly won’t be the only environment or method necessary.

Making a disciple is mostly about one life investing in another.  It can happen in a group, but it’s not about one-way communication.  It’s about dialogue.  It is about communicating truth, but way more than just receiving truth.  Making a disciple is about life on life.

I like Andy Stanley’s take on life-change: “Life-change happens in circles, not in rows.”

Is life-change the same thing as disciple making?  No.  I don’t think so.  But disciples are rarely made in rows either.

Don’t Miss This Exciting Pilot Program for The Gospel Project

One of the most interesting projects going in small group curriculum is The Gospel Project.  With Ed Stetzer as General Editor and Trevin Wax as Managing Editor, there is a commitment to some very high standards.  At the same time, the advisory council for this project is quite a group.  Matt Chandler, James MacDonald, and J.D. Greear are just a few of the names you’ll recognize.

“A Christ-centered curriculum that examines the grand narrative of Scripture and how the gospel transforms the lives of those it touches,” it offers a three-year plan of study that provides a true church-wide solution.  With available curriculum for adults, students, and kids, this study is designed to unify an entire congregation  with a single conversation.  It can also be used by individual adult groups.

A very important underlying aspect to this ground-breaking curriculum is its proclamation that when you tie together the stories, the poetry, history, codes of law and civilization, songs, prophecy, letters — even a love letter — “you end up with something remarkable.  A story is revealed.  One story.  The story of redemption through Jesus.”

The part of The Gospel Project that grabbed my attention when I first saw it was the available leader training. Delivered in part with weekly video updates, the real-time training resources provides an exciting development.  You can get a taste of the training resource right here.  You can see a lot more in this recent Ed Stetzer blog post.

Launching right now, you can sign up for the pilot program and get the first month for free!  That’s full access to the entire first month of every adult, student and kid resource.  Your only commitment?  Tell LifeWay what you think!

I’ve been intrigued by this project from its very beginning.  Imagine what it would mean to your congregation if everyone came away with a clearer understanding of the gospel?  Think about what it would mean to the members of small groups if they saw for the first time how everything in the Bible points to Jesus Christ.

Think it would make a difference?  I do too!  You can find out about The Gospel Project right here and sign up today for the pilot program right here.

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, LifeWay has retained my services and I am under contract with 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.”

Birds and Bees: A Conversation about God, Sex and Sexuality

Took a look this weekend at Birds and Bees: A Conversation about God, Sex and Sexuality, a new study from Threads (LifeWay’s young adult line of curriculum).  The study was written by Gregg Matte, senior pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church and founder of Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M University, one of the largest weekly college Bible studies in the nation.

Based on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Birds and Bees unpacks this important passage and develops a biblical perspective on sex and sexuality.  While the cover proclaims, “Whether your single, in a serious relationship, or married, this study was written for you,” I think that the key to making this study a great choice for many groups will be a commitment to follow what the study refers to as “non-negotiable ground rules” (explained in the first video) and basic sensitivity.

The study covers a fairly extensive set of topics in its six sessions.

  • God’s will and purpose for sex and sexuality
  • Understanding God’s intended design for sex and sexuality
  • How sexual desire turns into lust–and what to do about it
  • Exploring the complications  and effects of homosexuality and same-sex attractions
  • Overcoming sexual wounds
  • Practical and biblical ways to live as God intended

Although there is a DVD, it’s really not what I would call a DVD-driven series.  Rather than featuring a teaching component, the purpose of the DVD is to provide a variety of media and enhance the experience of the group.

Like most of the Threads studies I’ve reviewed, Birds and Bees was developed to be a challenging experience.  Although not a homework-driven study, there is plenty to wrestle with in every session.  With 12 to 18 pages of reading and questions that drive conversation, it will take some commitment and discipline to make it through the content in less than 90 minutes.

An excellent leader’s resource section is included on the DVD, making it easy for the group leader to prepare for the session ahead.  The primary challenge will be determining how much of the available leader notes and background information to incorporate.

If you’re looking for a study that tackles the sensitive subject of sex and sexuality, I think you’re going to want to take a look at Birds and Bees.  A challenging study, this is one that belongs on your recommended list.

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, LifeWay has retained my services and I am under contract with 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.”

Purpose First, Strategy Second, Structure Third


What comes first?  Strategy or structure?  According to Peter Drucker it’s a no brainer.

“Only a clear definition of the mission (purpose) makes possible clear and realistic business objectives.  It is the foundation for priorities, strategies, plans and work assignments…Structure follows strategy.  Strategy determines what the key activities are in a given business.  And strategy requires knowing what our business is and what it should be (p. 162, Inside Drucker’s Brain).”

What if your organization is working with a legacy structure?  If you want to accomplish your mission you’ll need to start there, formulate strategy to do what needs to be done…and then align structures to make the strategy happen.

Pick up your copy of Inside Drucker’s Brain by Jeffrey A. Krames right here.

Dreaming of More for the Next Generation: An Eye-Opening Approach for Family Ministry

While it might seem more than a little outside my usual content area, I found a lot to really love in Dreaming of More for the Next Generation: Lifetime Faith Ignited by Family Ministry.  New from Michelle Anthony, RockHarbor Church’s Family Ministry Architect, Dreaming of More grabbed my attention from the first few pages.

One of the aspects of Dreaming of More that grabbed my attention away is that this is a book written by a practitioner, a seasoned veteran of children’s ministry, who arrived at the 12 year mark and at the moment when many would begin doing workshops and conferences on how to do it…dreamed of more.

I loved this account because Anthony saw the fruit of 12 years and instead of settling for the status quo, went back to the drawing board on a quest to discover a better solution.  What developed was a family ministry concept that I think you’re going to find compelling no matter what strategy or system you’re currently using.

Chapter two establishes the foundational ideas of family ministry; what Anthony refers to as the seven pillars of family ministry.  This alone was eye-opening for me and I immediately saw the tremendous potential for application in my own work.  The following chapters thoroughly flesh out the essence of the ideas, at the very least provoking thoughtful conversation and a framework for the kinds of discussions that lead to a new paradigm.

The seven pillars she’s identified are:

  • Family Is Primary: “Practical examples of how to awaken and equip the parents in your ministry.”
  • Spiritual Formation Is Our Goal: Unpacking “a basic definition of spiritual formation that will give you a framework for transformational ministry” and looking at “things that can thwart transformation from reaching maturity.”
  • The Holy Spirit Is Our Teacher: Giving you “greater understanding of how the Holy Spirit can work in your ministry and the individual lives of your children, and how they can learn to hear from God and respond accordingly.”
  • Scripture Is Our Authority: “Offers practical examples of how to allow children opportunities to put their faith into action.”
  • The Big God Story: Discovering “the awe-inspiring strength of a generation that understands the entire gospel from beginning to end, that is awake to a story that still being written and the part they can play in it.”
  • God Is Central: “Creating traditions for the sake of remembering and celebrating.”  “Cultivating a heart of worship as response to God.”
  • Ministry Support: Helping you “lead in a season of change while providing volunteer and staff development toward your goal.”

Another aspect that I really found helpful was the ministry assessment at the end of each chapter; making this book a great choice for forward thinking ministries who are looking for resources that can engage both staff and volunteers in the challenge of re-imagining family ministry.

I really like the approach of this book and came away with many new insights into the challenges and opportunities of family ministry.  If you’re in the business of families and spiritual formation, I highly recommend Dreaming of More.

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, David C Cook is an advertiser on my site(s). 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.”

Take a Look at’s Free Small Group Resources

I reviewed’s Open Source small group material back in 2009.  I thought it was great then, but if you haven’t stopped by their new site,, you are missing out on an interesting development!

After a recent post on another innovative curriculum solution, I got an email from Libby Myrin, a member of the LifeGroups & Missions team at about their resources site.  I asked Libby if I could share it with you.  Here’s what she had to say:

Libby: This website serves as a hub of our available resources as well as those recommended by our leaders.  We direct all our LifeGroup Leaders, families, and individuals to this site with a desire to fuel the growth of our attenders by providing this user-friendly site filled with valuable resources.

Me: Already sounds great.  How is it organized?

Libby: We have several categories to ease navigation including LifeGroup Content, LifeGroup Leadership, Families, Parents, Marriages, For Men, For Women, Leadership, etc.  Craig Groeschel’s books are also included as well as our resources for each weekend’s message and all our podcasts.

Me: What’s the cost for the resources?

Libby: Those resources produced by are available for free, and this site provides links to the participant and facilitator guides, video teachings accessible via YouTube or Roku, and other related content.  Our children’s ministry also makes their resources for parents and children available on this site as well.

Me: I know you guys have been producing content for years, how extensive is the catalog?

Libby: We are intentional to highlight our free resources, and limit each category to no more than 25 items to ensure quality and effectiveness.  When we receive questions from other small group leaders around the country, I frequently refer them to this site.  We would love to let other churches and leaders know about this tool and would welcome your recommendations in doing so.

Me: I took a few minutes to check it out.  There’s so much good stuff there. I think if you haven’t stopped by you really need to take a look and share it with your leaders.  Thanks for sharing with all of us!

Small Group Host* Responsibilities

What do you expect of the HOSTs you recruit for a church-wide campaign?  Have you set the bar too high?  Have you set the bar too low?  Bottom line…do you even have expectations?  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?

I can’t tell you where you should set the bar.  Every church will have to make that decision for themselves based on their own culture.  I can tell you a few things though:

First, I can tell you that you must have predetermined guidelines that are customized for your congregation.  That is, what works amazingly in one church won’t necessarily fly in yours.

Second, I can tell you that where you set the bar absolutely determines who your hosts can invite.  Recruit from the core and committed and you shouldn’t be surprised if every one of their friends are also insiders.  Recruit from the crowd and you can expect their friends to be outsiders.  See A Tale of Two Hosts for more.

Third, I can give you an example.  In this case, there was no requirement to be a member of the church.  Since the new host’s primary way of filling their group was to invite their own friends and neighbors, it wasn’t even a criteria that they be vetted as a Christ follower (Think about it.  If they’re inviting their own friends, aren’t they likely to be a step ahead spiritually?)!

Here’s a look at the simple expectations:

Primary Purpose:  To help launch a new small group giving a “toe-in-the-water experience for each of its members.

Primary Responsibilities:

  • To convene my group for the six weeks of the series.
  • To connect with my coach on a weekly basis.
  • To gather with other leaders for the mid-launch huddle.
  • To provide updates on the group status to the church office.
  • To provide a healthy group experience.

Remember, there is no problem-free.  See how we attempted to mitigate the basic problems?

How are these expectations different than those of a small group leader (i.e., someone who has launched a group and joined the leadership pathway)?  Here’s a look at leadership expectations for a small group leader.

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

Top 10 Posts of August, 2012

Miss a few days this summer?  Here are my top 10 posts of August, 2012.  Two themes were obvious right away.  First, 6 of the top 10 were from 2008 and 2009.  Amazing how often the archives are read!  Second, for the first month in recent memory none of the top 10 posts were curriculum reviews!

  1.  How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  2. How to Make the HOST Ask – The 2012 Version (August, 2012)
  3. Need a Funny Video to Promote Small Groups? Check Out The Bible Study (August, 2012)
  4. How to Make the Small Group Ask (December, 2008)
  5. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups (October, 2008)
  6. HOST: What Does It Mean? (April, 2008)
  7. 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System (August, 2012)
  8. Essential Ingredients for Life Change (September, 2009)
  9. How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy (October, 2009)
  10. 3 Itsy Bitsy Strategic Tweaks with Exponential Impact (July, 2012)

Small Group Leader Responsibilities

What do you expect of the leaders in your small group ministry?  Are your expectations in writing?  How do you communicate them?

Here’s the latest version of a form I’ve used for many years.  I call the form the Small Group Leader Purpose and Responsibilities.  I’m sure that Carl George and Brett Eastman played a part in their origin.  I’ve been using these basic ideas for so long I can’t remember exactly where I stole them.

Primary Purpose:  To produce healthy disciples by providing care for each of the members in my small group.

Primary Responsibilities:

  1. To make my daily, living connection with Jesus Christ a priority—being in community with Him is the foundation for all community.
  2. To lead an exemplary Christian lifestyle—group members watching me will see an obedient servant of Jesus Christ growing in maturity.
  3. To convene my group regularly (2 to 4 times a month).
  4. To provide personalized care and development for each of my members, using the Spiritual Health Assessment and Spiritual Health Planner.
  5. To assist in the identification and development of potential Small Group Leaders within my group.
  6. To maintain great communication with the Communities team.
  7. To gather with the other Small Group Leaders in my coaching huddle for training and encouragement.
  8. To make attending scheduled gatherings for training and encouragement (i.e., Leadership Development 1 and the Fall Host Rally).

Important Note: Keep in mind, these are expectations for a small group leader and I’m starting almost every group using a small group connection or a church-wide campaign using the HOST strategy (i.e., like Steve Gladen and the team at Saddleback, our leaders would begin their journey with much simpler expectations and migrate to these.  See Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway for more).

These are my expectations of the leaders in our  small group ministry.  Here are our expectations for small group hosts (who commit to hosting a new group during a church-wide campaign).  Do they know these expectations and accept them?  A constant challenge.  Should they have expectations of me and my team?  Absolutely.  Watch Monday’s post for more on this important topic.  Don’t want to miss the next piece of the puzzle?  You can sign up for my updates right here.

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