Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core

You probably know this…but the Twelve were not chosen from the usual suspects.  I know for some that line all by itself might cause you to lump me in with the riffraff.  Sorry about that.  But sometimes the truth hurts.

It’s true, though.  When Jesus selected the twelve apostles, they were not first round material.  They were clearly the b team.  They were the riffraff.  They were the ‘am ha’ares; the people of the land.

I like what John MacArthur points out in Twelve Ordinary Men (there’s a first time for everything…I’ve never cited MacArthur before):

“When Jesus chose the Twelve to be His official representatives …He didn’t choose a single rabbi.  He didn’t choose a scribe.  He didn’t choose a Pharisee.  He didn’t choose a Sadducee.  He didn’t choose a priest…He chose instead men who were not theologically trained–fishermen, a tax collector, and other common men (p. 7).”

Why am I telling you this?

One of the most significant missteps when planning a small group launch (church-wide campaign or otherwise) is to select leaders exclusively from the core…what I often refer to as “the usual suspects.”

Why is that a misstep?

There are several reasons but the first and most important is that in most cases the folks in the square (to refer to the diagram) will tell you that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends…are also inside the square.  To use my friend Allen White’s favorite metaphor, just like a Lego block, there’s a limit to how many people they can connect to…and they’re full!  I explain this much more thoroughly in Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Second, new leaders recruited from closer to crowd’s edge are more likely to have friends, family, neighbors and co-workers from the community.  They often have the exact opposite situation than members from the core and will tell you that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.

Third, once a church reaches a certain size (not average attendance, but total number of adults in the crowd) it is way too easy for some of the most qualified potential leaders to simply disappear into the shadows.  Where’s that number?  Hard to say exactly, but when you see people in the grocery store and know that you’ve seen them at church but don’t know their story…you’re there.

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

Veneer…a Book You Should Be Reading

Want to reach the widening 60% that can’t be reached by the attractional model?  Developing a deeper cultural awareness is absolutely essential.  As part of my process I read Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy.

I noticed Veneer and requested a copy after seeing a Qideas tweet (, because I’m looking for ways to understand what is happening in the culture…and why.  This is definitely part of The Next Christians conversation.

What’s missing for many of us is a language or a way of talking about cultural developments.  Not, “what’s the coolest new song” or “what movie is everyone talking about.”  It’s not even what book is everyone reading.

It’s not actually about what.  It’s about why.

What can Veneer do to help develop your cultural awareness?  I think this paragraph from the Prelude provides a clue:

“If we listen closely, we can hear the world speaking a language, a language that echoes in the way we dress, the jobs we take, and even how we interact with our friends.  It is the language of culture.  We all speak this language as we mimic the world of celebrity, buy in to the promise of consumption, and place our trust in the hope of progress (p. 14).”

I loved Veneer.  I resonated and was captivated by some sections.  I also found it heartbreaking and some sections haunting.  I saw so much of my journey in it.  I also recognized immediately some of the language we’ll need if we’re going to play any part in connecting beyond the usual suspects.  You’ll see it, too, if you’re looking.

Teasing out the metaphor of veneer*, Willard and Locy tackle our obsession with celebrity (and pursuit of our own “15MB of fame”), as well as our desperate need to consume (a symptom of “an underlying belief system, a belief that personal meaning comes from the things we buy”).  They also explore technological progress “where computer screens and avatars simulate the life we want but not necessarily the life we have (p. 15).”

Veneer is not a quick read.  Chapters interwoven with thought-provoking imagery, short stories that vividly paint the picture, as well as carefully selected lines from theologians and scholars, all work together to create the basis for a conversation; an essential conversation that will influence your cultural awareness.

This book will be read, and re-read, as the conversation builds.  I hope you’ll add the ingredient of Veneer to the pot you’re stirring up.

*A thin decorative covering of fine wood applied to a coarser wood or other material.

P.S. May You Always Hear the Music

On a nearly daily basis I’m reminded that in order to reach the widening 60% (who will never be reached with the attractional model) we will need to rearrange priorities.  No doubt this is true for almost all of us.

Tripping across a great line from Gary Hamel’s Competing for the Future, I remembered what it felt like to be in an environment that was completely locked in the past.  “Every company is in the process of becoming an anachronism, irrelevant to the future, or the harbinger of the future.”  Ohhhh.  I want to be a harbinger, not an anachronism.

Looking down at my desk I noticed another quote I’d written down…this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  “There are always two parties, the party of the past and the party of the future; the establishment and the movement.”  Ahhhh.  I want to be part of the movement!

I write so much about the keys to grouplife at crowd’s edge…and I know that some of you are pushing hard against the prevailing culture, fighting years and decades of aligning priorities with the needs and interests of insiders, instead of those still far from God.

Don’t give up.  Persevere.  Keep your eyes on the edges.  Never forget that the most important thing is to cultivate the ability to see life from the perspective of those who have not yet found God.

I know that’s easier said than done.  And I know that it takes persistence.  And…I know that there will be many who can’t see the world the way you do.  Which is why I found this quote so inspirational:

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”  Angela Monet (quoted in On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson)

Inspirational?  Absolutely.  May you always hear the music…and dance.

GroupLife Reading List for Summer 2011

Started putting your summer grouplife reading list together?  If you’ve been along for this ride, you know I am always reading.  I’ve just found that we can all learn so much from other practitioners and reading a book makes it easy.  I’m a big believer in including your team in what you read, as well.  There are definitely some books that you’ll want to share with the others on your journey.  Here are my top five for summer, 2011:

My first recommendation has to be Steve Gladen’s long awaited Small Groups with Purpose.  I read an advance copy.  It’s packed with the philosophy that has built the largest small group ministry in the United States.  As the Pastor of the Small Group Community at Saddleback Church, Gladen is one of the smartest grouplife guys I know.  He’s not a theorist.  He’s a practitioner.  This book releases on June 1st.  You can be the first on the block to get it in your bag this summer.  You can order it right here (affiliate link).

Second, if you haven’t read Connecting in Communities by Eddie Mosley, this is one I’d definitely add to the list.  Another practitioner, Eddie is the Executive Pastor of GroupLife at LifePoint Church.  This is a very easy read and very practical.  Make sure you’ve got a pen nearby because your copy is going to be marked up like mine.  There’s a lot here you’re going to think about adding to your system.  You can read my review right here.  You can order your copy right here (affiliate link).

Scott Boren’s Missional Small Groups has got to be on your list right now.  I included the missional group movement in my list of current grouplife trends because there is an increasingly important conversation going on right now about how to build groups that can impact and influence communities.  I particularly loved Boren’s “four different stories within grouplife.”  You can read my review right here.  You can order your copy right here (affiliate link).

One of the books that has influenced me the most this year has been The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons.  I can tell you that since I read it in late December, early January, this book has influenced more conversations that any other.  If you want to be involved in the grouplife opportunity to reach the widening 60% that will not be reached by the attractional model, this is a book you need to be reading.  Here’s my review of The Next Christians.  You can order your copy right here (affiliate link).

Carl George’s Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership: How Lay Leaders Can Establish Dynamic and Healthy Cells, Classes, or Teams is one of the best books on small group ministry…that you’ve never read.  First published in 1991, it’s been revised and updated.  This is a very important book if you want to build an effective small group ministry.  You can order your copy right here (affiliate link).

You might also take a look at my list of essential grouplife reads right here.  Although I published this list in 2009…it’s packed with some of the very best books on the subject of grouplife.

Read the Bible for Life: A Whole Church Experience from Lifeway

Searching for ways to increase biblical literacy in your church?  A new church-wide campaign from Lifeway, Read the Bible for Life may be a solution.  Based on George Guthrie’s popular book by the same title, this study will be a valuable resource for many churches.

The Leader Kit for the whole church campaign includes three DVDs featuring nine teaching sessions, as well as a copy of the Read the Bible for Life Workbook and the Read the Bible for Life trade book.  A CD-ROM is also included with supplemental articles and study tools, a churchwide-initiative guide, and promotional tools.

George Guthrie is the Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, TN.  Although his previous books had more academic readership, Read the Bible for Life was written to help average church members “grasp the story of scripture and learn how the books of the Bible fit together to communicate God’s redemptive message.”

Guthrie’s love of scripture and skillful communication of the Bible’s major elements is very evident in the DVD sessions.  You’ll listen in as he gives a small group of students an overview of the following topics:

  • Reading the Bible for Life
  • Reading the Bible in Context
  • Reading the Stories of the Old Testament
  • Reading the Law and the Prophets
  • Reading the Psalms
  • Reading the Stories of the New Testament
  • Reading the Teachings of Jesus
  • Reading the New Testament Letters and Revelation
  • Reading the Bible Today

In addition to Guthrie’s teaching on the nine themes, the DVDs also feature interviews with noted Bible scholars: Clint Arnold, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, Michael Card, Scott Duvall, Daniel Hays, David Howard, Andreas Kostenberger, Douglas Moo, Gary Smith, Mark Strauss, and Bruce Waltke.

Along with the DVD, there is a participant workbook with five daily studies reinforcing each of the nine sessions.  Participants should anticipate a 30 minute assignment in order to get everything possible out of the study.

Using Read the Bible for Life

After working my way through the DVD segments and carefully examining the workbook, I think there are several ways Read the Bible for Life can be used.  First, it can be used as intended…as a whole church experience.  As you can imagine, adults (there is not currently student or children’s material) that completed the study could be expected to increase their understanding of the Bible.  Full Disclosure: the combination of a nine week study and a 30 minute daily assignment will limit participation for some.

Second, the study can easily be used by individual small groups who want to learn about the Bible and how to read the Bible.  At the same time, I believe the nine week time frame coupled with a daily 30 minute assignment will limit participation to groups with higher expectations.

Third, this material could be easily adapted to provide a nine week course on how to read the Bible.  I believe this will be a very popular curriculum for an on-campus elective course.


Will Read the Bible for Life be a great solution for your congregation?  It depends on a number of factors.  What do you hope to accomplish?  Who do you hope to connect?  When do you plan to use it?  Like any new small group curriculum, whether it is for a single group or for the whole congregation, questions like these will help determine whether a particular study will be a great fit.

I can tell you this: Anyone, any group, or any congregation, that invests the time and energy required to fully absorb Read the Bible for Life will never approach the Bible the same way again.  They’ll know how to read the Bible…for life!

Build the Bridge as You Walk On It

What kind of system builder are you?  Are you the kind that needs every i dotted and every t crossed?  Or can you roll with “good enough?”  Do you need full disclosure and fine print?  Or can you take your first steps with a handshake and the gut sense that you’re heading in the general direction?

Do you need to build the system first?  Or can you build the system as you go?

Let me suggest that one of the keys to grouplife at crowd’s edge…is to build the bridge as you walk on it.  In other words, don’t spend precious resources desperately pursuing problem-free (it doesn’t exist anyway).  Instead, start moving in the right direction and develop infrastructure as you go.

Why Is This a Key to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge?

Building the bridge as you walk on it is a key to grouplife at Crowd’s Edge for several reasons.  First, the temptation to endlessly talk about next steps (and never get around to taking them) is akin to sharing prayer requests and never praying.  Who has not seen that happen more than a few times?

Second, we seem to have an innate inclination to seek ground-breaking and problem-free when small and good enough will get it going.  See Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries for more on this, but trust me, most of the time we already know enough to take first steps.

Third, time really is of the essence! Regardless of your theology, these are different days and there is no sign of a return to the good old days when unchurched people knew to come to a church for help and a different life.  If you want to be a player in the effort to reach the widening 60% who will not be reached by an attractional model…you’re going to have to do different things.  Note: it is not enough to plan to do different things.

Example of Building the Bridge as You Walk On It

So, how does it work?  How would you begin to operate from this mindset?  Here are three steps that will get you moving in the right direction:

  1. Begin by reading The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons and And: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  You need to build an accurate sense of the issue.  These two books will help you develop a better awareness.
  2. Have a dream session using The X-Factor is Near the Edge, The Perils of the Well-Worn Path, and The Pursuit of Problem-Free as a reading assignment to be done in preparation.
  3. Plan a church-wide campaign using a study from the easy end of the easy/hard continuum (for example, Love at Last Sight is an easy study for a host to invite a neighbor).  Read my collection, Top 10 Articles on Church-Wide Campaigns, particularly How to Sequence a Small Group.

By the way, I got the metaphor of building a bridge while you walk on it from the great book by Robert E. Quinn by the same title.

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

Need Help?

Need help?  I love working with churches who are trying to figure out ways to connect the widening 60%.  Sometimes the place to start is a phone call.  Here’s how to schedule one.

Saved by the Herd

Looking for a video that shows the value of being in a small group in times of trouble?  We had Kenny Luck (Everyman Ministries, Men’s Pastor at Saddleback) in to do a conference for men and he showed this video at very end; to help men understand that life is dangerous to do on your own.

You might have heard of this video.  It’s had over 61 million views on YouTube.  I had never seen it and it perfectly shows the value of a herd.  Spoiler Alert: No one get’s seriously hurt…or eaten.

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it on YouTube.  By the way, Kenny Luck always does a fabulous job and our men loved the conference.

Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul

Had a chance this week to read Lance Witt’s new book, Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul.  Witt is the founder of Replenish Ministries and former executive and teaching pastor at Saddleback Church where he helped develop and lead the 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community Campaigns.

He’s often called a “pastor’s pastor,” and it’s for that reason that this book has been anticipated by many.  If you ever sat in on one of his conference sessions, you’ve had a taste of what’s in store.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you’re in for a treat.

The theme centering on the private world of the leader, what Witt refers to as “the back stage,” there are four sections:

  • De-Toxing Your Soul: describing some of the “soul endangering toxins” in ministry
  • Start Here…Start Now: Baby steps designed to help you begin to pay attention to your soul
  • Sustaining a Lifetime of Health: Focusing on habits and practices
  • Building Healthy Teams: Creating a healthy leadership culture

There are a number of things to really like about Replenish.  First of all, it is packed with the wisdom of a fellow traveler.  There’s no theorizing here.  These are the words of someone who has been down the path we are on…and lived to tell the tale.

Second, the book is very skillfully structured. The chapters are short (2 to 3 pages) and very readable (in some ways it feels like a conversation).  Easily the kind of thing that will fit in your schedule.

Third, each chapter concludes with a short list of four great questions.  Remember, Lance Witt was one of the behind the scenes players in the development of the 40 Days campaigns (i.e., here’s a guy who knows how to take content to application).

You may not be in a position to have ever spent time talking with Lance.  I’ve had that great privilege a number of time and I’ve always come away feeling like I just got to hang out with a uniquely gifted person who was actually interested in me.  Asking great questions.  Listening thoughtfully.  Following up by asking another really compelling question.

Replenish feels like you’re in a conversation.  And you can’t help feeling like it’s a good one.  Thought-provoking.  Challenging.  Soul satisfying.  Refreshing.

Need something like that?  I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul.

John Ortberg and Gabe Lyons

I saw this yesterday and wanted to be sure you watch it.  Wherever you are today, we are waking to a new day.  We are clearly living in a post-Christian world in the west.  Gabe Lyons, author of The Next Christians, and co-author (with David Kinnaman) of unChristian, is a voice we all need to pay attention to…if you want to play a part in reaching the 60% who are unreachable with the attractional model.

Here’s a recent interview of Lyons by John Ortberg (brought to you by the fine folks from Monvee):

Monvee Perspectives: John Ortberg and Gabe Lyons from Monvee Video on Vimeo.

Patching Yesterday’s Garment

When you think about how you’re spending your time, would you say that you’re patching yesterday’s garment?  Or designing tomorrow’s pattern?

Need definitions?  Patching yesterday’s garment would be “making incremental changes to try and improve less-than-optimal results.”  Designing tomorrow’s pattern would be creating customized steps that lead to what you’ve clarified as a win.”

So what do you think?  If you were totally honest, are you spending more time patching yesterday’s garment or designing tomorrow’s pattern?  By the way, I got this question from Peter Drucker’s great line:

“It is dangerously tempting to keep on patching yesterday’s garment rather than work on designing tomorrow’s pattern (p. 11, Managing for Results).”

By the way, this is a very biblical concept.  Jesus talked about this in Matthew 9:16-17 when He said, “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Truthfully, there are times when we feel stuck.  We look ahead at the challenges of going back to the drawing board, starting with the tabula rasa, and we decide to tweak instead of start over.  Other times we’re just tired.  Ministry is hard.  Sunday’s always just 7 days away.  And honestly, sometimes it’s just too easy to put it off until a later date.

Can I encourage you?  Don’t give in to stuck.  Get renewed and ready for the next run and then jump in.  Don’t give in to the temptation of just patching yesterday’s garment when what’s really needed is a new pattern.

Here are Three Steps You Can Take:

  1. Pull together your own team of future travelers. They might be already on your team as a small group leader or coach.  Equally, they might be from another church in the area (One good way to find some folks to make the journey with is to use the Small Group Network’s list of local networks).
  2. Go on an assumption hunt. I’ve written about this a number of times.  You can learn how to do an assumption hunt in Determining Essential Ingredients,  The Danger of Unexamined Assumptions, and  Ready to Go on an Assumption Hunt? The essence of the idea is that the ideas that have long anchored your assumptions may very well be based on cultural implications that are no longer true (for example, Sunday as an all day affair was based on the fact that it made sense to drive the wagon into town and spend the day before returning home).
  3. Have an Andy Grove retreat.  Andy Stanley (and others) tell a great story of a conversation between Gordon Moore (Intel Chairman and CEO at the time) and Andy Grove (his successor).  In 1985, with Intel’s computer memory business in major trouble, Grove said to Moore, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  That’s more than a great quote.  It is the main ingredient for a new pattern moment.  Getting away and asking that profound question might be the inflection point for your ministry.  For a little more on this, see my StrategyCentral post that includes Andy Stanley’s thoughts on this topic.

Can I add a 4th idea?  I love spending time with leadership teams helping them reconsider the design of their ministry.  You can find out how it works right here.

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

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