Top 10 Posts for January 2011

Here are my top 10 posts for January, 2011.  Interesting, one of these posts is from 2008!

  1. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy
  2. Current GroupLife Trends
  3. More from Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy
  4. Eddie Mosley on LifePoint’s Discipleship Pathway
  5. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  6. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway
  7. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills
  8. Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% Groups
  9. The Next Christians: A Book You Definitely Should Be Reading
  10. My Weirdest Post Ever…and a Request

On a technicality, Subscribe to Mark’s Blog – 3 Methods, Reading List and About were among my top 10 posts for the month…but I always feel like they don’t really count.

Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code

Some books get a quick thumb through and are never picked up again.  Others get a thorough reading but end up only being the source of a quote or an illustration.  And a few books join the elite ranks of regular reference and recommendation.  Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration, the latest from Dr. Samuel R. Chand, is that last variety!  There’s no doubt I’ll be pulling it off the shelf again and again.  In fact, it may not even get shelved!

I had the opportunity to read chapter one a few months back and for some unknown reason it didn’t grab me at that point.  I don’t know if it was my mood or the fact that it was a pdf, but honestly, I was a little disappointed.  I’d heard so much about Sam Chand from so many of my friends, but on looking over the sample, I wondered what they saw.  Can I tell you something?  I am so glad I kept reading!  Turning to chapter two I discovered a fantastic resource that I’ll come back to on a regular basis!

In Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code, Chand makes the case that “culture–not vision or strategy–is the most powerful factor in any organization.” Further, he explains that:

  • It determines the receptivity of the staff and volunteers to new ideas,
  • Unleashes or dampens creativity,
  • Builds or erodes enthusiasm, and
  • Creates a sense of pride or deep discouragement about working or being involved in the organization.

There are a number of elements that I found immediately helpful.  First, every chapter concludes with a set of diagnostic questions, making it immediately useful for the pastor or leader evaluating their own organization.  You don’t have to be in a toxic culture for these questions to be applicable, either.  And, you can see right away that since departments have their own culture, these questions will have application there as well.

Second, the chapters dealing with 9 Culture Killers and 7 Keys to Culture both come with built-in diagnostic tools.  I know I’ll be frequently referring to the lists here as I talk with consulting clients.

Third, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code provides the overview you need to take advantage of the free online survey, leveraging the findings in your quest to build a healthy culture.

Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code is one of those books that you’ll use over and over again.  Much like Church Unique (Will Mancini), Good to Great (Jim Collins), The Future of Management (Gary Hamel), or the Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (Patrick Lencioni), this one is packed with great diagnostic questions and tools that will inspire many conversations and staff meetings.

Kirby Holmes on Gateway’s “Come As You Are” Culture

In yesterday’s post I began wrestling with a great question from a reader who wanted feedback on establishing a policy that prohibited same sex partners from participating in the same women’s or men’s group (in order to establish a healthy, non-sexual, environment).  Keep in mind that the only coed experience their small group structure provides is for married couples.  They also provide groups for men and groups for women.

My Initial Response

My initial response was to ask, “What is the purpose of these particular groups and groups in general in your small group ministry?  The purpose of the group determines who it is designed for, who would be eligible to attend, and who would be encouraged to find another group.”

The reader responded in part by writing that their mission statement was “To compel the unconvinced to become passionate followers of Christ.”

When I read that, I knew immediately I needed to get the Gateway Church take on the larger issue of building a “come as you are” grouplife culture. I asked Kirby Holmes, the Group Life Pastor at Gateway Church in Austin to provide some insight:


Kirby: I wrote about this subject recently in a post on my own blog.  I think it will give some insight into how God is using Gateway and our Small Groups to love people without excluding them based on their sin behavior.  We have chosen to be an open community for all to come as you are.  If the church you are responding to wants to fulfill its mission statement of compelling the unconvinced to become passionate followers of Christ, then they can’t be exclusionists in their community spaces.  They must be inclusionists.  The culture they want to create as a church will begin to hang by a noose if they choose exclusionism.  It is for this reason that Gateway does not have a membership process.  You are either a part of the community by showing up and being known or you’re not (We do, however, use a standard of character/behavior for leadership at Gateway as defined by 1 Timothy and Titus).

Mark: Kirby, they’ve stated that the purpose of their LifeGroup Ministry is to “help people grow in relationship with God and with other believers.”  What would a restrictive policy mean in terms of accomplishing that purpose?

Kirby: My question would be, “how can people in special or highlighted sin situations like homosexuality ever participate in community at the church if not in small groups?  If they are unwanted there and excluded then where do they go to have relationship?”

Mark: I know your lead pastor, John Burke, has written about building a culture that is inclusive.  How has this influenced Gateway’s approach?

Kirby: In No Perfect People Allowed, John Burke (Gateway’s lead pastor)  points out that most gay men and women are looking and longing for love and acceptance and that most of them would turn off the part of their life that is attracted to same sex relationships if they found it.  From the outside looking in, we tend to overemphasize the sexuality side of homosexuals and underemphasize that they are holistic people as daughters and sons, employees, hobbyists, creatives, tax payers, business owners, friends, etc.  Describing them only as people with a certain sexual attraction is very limiting to who they actually are as people.  There’s much more to them as a person than just a sex act.  Having a same sex attraction is not a sin.  The sin is in acting on the attraction, in the same way it is a sin when a heterosexual single acts on the attraction.

Mark: I think another important aspect of your culture has to do with dialogue as opposed to debate.

Kirby: It’s far more important to create a culture of dialogue in the church than debate.  If we want to debate homosexuality and use the Bible as our weapon we will lose a whole generation of postmoderns who are longing for a new kind of family (since most of theirs are usually broken).  We must include people in loving relationship and dialogue.

Mark: What kinds of resources has Gateway provided in building a come as you are culture?

Kirby: Our website has a page dedicated to sexuality featuring a Sunday morning message titled, “Same Sex.”  In the message three gay individuals who have been a part of the Gateway community share their stories about how transformation is happening in them.  It is an amazing message of truth and hope for this generation.  You can see the page and watch the message right here.

Mark: Thanks for sharing with us Kirby.  It’s been very helpful to hear about Gateway’s come as you are culture.

What do you think? Are you facing this challenge in your small group ministry? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Sexuality and Small Group Membership

Recently I had a great question from a reader who wanted some feedback on establishing a policy on a very sensitive matter.  I’ve edited to provide some clarity, but here’s the question:

We discovered that we have some unmarried couples (who live together) in couples’ groups and at least one lesbian couple attending a women’s group.  While we truly believe that small groups are the optimum environment for life change, we don’t want to give the impression that we are condoning these lifestyle choices.

I’d like to establish a guideline that while everyone is welcome in groups, unmarried couples (gay or straight) cannot be in the same Life Group (our structure consists of married couples groups, men’s groups and women’s groups).

If you have advice to share or can direct me to resources dealing with this issue, I would greatly appreciate it.

My Response

My initial response was to ask, “What is the purpose of these particular groups and groups in general in your small group ministry?  The purpose of the group determines who it is designed for, who would be eligible to attend, and who would be encouraged to find another group.”

One pattern for small group ministries is to establish specific groups for married couples (coed), and separate groups for men and women.  It’s probably more common for ministries to also have catch-all groups that are a true mix of couples and singles, men and women, but the pattern chosen by the church in question isn’t unique to that church.

I’ve mentioned many times that there are no problem-free solutions.  Every solution to a ministry issue comes with a set of problems attached.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

You can see in the reader’s question an interest in establishing a policy that is marital status specific, with an asterisk to cover the possibility of a gay or lesbian marriage (at least, that’s how it will appear).

Here’s my advice:

  1. You may want to consider adding a type of group that is more inclusive.  Remember, the well-worn path never leads to a new destination and it may take a new thing to connect people you’re not connecting now.  Groups for couples and singles may provide the kind of first step that allows everyone to feel accepted, loved and cared for as they are while being encouraged to become like Jesus (for more on this, see John Burke’s No Perfect People Allowed).
  2. Whether you add a coed type of group or not, you need to develop an FAQ that covers why you offer groups for married couples (marital status) and separate groups for men and women (gender specific).  A clear purpose for each will be a requirement and you’d be wise to test your premise on some very crowd sensitive people.  It’s amazing how reasonable things appear to insiders and how obviously out-of-touch and insensitive they can appear to the very people we hope to reach.
  3. In addition to an FAQ, it will be essential to develop a clear, winsome way of promoting the kinds of groups that you offer.  Whether you’re promoting grouplife in a bulletin, on the web, in a newsletter or verbally, you’ll need to use language that clearly defines the purpose of the group (i.e., “If you’re looking for a way to improve your marriage, sign up today for the Couples Small Group Connection on January 30th.”). By the way, carefully thinking through the degree of difficulty in promoting a kind of group that is gender specific with a sexual partner asterisk may force you back to the drawing board.

I really think this is an important conversation.  I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a look at how Gateway Church in Austin looks at the issue of sexuality and small groups.  If you’re not signed up to get my updates, you can do that right here.

What do you think? What would you add or what would you say different? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Great Example of Story-Driven Visual Media

Few things are a captivating as a well told story. When it’s a true story, it’s even better.  If you haven’t seen Granger’s recent contribution to the playlist…you need to take a few minutes and watch Steve’s Story.  Nicely done!

Steve’s Story from Granger Community on Vimeo.

What do you think? Can you see how stories like this engage? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Eddie Mosley on LifePoint’s Discipleship Pathway

One of the most important current grouplife trends is a more intentional discipleship effort.  LifePoint Church is a good example of this trend.  A dynamic, growing multi-site church that has a heart for its community, its region of Middle Tennessee, and the world through global initiatives, LifePoint has been very intentional about the development of its discipleship strategy.

Eddie Mosley is the Executive Pastor of GroupLife at LifePoint Church.  I recently had the opportunity to ask him to give some insights into their dicipleship direction.

Mark: I know that LifePoint is launching a new discipleship pathway called The Christ Centered Journey.  What’s motivating your new emphasis?

Eddie: LifePoint’s purpose statement is “Leading people to a Christ centered life.”  We continually evaluate the progress of our discipleship and evangelism efforts so that we can help people become Christ centered.  Following the release of the REVEAL study from Willow Creek Association we developed our own Journey Map.  The Journey Map helped us think about classes, groups and resources we were offering for various stages of spiritual maturity.

What we have now not only helps individuals identify where they are on the journey, but enables them to help others in their group by identifying where a person is on the journey, the needs that stage has and next steps (whether that be a class, a resource, a conversation, etc) that will help them move toward the next stage.  The Christ Centered Journey helps someone move along the Journey Map to be Christ-Centered.  Real Life Discipleship by Jim Putman was a big influence in developing our Discipleship Pathway.

Mark: Is this an all church emphasis?  Is it broader than just small groups?

Eddie: LifePoint is a church of Small Groups, therefore this is a church-wide strategy.  It is more than an emphasis as it is being used to determine classes, curriculum and events to facilitate movement on the Christ Centered Journey.  This Christ Centered Journey (for discipleship) is also being mirrored by a Leadership Pathway that our Executive Pastor of Worship Programming, Jason Stewart, is designing (@stewonline).

Mark: What are you anticipating the Pathway will do for your members?

Eddie: The conversations that have resulted from the four-week roll out of the Journey have been encouraging.  People are sharing that they have a new understanding of their life in Christ.  No longer is it to just get “baptized and attend church.”  The Journey shows the needs of each stage and offers a next step for them in order to move on the journey to become more Christ centered.  We are anticipating this will become known as a clear plan for individuals and leaders that will help them shepherd and apprentice those around them to become Christ centered.

Mark: Have you already defined some measurements you’ll take to determine if the new direction is working?

Eddie: We are currently designing Christ Centered metrics that measure how well we are moving people along the Journey.  At LifePoint, we’ve identified five characteristics of a disciple and want to partner with every member for personal development of these.  These characteristics are introduced in  Discover LifePoint, a one time class offered every month at our campuses.  As we point toward the characteristics of Worship, Biblical Community, Service, Influence and Generosity, we want to be able to evaluate how well we are doing in helping people live out these characteristics.  There will be weekly, monthly and even quarterly reporting that will guide us in planning for the next season.

Mark: Is it something you’ll be growing into over time?  Or will you be at full speed right away?  How will you roll it out?

Eddie: The Christ Centered Journey was initially rolled out via a Wednesday night series. We will continue to use it as we train Small Group leaders with the continued initial introduction to everyone through Discover LifePoint. Although we have already begun to implement this Journey, we realize there are going to be adjustments as we communicate it more and continually evaluate via our metrics.

Mark: Really appreciate your insight and input!  Thanks for taking the time to explain the process that you’re introducing at LifePoint!

If you missed my article on current grouplife trends, you can read it right here.

More on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway

Today we have the continuation of yesterday’s interview with Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.  If you’ve ever wondered how Saddleback helps people who simply sign up to host a six-week small group become a full-fledged leader…you’ll find a lot of answers here.  If you missed part one of the interview, you can read it right here.

Here’s Part Two:

Mark: So they’ve moved from the baby steps of a 6 week commitment to a decision to continue, attended a 3 hour course and now are connected with a mentoring community leader.  What happens next?

Steve: The third step along the leadership pathway is Leader Training 2.  This five-module training course is led by the H.O.S.T.’s community leader and is often held in the CL’s home. It focuses on deepening the five purposes in the lives of the leaders and showing them how to balance the purposes within their groups. These five modules can take up to two years to complete.  We don’t want H.O.S.T.s to take the next module until they are actually putting the previous one into practice.  The five modules are:

  • Health—developing discipleship and helping your group and individual group members to be balanced.
  • Character—deepening your heart toward worship.
  • Skills—diving below the surface to understand true community.
  • Empower—helping you do ministry inside your group or with other groups, believer to believer.
  • P.E.A.C.E.—directing your group toward the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, which is our church’s mission arm and is done personally, locally, and globally.

Mark: It’s my understanding that in the same way your coaching structure is designed to provide a kind of customized level of care for each leader, the way Leader Training 2 plays out is different depending on the maturity of the leader.

Steve:  That’s correct.  As H.O.S.T.s enter the Leader Training 2 phase, they start the discipleship module called Health. This them the value of balancing a group in the five biblical purposes. Once they have completed LT2 Health, they proceed down one of two paths. If they are leading a new group, they will focus first on the LT2 modules of Character and Skills, which compliment the new journey they are on. If their group is more seasoned, we direct them toward LT2 Empower and P.E.A.C.E.  These modules are a bit more challenging and designed for the small group with a strong foundation in place.  Once H.O.S.T.s have completed Leader Training 2, they are official leaders.

Mark: So once they’ve completed Leader Training 2 they’ve had quite a journey.  They might’ve invested as much as a couple years in the process.  What happens next?

Steve: The fourth step along the Leadership Pathway is our Gatherings where we show our leaders how much we care about them.  These gatherings also keep them tied to the vision.  Remember, if you have multiple sites (one church in different locations), you can also use Gatherings as a way to unify the sites around the common vision.

Mark: It’s been a great privilege and an honor to have your insight on this, Steve!  Thanks so much for your willingness to contribute your wisdom and knowledge to our growth!

About Steve Gladen: I’ve said this a number of times, but I want to be sure and say this again. Steve is a couple of things. First, he’s one of the smartest GroupLife guys on the planet. He’s also one of the most helpful small group experts on the planet. Seriously. While we’re on the subject, I want to suggest again that all of you pre-purchase Steve’s upcoming book. Here is the link: Small Groups with Purpose and here’s more info about the book.

Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway

In a recent two-part series Steve Gladen talked about Saddleback’s Small Group Coaching strategy.  In that previous series Steve mentioned their Leadership Pathway and I asked him if he’d be willing to provide some insight into the way they help people who have volunteered to simply host a group grow over time into a committed group leader who is truly invested in their members’ spiritual growth.

Mark: We know that many of the small groups that form at Saddleback begin as H.O.S.T. homes during a church-wide campaign.  What does the Leadership Pathway look like at the very beginning?

Steve: To start it’s important to know the philosophical premise of our training.  We see Jesus called the disciples in Matthew 4 with a requirement of “Come and see”.  Three years later in was “Come and die”.  Jesus took them on a pathway that took them from “come and see” to “come and die”.  Slowly letting them see they may bring more to the puzzle than they think.  Most churches start with “come and die” recruiting and scare everyone anyway—no leadership development process is in place.  In our language we want to start with crawl and help them run, not start with run.  Now back to your question.

New H.O.S.T.s often take their first steps on our pathway without knowing it.  In this initial stage we look to make sure they have a commitment in faith as Christ as Lord and Savior and call Saddleback their home.  Notice there’s not a member requirement, yet.  We give them the opportunity to lead a small group with very little commitment.  We provide a New H.O.S.T. Home Kit that includes everything they need to get their new group started, including a DVD entitled “How to Start a Small Group.”  In addition to the kit, we also give the H.O.S.T.s access to 8 online training sessions (each lasting less than 10 minutes), which are available through our small group website.

Mark: So they get started with very little formal training, but they’re in the game.  They meet for the 6 weeks of the campaign series.  What happens next?

Steve: Two things happen if they want to continue past the initial H.O.S.T. stage.   First, we start the process of getting the new Hosts to be members of the church.  And second we invite them to Leader Training 1.  This is a basic training session for all of our continuing H.O.S.T.s.  It’s held several times every year and consists of one 3-hour session.  We offer the session both on campus and online.  Interestingly, less than a year into offering it online we’ve had more students in our online training than in our on campus training.  The course gives new H.O.S.T.s a strategic overview of our small group ministry, explains a few basic survival techniques for hosting a group, and shares the support structure we have in place for them.

After they’ve completed Leader Training 1 and signed the document with the small group guidelines and leader values, the church sends the H.O.S.T. a letter of congratulations and a certificate that marks their completion of this first step. Because relationships are a vital ingredient in the success of our small group leaders and we want them to know they will not be alone in their journey, the next important step is connecting each H.O.S.T. with a mentoring community leader (CL) —a seasoned member of our small group ministry who gets it and lives it.  From that point on, each H.O.S.T.’s community leader starts playing a key role in his or her growth process. The CL walks with the H.O.S.T. through each remaining step of the leadership pathway.

Mark: So they’ve moved from the baby steps of a 6 week commitment to a decision to continue, attended a 3 hour course and now are connected with a mentoring community leader.  Sounds good so far.  Do you have a sense for the percentage of your hosts that go on to the next step in the Leadership Pathway?

Steve:  I can tell you that prior to our latest Fall Campaign, 82% had continued past the Campaign for 3,736 groups.

Don’t Miss Part Two! You can read part two of this interview right here.  If you’re not signed up to get my updates, you can do that right here.

About Steve Gladen: I’ve said this a number of times, but I want to be sure and say this again. Steve is a couple of things. First, he’s one of the smartest GroupLife guys on the planet. He’s also one of the most helpful small group experts on the planet. Seriously. While we’re on the subject, I want to suggest again that all of you pre-purchase Steve’s upcoming book. Here is the link: Small Groups with Purpose and here’s more info about the book.

This GroupLife Trend Speaks the Language of the Culture

When I list the current grouplife trends, I think one is more important for the Church and its mission in the world than any of the others.  This may surprise you, but I think there is one trend more important than the missional group idea, the intentional discipleship strategy, or the integration of spiritual formation practices into grouplife curriculum.  I believe its even more important than the church-wide campaign strategy.

What trend is most important?  I believe story-driven visual media opens a unique door that presents a powerful, culturally savvy opportunity.  Think about it.  In a culture mesmerized by story, what creates better common ground?

While story-driven visual media is clearly an emerging trend in the production of small group curriculum (i.e., Liquid’s “The Ten” and “Mirror Image” or City on a Hill’s “Not a Fan”), I believe it will play an increasing role in the Church’s ability to connect with what I refer to as the widening 60% who will never be reached by an attractional strategy.  That is, this trend is about much more than a cool way to help Christian adults engage in discussion that generates life-change.

I don’t have many answers, but I know what causes an attention deficit distracted room to stop and watch…and then react.  For example, watch this commercial:

Watch the official video from Daughtry’s What About Now?

Or take a look at this powerful short film from Prolifik Films and POTSC:


How will we leverage an understanding of the language of a culture?  Watch for new curriculum that is story-driven.  Look for ways to incorporate story into your weekend experiences.  Look for ways to take advantage of the investment made by others.

As I’ve already said, I don’t have many answers.  I know this trend is escalating.  Now we just need to be on the lookout for opportunities to use the language of the culture to reach the widening 60%.

Integrating Spiritual Formation Practices into GroupLife

One of the most important trends in small group ministry is the way spiritual formation practices are being integrated into small group curriculum.  I listed it as one of the top 5 trends right here.  It’s popping up in a variety of ways.

One of the most prominent ways that spiritual formation is showing up is the inclusion of small group oriented questions in books like those in James Bryan Smith’s The Apprentice Series (The Good and Beautiful Community, The Good and Beautiful God, and The Good and Beautiful Life) or Trevor Hudson’s Discovering Our Spiritual Identity.  Including a set of questions or experiential assignments in the book itself makes it much more likely that groups will choose to use the book as curriculum.

Another key ingredient to the trend is the availability of small group curriculum that develops a spiritual formation pathway.  Early examples of this idea can be found in Zondervan’s Pursuing Spiritual Transformation series, particularly Fully Devoted, providing hands-on experiential elements in preparation for the group time.  Lifeway’s Formation: Building a Reliable Foundation is a more recent addition to the resource library.

It should also be mentioned that John Ortberg’s The Me I Want To Be is now available as a church-wide campaign.  The combination of DVD-driven small group curriculum (developed in Ortberg’s “Dallas-Willard-for everyone” style), available weekend sermon outlines, and promotional materials (bulletin shells, postcards, posters, and powerpoint slides) makes it possible to take your whole church on a spiritual formation journey.

Finally, the combination of an online experience with a printed or downloadable study guide is becoming more common.  In addition to the robust Monvee (with it’s visual experience and available small group curriculum), Chazown (based on Craig Groeschel’s book by the same name)  provides a simpler, more defined formation experience based on the idea of becoming what God had in mind for you when you were created.

Whichever angle you choose for your small group ministry it is becoming much more common for spiritual formation to be introduced or encouraged through the delivery system of grouplife.  I think you’ll agree, it makes a lot of sense to integrate the two into one experience.

Are you aware of other books, curriculum, or online experiences that promote spiritual formation in the context of a group?  Use the comment section to join the conversation!  You can add your two cents right here!.