Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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What Story Do You Want to Tell?

I don’t often ask you to do this, but today I really want to encourage you to try an experiment with me.  It’s a three step experiment.

Here’s the first step:  I want you to try and think ahead to next year at this time.  Imagine yourself one year from now.  Maybe you’re sitting in the same office chair or the same patio chair at Starbucks.

Can you do it?  Can you see yourself, one year in the future?  That’s the first step…but it’s just the beginning.

The second step, so important, is to think about all that happened over the last year.  Remember…you’re one year in the future from now.  Can you see yourself there? Can you think back and begin to see all the things that happened…over the last year.

The third step, and this is the key to the exercise, is to think about the story you’d like to tell about what happened in the last year.  Can you see what thinking this way might make possible?  Be as descriptive as you can.  Pull a team into the discussion if you’d like.  Get off by yourself if it helps.  Either way, think about the detailed story you’d like to tell about what happened in the last year.  By the way, this is preferred future kind of thinking.

Got it?  Can you picture it?  Can you describe it?  This is soooo important!

As you know by now, I love a great question.  I was listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast over the weekend, doing my best to beat my time for a three mile walk, and almost stopped in my tracks when I heard Andy’s question.  Here’s the question that Andy asked:

What story do I want to tell?  …when this is in the rear view mirror…what story do I want to tell?  Courage in Leadership

I love that question!  It immediately made sense to imagine myself at some point down the road, telling the story of what happened at Canyon Ridge in the fall of 2012.  I can see it.  I can imagine the number of groups that launched.  I can see the faces of the hosts who invited neighbors and friends to join their group.  I can easily imagine the weekend as new believers are baptized with their group members cheering them on.  I can imagine the stories being told in group after group about “how different our families are since Jesus became real to us.”

What story do I want to tell?  I want to tell the story of how Las Vegas is different because of the way God used hundreds of new hosts who invited friends and family, neighbors and co-workers to join in a simple study of a life-changing idea.

What story do you want to tell?  And will you do the things that lead to there?  You can.  It begins the moment you begin to rehearse the story you want to tell.

Spiritual Rhythms in Community: Being Together in the Presence of God

Looking for resources that expose your groups to spiritual practices?   You might want to take a look at Spiritual Rhythms in Community: Being Together in the Presence of God.  New from author and speaker Keith Meyer, this resource is intended to be used by groups.  While explicitly not intended for use outside of community, I found the writing to be immediately captivating.  At the same time, having worked my way through the exercises, I can look ahead to the full experience that awaits the groups that will make this journey.

Each of the 12 chapters is developed with a very distinctive pattern.  Leading with an examination of a Psalm related to Jesus’ example on a particular discipline, there are exercises for meditation and prayer, guiding the participants to experience the teaching.

Next, a look at Jesus in action or teaching, demonstrating the daily practice, living a life that is full, deep and abundant.  Integrating the Gospel accounts along with references to Jesus found in the rest of the New Testament, makes it both a practical and enlightening experience for the participant.

Finally, each chapter incorporates a practice.  Three of the 12 are one day exercises that will require a significant investment of time.  All of the exercises provide an opportunity to experience the kind of rhythm that Jesus knew.

Taking its cue from Jesus’ example, there is a place for both engagement and disengagement; a time for being with groups members and a time for being separate.  Described as a kind of dance, Spiritual Rhythms is “designed to be a field guide to shared practices for change in communal living (p. 16).”

While intended for groups, Spiritual Rhythms doesn’t include a typical set of discussion questions.  Rather, group meetings are to be used for reflecting on the learnings of the previous chapter, its exercises and experiences.  Also, the group meeting can be a time of preparation for the upcoming meeting.

I believe there will be several potential applications for this book.  First, some groups, looking for a study that introduces spiritual practices will find it very helpful.  Second, as the “course” syllabus and outline, it could be used to form groups as unconnected adults gather for the purpose of spiritual formation.  Finally, I can see this serving as an excellent experience for coaches of small group leaders (and that could lead ultimately to coaches leading small group leaders).

As one of the most important current grouplife trends, many small group pastors are looking for curriculum that incorporates spiritual formation practices.  Spiritual Rhythms is one resource that will find a place on many approved curriculum lists.  It’s definitely found a place on mine.

Dilbert on Ignorance

Sometimes you just need to laugh.  And as a side note, you can remember this cartoon the next time your recommendation is rejected…

Can I Tell What’s Important by Looking at Your Church’s Homepage?

I’ve written about the importance of website presence before.  I’ll probably write about it again.  For today, I only want to focus on one thing.  I can tell from your website what’s really important at your church.  Believe me?  Here’s how I do it:

First, what is really important is mentioned right on the homepage.  It isn’t three clicks away.  It isn’t two clicks away.  It isn’t even one click away.  Don’t let anyone tell you that small groups are a main part of the vision or the strategy if you’ve got to hunt around to find out about them.

Second, I must be able to see from your homepage that small groups aren’t one of several menu options.  If what I’m looking at looks like a buffet with several different entrees and several different side dishes and a collection of salads, breads and deserts…I’m going to have great difficulty believing that a small group is my next step.

Third, if it’s important…it’s above the fold.  I’m not going to have to scroll down to find it.  Anything important is above the fold.

So…if those are the telltale signs…is small group ministry important at your church?  Is it just an option on the buffet?  Is it even on the buffet?

Something to think about.

Here are a few of the other articles I’ve written with a website in mind:

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

Top 5 Signs Your Church Really Wants to Be a Church OF Groups

How can you tell if your church really wants to be a church OF groups? It’s not that hard to figure out. Here’s what to look for:

  1. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find out everything you want to know about small groups. The website, the bulletin, and the information desk in the lobby are all designed to make it easy to understand why small groups are a priority and how to get involved (see 5 Transferable Website Concepts from Saddleback’s Recent Campaign Launch for more).
  2. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to attend a service the week your pastor talks about the importance of being in a group. No matter what week you’re listening, you hear the senior pastor emphasize the importance of being in a group (see Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups for more).
  3. You don’t have to be King Soloman to figure out which menu item leads to being truly connected. Programs that don’t lead to grouplife aren’t given equal time (see A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups for more).
  4. You don’t have to be Jesus Junior to lead a group. A heart for unconnected people, a willingness to open your home for six weeks, serve a few refreshments and tell a few of your friends…is all you need to take the first step (see HOST: What Does It Mean? for more).
  5. You don’t have to be a Berean, a student of Gamaliel, or know that Hezekiah isn’t a book of the Bible to be ready to put your toe in the water and test drive a group. The topic of the church-wide campaign is designed to appeal cross culturally and make sense to friends and neighbors (see How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign for more).

What if you don’t see all five signs? Don’t worry, it can be fixed. Remember the great Andy Stanley line… “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.” If you want different results, you’re going to need to change the design. Want to dive in and look more carefully at your design? You might want to pull your team together and work through my GroupLife Audit 1.0.

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

Conducting a GroupLife Audit 1.0

auditHow would your church come out on a grouplife audit? I wondered about this last week when my church was visited by the Generis team who were conducting a generosity audit. It was a fascinating day. I sat in on several conversations. And it made me wonder about the benefit of developing a grouplife audit.

Actually, I determined right away that the need for a grouplife audit was a no-brainer. What are the important questions…that’s the question.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. See what you think:

  1. How obvious is it that we’re made for community to members and attendees of your church?
  2. How frequently will I hear a story about the importance of being connected?
  3. When I hear inspirational stories about the heroes of your congregation, how frequently will they be about a small group leader? How often will I hear about the difference a small group made in their neighborhood or on a mission trip? How often will I hear about the way a friend or neighbor was warmly welcomed and included and later came to faith?
  4. Is there a community element to your children’s ministry? How intentional and consistent is each child’s connection with a shepherd?
  5. Is there a community element to your student ministry? How intentional and consistent is each student’s connection with a shepherd?
  6. Do the serving teams in your ministries have a community element?
  7. Is your senior pastor in a small group?
  8. How frequently does your senior pastor mention being in a group?
  9. Can I be on staff or in a leadership role if I’m not in a small group?
  10. Are there next steps on your menu of programs that don’t lead to grouplife?
  11. How many times a year can I attend a weekend service without hearing about grouplife?
  12. If I ask someone at the visitor’s center how to get connected, will I be given the right answer?
  13. Will I be asked “what group am I in” (or at least, “am I in a group?”) when I have a prayer, counseling or benevolence need?
  14. When I attend your membership class will I hear about the importance of being in a group? Will it be clear that it’s normal to be in a group?
  15. When I read the welcome letter from your pastor will it refer to joining a small group as a next step?
  16. Can I look at your weekend bulletin and see that being connected is normal?
  17. Can I see how to take a first step toward connection in your bulletin?
  18. Can I see from your website’s homepage that being in a group is normal?
  19. How many clicks does it take to get from your website’s homepage to the small group ministry page?
  20. When I’m looking at your website’s small group ministry page, will I see features (types of groups, meeting schedules, and contact info) or benefits (our marriage was saved, my faith has been strengthened, we feel like we’re known and loved)?
  21. Can I connect with a group directly (via an online finder or connection method)? Or do I need to go through a middleman (by turning in a form to be processed)?
  22. How accurate and up-to-date is your online small group information?
  23. If I contact a small group leader via the online small group finder, how long will it take for me to hear back? What percentage of the time will I not hear back?
  24. Is there a way to talk to a person about groups? Or can I only send an email or leave a voicemail?
  25. When I hear about “how much my small group means to me,” do groups seem to be for everyone? Just for spiritual giants? Just for spiritual newbies?
  26. How easy is it to take a first step to get connected?
  27. How hard is it for a new person to figure out what their first step ought to be?
  28. Once I’ve decided to test drive a small group, how long will I have to wait before I can act on my decision?
  29. How hard is it to find enough leaders to connect the number of people looking for a group?
  30. What was your growth in percentage connected last year? What was your growth in percentage connected the previous year? What was your average growth in percentage connected over the last 5 years?
By the way…I think the questions and the exercise will be very helpful for church leadership. Need fresh eyes to interpret your findings? I’d love to help. You can Email Me to find out how I can help with next steps.

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

Image by GotCredit

Stolen: A New DVD-Driven Study from Chris and Kerry Shook

Looking for creative small group resources?  You might want to take a look at Stolen, a new study from Chris and Kerry Shook.  Taking its cue from John 10:10, Stolen takes a look at how the Enemy uses our circumstances to rob us of treasures like passion, joy, peace, strength, and dreams. Recognized as one of today’s most creative communicators, Woodlands Church Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife, Chris, will lead you into a discovery of the ways you can reclaim the treasures God intended for you.

A six session study, the DVD segments have a creative twist that sets up the discussion.  Each session begins with an ominous dramatic vignette; an eerie blend of the black and white feel of Death of a Salesman with a twist of the 1962 version of Cape Fear.  Trust me…this is story-driven visual media.  Your members will be captivated by the story that unfolds and perfectly prepared to learn about the abundant life that God has prepared for us.  The sessions average 16 to 17 minutes and will easily hold the attention of your members.

The member book provides a well developed study of how to reclaim six of the treasures the thief wants to steal (inheritance, strength, peace, dreams, joy and passion).  With a note-taking section, eye-opening scripture study, included devotionals that will help your members take the truths even deeper, and a basic leader’s guide, Stolen is a study that will open your member’s eyes to the promise of the abundant life.

If you’re looking for an engaging study that will take your groups deep into God’s truth with creativity and passion…Stolen ought to be on your list.  I found myself captivated by the storyline and intrigued by the approach…and I think you will too.  Very well done.  I highly recommend it.


The Growing Indifference toward Christianity…and the Opportunity for GroupLife

If you’re tracking the Next Christians conversation, you need to take four minutes and watch this video that first appeared on the Out of Ur blog.  Very interesting.  If you remember, one of the significant findings in the study that produced unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gaby Lyons was that many young Americans found Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual and too political.  Kinnaman’s You Lost Me expanded the understanding to reveal that even young Christians were leaving the church for a variety of reasons.

The Next Christians paints a more hopeful scenario as Gabe Lyons paints a picture of opportunity for influence in post-Christian America.  Watching this video reminded me that life at crowd’s edge will be full of opportunities for groups that learn to operate there.  Serving neighbors.  Building friendships.  Becoming extended families that have open door policies.

Hope you’re already on the way there.

How do we think about working in a different kind of culture than we’ve seen in the last 50 years in America?

Can’t see the video?  You can watch it right here.

The Perils of the Inside-Outside Disconnect

How keenly is your organization aware of what’s really going on externally?  Think your front-line people know what’s going on?  Think your key people know?  Do you know?

According to John Kotter, “The disconnect between what insiders see, feel and think, on the one hand, and external opportunities and hazards, on the other, can be astonishing at times–even in organizations that are producing very good short-term results (p. 67, A Sense of Urgency).”

That reality, what Kotter calls “the inside-outside disconnect,” is pretty frightening.  Or at least it should be.  It comes into play primarily after some success; after some amount of winning takes place.  A sense of accomplishment and even a healthy pride develops.  And then the inside loses connection with the outside.

Is that a big problem?  Only if you want to have impact on the outside!  If you want to impact the outside and the inside-outside disconnect develops you will have to work hard to overcome it.  Why will you have to work hard?  Why doesn’t it come naturally?  The less connected the inside is with the outside the faster complacency grows.  If a sense of urgency is step one in any change process, and complacency is the enemy of a sense of urgency…well, you can see where this is going.

How’s your organization doing in this area?  Concerned?  Good…that’s the first step.  Next step?  Help your organization reduce the inside-outside disconnect.  Why?  “An inside-outside disconnect always reduces an organization’s sense of urgency (p. 67, A Sense of Urgency).”

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

True Community or Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?

Ever heard this one? “We want to be a church of groups. We’ve launched a decent number of off-campus groups, but we also have a number of on-campus Bible studies (Sunday School, ABFs, etc.). Our solution has been to call everything a group…even though what they’re actually experiencing is not the same. How do we help the on-campus ministries see the need to do anything different than they’ve always done?”

Can I share a simple tool you can use to paint the picture?  I’ve often found that a simple drawing can be the beginning of a new understanding.  You can see my simple drawing above.  Here’s what it means:

For starters, we all know that there’s real value in the corporate worship service.  Inspiring music.  Dynamic teaching.  Being together in the presence of God.  All good.  And an essential part of how people experience God.

At the same time, it is clear to most people that life-change happens most often where there is life-on-life interaction.  As important as the corporate worship service is, they tend to be one-way communication.  There’s no interaction…and that’s a key ingredient for life-change to happen.  It’s difficult to feel known in a worship service.  The one-anothers are hard to practice…in a worship service (See Life-Change at the Member Level and Sunday Worship = Defibrillator for more).

With me so far?  This is the point where the drawing comes in.

True Community: A healthy small group, identified in the simple drawing as “true community,” ought to be a place where the one-anothers are practiced.  Group members should experience what it is to belong.  To feel cared for.  To be prayed for.  To be known.  To be challenged and held accountable and loved and forgiven.  True community.

Smaller version of the weekend service: Many of the classic on-campus groups (ABFs, adult Sunday School, etc.) are best described as smaller versions of the weekend service.  Admittedly…not all of them, but many.  They might sing a few songs.  They often use a master teacher approach where the teacher teaches and the members listen.  They have a prayer to begin and a prayer at the end.  Sometimes, they even take an offering.  If there is any interaction it is during a fellowship time (read: coffee and donuts) before and after the official program.  Much like a worship service, only smaller.

I use the drawing to help identify where a group is along the continuum between “smaller version of the weekend service” and “true community.”  A great exercise is to have the discussion with each of your on-campus groups and then begin to help them integrate elements of true community into their format.  Problem-free?  No.  But it starts a conversation and movement.

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

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