Mike Mack on Measuring Small Group Ministry Effectiveness

Recently Rick Howerton was asked a challenging question by some small group pastors and Rick responded by sending the question on to a number of small group pastors in order to get a broader perspective.  Ready for the question?  It might be yours, too!

They asked, “What are the markers for a healthy small group ministry.  That is, when a small group pastor does her/his evaluation of the ministry, what are the list of things that that small group pastor should be measuring to determine how effective the ministry really is?”

Isn’t that a great question?  I thought you’d think so.  I also was sure you’d enjoy reading the responses.  Really good stuff from a number of the sharpest minds in small group ministry.  I got Rick’s permission to use the idea and asked each of the participants if they’d be willing to share with you.  All of them said “yes!”

Here’s what Mike Mack had to say:

Great question.  At Northeast, we use 7 hallmarks of a healthy group (below)  and we evaluate our groups (using a Zoomerang Survey) at least once a year on these 7 attributes.  I’m trying to keep this simple.  If the groups are healthy, then our groups ministry is healthy.  What really matters is the fruit.  If our groups are growing, reaching out, and reproducing, then our groups ministry is healthy, but I really can’t (and don’t even want to try) to control those things.  So I focus on trying to get our groups to focus on these 7 things.

  1. Christ-Centered: Jesus is the real group leader.  Life Groups meet in his presence and power and for his purposes.  (Matthew 18:20)
  2. Healthy, Growing Leaders: The Life Group Leader is growing in his or her faith by being involved in daily disciplines such as Bible study and prayer.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)
  3. Core Team: The group is led by a Core Team of 2-4 members who share leadership.  No one leads alone.  (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
  4. Goals & Plans: The group has a written “Action Plan” that includes a mission, goals, expectations, ground rules, etc.  (Proverbs 16:3)
  5. Connecting with One Another in Authentic Biblical Community: The group meets regularly & consistently, does life together outside of meetings, and regularly prays for and ministers to one another.  Group members participate in a role (shared ownership).  (Acts 2:42-47)
  6. Growing in Christ: Group members are intentionally being discipled.  The group engages regularly in Bible study and application.  (Colossians 2:6-8)
  7. Serving Others: Christ’s mission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the Life Group’s mission.  The group regularly prays for their lost friends and is sharing their faith with others.  The group is intentionally open to new people.  The group is serving others together and/or individually (or has a plan to do so if the group is new).  (Colossians 4:5-6)

The Result (a.k.a. “fruit”) of a Healthy Small Group is a group that is …

  • Growing
  • Reaching Out
  • Reproducing

Hope this helps!

Mike Mack, Connect Minister at Northeast Christian Church, Founder of SmallGroups.com.


Thanks Mike for a great answer!  If you’d like to find out more about Mike’s ministry, take a look at his blog at Small Group Leadership.

This is part two of a series.  You can read part three right here.  You can read part one right here.  If you want to make sure you don’t miss any of the remaining articles on Measuring Small Group Ministry Effectiveness you can subscribe to my blog right here.

Alan Danielson on Measuring Small Group Ministry Effectiveness

Recently Rick Howerton was asked a challenging question by some small group pastors and Rick responded by sending the question on to a number of small group pastors in order to get a broader perspective.  Ready for the question?  It might be yours, too!

They asked, “What are the markers for a healthy small group ministry.  That is, when a small group pastor does her/his evaluation of the ministry, what are the list of things that that small group pastor should be measuring to determine how effective the ministry really is?”

Isn’t that a great question?  I thought you’d think so.  I also was sure you’d enjoy reading the responses.  Really good stuff from a number of the sharpest minds in small group ministry.  I got Rick’s permission to use the idea and asked each of the participants if they’d be willing to share with you.  All of them said “yes!”

(This is part one of a four part series.  You’ll find the other three parts below)

Here’s Alan Danielson’s Response:

When determining what to measure in regard to the health of an overall group ministry, I think measurements can change from year to year based on what you are trying to achieve.  For example:  if your biggest hope one year is to train up new leaders for future growth, then you’d measure how many leaders you train over the year.  If you are focusing on getting groups to be missional, you keep track of the number of small groups who participated in missions.  If you’re wanting your number of groups to dramatically rise, then you track your number of groups.  If you want more of your congregation to join groups, measure the % of your weekend attendance in groups.

I like setting 12 months metric goals based on the ministry’s overall needs each year because measured performance is improved performance.  If I need to improve something, I measure it, make it a habit, then move on to the next thing.

Alan Danielson, 3Threat.net Great answer! If you’re not aware of Alan’s ministry, you can find out more about what he does at 3Threat.net!

This is Part One of a series of posts about Measuring Small Group Ministry Effectiveness.  Here are the other three parts:

Birthing, Dividing, & Splitting Groups vs. The Jedi Path

(This article is a response to the recent Q&A Discussion over at SmallGroups.com regarding “the right time to divide an existing small group in order to birth another.”)

First I should say…I love Carl George.  I do.  My introduction to the Meta Church model was a revolutionary experience.  It launched me into small group ministry almost 20 years ago.  I would not be in small group ministry today if it were not for Carl’s work in the 1980s and Willow Creek’s adaptation in the 90s.

But you need to know one thing.  My exposure to Brett Eastman’s ideas and the exponentially accelerant ideas that came out of his partnership with Rick Warren and the Saddleback experiment forever changed my view of what is possible and even what is preferred.  While I continue to hold onto the value that “good groups grow and birth,” I no longer believe it is a viable way to connect the numbers of people that must be connected in almost every church.  Beyond that…it is absolutely not the way to reach the 60% of people who will never come to a church service.

If not grow and birth…then what?  Small Group ConnectionChurch-wide campaignTake a small group vacation.  Any of these launching strategies will put more people in groups, identify more leaders and reach more people in the community.

Listen…I’m not saying abandon the apprentice model.  It works.  It is proven.  It’s biblical!  But it is inadequate and rarely produces new groups fast enough to truly connect a growing congregation.  That’s for starters.  To me the largest issue is that it will not reach the community or even the crowd.  And with the clock ticking…that is all that matters.

There is a reason that Saddleback has connected over 130% of its weekend adult attendance in groups.  In fact, there are 10 of them right here.  And none of them have anything to do with apprenticing.  Again…not that apprenticing should be abandoned.  Just that it is not the strategy you should be depending on to grow the number of groups in your system.  It is not the best way to launch new groups.

I am not a theorist.  I am practitioner.  And I aspire to be the mayor of crowd’s edge.  And so should you.

Great Resources for Small Group Ministry

I know many of you only read MarkHowellLive.com by email or RSS reader and haven’t actually been by the website lately.  If that’s your story, you might want to take a look at these great resources for small group ministry.  And now a word from our sponsors:

Live Like You Were Dying is a church-wide campaign inspired by the Grammy award-winning song recorded by Tim McGraw that has touched millions and features video teaching by Gary Smalley.

The Power of a Whisper is a church-wide campaign based on the new book by Bill Hybels designed to to help Christ-followers better listen for God’s whispers of direction, challenge, and counsel — and act decisively in response.

GroupsInteractive is powerful and simple search tool that helps churches and ministries connect people to small groups.

Love at Last Sight is a church-wide campaign based on the new book by Kerry and Chris Shook designed to help your congregation focus on what matters most in life; loving Christ and loving others with Christ’s love.

ChurchTeams will revolutionize your small group ministry by making finding a group simple, communication with your leaders easier, and what’s happening system-wide understandable to staff.

Good Questions Have Groups Talking provides an extensive catalog of downloadable curriculum for small groups.

If you have a product or service that makes small group ministry better, you may want to take a look at advertising here at MarkHowellLive.com. Email me for details. I’d love to have you join our team!

Love at Last Sight: A Home Run Church-Wide Campaign

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.  Developed by Kerry and Chris Shook, this campaign is a spot on match for what will appeal not only to your congregation…but also to your community.  If you’re looking for a topic that will engage your members and their neighbors and friends, you need to take a look at Love at Last Sight.

Along with the topic, there is a lot to like about this church-wide campaign. The DVD is very engaging and will hold the attention of your groups.   High production values, interesting location shots, and Kerry Shook’s conversational style of teaching help the DVD drive a great conversation.  Each session also includes a personal testimony that will captivate the attention of your group members.  It’s been my experience that the most memorable element of a well-designed DVD session is often the stories of someone’s journey.  There are some good ones here and they’ll be remembered long after the teaching is over.

The interactive guide (used by group members) is simply designed to help keep the conversation focused on the topic.    Well written questions prompt a thoughtful, soul-searching discussion.  At the same time, the importance of the topic will encourage your members (and even their friends) to engage.  Additionally, the exercises in the personal application section will help group members put into practice what they’re learning.  Way more than hearing about the importance of developing lasting relationships, this curriculum is designed to prompt doable next steps.

Along with the DVD and interactive guide, daily readings from Love at Last Sight by Kerry and Chris Shook provide an ongoing, 30 day experience.  I reviewed the book when it was released in August of 2010.  You can read my review right here.  Topping it off, there are even free iPhone and Android Apps!

Love at Last Sight is an all church, church-wide campaign.  That is, a downloadable curriculum for children and students from the Church-Wide Challenge site.  Establishing one conversation is a key to an effective campaign.  When parents and their children are focused on the same topic reinforces emerging family values.

You’ll also find sermon outlines and message transcripts, Challenge Group Host and Leader tips, a Last Sight Challenge Timeline, and many other resources in the Free Resources section of the website.  You’ll even find a suggested song list, saving your worship team hours of time and energy finding music to fit the weekly themes.  Developed by one of the most creative churches in America, this resource from Woodlands Church provides an important insight into worship service design.

Finally, the church-wide challenge kit is packed with resources and includes a 2′ by 7′ banner, posters, invitations, bulletin inserts, bookmarks, and even the little challenge wristbands!  All designed to help build a memorable campaign.  The Resource and Seasonal Art DVD includes everything from PowerPoint slides, bulletin artwork, website banners, and a lot more.

From the team that developed and produced One Month to Live, this is another home run.  If you’re looking for a church-wide campaign that will easily get broad participation…beyond your congregation and into the community…you need to take a look at Love at Last Sight.

Downloadable Small Group Curriculum from Josh Hunt

Looking for downloadable curriculum for your small group ministry?  With over 3,000 lessons available, you probably need to take a look at Good Questions Have People Talking and JoshHunt.com.  Whether your leaders are seasoned veterans or fresh out of a new leader orientation, this is a resource that will be good to know about.

All of Josh’s studies have three important features:

  • Ready to use questions that make it easy to teach
  • Helpful insights and quotes from respected commentaries that give them depth
  • Stories and illustrations that give them life

Whether you’re looking for an in-depth Bible book study or a particular topic, you’ll find a complete catalog of available studies right here.  And let me tell you, it is a very extensive catalog.  In fact, the only thing longer is the list of enthusiastic reviews right alongside.  Very impressive.

While Josh Hunt might be best known for his church growth and training conferences (with high profile recommendations from Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, Ed Stetzer and John Maxwell), he has extensive experience developing curriculum and has been writing study questions for a long time (over two decades!)  Even at 4 lessons a week it takes quite a while to get to 3,000!

He’s also using a very affordable pricing model.  Pricing isn’t based on the number of items.  Your monthly subscription allows unlimited downloads for the month.  With pricing for an individual subscriber at $5.99 a month, there is a sliding scale based on attendance to make the lessons available church-wide.  Even pricing for a large church (over 1500) is very affordable at $99.99 a month.

You’ll find a set of free samples right here.  In fact, the whole book of Ephesians is available for you to preview free.  You’ll also find a free 7 day trial right here.  Take a look at the sample lessons.  I think you’ll discover a resource that will be a great benefit to your leaders.  Especially for your groups that enjoy working through books of the Bible, Great Questions Have Groups Talking might be just the ticket.

Whether you’re looking for a resource that will provide reliable content for groups looking for an in-depth discussion of the Bible or you just want to enrich your leaders and help prepare them to lead great discussions, I think you’ll appreciate Good Questions Have People Talking and JoshHunt.com.

Maintain Clarity on the What and Flexibility on the How

Do you have clarity on what you’re trying to do?  Are you flexible on how you do it?  I’ve found that those are two of the really big rocks in small group ministry.  I’ve also found that when a small group ministry struggles, it’s often because these two foundational ideas are not in place.  Here’s what I mean:

First, you really do need to have clarity on what you’re trying to do. That is, you need to know for sure what your mission is.  Peter Drucker famously asked the question, “What business are you in?”  In order to really have impact, you need to be absolutely certain about the business you are in.  You need to know what you’re trying to do.

The first grouplife mission statement I ever heard was Willow Creek’s:

To connect people in groups where they can grow in Christ, love one another, and further the work of the Kingdom.

Knowing their mission enabled Willow to say yes to the things that would keep them on course and no to things that would take them off course.

At the same time, let me point out that a match between the corporate mission and your personal mission is what produces longevity.  A mismatched corporate and personal mission makes it tough to stay the course.  For example, reaching unchurched people is a big part of the corporate mission at Parkview.  Helping people grow in Christ is another big part of our mission (raise).

While the weekend service is really well designed to attract and bring back unchurched, unconnected people in big numbers, we have the conviction that the optimum environment for authentic life-change is a small group (not an auditorium).  It’s about life on life.  That makes for a great match between our corporate mission and my personal mission of helping the largest number of people connect in small groups where they can be known, loved, nurtured and challenged.

And that leads to the second foundational need:  The need for flexibility on the how.

Flexibility on the How

Can I tell you something?  Clarity on the what without flexibility on the how leads to a very frustrating and ineffective experience.  Why?  There’s always a better way to do what you’re trying to do.  Always.  Even when you’re firing on all cylinders and you’re really hitting it out of the park with your current strategy, your current model, there will come a time when you’ll begin to notice that it’s not working as well as it used to work.  When that happens, you’ll have a choice.  You can rationalize and accept the lack of effectiveness or you can be open to the idea that there is a better way, a more effective way.

Example: The development and implementation of the small group connection strategy was an awakening for me.  It really was an awesome to thing to watch.  Room full of people looking for connection.  Sort them out by affinity.  Help them identify a leader from amongst themselves.  We launched over 120 groups in the first year we used it.  It totally matched my personal mission and it was great!

When my friend Brett first suggested the HOST strategy, I resisted.  I argued for the old idea.  I couldn’t believe anything could be more effective than the connection strategy.  Guess what?  We launched an even larger number of groups with that idea.  Two things happened:

  1. I became a fan of the HOST strategy.
  2. I became a fan of the next idea.

Here’s the insight that drove those two developments:

  • The connection strategy connected the people who came to the event and identified leaders (when we didn’t think we had any).  That’s big!  If there was a downside it was that you had to come to the event to get connected.
  • The HOST strategy connected the friends of the people who said “yes” to hosting a group.  That had really, really big implications.  It allowed us to connect people who didn’t come to the event.

I have absolute clarity on what I’m trying to do.  I am always looking for a better how, a better way to do it.  See also, Is There a Design Limit on Your Small Group Ministry? and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

4 Key Insights about Church-Wide Campaigns (from Saddleback’s Promo Video)

I ran across this video yesterday on Saddleback’s Community Blog and knew you’d want to see it.  Very cool stuff…you can definitely learn a few things from it.  It’s short.  Just a minute and a half.  And as a bonus, the video was shot out on the patio just outside their auditorium.  If you’ve been there, you know right where this is.  You can also tell it’s Saturday or Sunday afternoon and the sun’s setting in the west.

Here’s a link to the video

Here are a few things I noticed:

First, check out the bags they’re using to distribute their host materials! See what the bags are marked with?  Food Pantry!  What a great idea as they’re able to send their hosts home with a bag they can use to bring food back in!  If you didn’t already listen to the first message of Decade of Destiny, Rick Warren challenged the congregation to all bring a bag of groceries every week to help fill the food pantries in Orange County.

What a great idea!  They’re getting double purpose out of a bag with huge implications for impact.

Second, they’re clearly thinking way ahead. Listen carefully to what Tom Crick, Men’s Small Group Pastor says, “This campaign is really different than all the other campaigns, because here you’ve got a 10 year Decade of Destiny that we’re talking about, this is the kickoff for the Decade of Destiny, this is the first study for that, it’s a building block, so we’re laying the foundation.”

I’ve challenged you to think about the ministry year.  Saddleback is thinking about the next 10 years.  The decade.

Third, you can easily pick up the fact there’s more than one kind of person picking up material.  There are people who are clearly small group leaders (i.e., “we’re a small group of women…”) and then there are people who have a much more personal motivation (i.e., “My husband and I, we just got married two months ago, and so this is huge for us because we want to see where God is going to take us as a family.”).

This is a really important learning if you want to do something that engages your whole congregation.  You need a broad topic, a concept that can capture the imagination of everyone.

Fourth, take a close look at the signs in the background.  Notice that there are several signs that say, “Become a Host” and “Already a Host” and two that say “Join a Group.”

Something that you might not pick up on is the fact that the concept of “join a group” is de-emphasized and the idea of “host a group” is much more prominent.

What About You?

Did you see anything I missed?  Would love to hear what you think!

A Quick Peek Under the Hood (Saddleback’s Spiritual Growth Campaign Strategy)

There are very few things more fascinating than watching a well designed, well managed campaign play out.  In my article yesterday, Breaking: Here’s How Saddleback Launches a Campaign, I mentioned 5 keys to their strategy.  If you missed that article you ought to go back and take a look.

I loved the comment someone from Saddleback’s staff made yesterday:

Mark, you’re onto us!  The Decade of Destiny campaign has been carefully crafted, precisely planned, and launched with gusto, all because so many people need for us as a church to be very intentional about making disciples. Good observations!

Today, I want to point out two more very significant aspects that will either reconfirm your convictions or your suspicions…depending on your world view.

First, you need to know that one of the real distinctives in an organization with momentum is that everything is connected.

Everything is connected.  Here’s what I mean.  When you watch Saddleback closely over the course of a year, you’ll see that they started publicly mentioning the Decade of Destiny campaign very early (You might be surprised to hear that they were actually mentioning the 10 x 10 concept in early 2008).  Most likely, they began talking about it big-time in late spring at the latest.  And I’m not just talking about preparing the materials.  I’m really talking about preparing the minds of their congregation.  “Here’s where we’re going.  Get excited about this fall.  You’re going to love this year’s spiritual growth emphasis.”

Full disclosure: I wasn’t there this spring.  I just know how it works.  There are plenty of audibles called when they’re at the line of scrimmage.  But…the strategy is not last minute.  It’s worked out well in advance.  And not only was what preceded the campaign connected, there will be plenty that follows that allows continued momentum.  Much like a trapeze artist, there is skillful execution in the leap from one swing to the next.

Second, another huge key to their campaign strategy is the way they consistently work the crowd-to-core philosophy. I’ve written about this before (if you need more info you can take a look here and here).  The key thing to know is that unlike core to crowd where you start with a few, pour into them, and hope and pray that one day they become the kind of Christ-followers that actually go out and do something, crowd to core takes the opposite angle.  You reach the crowd first, you offer steps for them that are designed to help them grow, and you move them toward the core.

So far so good?  The aspect that people often miss is that crowd-to-core done correctly offers steps all along the process all the time.  Since you’re always reaching more of the crowd you’ve got to always be offering the full range of opportunities.

A little look under the hood?  Even though the Decade of Destiny campaign is “about making disciples,” in Rick’s preview message last weekend he told everyone, “the first two messages of Decade of Destiny are perfectly designed for people who have never been to church, ever.”

Personally?  I cannot wait to see what happens next.  If you haven’t already done it, go back and watch message one.  Then…make plans to watch this weekends’ message.  How many times do you get a chance to look under the hood of this kind of machine?  This kind of living machine?

BREAKING: Here’s How Saddleback Launches a Campaign

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to launch a church-wide campaign from the very best.  I wrote about this last year when Saddleback launched Life’s Healing Choices.  Only the people that read that article in the first 30 days or so got the full effect…because some of what you need to see happens this weekend at Saddleback.  And you can see it online!

First thing you need to take a look at is their website.  Take a look at www.saddleback.com right now.  Notice that although you clicked the link that took you to Saddleback.com, your new window opened on a page that is very specific to their new campaign, Decade of Destiny.  That is a huge piece that most of us miss every year.

Second, notice that SIGN UP TO HOST A GROUP! is very prominently featured dead center on the main thing you’re going to look at when you go there.  While you’re thinking about it, notice that “host a group” is mentioned before “find a group.”  This is very intentional.

Third, notice that in the graphic image on the left (it’s found on the right of Saddleback’s home page) SMALL GROUP STUDIES is listed above WEEKEND MESSAGES.  See that?  That’s very significant.  And don’t think that slipped by Rick Warren.  It’s intentional.  It’s in the design of how to do a spiritual growth campaign.

Fourth, take a look at the message series that led up to launch of the campaign.  You can see it right here.  Trust me…if you go back and listen to the messages leading up the campaign, you’ll hear the drumbeat for host a group.  All of these messages are archived for you to hear right now.  This is another huge key to how Saddleback launches a campaign.

Finally, you’ll be able to hear message one* of Decade of Destiny this weekend (October 9-10, 2010).  I want to really urge you to take the 75 minutes and watch their service online.  There are a bunch of times.  Full Disclosure: I haven’t seen it, but I can tell you already, here’s what you need to watch/listen for:

  • Notice how many times being in a group is mentioned.
  • Notice that they’re still talking about signing up to host.
  • Notice that you could host and not yet be a member.
  • Listen for Rick Warren’s explanation of the power of a spiritual growth emphasis near the end of the message

I know you are busy.  If you’re a senior pastor, you need to watch this to begin to get the picture.  If you’re not the pastor, watch it so you’ll be able to explain a few things…then forward the post to your pastor for them to see.

There is a reason for the impact that Saddleback is having.  Andy Stanley says, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Short answer to all the questions about how Saddleback is doing it?  We are seeing the results of a group life design that works.

*Actually…you can hear message one of the series right now.  Rick gave this message a week early “because there was too much to fit in.”  You can hear it right here.