Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Breaking: Add This Host Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks

You know how when you’re watching certain shows on TV they tell you, “Don’t try this at home?”  I think you’re going to want to try what I’m about to tell you.

Now most of you will hear the idea, feel a strong pull to try it right away, and then listen to the other voice that says, “Wait until the beta is over and the after effects are known.”  But some of you will hear it and do it this fall.

If you’ve been along for much of this ride, you know that I love adapting ideas that are beginning to work somewhere else and testing them on our own system here at Parkview.  I tripped across a couple hints of how this could work back when I interviewed Steve Gladen about Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.


(I regularly post about the latest ground-breaking developments at churches that are working hard to connect more people into groups.  Don’t want to miss the news?  You can sign up for my updates right here.)


A Few Concepts That Make a Change Inevitable:

There are several factors converging that make it obvious that a change is needed:

  • People are busy and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get new, toe-in-the-water hosts to make time for an orientation.
  • It’s more and more common for people to come from further than 20 minutes away, making meeting times even more difficult to schedule.
  • Mobility is a key to training and leader development.  If you’re not yet providing mobile options for training yet, you will have very little choice in the very near future.

Here is what we’re testing:

  1. We’re still using a series of Host “asks” embedded in our weekend messages in August.
  2. There will still be an insert in the bulletin and those who respond to the invitation to host will be asked to fill out a very simple form (Name, email, phone) and to exchange it at the door for an “orientation packet.” Note: This is a significant change.  Previously, those responding were encouraged to “drop the host sign-up form into the offering at the end of the service,” sent a letter the next day informing them of the orientation schedule, and asked to RSVP for one of several identical 75 minute orientations, conveniently offered after multiple services over several weekends.
  3. At the doors, those interested hosting (or finding out how it works) will be given a packet that includes a DVD with 6 to 8 simple training videos.  They don’t have to be elaborate or academy award winning production values.  (Don’t believe me?  Here is the Saddleback version we were inspired by:  The orientation content will also be available on our website.  The packet will also include an FAQ with a set of very common questions and a form to be completed and turned in at the GroupLife booth in the lobby in exchange for a host kit (with curriculum, a card with a listing of available coaches for each area and affinity, group launching resources and a set of 20 invitations).

It’s such a simple idea.  Not problem-free.  You’ve no doubt already picked up on a few issues that will have problems.  At the same time, there are a number of distinct advantages to the new format:

  1. A  packet at the doors ensures that those who are spur-of-the-moment people will be handed a packet (instead of depending on them to make it to the small group booth in the lobby).
  2. Offering host orientations in a format that can be completed anywhere, anytime, will encourage more people to be willing to do it (Steve Gladen noted more than once in the last year that a larger number completed training online than actually attended the centralized training the Saddleback was offering).
  3. Since the training will also be offered online it will be possible for people completely outside our area to host a group where they live.
(I regularly post about the latest ground-breaking developments at churches that are working hard to connect more people into groups.  Don’t want to miss the news?  You can sign up for my updates right here.)

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

Top 10 Signs You’re Still in Jerusalem

A little scripture…and then a question.

Just before He ascended  Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NLT).”

In Acts 8:1 we learn that the day Stephen was stoned, “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria (italics mine).”

Q: Who was still in Jerusalem?

A: The apostles…and the usual suspects. Not the believers.  They were on their way to everywhere and would show up in every town.

Top 10 Signs You’re Still in Jerusalem

  1. You have no trouble finding enough small group leaders
  2. You’ve already connected 100% of your congregation to a small group
  3. No one ever tells you they’re looking for a deeper study
  4. No need for curriculum.  Group members memorized it by the time they were 10 years old
  5. Group members never have a question…but they always have an opinion
  6. Dietary stumbling blocks are extremely rare
  7. No need for groups to birth.  Everyone who should be in a group is already in one
  8. Existing groups participate gladly in the church-wide campaign
  9. Heresy is extremely rare as stones are always handy
  10. New group members are willing to have surgery before joining (yes…that one)

Want to know why I took the time to dream up a list like this?  It’s fun and part of me imagines that the Apostle Paul took a shot like this now and again.  But…that’s not why.

The real reason?  We’re not in Jerusalem, friends.  We’re not even in Judea.  Why are most of the top 10 signs so off the wall?

We’re not in Jerusalem.

First century believers found themselves in a pluralistic, biblically illiterate, “do your own thing” culture with the value of human life at low ebb.  Sound familiar?

Welcome to Samaria!

In one of the greatest insights that Peter Drucker ever dropped on all of us ordinary thinkers…he said,

“The important thing is to identify the ‘future that has already happened’–and to develop the methodology for perceiving and analyzing these changes.”

Genius.  It reflects the reality that the thing you think will happen someday, in another town far, far away…has really already happened where you are!

Drucker pointed out that the key for all of us is to develop the methodology for perceiving and analyzing these changes.  I would take it one step further.  Better learn how to roll at Crowd’s Edge.  In order to connect the widening 60% who will never be reached by the attractional model…you’re going to have to learn that the well-worn path never leads to a new destination.

The Story: A New Church-Wide Campaign from Zondervan

There are church-wide campaigns and then there are church-wide campaigns.  That is, some campaigns are bare bones and only include a small group study for adults and outlines of the weekend message series.  Others (like 40 Days of Purpose) are very robust, providing the full range of curriculum (from Preschool Children all the way to the adult small group study) along with a book or devotional (like The Purpose Driven Life) and weekend service resources, as well as detailed implementation guidance.

The Story, a new church-wide campaign from Zondervan has a lot going for it.  There are a number of great aspects that deserve mention.  There are also a couple things that should be pointed out and taken into consideration.

Five Key Advantages

First, the premise for the study itself is a good one.  Taking its cue from Zondervan’s best-selling abridged chronological Bible, the vision and purpose of the campaign is to draw your congregation, your small group, and your family into the grand, unfolding story of the Bible as one sweeping narrative, arranged chronologically from Genesis to Revelation.  Just the idea of laying out the individual stories of the Bible in a way that allows God’s story to be understandable and memorable to whole congregations is very compelling.

Second, the DVD-driven adult curriculum is pitched very well for adult participants.  An engaging combination of interesting opening segments and short teaching overviews (10 to 12 minutes) by Randy Frazee (Senior Minister at Oak Hills Church) holds attention very well.  It feels very much like you’re listening to a story.  Very importantly, it’s a story told in a way that doesn’t assume prior knowledge.

Third, with fully available curriculum for children (preschool, early-elementary and elementary) and teens, The Story can be a church-wide campaign.  Each of the four developmental stages have age-appropriate, complete curriculum for the entire experience.  The Church Campaign Kit includes a CD-ROM for each of the three children’s stages with printable activity sheets, lesson plans and leader resources, kid skits or puppet scripts depending on age group.  A DVD-driven Teen experience is also included in the Church Campaign Kit.  Featuring stop-motion artist videos, teacher’s guide and student materials, there is everything you need to help children and teens experience God’s great love by bringing His story to life.

Fourth, there is an age-appropriate version of The Story (the abridged chronological Bible) for each age group; allowing entire families to engage in the same between weekend experience…in preparation for the next part of the story.

Fifth, everything you need to pull off this church-wide campaign is included on the Resource DVD (or available online in the Online Resource Library.  Although I’ve just begun poking around in the password protected Online Resource Library, I can tell you there is a LOT in there.  Campaign preparation, weekend service ideas, extra resources for kids, teens and adults, communication ideas and way more than I can describe here.  This is a fully loaded campaign.

Considerations to Note

There are a couple factors that should be noted up front.  First, while The Story can be done in three distinct sub-campaigns, it is ideally a 31 week experience.  In my view, there’s upside and downside to a 31 week campaign on this subject.  The upside is that you know where you’re going for the better part of a year.  The downside is exactly the same thing.  You are pretty committed to a predetermined direction.  Not a bad thing.  Just much longer than the normal 6 week ideal campaign length that I usually recommend.

Second, like 40 Days of Purpose, when you legitimately launch a church-wide campaign that has small group curriculum for adults and Sunday School curriculum for children and teens, as well as a book of some kind that participants need in order to participate…you know there’s an expense that will be born by someone (either the church or participants).  My experience is that a well-planned, well-executed church-wide campaign can have a powerful impact on both the church and the community and makes a very sensible budget item.  But…that is an item that will need to be addressed at the beginning of the journey.


The Story could deliver quite a church-wide experience.  Especially in a culture with very, very low biblical literacy…might just be a goldmine.

GroupLife Philosophy: Defining Your Customer

Yesterday we began talking about developing an understanding about who you are designing your small group ministry to connect.  The great Peter Drucker question, “Who is your customer?” has had a profound impact in the corporate world.  It absolutely has a key role to play in helping all of us think more skillfully about what it is we’re trying to do and who we’re really designing on our ministry to connect.


If you missed yesterday, I want to encourage you to go back and read GroupLife Philosophy: Who Is Your Customer? It really is the foundation for today’s thinking.


Today, I want to add a little more to the mix…so that you can begin to use the idea right away.  Here are three additional points:

  1. When choosing which customer to focus on, you are also choosing which potential customer you will not be prioritizing.  For example, the host strategy coupled with a well-timed church-wide campaign on a topic that interests a very broad range of people (i.e., 40 Days of Purpose or Love at Last Sight) will connect the largest number of unconnected people.  Will there be some people that won’t like anything that isn’t a straight through a book of the Bible study?  Absolutely.  If you want to connect the largest number, they will not be your primary customer.
  2. Don’t feel like you need to provide equal opportunities for passionate customers of other market segments.  In my view, this is one of the major issues in many floundering small group ministries.  Think about the most successful restaurant chains.  If McDonald’s added a $39 Filet Mignon to their menu…you would know right away they were headed for serious trouble.  They know who their customer is and they plan their menu accordingly.
  3. Look for ways to creatively meet the needs of other customer segments.  For instance, if you know that you have a segment that really craves a more intensive Bible study approach, why not connect them with BSF?  Concerned about the development of last year’s new groups?  Why not provide an approved curriculum list that includes a variety of application oriented options?

Understanding who your customer is will sharpen your thinking about strategy and allow you to laser focus on the target.

GroupLife Philosophy: Who Is Your Customer?

Have you ever slowed down long enough to think about the design of your small group ministry?  Yesterday we talked about developing an understanding of the business you are really in.  Today I want to another very important concept in the design of your small group ministry: an awareness of your customer.

Here’s an important building block: Before we even get started, please take a moment to think about customers from an arena that might feel more familiar; the arena of business.  Specifically, let’s think about the restaurant business.  I think you’ll see this right away.

McDonald’s: Who do you think McDonald’s would say is their customer?  You might think they’re designed to appeal to everyone, but that’s really not the case.  Is it?  Aren’t they primarily focusing on people who need an inexpensive,  convenient (hence the drive-thru), and predictable (all McDonald’s offer the same menu and experience).  What about their marketing to children?  Think the Happy Meal is a key component?

Chili’s: Compare Chili’s with McDonald’s.  Think they’d say their customer is the same?  They’re menu is more expensive.  While both restaurants offer hamburgers, they’re not the same right?  Chili’s menu is broader in the sense that it has more than sandwiches and nuggets.  And although you can dine in at McDonald’s, it’s a very utilitarian experience (unless you’re a kid and there’s a play area).  Chili’s seating area offers booth seating and the bar area has the game playing.  It’s more comfortable.

Outback and Ruth’s Chris: Both Outback and Ruth’s Chris are steakhouses, right?  Think their customers are the same?  While it’s true that the Outback customer will occasionally visit Ruth’s Chris and in a pinch a Ruth’s Chris customer will eat at Outback…don’t you think they’re really not interchangeable?  No they’re not.

So…Who Is Your Customer?

Now that you’ve looked at the restaurant illustration, can you begin to identify your customer?  Obviously, when McDonald’s corporate executives think about their business, they’re not thinking about adding a menu item that will really draw in the Ruth’s Chris customer.  They know that those are two separate market segments.

Do you think that way?  Here’s what I mean:

When you are developing an understanding of your customer, you need to identify the kind of people you are trying to connect.  Just like McDonald’s, Chili’s, Outback and Ruth’s Chris, you must develop the conviction that you’ll be most effective when you’re primary efforts are on appealing to the interests and needs of the segment you select.

As I pointed out yesterday, you can’t be all things to all people when it comes to choosing a business.  If you try…you become a cafeteria. And cafeterias almost never are exceptional.

Can you provide next steps for everyone?  Yes, but you can do that in a way that clearly articulates who you are designed to reach.  Your primary focus should be on the segment you most want to connect.

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

GroupLife Philosophy: Determining Your “Business”

According the Peter Drucker, the first question is “what business are we in?”  Before you tune out, here’s how it applies to grouplife. There are several aspects to think about.

First of all, let me debug the term “business.” You might not think of

You can't be all things to all people when it comes to choosing a business. If you become a cafeteria. And cafeterias almost never are exceptional.
yourself as being in a business…but in the sense that Drucker is talking about you are!  Think about it these companies to jog your thinking about the business you are in.  One of my favorites is Domino’s Pizza acknowledging that they’re not in the pizza business.  They’re in the delivery business.  30 minutes or less.  How about Target?  They staked their claim on low price but with a designer’s edge.  They’re different than Walmart.  Can you see it?  What about Apple?  Think they’re in the computer business.  Or the digital music business?  Or the phone business?  They’re not even really in the tech business.  What business are they in?  How about the cool business?

Second, think about how you’d describe your business.  What would you say?  Would you say, “We’re in the discipleship business?”  “We’re in the connecting business?”  Or the “life-change” business?  I heard about an initiative that IKEA was involved with in the Houston area; a great way of helping singles mothers.  Their tag line was “Life-changes available.”  I love that line!  I wrote about it right here.

Third, recognize that the business you choose to be in should determine several things (like who your customers are and what you will call success).  For example, the grouplife business we are in at Parkview isn’t the information transmission business and it isn’t the connection business.  We are in the life-change business.  We design events that lead to connection and help create environments that make life-change possible.  It informs the way we recruit leaders, the curriculum we recommend, the leader training we provide, and the heroes we celebrate.

Finally, the business you are in also determines what you won’t do.  This is a really big idea and a very important point.  When you choose the business you’re in, you’re choosing in that moment what you won’t be doing.  Or at least, you should know that you can’t do everything.  You can’t be all things to all people when it comes to choosing a business.  If you try…you become a cafeteria.  And cafeterias almost never are exceptional.  And you need to be exceptional if you want to build environments where life-change happens.

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

The Greatest GroupLife Delusion

What would you say is the greatest grouplife delusion?  Take a moment…and think about it.  Got an idea?

You may have your own idea.  You should have your own idea.  But for me, I’m going with a version of what Peter Drucker pointed out about product development:

“The greatest self-delusion is the belief that the outlook for a product improves the more resources are poured into it.  Few popular maxims are as wide of the mark as, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’  ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try once more–and then try something else’ is more realistic.  Success in repetitive attempts becomes less rather than more probably with each repetition (p. 62, Managing for Results).”

Translation?  The greatest grouplife delusion is the belief that doing the same thing this year that we did last year might have a different result.

Here are some examples:

  • Over the last two years only 3 of our 18 groups with apprentices have birthed a new group…but this may be the year.
  • Only 60% of the people who sign up for New Leader Training show up and complete the 8 week course and only 40% of those who complete it have successfully launched and sustained a new group beyond the second curriculum…but maybe this year will be different.
  • We haven’t been able to recruit enough pre-qualified leaders to meet the demand at the last three GroupLinks…but this fall might be different.

I could go on, but you see where this is going.  The greatest grouplife delusion is the belief that doing the same thing this year that we did last year might have a different result.

The reason I point out that Different Leads to a Church OF Groups and tell you that you need An Unwavering Sense of Direction and remind you over and over about The Perils of the Well-Worn Path is that I’m convinced that what we do is the main chance for the widening 60% (who will not be reached by the attractional model).  I want you in on this…but Drucker was right.  Rather than trying one more time, you’re going to have to abandon what isn’t working and “try something else.”

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

Review: Stand Against the Wind (featuring Erwin McManus)

If you’re trying to develop a range of approved resources for your small group ministry, Stand Against the Wind is a 6 session DVD-driven study that might fill an important niche on your recommended small group curriculum list.

Developed from the same message series that produced one of Erwin McManus’ most engaging books (Stand Against the Wind: Awaken the Hero Within), the central message of this resource is that “the ultimate end of character transformation is larger than just freedom from sin, but freedom to be all that God designed us to be.”  This is an important theme in McManus’ teaching ministry and his passion for it bleeds through in the video.

Much like The Controversial Jesus and Life’s Toughest Questions (previously reviewed from Lifeway’s Platform series), Stand Against the Wind features short teaching segments (12 to 15 minutes approximate) from the Mosaic weekend services.  Because McManus is one of the most animated preachers in America, the format works fairly well and will easily hold the attention of group members.

The member guide (by Jason Jaggard) is well written with a very creative set of warm-up questions, follow-up to the video segments, biblical background, and small group questions.  The biblical references mentioned in the video and study are included, as well, making it easy to use with people who are less familiar with the Bible.  In addition, each of the sessions includes an interesting variety of asides (film and cultural references) that provide additional color.

Two aspects that must be taken into consideration when selecting this curriculum are the lack of a leader guide and the price.  While there are studies that absolutely require a leader guide (in order to be used well by average leaders), Stand Against the Wind isn’t really one of them.  Since the theme and direction of the content (video and study guide) is centered on personal character development, the role of the leader has more to do with facilitation than teaching.  In regards to the the price of the resource, at $24.95 the Leader Kit may seem expensive, but since it comes with a member book (priced at $7.95), it’s actually in line with the industry.

I like this study very much.  If you’re building a well-rounded set of recommended curriculum, I think you’ll see how Stand Against the Wind provides a valuable growth experience for group members.

Recalculating: 5 Signs Your GroupLife System Needs an Update

recalculatingThe first time I used a Garmin (GPS) I was driving from Charlotte, NC, to Abingdon, VA.  My commuter flight from Charlotte had been cancelled and the next flight would have meant a late start at the church I was to visit the next day.  My host said, “Just rent a car and drive over.  It’s about a two and half hour drive.  Get a GPS…it’ll make it easier.”

So far, so good.  It was easy to turn on the GPS and enter the address of the church in Abingdon.  Looked like it’d be simple.  Only two problems.  Didn’t have a map of the area and didn’t know you could set the GPS for “Interstate Highways.”

If it had been a 48 Hours  or Primetime segment the narrator would have said, “Mark couldn’t have known he was about to take a windy, 28 mile detour through moonshine country and the Appalacian Mountains.”

Everything was fine for the first 45 minutes…and then I saw the first detour sign.  Of course, GPS systems don’t know anything about detours.  And I didn’t know how to turn the voice off…so for the next hour I heard, “Recalculating.  Make a u-turn in 100 feet.”  What was supposed to take two and half hours took almost four.  And the movie Deliverance came to my mind more than once.

If You’re Hearing “Recalculating”

It could be that you’re beginning to hear, “Recalculating…,” from your GroupLife System.  Here are the signs your system needs an update:

These are just a few of the most important signs that your grouplife system needs an update.  The key to remember is that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.” (Andy Stanley).  Don’t like the results?  Hearing “recalculating?”  Might be time to update your system.

What do you think?  Got a question?  Have a sign you want to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by necopunch

FAQ: Shouldn’t Every Group Have a Vision to Multiply?

Where do you stand on the whole birthing issue?  Are you pro-birthing?  Neutral?  Apathetic?  Or, maybe you’ve moved on, putting your eggs in the basket of other, more effective strategies?

I recently got a great comment on an earlier post (I See Dead Groups) that really begged for a thoughtful response, but as I began to answer…it was just clear that it deserved a full post.

The basic idea of I See Dead Groups was that (1) most small groups have a life-span of 18 to 24 months, (2) the key vital sign is life-change, (3) groups can be dead (no life-change) and not know it, and (4) it’s really in the best interest of the group for us to have an awareness of the signs of a dead group (I suggest you read the article and come back).

Here’s the readers reaction:

I appreciate the article and definitely get group lifespan, but I would personally like to think of things in more positive terms than the “dead” group analogy.  Maybe I would take a seemingly life-less group through those assessment questions but then add in the vision of multiplying–producing new life.  The gist from the article that I get is that a group would end and that is that.  Seems a bit short-changed.  I’d rather cast a vision about a group multiplying out and forming new groups.  So I guess instead of seeing a “dead” group, I may see a “time-to-multiply” group.

Let me say first that I love that optimism!  And, of course, you could certainly put a more positive spin on the terminology.

I’d have several reactions to the comment:

First, there is an upside to emphasizing a kingdom-minded approach that prioritizes the needs of others.  So…is it healthy to cast the vision?  Probably.  After all, everyone ought to be looking out for more than their own interests (Philippians 2:3-4).

Second, the key for me in regards to the viability of birthing as a group multiplication strategy is what I call the “how’s it workin’ so far?” test.  There’s nothing wrong with the vision that good groups grow and birth (one of the Top 10 Axiomatic Beliefs of GroupLife).  The vision is not the problem.  The problem is that birthing rarely happens.  Nowhere is the great Winston Churchill line more telling:

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

Third, I realize that the emphasis on diagnosing the vital signs of existing groups (to be on the lookout for dead groups) may give the impression that I’m favor of group euthanasia.  Really not the case.  Instead, I’m in favor of a very proactive and intentional attention to the development of healthy groups that are about authentic life-change.

Finally, it’s important for me to point out that many small group ministry practitioners are finding that it’s much easier to start new groups than it is to get existing groups to multiply.  If more groups and more people connected is the goal there are at least three much easier ways to launch new groups.

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

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