Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine

Love this great line from The Innovation Killer by Cynthia Barton Rabe, a former strategist at Intel:

“What we know limits what we can imagine.” Many organizations, she argues, struggle with a ‘paradox of expertise’ in which deep knowledge of what exists in a marketplace or a product category makes it harder to consider what-if strategies that challenge long-held assumptions. “When it comes to innovation,” she writes, “the same hard-won experience, best practice, and processes that are the cornerstones of an organization’s success may be more like millstones that threaten to sink it.”

Quotebook: Deciding What Gets Done

Decisions about what gets done face every one of us.  Wise decisions about what gets done can make or break a ministry season.  How do you choose?  Who among us has the wisdom of Solomon?

Here’s a line that I heard and memorized years ago:

“Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”  Carl George

To really squeeze everything out of this principle you need to carefully think through several aspects.

  • Leaders allocate.  It’s not random.  It’s an intentional choice.
  • There is a finite amount of resources.  It’s not infinite.
  • There is a single optimal growth path.

Want do you think? See how you’ll use it? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

The Latest on Church Wide Campaigns (2012)

Saddleback released the 40 Days of Purpose church-wide campaign in 2002.  Although they had previously launched internal spiritual growth campaigns, this one really was a just-add-water option.  Of course, in 2002 it really was just about the only option.

Today, there are lots of options and there are more all the time.  I’ve reviewed many of them and cataloged them here for your convenience.  How to choose?  I’d highly recommend my article, “How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.”

The Nearly Complete List of Church-Wide Campaigns

Note: This list is alphabetical.  In most cases I’ve linked to my own review of the campaign.

What if you could start 10 times as many new groups-

WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working | New DVD-Driven Study

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).

  • The God Kind of Weird (overview)
  • It’s Time to Be Weird (Time)
  • Weird That Money Can’t Buy (Money)
  • Pleasing God is Weird (Values)
  • Weird Makes You Truly Sexy (Sex)
  • The Weirdest Blessing Possible (Summary)

The DVD sessions are a combination of key portions of Groeschel’s LifeChurch.TV weekend message series and special segments that introduce, enhance or summarize the topic.  One of the Church’s most dynamic and creative communicators, Craig Groeschel’s practice of looking right at the camera while preaching (making it easy for participants in one of 15 campuses and a  growing number of LifeChurch.TV Network churches around the world who use the teaching video).  The DVD is very compelling.

Each of the sessions in the participant guide includes:

  • Fully outlined overviews of the video segments (great for taking notes during the video),
  • Discussion questions that help unpack the meaning of the biblical passages that form the foundation for the teaching,
  • Individual activities that reinforce application,
  • Between session personal studies that help participants take the teaching deep into their lives.

The  relevance of the topic and the availability of the book by the same name makes WEIRD an intriguing church-wide campaign option.  Although not currently available in a prefab campaign format, it would be easy to use as an alignment (combination of weekend message series and small group study).  In fact, with the weekend messages archived and available at the LifeChurch.TV website, the only thing missing is the marketing pieces (bulletin inserts, bulletin shells, invitations, etc.).

As a stand-alone study, WEIRD is sure to produce a lot of great discussion and application.  At the same time, it deserves consideration as a church-wide campaign with the ability to reach neighbors and friends.  Either way, this is a study you’re going to want to add to your recommended list!

Customized Leader Requirements and Benefits

customized requirementsIf you’ve been following the conversation here for very long you know that I am an advocate for lowering the leader bar.  In fact, I’ve found that one of the primary reasons many churches struggle to identify and recruit enough small group leaders to take care of the demand is that they’re looking for Jesus Jr. instead of Peter, Thomas or Matthew (all of whom had issues…if you recall).

Still, every church has to decide what the leader requirements will be.  In a sense, every church customizes the leader requirements to fit their culture.  There are several basic options:

  1. Only members can lead a group.  And by the way, membership means very different things from one church to another.  At some churches you attend a one hour class and sign a covenant.  At others, you attend a series of four hour classes.
  2. Anyone can lead a group and all leaders are given equal treatment.  Everyone can have their group listed in the catalog or on the website.
  3. Anyone can lead a group but requirements and benefits are customized to fit the situation.  For example, anyone can pick up materials and fill their group with friends and neighbors they’ve personally invited.  Inclusion in the catalog or online group finder is available only to those groups that meet additional, more stringent requirements.

Full Disclosure: I am a fan of option 3.  Making it easy for everyone to reach out to friends, neighbors, family and co-workers just makes sense.  It’s not problem-free.  There is no problem-free.  But I’d rather have the messiness that come with this solution than the problems that come with a too high leader bar.

How Customized Leader Requirements Could Look

If you think about it, one of the first realizations every small group champion ought to have is that you can’t really control who leads a small group.  It’s a free country!  At least, here in the U.S. it’s a free country.  It doesn’t matter whether you fully approve of the leader of any individual group.  Once they’ve gathered a few of their friends or neighbors…they’re a group.

At the same time, you can control certain things and you can guide certain outcomes.  For example, you get to choose what requirements must be met in order to be included in the group catalog or on the online group finder.  The fact that anyone can have a group has no bearing on who can be included.  Any number of requirements could be on your list.  For example, in order to be included in the online finder you might require leaders to have a background check on file, be a member of the church, attend certain required meetings and participate in church-wide studies.

What about additional levels of control?  Although it allows significantly less leverage, it makes sense that to be recognized as “an official group” a leader might need to maintain adequate communication with their coach or the small group pastor.

Can you see how all of these stipulations could be part of the essential requirements for “official groups?”  Where you set the bar is up to you and your church’s culture.  Lowering the bar shouldn’t have to mean anything beyond who can open their home and inviting a few friends.

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

Image by Saul Davis

Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support

One of the most challenging new books on small group ministry? In my mind it is Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support by Mars Hill’s Brad House.

Published by Crossway, this is not your run-of-the-mill book on groups.  Although the subtitle suggests that this is a book for small group leaders, it’s really a very thought-provoking read, focused almost entirely on guiding small group ministry point people toward the reframing of their entire ministry.

Almost immediately you will find in this book something different; something very unusual.  There is a thoughtful and thought-provoking quality to the writing.  It’s not light reading.  Instead, Community is the kind of book that you’ll find yourself re-reading, just to be sure you’ve caught the full meaning.  And…if your copy is like mine, it’ll be pretty marked up.  There’s a lot here.

If you’re looking for practical, hands-on tips and ideas about how to do small group ministry…this is not it.  At the same time, if you want to be sure you’re wrestling with the questions and formative thinking essential to building a quality small group ministry…Community has made my list as required reading.

Part one is a very thought-provoking examination of the biblical building blocks of community.  You’ll find some familiar passages referenced.  There are also some interesting connections made that you’ll mark up because you want to remember where you found them.

Part two is a section that grouplife veterans will find intriguing, especially when compared to Randy Frazee’s Connecting Church.  There is an approach to mission in Community that is quite inspiring and will be a resource that adds to the missional community conversation.

Part Three, a short 30 page section at the end of the book, drops in a couple very practical ideas that are doable, although quite challenging.  There’s also an interesting recounting of the history of grouplife at Mars Hill.  I think you’ll find some insights in that final chapter that will help you understand strategic choices that have been made.

The appendix includes a helpful set of planning tools and job descriptions; perfect if you’re at the stage where you’re looking for resources.

You won’t agree with every conclusion.  I didn’t.  There’ll be some sections that will be read again and again.  There’ll even be some statements that will resonate so completely that you’ll embrace the language and concepts as you’re own.  I found some humdinger lines that will definitely become part of my way of thinking.

Community is a book you’re going to want to read.  In fact, you’re probably going to want to read it with a few of your team members and then argue your way through its conclusions.  It’s already added some depth to my thinking and I’m sure you’d benefit as well.

Quotebook: Ministry Design Determines Results

Wondering why your small group ministry is stuck?  Trying to figure out why you can’t connect more people?  Why your leader recruitment strategy didn’t work…again?

I love this line from Andy Stanley:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

Here’s my encouragement.  As you mull over your stuckness, pay close attention to the idea that your results are not a fluke.  They are a result of the design.  If you want different results, you’ll need a different design.

Make It Easy to Connect People

I was reminded again tonight about a key ingredient that makes it easy to connect people.  Just like In-n-Out, a simple menu makes ordering easy. There are only burgers, fries, soft drinks and shakes.

When you walk up to the counter to order, it’s obvious what to do.  There aren’t 14 value meal options.  There are three.

The streamlined menu is also strategic. Sales per square foot beats big menu chains like McDonald’s on a regular basis.

How many options are you offering?  Maybe it’s time to trim back to the essentials.

Dilbert on “Ask the Theologian Night at Small Group”

GodQuest: Discover the God Your Heart Is Searching For

I had the opportunity to take a look at an interesting new church-wide campaign this weekend.  New from Outreach, GodQuest: Discovering the God Your Heart Is Searching For is a 6 week study that just might be something you need to check out.

The GodQuest church kit is a very robust resource.  In addition to the DVD-driven study for groups and individuals, you’ll also find a church leader resource DVD with sermon outlines and power-point templates, along with illustration and promotion media.  An available teen edition allows the same content to be explored in an age-appropriate way by junior and senior high school students.

Featuring Sean McDowell as host, GodQuest takes the participant on a journey through six important concepts with apologetic themes:

  • What you believe determines where you go in life.
  • What you believe about creation determines how you view yourself and life.
  • What you believe about the Bible determines how you live your life.
  • What you believe about God’s goodness defines your relationship with Him.
  • What you believe about Jesus’ identity determines your path in life.
  • The path you follow in your spiritual journey determines your destination.

The DVD segments are an engaging mix of McDowell as tour guide with special guest segments by Lee Stobel, Josh McDowell, Dr. Craig Hazen, Barbara Wise, Miles McPherson, Dave Dravecky, Dr. Mark Strauss, and Greg Koukl.  At an average length of 13 1/2 to 17 minutes, the video is pitched just right.  Long enough to include some great insights.  Short enough to keep group members engaged.

The guidebook (participant guide) is fairly substantial.  At just under 150 pages, it includes the session materials as well as six weeks of daily travel logs that take on the flavor of a journal with a twist of guided study.

Making it easy to promote the church-wide campaign, you’ll also find sample inreach and outreach tools (direct mail postcards, door hangers, mailers, posters and banners.

With their wealth of knowledge about campaigns, you’ll also appreciate the included campaign planning guide.  Whether this is your first church-wide campaign, or you’re a seasoned veteran, you’ll find information here that will help your campaign reach and include more people.

As you’re planning upcoming ministry seasons, GodQuest is a church-wide campaign that belongs on your radar.  The current special price of $49.95 (as of 10/17/11) begs you to take a look for yourself!

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