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Small Group Leader Expectations: What Should They Be?

There are some pretty challenging dilemmas in small group ministry.  And it doesn’t really matter what system or strategy you’ve chosen.  Since there are no problem-free solutions…challenging dilemmas just come with the territory.  Here’s the one I’m wrestling with:

Can you have high leader expectations when you’ve lowered the bar so that more potential leaders will get in the game?  How high can your expectations be?  What are reasonable expectations for leaders?

You get this, right?  When you use the HOST strategy, you’re perilously close to characterizing the role as just “open up your home, serve some refreshments and tell a few friends.”

Did you see that little four letter word?  “Just.”  Ever said that?  I probably have.  You probably have, too.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m actually okay with saying it.  But when you use the word “just” you’re opening up the bait and switch discussion.  And I get that and so should you.

The Reason for Leader Expectations

There are reasons for having leader expectations.  The most important reasons for me?

  1. I really do believe that a small group can provide the optimal environment for life-change.  Note the word “can.”
  2. At the same time, I believe the quality of the group experience has less to do with curriculum than it does with the group leader.
  3. In fact, I believe that whatever I want to happen in the lives of group members has to happen first in the lives of the leaders.

What Might Some Expectations Be?

While every church will have its own set of expectations, you can see that there might be some basics.  For example:

  • You might require new leaders to complete a simple spiritual questionnaire that allows them to tell their story.
  • An increasing number of churches require a background check.
  • Agreeing to a set of shared values.
  • Some churches require that their small group leaders be church members (or at least be in the process of becoming a member).
  • Maintaining good communication with their small group coach or the small group pastor is something that is a little bit more qualitative but is an essential requirement.
  • Attending leader development opportunities or participating in a leader development pathway.

In 2013 I wrote two articles that provide further ideas on this topic.  8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

Want do you think?  Have you established leader expectations in your ministry?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Top 10 Posts of January, 2012

Here are my top 10 posts for January, 2012.  Interesting to note that only two of these posts were written in January.

  1. New from Beth Moore| James: Mercy Triumphs (November, 2011)
  2. Join Us for GroupLife Midwest 2012
  3. How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy (October, 2009)
  4. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  5. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills (June, 2010)
  6. Review: Not a Fan (September, 2010)
  7. Small Group Models (December, 2009)
  8. The 7 Numbers That Matter Most in Small Group Ministry
  9. The Meta Church Small Group Model (October, 2009)
  10. Review: The Gospel Revolution (October, 2011)

5 Transferable Website Concepts from Saddleback’s Recent Campaign Launch

Ready to work on something? Don’t just read this. Take at least 2 or 3 minutes and actually look at the links below. You can learn so much about how one of the most effective small group ministries is doing what they’re doing. But…you’ll learn a lot more if you’ll just take a closer look.

First, a little side-note: it pays to watch closely for transferable concepts; ideas that you can use to raise the bar in your own small group ministry. I love this line from Pablo Picasso:

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

It reminds me of another great line that I heard from Rick Warren over 20 years ago:

“If you steal from one person, it’s plagiarism. If you steal from five, it’s research. If you steal from 10 or more, it’s sheer creativity. And I am a very creative person!”

Ready to get creative? Here are 5 (web) ideas that should be copied from Saddleback’s most recent campaign launch (40 Days of the Word):

  1. Note how prominent the Small Group link is on Saddleback’s home page. “Small Groups: Join a small group to grow closer to Christ and other believers. Learn More” is easy to see right on their main page. Note: if it takes two or three or four clicks to reach the page on your website where I can find out about joining a group…I’m probably not going to make it.
  2. When you click the link from Saddleback’s main page, it takes you to a page with a carefully chosen title: Experiencing Life Together. That’s very important. People are searching for experiences. One of the most important books in the last decade was The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore.
  3. Note how carefully the words on this page are chosen. Short sentences. It fits above the fold. The first sentence captures the essence of everyone’s longing for connection. The next two sentences frame the idea of a small group very succinctly. The 4th sentence is a call to action.
  4. Note that the call to action directs you to Select a Small Group Type (Home, Work, Online). Don’t miss a key detail right at this spot. All three options allow you to select “find” or “start.” That is a very big development (i.e., it’s never too late to be looking for new leaders).
  5. Take a look at what happens if you click on “start.” You may not be able to go further than this…but let me tell you, Saddleback has made it super easy to start a group.
I wrote about a 6th key idea (Breaking: Add This Host Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks) last July.

What do you think? Can you make these changes? I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Have the Funeral: a DVD-Driven Study on Forgiveness from James MacDonald

Forgiveness.  What a concept.  If you’re looking for a solid, biblical look at the subject of forgiveness…you need to take a look at Have the Funeral by James MacDonald.  Joining Lifeway’s Platform Series in 2011, this six session study is very solid material.

I reviewed another MacDonald study, Always True: God’s Promises When Life is Hard in September of 2011.  One of America’s most popular Bible teachers, MacDonald is the founding/senior pastor of Chicago’s Harvest Bible Chapel, host of the radio show “Walk in the Word,” and author of several books and Bible studies, including “Gripped by the Greatness of God,” and “Ancient Wisdom.”

The DVD features six excerpts from two messages given at Harvest Bible Chapel.  Averaging 12 to 17  minutes in length, the segments are very compelling, full of great practical application, and fly past.  Important for small group studies…they grab your attention at the outset (there’s a coffin in the background) and never let go.

In addition to the discussion questions, the Participant Guide also provides biblical context and historical background.  A great set of questions takes the teaching and drives immediately to application.  Along with the session activities, the Participant Guide also provides journaling ideas as well as next steps for every session.

While there is no leader’s guide, this is a very straightforward study.  The practical, application orientation of this study should provide a solid basis for discussion for even the newest groups.

If you’re looking for a study that will deeply impact small group members or Bible study attendees, I want to suggest that you take a serious look at Have the Funeral.  This is a study that will leave a powerful impression on leaders and members alike.  I highly recommend it.  In fact, a solid understanding of biblical forgiveness is so important, this study definitely joins the recommended curriculum list for me.  And I hope for you too!

Rooms: An Interesting New Small Group Experience from Lifeway

Had an opportunity this week to spend some time with an interesting new DVD-driven small group study from Lifeway.  Rooms: The Small Group Experience is the first study I’m aware of that was inspired by an award-winning novel (Published in 2010, Rooms was named the Best Inspirational Novel of 2010 by the Reviewers’ Choice Awards).

Likened to The Shack, Rooms is the story of “young software tycoon Micah Taylor and a cryptic letter he receives from a great uncle he never knew.  It claims a home awaits him on the Oregon coast.  In Cannon Beach.  The one place he loves.  The one place he never wants to see again.  But strange things happen in the house.  Things Micah can’t explain.  Things he can barely believe.  The locals say that the house is ‘spiritual.’  But Micah slowly discovers the house isn’t just spiritual, it is a physical manifestation–of his soul (from the cover).”

The study is designed to guide groups through four significant themes: woundedness, destiny, (spiritual) warfare, and freedom.  The DVD segments feature a combination of author James Rubart’s teaching/narration against the backdrop of reenacted scenes from the book.

The participant guide provides discussion questions that enable group members to work through the biblical basis for each of the four themes.  Each week also includes four daily devotional experiences, continuing to pursue the theme through the week.

A Leader Guide section is included in the participant guide and provides some important hints for the study.  In addition, each of the four DVD segments includes a “watch me first” moment for group leaders.  In view of the challenging themes developed in this study, it may be too challenging for some leaders.

Although the study was “created so that even someone who has not read the book–or who does not intend to–can still find fresh perspectives and strong biblical content for becoming a more effective disciple,” it will be a far different experience for those who participate without reading the book.  In my mind, the most likely participants of the study will be readers of the book.  I should point out that while I haven’t finished the book, I read the first 20 pages to get a feel for the writing style and the quality of the writing.  It’s an intriguing story-line and caught my attention right away.

This is an interesting new category.  While it’s easy to envision a book club that leads to a four week study, I’m finding it harder to imagine just any group choosing a study based on contemporary Christian fiction.  For the right group, Rooms will be a great experience.

SMaC Recipe for Small Group Ministry Coaching

Working to build an effective coaching structure?  I referred to a new concept from Great by Choice, Jim Collins’ most recent book in a recent post.  It turns out to have tremendous application for anyone working on their coaching structure.  Let me take a paragraph to bring you up to speed.  Then, I’ll show you how we’re applying it right now.

Get Up to Speed

A SMaC recipe is the code for translating a high-level Hedgehog Concept into specific action and for keeping an organization focused in the same direction, thereby building flywheel momentum (p. 186, Great by Choice).”  Greek so far?  You can get more in my previous post, but the essence of a hedgehog concept is simply the thing your organization is really designed and equipped to do and the flywheel effect is the product of repeated efforts to build momentum.

What does SMaC stand for?  Specific, methodical, and consistent practices.  One of the companies that Collins’ studied was Southwest Airlines.  A shortened example of their SMaC recipe is that they’ve determined to:

  • remain a short haul carrier, under two hour segments
  • utilize the 737 as their only aircraft
  • stay out of food services
  • keep the passenger as their #1 product. Don’t carry air freight or mail

A Recent Memo to My Team:

Hey guys…want to make sure we’re all thinking the same way about coaching and coaching assignments.  Here’s where we should be from a principle standpoint:

  1. Everyone needs to be cared for by someone and no one ought to be caring for more than about 10.  This is referred to as span of care and is the principle that ought to be driving our awareness of a shortage of coaches (i.e., if you have 236 groups and anything less than 24 coaches…you cannot expect to have a 1 to 10 ratio).
  2. As we build an effective coaching structure (with a suitable span of care and maturing capabilities),  flexibility is an essential trait for a coach.  As much as we will always prefer consistent coaching assignment over the life a leader (ideal), there will of necessity be shifting coverage from time to time (real).
  3. Existing groups (older than 3 to 6 months) are very hard to retroactively assign to a coach.  They will only rarely accept coaching.  Their thinking is almost always, “Why do I need a coach?  I know how to lead a group.”  This understanding ought to be driving our awareness that the critical need isn’t to provide equal care for all leaders.  Instead, we ought to be paying the most attention to newer leaders.  Seasoned, existing leaders, who “know” they don’t need a coach need to be contacted, but not coached.
  4. New group leaders (whether beginning as hosts or connection leaders) are especially open to coaching and ought to be our first priority for coaching assignments.
  5. New coaches (launch phase coaches) ought to be given one or two groups (1 or 2) during their toe-in-the-water phase.  Once they successfully completed the 10 to 13 week test drive, assuming they are both fruitful in the task and fulfilled doing it, we can give them an opportunity to opt-in to full-fledged coaching.

These five principles should define our coaching assignments (both right now and going forward).

Flaws of Biblical Proportions: Great Video from bluefish tv

Need a short video that casts the right vision for small group ministry?  One that caught my attention in 2011 was Flaws of Biblical Proportions.  Take a look.  If you haven’t seen this one, you’ll be figuring out how to use it:

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.  Great stuff, isn’t it?  It’s downloadable and you can order it right here.

Leading Small Groups with Purpose: New from Steve Gladen

If you’ve been looking for small group leader training resources, you’re going to want to take a look at Leading Small Groups with Purpose.  New from Steve Gladen, this is gem of a resource!  Packed with real-life illustrations, how-tos, and ideas…this is a must-have for every leader.

Gladen’s earlier book, Small Groups with Purpose, was an excellent resource for point leaders (whether from the purpose driven camp or not).  The same is true for Leading Small Groups with Purpose.  The content is so relevant, it works regardless of the type of small group system in use.

Part One–Before You Begin Your Group is just that; some very helpful content that will find its way into your leader training concept.  Especially for anyone unfamiliar with the spiritual health assessment and plan, part one will be an eye-opening experience.  The simple idea behind the assessment and plan will help many groups take advantage of new understanding about the spiritual development needs of its members.  This is a gold mine!

Part Two–What to Do in Your Group is as good a collection of practical tips and ideas as I’ve ever come across.  I loved the way this part of the book is organized and your leaders will, too.  Ten chapters.  Two takes on each of the five purposes (fellowship, discipleship, ministry, mission and worship); there’s both insight into the biblical foundation for each purpose and practical suggestions for application.

Again, don’t dismiss this resource because you’re not purpose-driven!  Trust me on this, you’ll finish every chapter thinking, “I’m going to try that idea this week!”  Even better, you’ll find yourself wanting to pass the idea on to other leaders.  This is a great collection of what-to-do ideas, backed up by some very practical crawl, walk and run how-to-do suggestions for implementation.

Part Three–Keeping Your Group Focused includes the answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about small group ministry.  From how to listen well and should we meet during the summer to what to do about late people and gossip in the group, this is just good stuff!

Need an extra bonus?  There’s a FREE online small group assessment tool included that you’re going to want to check out (a code inside the book flap provides registration).  A $12.50 value, it’s a new tool at  Developed by Dr. Les Parrott, the small group insight profile provides feedback that can be shared with a group.  Very interesting!  And it’s FREE with the book.

Whether you’re leading a small group or leading a small group ministry, Leading Small Groups with Purpose is a great addition to my must-have list.  I loved it and I know you will too!

Quotebook: Henry Ford on the Secret of Success

We’ve talked about this routinely.  If you want to have any success connecting beyond the usual suspects, you have learn to see things from their point-of-view.  It really is a living out of Philippians 2:4: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

I tripped across this great Henry Ford line while reading Steve Gladen’s Leading Small Groups with Purpose:

If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.

Hedgehogs, Flywheels, and SMaC Recipes…Curious?

Just finished reading Great by Choice, Jim Collin’s newest.  As much as we talk about clarifying the win, I caught something that I just needed to point out to you.

If you read Good to Great (Collins’ 2001 best-seller), you recognize the terms hedgehog concept and flywheel effect.  If you need a refresher, here’s the basic info:

“The Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from a deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:

  • What you are passionate about
  • What can you be the best in the world at
  • What drives your resource or economic engine”
The Flywheel Effect is simply building momentum “by making a series of decisions relentlessly consistent with that concept (Hedgehog), like turning a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn (p. 186, Great by Choice).”
A SMaC Recipe is the code for translating a high-level Hedgehog Concept in to specific action and for keeping an organization focused in the same direction, thereby building flywheel momentum (p. 186, Great by Choice).”  What does SMaC stand for?  Specific, methodical, and consistent practices.
Why is this important stuff?  Understanding the hedgehog concept is a very helpful way of determining what a win should be for your organization.  An appreciation of the flywheel effect will give you an appreciation for the long run, daily effort that becoming a great organization requires.  And developing your own SMaC recipe will help you sustain momentum.
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