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Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a lot to be thankful for today.  And I’m definitely thankful for my readers!  The opportunity to be involved in ministry with you is a very good thing.  Thank you for the chance to play a part!

Praying you have a great day wherever you are.

Blessings,

mark

Quotebook: Our Need to Belong

“Our need to belong is not rational, but it is a constant that exists across all peoples in all cultures.  It is a feeling we get when those around us share our values and beliefs.  When we feel like we belong we feel connected and we feel safe.  As humans we crave the feeling and we seek it out.”  Simon Sinek (P. 53, Start With Why)

Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, & Strategic

This is a two-part concept.  First, so that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with a definition:

on-ramp: noun [on-ramp, -awn] an entrance lane for traffic from a street to a turnpike or freeway

We all know what an on-ramp is when we’re driving, right?  But when we’re talking about grouplife…it’s still just that basic concept of ways to go from the anonymity of the auditorium to the familiarity of the coffee table; to move from unconnected to connected.

On-ramps.  Every church needs ’em.

Now, let’s establish easy, obvious, and strategic:

One of the most important insights in the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry is the importance of thinking steps, not programs.  In other words, rather than focusing on programs as solutions (home grown or off-the-shelf), we ought to be paying attention to designing steps that lead from where people are to where we want them to be.

Think steps, not programs.  A very simple concept.  A very powerful practice.

Within the practice of thinking steps, not programs, is the concept of making each of the steps easy, obvious, and strategic.  Essentially, each step should be obvious (not hard to discover), easy (shouldn’t require a running start), and strategic (ought to lead in the right direction every time).  You can read a more detailed explanation right here.

Can you see how the practice applies to grouplife?  Getting connected to a group ought to be easy, obvious, and strategic.

Easy: That is, it shouldn’t take a lot of work to connect.  Think about the process of connecting at your church.  Start by thinking about the simple transaction of finding a group to join.  Is it easy?  Can a prospective member walk up to a booth after service and find a group?  Or do they have to turn in a form and wait for a response?  What about your website?  Is it easy to find out how to join?  Is it easy to find answers about what a small group is?

Obvious: In addition to being easy, how to join a group should also be obvious.  In other words, it shouldn’t be a guessing game.  Think about your lobby.  Think about your website.  Think about your bulletin.  If anything requires a detailed explanation…it’s too hard.

Strategic: If you want to connect a lot of people, every thing you do needs to move people in the right direction.  Steps that take people out of the way (think ongoing teaching venues where the participants “sit in rows”) are what Andy Stanley calls “sideways energy.”  A strategic step might be an on-campus small group connection that leads to an off-campus small group.

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

2011’s Christmas Reading List

Have you put your Christmas wish list together yet?  2011 has been quite a year and no doubt there’s been a book or two that you’ve missed.  Here are a few books I think you should be reading:

Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support by Mars Hill’s Brad House is a definite.  If you haven’t picked up this one yet, make sure you add it to your list.   This is a great book, complete with plenty to wrestle with.  You can read my review right here.

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

If you’re a small group ministry practitioner, Small Groups with Purpose is definitely a must-read.  Written by Steve Gladen, Saddleback’s Pastor of the Small Group Community, this book is packed with so much great stuff, it will provoke many important conversations on your team.

There are several things I love about Small Groups with Purpose.  First, it’s an inside look at the largest small group ministry in the United States.  Size isn’t everything, but to build something like this takes time, wisdom, patience, and leadership.  Second, you don’t have to be purpose-driven to really benefit from an understanding of how the model works in grouplife.  And third, Part Three, How Can I Do This? is as sweet and complete a blueprint as you’re ever going to come across.  You can read my full review right here.

An essential book if you’re interested in the ongoing conversation here about connecting the widening 60% that are unreachable with the attractional model is Rumors of God.  Providing a sample of the conversations it will take to share the Gospel with those who are far from God in the 21st century, authors Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson write with the tone that will be heard as authentic (not artificial), relevant (not dated), and interested in the needs of others (as opposed to self-interested).

Written from the perspective of two Australian born American pastors, Rumors of God provides an invaluable perspective from a next Christians vantage point.  You can read my review right here.

A very good look at the way apostolic movements are shaped, On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson is an extremely practical and engaging book.  I’ve described it as a kind of mashup, combining the efforts of one of the leading missional writers (Hirsch) and one of the leading practitioners (Ferguson).

I found On the Verge to be both challenging and encouraging.  It prompted me to reconsider some concepts and examine closely some ideas about reaching the widening 60% that will not be reached with the attractional model that we know.  While not a quick read, it’s an important read and one you should give the time to work your way through.  You can read my full review right here.

Referenced by many grouplife thought leaders, Small Groups, Big Impact by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable is a book you ought to work your way through.  Based on research involving over 3,000 small groups and more than 200 churches in 21 21 countries, the authors looked “at the dynamics that make small groups and small group ministries healthy and growing.”

Egli and Marable have done us all a great service, identifying four factors that make the biggest difference in a group’s growth.  You can read my full review right here.

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

Dilbert on Monthly Reports to the Management Team

I don’t know what this means exactly…but it makes me laugh every time I read it:

Review: The Essential Commandment by Greg Ogden

Looking for discipleship resources?  You may want to take a look at The Essential Commandment.  Published by IVP, it’s the latest by pastor and author Greg Ogden.  If you’re not familiar with Ogden, he’s also the author of Discipleship Essentials and Leadership Essentials.

The Essential Commandment is a thoughtful and practical examination of the Great Commandment.  Ogden introduces his premise by pointing out that when Jesus declared that “we are to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbors in the same way that we cherish ourselves…He actually thinks we can be like him. Jesus actually believes that it is possible for frail and deeply flawed human beings to focus our complete affection on God and others (p. 13).”

The Essential Commandment is presented in a workbook format that will make it ideal to use as a discipling tool.  If you’re working to build fully devoted Christ-followers, the topic itself–the Great Commandment–should prompt the kind of conversation and develop the language that can influence whole systems.

In addition to a thoughtful and thought-provoking set of topics, the book is also arranged in a way that will make it easy to use as a disciple-making tool.  Each of the 12 chapters includes

  • a core truth: serving “as the nugget around which each lesson is built”
  • a memory verse: allowing “God’s viewpoint on life to slowly become ours”
  • an inductive Bible study: guiding the “discovery of reality from the only perspective that counts…the Bible”
  • a reading on one aspect of the Great Commandment: providing a “contemporary discussion of the eternal core truth that will challenge our lifestyle and stimulate our thinking”

I’ve reviewed a number of titles over the last couple years that fit in the discipleship niche and I have to say, I can really see The Essential Commandment turning out to be a very popular choice.  It’s definitely one you’re going to want to add to your recommended list.

GOD’S STORY your story: A New Church-Wide Experience from Max Lucado

Had an opportunity this weekend to take a look at GOD’S STORY your story, a new DVD-driven church-wide experience from Max Lucado. Published by Zondervan, the study is anchored by Lucado’s recent book by the same name.

The 6 session DVD features Max Lucado, the best-selling author and pastor. With the style so familiar to millions of readers, Lucado uses the sessions to unveil a compelling glimpse into how our story fits in God’s story. The DVD segments are just the right length (averaging 10 to 12 minutes) and feature Lucado in his most familiar role…as a story-teller. Each of his stories use an every day object lesson (a pilot forced to fly his plane blind or the bright orange vest that drunk drivers in Tennessee are required to wear) to illustrate a timeless biblical truth and set up the particular part of God’s story he is telling.

Along with a note-taking outline of the DVD segment, each of the study guide sessions feature a set of well-written discussion questions. Although there is no leader’s guide, the degree of difficulty is manageable for newer group leaders and with just a little preparation an in-house guide could be prepared to enhance the experience. In addition to a Recommended Reading chapter assignment from GOD’S STORY your story, there is also a simple Between Sessions assignment that provides some very meaningful application.

The DVD-ROM includes some basic church-wide campaign helps. The Getting Started Guide along with a promotional poster, bulletin insert, powerpoint slides, postcard template, and sermon outlines provide the essential ingredients that will make it easy to launch.

The subject matter coupled with Lucado’s name recognition as a New York Times best-selling author should make GOD’S STORY your story an appealing choice as a church-wide experience. The notion that God’s story and mine might somehow be intertwined along with some very universal themes (forgiveness, guidance, and value) should fit well on the Easy/Hard Continuum and make for an easy invite. This is a study that’s going to make a lot of sense for many churches.

Join Me on Group Talk Today (Monday, 11/14)

Hope you can join me on Group Talk today!  I’ll be talking about Six Ways to Find New Small Group Leaders…and who doesn’t need to find more leaders?

Group Talk is a FREE monthly conference call put on by the Small Group Network.  Previous guests have included Steve Gladen, Carl George, Rick Howerton, Eddie Mosley, Heather Zempel and Randall Neighbour.  You can listen to the audio from their calls right here.

I’ll be adding some extra notes and links that will help you process today’s call right here.

Time: 12:00 Noon (ET); 11:00 AM (CT); 10:00 AM (MT); 9:00 AM (PT)

Dial-in-number: 1-218-936-4141

Participant Access Code: 24247

Hope you can make it!

Skill Training: Help Your Life Group Survive the Holidays

holiday survival guideAs your life group approaches Thanksgiving, there are several things you can do to help your group survive the holidays.

Now, you might be thinking, “That sounds pretty serious!  Survive the holidays?  Isn’t that being a little dramatic?”

I don’t think it’s overly dramatic at all.

Why?  It’s just too easy to finish a study right before Thanksgiving and say to each other, “See you in January!”  You wouldn’t think it…but the holidays (from Thanksgiving through New Year’s) are 4 or 5 pretty precarious weeks.  In my experience, this period is second only to the summer in grouplife mortality.

4 Keys to Surviving the Holidays

There is a solution.  And it’s not to just keep meeting!  After all, people are travelling.  There are family commitments and office parties.  There is just a lot going on.  But there are four things you can do to help your group survive.  Here they are:

  1. Choose the study you will do next before you break…and try to do at least 1 or 2 sessions by December 8th or so.  For example, this year Thanksgiving is on November 26th.  Assuming you don’t meet the week of Thanksgiving, you could meet the following week and that would make a big difference.  I’ve listed several options right here.
  2. Plan a Christmas party for your group! Rather than breaking before Thanksgiving, why not have a potluck dinner or a Christmas dessert night?  Do an ornament exchange or a White Elephant Gift Exchange.  Whatever you do, find a fun reason to meet.
  3. Figure out a way to serve together in December! Whether your group serves Thanksgiving dinner at a local homeless shelter, sings Christmas carols at a nearby retirement home, or serves as greeters or ushers for a Christmas Eve service, there is something about stepping up to do something for someone else…that brings a group together.
  4. Pull out your calendars and schedule your first January meeting.  This might seem like overkill, but if you’ll all agree on the date of your first meeting in January, your group is much more likely to survive!

Image by Will Montague

New from Beth Moore | James: Mercy Triumphs

Had an opportunity today to preview the newest Beth Moore study.  The highly anticipated James: Mercy Triumphs is out and will without a doubt be an immediate hit, used by women’s Bible studies and small groups everywhere.

DVD-driven, this 8 session study launches with a powerful teaching session that sets the stage and establishes James’ identity, his relationship to Jesus, and the pathway that led to the New Testament book we know as James.

If you’re familiar with Beth Moore’s ministry, you know that James: Mercy Triumphs is also a homework-driven study.  Although the teaching segments are powerful, daily homework assignments take the participant deep into the meaning of the simple but profound teaching found in James.

The sessions are designed to be a combination of large group and small group components.  James: Mercy Triumphs allows Bible studies or small groups to take advantage of the compelling teaching style of Beth Moore, allowing study leaders to focus their attention on the administrative and coordination aspects along with small group facilitation.

A well-designed Leader Guide is included in the Leader Kit (along with a copy of the Member Book and DVDs.  Member books as well as additional Leader Guides are available.  With two table discussion options to choose from for every session, there is plenty here for your leaders to work with as they prepare for and facilitate the session.

For participants who want to dive a little deeper, this study also includes a next level aspect with articles by Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick (Moore’s daughter).  Taking a look at subjects like the Acts 21 reference to the Nazirite Vow, unity and diversity, perfection, and Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem church, these reading provide some fascinating insights into the world of the early church.

Levels of Participation

In a new development, this study offers 5 optional levels of participation:

  1. Watch Videos: Participating in the video sessions only
  2. Complete Homework: Participating in the video sessions + doing the weekly homework assignments
  3. Handwrite James: Participating in the video sessions + doing the weekly homework assignments + handwriting the Book of James
  4. Read Articles: Participating in the video sessions + doing the weekly homework assignments + handwriting the Book of James + reading “The Next Level with Melissa”
  5. Memorize James: Participating in the video sessions + doing the weekly homework assignments + handwriting the Book of James + reading “The Next Level with Melissa” + memorizing the Book of James.

James: Mercy Triumphs promises to be very popular and at the same time, a powerful experience for participants who are unfamiliar with this important New Testament book.  If you’re searching for an impactful study, this is one you need to take a look at.  I highly recommend it!

I review a new study almost every week.  You can read my reviews right here.  While you’re here, why not sign up to get my free updates?  You can subscribe to my blog right here.

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