Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking

One of the best books or Bible studies I’ve ever found to launch men’s groups is Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking by Bill Hybels.  The topic will immediately resonate with the majority of the men in your congregation.  I’ve also found it to be a topic that makes for engaging conversation and a very good way to bring along friends and neighbors who are looking for the same thing.

Based on the Bill Hybels book by a similar title (Who You Are When No One’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise), Character is a 6 session study that focuses on biblical passages that will help men wrestle with the development of courage, discipline, vision, endurance, compassion and self-sacrifice.

Although there is a reference to the book  in the For Further Reading section, it isn’t essential that you use both.  Additionally, this isn’t a “homework required” study.  While there is room for your members to write out their answers to the questions, they can easily just show up and talk about their answers without preparation.

Very importantly, this is a study that can be led with little preparation.  Looking over the questions along with a quick glance at the study notes in the appendix will enable the group leader to focus on what’s going on in the lives of the members.

If you’re looking for a study that will catch the attention of unconnected men in your congregation, Character: Who You Are When No One’s Looking is one that ought to be part of your toolkit.

Assumption 1: There Is No Problem-Free

No matter the discussion, whenever I am looking for a strategy that will help meet a particular need…I begin my thinking by acknowledging that there is no problem-free solution to anything.  This is where the thought process begins.  In fact, when I begin a consulting session I often draw this diagram up in the upper right part of the flip chart and then refer to it many times during the day.

I’ve been writing about this for quite a while.  In fact, I noticed this morning that one of the first blog posts I wrote at StrategyCentral was about this assumption.  To me, stipulating that there is no problem-free is an essential first step.  Why?  I believe that the pursuit of problem-free is the number one obstacle in ministry.

What can be done?  Rather than allowing the pursuit of problem-free to delay your next step, I suggest that you:

  1. acknowledge that there is no problem-free solution
  2. list the possible solutions
  3. underneath each solution list its problems
  4. choose the set of problems you’d rather have

So much for assumption 1.  What’s number 2?  Come back tomorrow!

How To Connect People No One Else Is Connecting

One of the most repeated quotes right now is the great Craig Groeschel line that “if you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you need to do things no one else is doing.”  I remember where I was when I heard him say that.  I think I’ll always remember that moment.  Honestly, it was like remembering where you were when JFK was shot.

It was a staggering statement.  It made immediate sense.  It was the epitome of a no-brainer.

Can I tell you something?  The basic idea is equally true if you replace the word “reach” with the word “connect.”  Try it with me: “If you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you need to do things no one else is doing.”

How’s that feel to you?  Does it ring true?  I hope it does because the secret to connecting beyond the usual suspects is in cultivating the willingness to try and fail, to change a variable in the existing equation, and to try completely new strategies.

Here are the four keys to connecting people no one else is connecting:

  1. Develop a conviction that there is no problem-free strategy or solution.  Beyond that, own the idea that the pursuit of problem-free inhibits and prevents more ministry than anything else.
  2. Cultivate the willingness to try and fail.  Redefine failure as fear of failure.  Adopt the attitude that in failing faster you’re moving closer to a winning strategy.
  3. Always look at the individual variables within a working strategy (or even a sputtering strategy).  Many times tinkering with one variable is all it takes to turn failure into success or marginal success into a huge win.
  4. Experiment continually with new possibilities knowing that the best way of connecting unconnected people hasn’t been tried yet.  Do this even when you’re existing strategies are working because you know you’ve not yet connected everyone.

Exhibit A:

When Saddleback began experimenting with the Small Group Connection strategy, everyone thought they were crazy.  The idea that a group of relative strangers could effectively choose a leader from amongst themselves after only an hour seemed outrageous (of course, that was before Malcolm Gladwell explained the sociological phenomenon in his book Blink).  The willingness to try a new idea resulted in the launching of over 800 groups and became the primary way that Saddleback launched groups.

Exhibit B:

Although the Small Group Connection strategy was working very well, an unprecedented opportunity to connect people emerged with the 40 Days of Purpose campaign in 2002.  The number of unconnected people at Saddleback exceeded the number who could be connected using a “come to an event” strategy like the Connection.  The HOST strategy was the result.  Not because Connection didn’t work.  Rather, HOST presented a new opportunity to connect the friends and neighbors who wouldn’t come to an event.

Exhibit C:

Very few men’s small groups at Parkview (less than 5).  Most meet on campus.  What if we announce that we’re going to be at three restaurants near three of the train stations on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday?  Could we start new men’s groups if we plan to meet closer to where the day begins for the unconnected men in our church?  Here’s what we know:  Day one produced 6 guys who needed to be connected.  Day two and three were a bust.

Exhibit D:

We promoted a Men’s Summer Book Study featuring The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz.  We offered two times (6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.).  Over 140 men showed up to do the study.  We didn’t have preassigned leaders.  The men were simply sorted out geographically into tables of 6 to 8 men.  Short story, we ended up with 9 new men’s groups meeting off-campus.  You can read the rest of the story in File This Under Connection Ideas.

Remember, if you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you’re going to need to do things no one else is doing.

Resources That Equip Coaches

I noticed a tweet the other day that asked for recommendations on coaching resources…specifically skills and development.  Here are a few that I’ve found very helpful:

A must have for every small group ministry library is Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders: A Practical Guide for Those Who Lead and Shepherd Small Group Leaders by Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman.  Pulling from years of practical experience at actually building an extensive coaching structure and equipping coaches for practical ministry, this is a great place for you to start your thinking as you develop coaching in your small group ministry.

Making Small Groups Work by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is another very important resource for both small group coaches and leaders.  Packed from cover to cover with an extensive overview of how to handle individual issues, this is a great book for leaders and coaches to read together or at a minimum, for the coach to have in their bag of tricks.  Very practical and definitely worth picking up.

Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership: How Lay Leaders Can Establish Dynamic and Healthy Cells, Classes, or Teams by Carl George is an important resource for your coaching library.  Although it’s really focused on keys to effective small group leadership, it can easily be used to equip coaches for the work of guiding small group leaders.

Do You Already Have All The Answers?

When you take a close look at how your small group ministry is going…are there problems for which you don’t have answers?  Or is it all good?

Alan Kay, the computer scientist, said “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”  His famous quote is also recorded as “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Either way, he’s pointing out that acquiring a different perspective or point of view can make us a lot smarter.

He was talking about computers, but this is true in small group ministry too.

Do you have the right point of view or perspective on your ministry?  Sometimes it helps to walk around to the other side of something and look at it from another angle.  Ever done that in your ministry?

  • Are you really connecting the percentage of your congregation you hope to?
  • Are you addressing the main reasons people aren’t connecting?  How?
  • Are you measuring the way your church-wide efforts are impacting the community?
  • Are people really changing as a result of life in community?
  • Is it unusual when someone actually changes?

Here’s today’s prescription:

First, spend time today looking at your ministry from a different angle. Ask yourself hardball questions about how your ministry is going.  This is not a search for problem-free.  It is a quest for more effective.  It is a journey that begs to be taken.

Second, consider the value of a strategic outsider. It almost always helps to get fresh eyes on a challenging situation.  I’d consider it an honor to spend an hour with you figuring out next steps that will take you where you want to go.  Click here to find out how to set up a call.

5 Things You Can Do Now To Connect More People This Year

It is not too late to do a few easy things that will help connect a lot more people this year.  In fact, there are 5 little things you can do right now that could make a really big difference in the total number you connect by the end of the year.  Here they are:

  1. Take advantage of special days in May and June to launch short-term groups.  I’ve already written an article on how to use special days to launch groups.  The key is to take action.  Don’t let these days slip by.  Even if you start one women’s group off of Mother’s Day and one men’s group off of Father’s Day…that could easily add 16 to 20 adults to your list of people who are connected.
  2. Use a 2 to 3 line blurb in your bulletin, newsletter, or website to troll for interest in special groups (i.e., 20-something singles, single moms, empty nesters, young couples, etc.).  Give them a way to tell you they’re interested, collect the names for a month, plan an event to help them meet each other, and launch a 6 week group to cement the deal.
  3. Start a pilot group (or several) using an easy to use study on an interesting topic.  There are a number of new studies that would make good pilot group experiences.  John Ortberg’s, “The Me I Want to Be” provides a great 5 week experience.  If you’ve got Chip Ingram fans (or at least people who’ve read his books), take a look at r12, his new study based on Romans 12.  Or you might want to take a look at Abide, a new 5 session study of the Sermon on the Mount from Threads Media (Lifeway’s young adult line of curriculum).  Don’t be scared away by the “young adult” designation.  It’s the format that you want to experiment with.  I think you’ll like it.
  4. Plan to capture video testimony from both the leaders and the members of any new group you start in the next 60 days.  I’ve explained how to do this here and here.  It will be much easier to encourage people to host a group this fall (or join a group this fall) if you’ve already put together the testimonies of some satisfied customers while they’re fresh.
  5. Begin planning your fall church-wide campaign today.  The key is to take advantage of right now to plan and set in motion the process that will maximize the fall.  I’ve written a lot on this subject.  My article, Planning an Alignment (a Church-Wide Study) is a good overview that will get you thinking today.  The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign is another good place to start.

Bonus: Setting up a 60 minute coaching call is easy, affordable, and will pay for itself.  You’ll have clarity on your next steps or your money back.  I guarantee it.  Find out more right here.

Top 10 Articles in April

Here are the top 10 articles from April 2010 (as measured by Google Analytics):

  1. Small Group Philosophy 101
  2. Technology: Tools That Enhance GroupLife
  3. Looking for a New Church-Wide Campaign?
  4. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups
  5. How To Build An Annual GroupLife Calendar
  6. Skill Training: Top 10 Ways To Find New Group Members
  7. Design a System That Identifies Potential Leaders
  8. What’s The Best Way to Launch New Groups?
  9. Skill Training: Equip Leaders To Help Members Plan to Grow
  10. Skill Training: Sub-Grouping for Deeper Connection

By the way…compared to April, 2009, page views have increased by over 100%!  Thanks for reading!  If you have any ideas for upcoming articles, you can submit them as questions in my small group ministry survey right here.

The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry

One of the books you need in your library is The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry by Randall Neighbour.  You don’t need to agree with everything.  I don’t.  But this is one of those books that you need to read because it will bring balance and perspective to whichever small group philosophy you choose.

In the Naked Truth, Neighbour takes a look at 7 of the key challenges in small group ministry and provides a healthy dose of truth about:

  • the American Church
  • Lead Pastors
  • Small Group Strategies
  • Relational Discipleship
  • Small Group Leadership
  • Intergenerational Small Groups
  • Small Group Driven Churches

That healthy dose of truth is the best part about the book and Randall Neighbour’s ministry.  He pulls no punches.  He doesn’t waffle.  He takes a position…and writes from that perspective.  His position, his perspective, is that of the holistic small group* movement (think cell church model).

If you’ve been a reader for very long here, you know that I am an advocate of a lowered bar for leadership and that is definitely not in the toolkit of a holistic small group strategy.  But here’s the thing…you’ll learn a lot from Neighbour and The Naked Truth and that’s important.  Although there is no problem free strategy or philosophy, it is really helpful to understand all of the possibilities and choose the set of problems or challenges you’d rather have.  This book will give you some important perspective about the upside of a holistic small group strategy.  With that perspective you’ll be able to better compare options.

I definitely recommend adding The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry to your reading list.  The perspective you bring to it will have you nodding your head in agreement or throwing it across the room.  Added to your overall knowledge of the challenges and benefits of small group ministry, the book can only bring a more comprehensive and balanced understanding.

*”A healthy small group is comprised of 3-12 persons who have chosen to live together in biblical community for the purposes of Christ-centered worship, edification, relational evangelism, and discipleship (p. 16, Naked Truth).”

Introducing: Alan Danielson and

One of the small group ministry experts you ought to get to know is Alan Danielson and his blog ought to be bookmarked or subscribed to.  I first met Alan when he stepped into a key leadership role in the small group ministry at  His leadership and skill set was instrumental in the development of one of the largest small group ministries and a very effective multi-site strategy.

While Alan was at he began developing video curriculum and resources to train small group leaders.  You can see quite a collection of Alan’s work right here.

Since leaving, Alan has been speaking and providing a range of consulting services to churches and has built a great national reputation along the way.  In addition, he’s been a regular speaker at major conferences around the country.

If you’re not regularly reading Alan’s blog…you’re missing some very good coaching.  I’ve found his series, “The Problem with Small Group Pastors” to be a must read resource for point people in small group ministry.  You can also follow him on Twitter right here.

You can see the rest of my GroupLife Introductions series right here. And you can learn more about how to keep up with the GroupLife scene right here.

Recruiting Coaches: When Not To Compromise

I’ve written a lot about coaching.  You can see quite a few articles right here.  Today I want to warn you about something you might find surprising given my reputation for advocating a “lowered bar” approach for group leaders.  I want to really encourage you not to compromise or lower the bar in terms of who you recruit as coaches and what you expect of them.  Let’s talk about those two subjects:

Who To Recruit As Coaches

In an earlier article I wrote about the kind of person that makes the best coach.  The short version is that your candidate needs to be passionate about grouplife and they need to be at least a 60 fold person.  I’m referring to Jesus’ use of the 30, 60 and 100 fold idea in Mark 4 and other places.  It only makes sense that you can’t expect a 30 fold person to lead (or coach) and 60 fold person.

In addition to their competence, another very important qualifier is that the coaching candidate be in agreement with your small group philosophy.  You need to be on your guard on this issue because it’s one of the places we’re most likely to compromise.  For example, if you are trying to build a small group ministry on the idea that by lowering the bar in terms of who can lead and one of your coaches is constantly fretting over whether you’re allowing the wrong people to lead…you’re going to have problems.  Make sure that your coaching candidates are in philosophical agreement and do it before you invite them onto the team.

I’ve listed a whole set of recruiting ideas right here.

What To Expect of a Coach

Developing and communicating expectations is another place where compromise will definitely come back to haunt you.  Developing a job description is an important step.  A periodic review that measures the coach’s activity is essential.  If you inspect what you expect, a lot more will end up happening.


This may sound like an oversimplification, but developing expectations (both in terms of philosophy and performance) on the front end and then sticking to them will go a long way toward producing a coaching structure that works.  Will it be perfect?  Not hardly!  But it doesn’t need to be perfect.  Don’t compromise on these two things and it will be more than good enough.