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Equipping Life-Changing Leaders

In a recent post I reviewed the new edition of Bill Donahue’s Leading Life-Changing Small Groups (which is an essential resource in my opinion) and mentioned the DVD-driven companion resource, Equipping Life-Changing Leaders.  Let me say this right at the top…this is a great resource!

Several Reasons to Love Equipping Life-Changing Leaders

There are several reasons to love Equipping Life-Changing Leaders.  First, it is way more than a talking head that delivers content.  The combination of great instruction and training, testimonies from actual leaders and coaches, as well as role playing (featuring a number of Willow Creek’s actors) makes for a very engaging session.

Second, each of the sessions provide direction for the assignment ahead; a kind of roadmap that clarifies the why and makes sense of the how.  I really think this is a critical component.  In addition, the  extensive background of Bill Donahue, Russ Robinson and Greg Bowman as practitioners will lend credibility to the training process.  These three men played key roles in the development of the small group ministry at Willow Creek Community Church and their coaching exudes deep experience.

Third, I love the fact that Equipping Life-Changing Leaders includes the DVD content for three different resources in Zondervan’s Groups that Grow series.  Along with sessions that accompany Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, you’ll find sessions that accompany Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders and Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry.  This is a tremendous value and will provide continuity that is so important.

I really think this is an extremely valuable resource.  The combination of the right content and an excellent presentation will quickly find a place in the training process for many churches intent on becoming churches where nobody stands alone.

Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups?

3513098926_075f277b35_bI had an interesting question last week that prompted this post.  Here’s the question:

Hey Mark, I am looking for a small group resource that will help a group become more aware of guests – inviting, welcoming, etc. Suggestions?

Thinking I understood the situation, I sent the reader a link to Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members (which was written as a resource for group leaders who need to train their members to “fill the empty chair“).  Here’s the reader’s response to my answer:

That is helpful! Here is why I asked. We have an open group that meets on Wednesday nights on our campus. I refer new people to this group (emphasis mine).

When I read that last phrase, I knew I needed to respond differently.  Here’s why:

The Downside of Existing Groups Although I believe that there are upsides and downsides for existing groups (which I’ve listed right here), my chief concern when I read that last phrase was the knowledge that the longer a group has been meeting the harder it becomes for a new person to break in and really connect.  In fact, I often say that a nearly  impermeable membrane begins to form in months four to six.  Can a new person enter?  Yes…but only the most extroverted and least self conscious will make the effort.  And I should add, these very same people will often alter the group’s culture and sometimes the group’s ultimate demise can be traced to their inclusion (By the way, I know that sounds harsh, but then again, sometimes the truth hurts!). What about the whole issue of helping existing groups stay viable once they lost members?  Or their leader?  I’ve worked through that important issue right here.

The Upside of New Groups I have a bias toward new groups for many reasons (the main reasons are described in this post).  New groups come with lots of advantages (which are listed in this post).  I also believe that new groups lead to a church OF groups (which I explain in this post).

Conclusion

So…what’s the solution?  By now, you know I always acknowledge that there is no problem-free solution.  Adding new members to existing groups comes with a set of problems.  Launching new groups comes with a set of problems as well.  I prefer the set of problems that comes with a bias toward new groups and the constant effort to launch. That said, I also believe that the easiest way to help unconnected people take a baby step toward connection is an on-campus connecting event (I describe and explain this fully in How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear).  As much as I’ve found it helpful to provide a 24/7 way that unconnected people can use a small group finder (like ChurchTeams) to search for an open group that meets their needs, I view this as an always on, fall back measure.

My recommendation?  Build a small group strategy that regularly launches new groups (using a combination of an annual church-wide campaign and periodic on-campus connecting events (like a small group connection).  As new people arrive, give them an opportunity to sign up for the next connecting opportunity and let them know about the online finder (or list of open groups at the small group booth in the lobby).

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

Image by Steve Snodgrass

5 Incontrovertible Takeaways from Our Recent Small Group Connection

Last week was a great reminder about the power of a small group connection.  We had over 1100 people sign up to attend.  Over 600 people attended one of five connection events and we launched 45 new groups.  The connection process identified over 100 new leaders.  Many, many people said on their way out that they felt more connected at Canyon Ridge than they ever had.  There was a lot of laughter.  There were tears.  It was very fun watching new groups linger to keep talking after the event was over.  Very, very cool.

Let me say right at the top, I don’t see this as a large church strategy.  I know that’s a lot of people.  Think of it on a percentage basis and you’ll see how it can help you, too.

Exhausting and exhilarating, it was a great week.  It was also an important reminder.  Here are 5 incontrovertible takeaways:

  1. Your senior pastor’s support and engagement is absolutely essential.  I’ve said this many times, but I want to say it again so that it’s clear.  Our pastor took a couple minutes during his message on the three weekends leading up to the connecting events.  Embedded in his message was a very clear call to sign up and attend a connection.  He took out the sign-up form.  There was no hedging and no waffling.
  2. Connecting is a team sport!  We recruited and engaged a large team in order to pull it off.  Over 25 of our existing small group leaders and community leaders made phone calls to remind those who signed up about the upcoming connection events.  Our facilities team made sure the room was set up and ready to go every night.  Our database and check-in staff member was at each event to make sure check-in took place without a hitch.  Our child-care team was in place and ready to help children get settled so their parents could get connected.  Many of our community leaders attended more than one of the events so that the new leaders would feel supported right from the start.  Several staff members were at every event, helping to greet and make attendees feel welcomed and comfortable.
  3. New groups provide the easiest point of entry for unconnected people.  One of the most compelling aspects of the small group connection is that everyone is new.  That is a big, big factor and very important.  No one is trying to fit into a preexisting circle of friends.  Executed skillfully, everyone gets a chance to start fresh.
  4. The connection process identifies undiscovered leaders in a way that nothing else does.  Although it does happen that a few people attend hoping to lead a group, they are distinctly in the minority; a nearly invisible percentage.  The vast majority of leaders discovered admit later that they were surprised to be chosen, felt absolutely unqualified, were humbled by the selection, and only reluctantly said “yes.”  Sound like any biblical characters you know?
  5. Connecting people is a spiritual battle.  I’ve said many times that the easiest thing to do is put off doing the hard work necessary to connect people.  Looking for an easy way to take names versus slogging through multiple connecting events can look very appealing.  It is worth it to work hard to connect because unconnected people are always one tough thing away from being knocked out of the crowd.

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

Great New Edition of Leading Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue

One of the books that shaped my understanding of small group ministry was Leading Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue.  When it was originally published in the mid 90s it quickly became the most important tool in my leader training efforts.  With the 3rd edition (published in May, 2012) it’s even better!

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Leading Life-Changing Small Groups is the fact that it really begins at the beginning…literally; the introduction develops a very understandable theology of community.  As you’re beginning to build a small group ministry this is an essential ingredient.

Another aspect that makes this book so valuable is that Bill Donahue is truly a practitioner.  Don’t miss this key.  He wrestled with developing small group leaders for years in one of the most interesting grouplife laboratories anywhere (Willow Creek Community Church).  The practices and principles included in this book aren’t theoretical, but practical and proven.

The layout of the content also provides a very helpful leader training roadmap.  Beginning with a chapter on clarifying your purpose, every chapter develops an important concept, building block by building block establishing a strong foundation.  Covering many of the basics, Leading Life-Changing Small Groups could become the core curriculum for the ongoing leader development that needs to be done in many small group ministries.  Here are topics covered:

  • Clarifying Your Purpose
  • Sharpening Your Leadership
  • Developing Your Apprentice
  • Pursuing Spiritual Growth
  • Leading Life-Changing Meetings
  • Measuring Group Progress
  • Caring for Members
  • Impacting Your World

In the 3rd edition the chapters include a variety of reflection activities, assessments, and assignments, providing a rich experience that goes well beyond a reading exercise.  This is a great development, really taking it to a whole new level.

One of the most exciting aspects of this 3rd Edition is the companion resource, Equipping Life-Changing Leaders (I’ll be reviewing this resource next week).  With a DVD-driven design, it’s not difficult to imagine the two forming a core curriculum for leader development in many churches.

I’ve been using Leading Life-Changing Small Groups for years (I actually have a worn-out, dogeared copy of the original version produced in-house by Willow Creek in the mid 90s).  I’ve used it to train leaders and I’ve used the content to shape training exercises of my own.  I’ve got to say though, this new version is definitely new and improved.  I like it and I think you will too!

Fresh Eyes and No Emotional Attachment

Stuck?  Can’t figure out why?  Or maybe, you can see what needs to change, but you can’t figure out how to even begin.

Andy Stanley makes a great point in a talk from the Drive conference where he quoted something that Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel said to Gordon Moore, when they were stuck at Intel.  Grove said, “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?”

Sounds good doesn’t it?  Logical?  What keeps us from doing that?  What keeps you from doing that?

I think there are really two things.  First, sometimes we know what needs to be done but we have an emotional attachment to the way it’s being done now.  And then second, there are just times where we’re so close to it that we can’t really even see the issues.

The key?  Bring in someone with fresh eyes and no emotional attachment.  I play that role sometimes.  You might have someone else in mind.  The main thing is to act on the idea.  You’ll be glad that you did.

You can find out more about the consulting work that I do right here.  You can also listen in to a portion of Andy Stanley’s talk right here.

 

Top 10 Posts of April, 2012

Here are my top 10 posts of April 2012.  Three interesting things to me this month:

First, only one of the top ten articles is from April 2012.  I think because I choose an article or two everyday from the over 850 in my archives and tweet and post them to Facebook, I guess it’s not really surprising that only one of this month’s top ten was written in April of 2012!  By the way, if you’re not following me on Twitter or connected on Facebook…you’re missing out on an additional resource!

Second, in the last 30 days 795 of the 863 articles have been read at least once!  That’s the long tail at work.

Third, I had visitors from 90 countries!  That’s totally cool!  Thanks for stopping by!

  1. New from Beth Moore | James: Mercy Triumphs (November, 2011)
  2. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills (June, 2010)
  3. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  4. Diagnosis: Brutal Honest about Your Present (November, 2009)
  5. 5 Transferable Website Concepts from Saddleback’s Recent Campaign Launch (January, 2012)
  6.  Host: What Does It Mean (April, 2008)
  7. Ever Noticed Reveal’s Crowd-to-Core Wrinkle? (April, 2012)
  8. Review: Not a Fan (September, 2010)
  9. How to Implement Coaching for Existing Small Group Leaders (January, 2010)
  10. Top 10 Articles on Small Group Coaching (July, 2010)

Small Group Vital Signs

Looking for some serious small group ministry help? Might want to take a look at Small Group Vital Signs.  New from Michael Mack, this is a must read if you’re a small group pastor or director and might be ammunition you want your small group leaders to have in their arsenal.

Before I even get into the content, let me just fill you in on a very important detail.  There are books by grouplife theorists and theologians.  And then there are books written by small group practitioners.  Mike Mack is a serious practitioner…and Small Group Vital Signs is packed with the stuff that will help build a healthy small group ministry.  Extending the group health theme, Mack identifies “seven indicators of health that make groups flourish” and then works hard to include diagnostic questions and “remedies for what ails many small groups.”

The introduction provides a key insight into the real strength of the book.  In the midst of a serious quest for answers about how to move his own small group ministry to the next level, Mack determined to focus on group health instead of numbers.  His team “developed and used an online assessment tool to survey our group leaders on their perception of their groups’ health.”  Their findings helped them understand how deficient their groups were in the seven vital areas and a sense of direction that led to the coaching and practices that establish group health.

An overview of the seven vital signs might be helpful:

  • A healthy group is a Christ-centered community.
  • A healthy group has a healthy, overflowing leader.
  • A healthy group shares leadership with a core team.
  • A healthy group has proactive leadership.
  • A healthy group lives in authentic community.
  • A healthy group ministers to others.
  • A healthy group is a discipling environment.

Need help developing any of those traits?  In my mind, the best thing about Small Group Vital Signs is that it doesn’t stop with the diagnostic tools, but it also includes many of the practices that help develop the traits.  Also included in the book (and available online) is the small group health evaluation that provided the initial insight.

This is a very valuable tool.  If you’re a small group pastor or director, you need this one in your toolkit.  I was challenged by the thinking and I’m sure you will be too!

Don’t Let the Risk Take Your Eyes off the Opportunity

As I looked at the crowded room, I felt the curious mix of anticipation and anxiety that I always feel when a small group connection is about to begin.  To be completely honest, there’s even just a little hint of resignation as I balance the 75 minutes or so against the lives that are just about to change.

Without an available room at the optimum times (right after each of the services), we decided to hold connections on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights.  With the full support of my senior pastor and three straight weeks of promotion in his weekend message, we came into our final morning of promotion with over 650 people signed up.

Sunday night we connected over 210 adults into 15 new small groups.  Guided by the design of the event, each group chose leaders (you can read my article How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection for details on how the Connection works).  Wish you could have seen it or even felt it.  Very cool to be there.

I’ve been using the small group connection strategy since 2000.  I’ve personally launched well over 1,000 small groups and I’ve coached hundreds of churches in its use.

It is a great strategy.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that the connection process is reckless.  I’ve been told lots of times that it “doesn’t work here.”  I’ve seen the eye rolls as I describe how it works.

At the end of the day, here’s what I know.  The small group connection strategy is not without risk.  That is a given.  At the same time, the opportunity makes it all worth while.  Sunday night was exhibit A.  As over 200 newly connected people lingered around tables, the room still buzzed of conversation.  That was exciting, but there was something else even more exciting.  As the group of new leaders crowded around me to hear my brief standup meeting…I knew once again the thrill of watching a journey begin.

I hope you know that thrill.  It comes when you learn to not let risk take your eyes off the opportunity.

Become a Student

Short and sweet today. If you want to hear “well done,” make it your practice to be a learner.

In one of Andy Stanley’s best talks from Drive he used the phrase “become a student, not a critic.” Quoting Al Ries, Andy pointed out that “the next generation product almost never comes from the previous generation (Focus).”

Can I say it? Listen first. Listen intently. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Ask follow up questions. Make summarizing statements.

Become a student if you want to be part of the future.

Growth? Or Control? What’s Your Pleasure?

Sometimes the issues that seem the most complex are really very simple at their essence.  For example, I learned a long time ago that when when faced with the choice between several possibilities, there are no problem free solutions and that wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  That simple understanding has made issues that seem complex much simpler to understand.

Then there are a string of great quotes that help me organize my thinking.  For example:

I love a great line.  Here’s one that ought to influence a lot of our thinking:

“You can either structure (your church) for growth or for control, but not both.”  Rick Warren

That is a fabulous line.  Many of our most challenging decisions, lots and lots of both stimulating and tiring debate, finds its epicenter is the mistaken belief that you can structure for both growth and control.  You can try.  You can give it your very best efforts.  You can hope all you want.  But at the end of the day, you will need to choose between structuring for growth or control.

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