Top 10 Things To Do This Summer To Maximize Your Fall

Churches that are praying for and expecting a high-impact fall ministry season do more than take a break in the summer.  They do take a break…but they also realize that summer is an essential time to do some simple but very important things that make a huge difference in September.

Here are my top 10 ideas:

  1. Deepen your relationships. This is a great time to catch coffee, breakfast or lunch with your coaches. The agenda can just be “how ya doin’? It will pay off in the fall when you’re asking your coaches to work a little harder than the rest of the team.
  2. Build your coaching team. Think about which of your hosts might be misappropriating their SHAPE by caring for 8 to 10 adults instead of 4 to 6 leaders (who each care for 8 to 10 adults). You probably have at least one or two that fit that category. This is an opportunity to help them move to the right seat on the bus.
  3. Plan and shoot the videos you’ll need in August and September. This is a great time to capture the video (or line up the testimonies) that will enable you to recruit new small group hosts in August and encourage unconnected people to test-drive a group in September.
  4. Fine tune the time-line for your fall strategy. You can think about things like the dates that your host insert will be in the bulletin, when you’ll start talking about being “in a group” vs. hosting a group, how you’ll promote each of those steps, ways of marketing the campaign you’ll be launching, when you’ll introduce the next curriculum, etc.
  5. Figure out what study you’re going to recommend after your church-wide campaign.  There are few things more important than introducing the right next study for your new groups to use right after the campaign.  Remember that a key is to choose a next curriculum that is very similar in kind to what you’ve just used (i.e., DVD-driven, easy to use, application oriented, etc.).  My article, What’s Next?  When (and How) To Promote the Next Curriculum will help you see how to do it.
  6. Encourage your existing small groups to take a “small group vacation” this fall. This is a very strategic move that can pay off big time but you’ll need the big guns and some preparation to pull it off. See my article for more.
  7. Clean up the data in your small group database.  Whether you’re using a small group finder technology like ChurchTeams or simply posting a static list of groups on your web page, summer is a key time to work through the information, clean it up and make any necessary corrections.
  8. Consider adding a blog for your small group ministry.  You can use my article on How To Get Started Using a Blog To Resource Leaders as a reference and get it in place over the summer.  Actually, summer is a great time to begin implementing a whole list of technology ideas that enhance grouplife.  You can take a look at my best ideas right here.
  9. Plan a few “get to know your neighbor” activities and encourage everyone to join in.  I wrote an article on The Top 10 Ways To Get To Know Your Neighbors This Summer.  It’s required reading if you really want to impact your community this fall.
  10. Start now praying for the fall ministry season!  This is number 10 on my list but it is #1 in importance.  Get your small group leaders and coaches in this game.  Now’s the time to ask some of the prayer warriors in your ministry to jump in and organize a regular and systematic approach to praying for the fall.


When I was given a copy of Exponential at the Exponential conference in Orlando I added it to my stack and figured I’d get to it when I got to it.  When I finally got to it…I found myself captivated by a great story!

Exponential is the very inspirational and at the same time extremely practical story of how Community Christian Church in suburban Chicago became a leading influence in the reproducing church movement.  When I say inspirational, you need to read packed with great stories, real life stories about people at Community who have been seized by the idea of stepping into ministry.  When I say practical, you need to read packed with immediately implementable practices that will help your church move in the direction of becoming a reproducing ministry.

Exponential at its core is the best practical explanation of how to implement the concept of apprenticing at every level.  If you’ve been along for any length of time you know what I think about apprenticing (if not, you can check here and here).  This is not that.  Really, what the Fergusons do a great job of illustrating is how to leverage an apprenticing strategy to reproduce leaders systemwide.  Very cool and an essential practice if you want your ministry to move beyond you in impact.

I really have to say that Exponential by Dave and Jon Ferguson fits in a pretty exclusive category of game-breaking books for me.  Let me qualify that statement.  I read continually and have a library full of books I’ve actually read.  I’ve been reading this way for over 25 years.  I’ve forgotten most of the books.  There are a few that refer to all the time.  Exponential is in that category.

This is not a tough read.  It’s not challenging to understand (like  Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways) or to do (like Chan’s Crazy Love).  At the same time, it is challenging because we can easily understand it and even better, we can do it.  We just have to want to be a reproducing church and begin to do what we learn in Exponential.

Introducing: Ben Reed and

Have you discovered Ben Reed yet?  He’s the Community Groups Pastor at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, TN.  He’s also one of a select group of younger small group pastors around the country that are doing a fantastic job in what they do.  I loved a recent Twitter reference that Steve Gladen made about Ben: “Got schooled 2day by 4 sharp up and coming SG Pastors @benreed @spenceshelton @mattwharmer @adamworkman Awesome time Oh to replay those days!”  High praise coming from Steve!

Although Ben’s blog isn’t all small groups all the time, it has some great content about group life and leadership and would be a very good daily read to add to your Google Reader.

In addition to very regular content on his own blog, Ben is a contributor to and SmallGroupTrader.

You can also follow Ben on Twitter and connect with him on facebook.

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.

How Fresh Is Your Perspective?

My perspective changed when I took a drink right from the milk carton.  It was bad.  It was really bad.  It was awful!  (In the interest of journalistic accuracy, it was really a bottle, but carton sounds better)

I learned something that day.  I learned that it’s important to check the date on the carton before you take a drink…because there are few things worse than sour milk.

That’s really true in more ways than one.  It’s also true when you’re talking about perspective or point-of-view.  If your perspective is out of date…it can be a really bad experience.  You might not spit it out…but you’ll want to.

How does perspective apply to me and you?  It can make the difference between a win and a loss and it needs to be checked frequently.  Here’s an example:

Healthy small groups grow and birth.”

Ever said that?  Do you believe that?  Ever seen it happen?  How often?  How many times out of 10?  Did the baby live?  Did the mother live?  How often?  How many times out of 10?  How many times in the last year?

Don’t get me wrong…I’m in favor of groups growing and I’m in favor of groups spinning off leaders.  I’m only checking the freshness date on your perspective.  Why?  I’m pretty sure if you were tracking the gestation period along with the mortality rate, you’d conclude that an asterisk is required by the statement above.

Here’s another one.

The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.”

Ever said that?  Do you believe that?  Ever taken a look at your group system and tried to quantify the actual life-change happening?  Ever done anything to try and adjust the life-change quotient of your small group system?  Or is your environmental thermostat on auto-pilot?

Again…I’m right there with you.  I believe that small groups can provide the optimal environment for life-change.  I’ve just added a caveat.  Very few group leaders know what they need to know and do what they need to do to optimize the environmental thermostat.

It’s a perspective thing.  As the point person in my system, I need to be evaluating the environment all the time.  And you do too.  Alan Kay (the computer scientist) said that “perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Let’s just say, in what we’re doing…in the life-change business…those are some really big IQ points.  It pays to be serious about the freshness of our perspective.

Need some perspective adjustment?  Three articles come to mind:

The Perils of the Well-Worn Path

Along with the certainty that there is no problem-free solution or strategy and the conviction that the x factor is found near the edge of the crowd (not the core), I am convinced that the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.

The well-worn path never arrives at a new destination
Let me say that again.  The well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.  Stop and think for a moment about all that’s wrapped up in that statement.  There are several important ideas.

First, the well-worn (or familiar) path makes sense and it’s clearly marked.  It’s logical!  After all, a lot of people have walked this way.  Why would they do that if it weren’t the right way to go?

Second, the well-worn path looks safe (problem-free) and feels comfortable.  There’s not a lot of risk in it.  It’s even well lit and there are plenty of travel guides.

Third, there’s really no mystery to where the well-worn path goes.  It goes to the same place every time.

Why is this important?  Why do you need this in your strategic toolkit?  Elementary my dear Watson.  If you dream of going to a new place (150% connected)…you need to know going in that the well-worn path doesn’t go there.  If you dream of a arriving at a new place (where no one really stands alone)…you need to be looking for a different path.  If you dream of transforming your community…find a path that takes you there.  It won’t be the well-worn path.  It will take boldness.  It will look scary.  There will be risks.  But it takes a new path to arrive at a new destination.

As you’re dreaming and planning what’s next…don’t wast time searching for problem-free.  Keep looking near the edge for the x factor.  And be careful of the well-worn path.

The X Factor Is Near the Edge

If you’ve been along for the conversation here you know that one of my core assumptions is that there is no problem free.  That is a huge help in the development of strategy.  It frees you from the pursuit of problem-free and it frees you to choose the most effective.  Very freeing.

Another very important assumption here gets a lot less mention, but is one you need to move to if you’re going to build a grouplife system that has exponential capabilities.  Here it is:

“The x factor is found near the edge of the crowd–not the core (AKA the usual suspects).”

What Does It Mean?

The simplest way of explaining the concept is with the diagram.  If you think about most churches, there are way more people involved than are there on most weekends.  For example, if you’re averaging 700 on the weekend you know it’s not the same 700 people.  If you look at the database, you’ll find that there are really 900 to 1000 people who attend over the course of a quarter.  That’s the explanation for Easter or Christmas Eve numbers.  Those are two times a year when almost everyone attends.

This is significant because there are several kinds of people within the average attendance.  There are 3 to 4 times a month people.  There are a couple times a month people.  And there are a few times a year people.  You may have never spent any time thinking about this…but there is a key in it that you need to pay attention to.  Here it is:

The people who are less frequent in their attendance have more connections to the outside than they do to the inside.

Think about that for a moment.  If you asked the folks who attend 3 to 4 times a month, “Who are your 10 best friends (in the area you live)?” you’ll discover that 8 or 9 or sometimes even all 10 are also 3 to 4 times a month people.  I represent them on the diagram as the square.  I actually say that the square represents the people that are very connected at your church.  There are two factors that are involved in their connection:  First, they’re so connected that if anything happened to them or a member of their family, someone else would find out about it within 24 to 48 hours without anyone ever calling the church.  And, second, there’s someone building into them from a spiritual standpoint…and it’s not the pastor.  They’re in a small group or they’re on a serving team and someone is paying attention to them from a spiritual standpoint; noticing when they’re growing and challenging them when they’re not.  I call these people “the usual suspects.”

Think back to where their friends are.  Remember, their best friends are also inside the square.  That’s really, really big and important for you to understand.  Now, think about the folks closer to the edge of the circle 9what Saddleback refers to as “the crowd.”  If you ask them who their friends are, do you know what they’ll tell you?  Their best friends are almost always outside of the circle.  They’ve never been to your church.

Here’s the question.  If you’re going to recruit people to host a group and invite their friends…who would be the most productive person to recruit?  If you said the people in the core, you haven’t been paying attention.  Remember, if you’re going to ask the host to invite their friends, most of the friends of the folks in the core are already connected.  If you want to connect people who aren’t already connected, you’re going to have to recruit people who still have friends who aren’t already connected.


There’s a lot more on this that we could think about today.  A lot more.  For today, just wrestle with the fact that the x factor is found near the edge of the crowd–not in the core (AKA “the usual suspects.”)

Introducing: Allen White and

As you’re building your own blogroll, one you’ve got to subscribe to (or at least have bookmarked) is Allen White’s blog.  Allen’s one of the smartest guys I know, has a lot of great experience, and has built two very effective small group ministries in large fast growing churches.  On top of that, he was on Brett Eastman’s lifetogether team for several years and has been part of a lot of cool stuff around the country.

Although some of what Allen writes about on his blog is specific to Brookwood, a lot of it is very applicable to small group ministry wherever you are.  For example, his article on Bad Reasons to Close a Group is great stuff for small group leaders to hear and will probably inspire you to write a similar post on your leader’s blog (or just link to Allen’s!).

In addition to his work at Brookwood, Allen is the South Carolina Point Person for the Small Group Network.  He’s also a writer and has contributed to and (and probably some others that I’m not thinking of!).

You can find him on Facebook right here and 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.

How To Stay Up To Date with GroupLife

How do you stay up to date with what’s happening in GroupLife?  After all, there’s a lot happening…and there are cool stories everywhere!  Maybe you just count on me to pass it along (and I’m really glad you stop by here to see what I’m talking about).  But you really should have a few blogs and websites that you read regularly.  What’s the best way to do that?  Read on…

Although you probably have a few sites bookmarked, there is a faster and more efficient way to stay up to date.  Subscribing to the feeds of the blogs and sites you’d like to keep up with is very easy and makes for a lot less wandering around.  Plus, you can be notified when there’s something new (as opposed to stumbling across it the next time you remember to check it out).

Simple Method of Staying Up To Date

  1. I subscribe to the blogs I want to keep up with.  There are almost always two ways to do that.  You can subscribe by email (when you do that you get an email when there’s something new).  You can also subscribe to the RSS feed and check it out using an RSS reader.  You can see an example of these options on the subscribe page here at
  2. I use Google Reader to keep up with the most of the blogs I follow.  It’s really, really easy.  And it’s free.  All you do is sign up for Google Reader and then add the feeds to the blogs you want to keep up with.  You can be up and running in less than 5 minutes.
  3. There are a few blogs that I subscribe to by email because I want their content when it comes out (I only subscribe to 3 or 4 this way).  Most of what I follow is on Google Reader and I check it out several times a week.

Skill Training | Top 10 Ways to Learn to Pray Together

Praying together at the end of a small group meeting is one of the real challenges for almost every small group.  The very common fear of public speaking (number #1 fear for many) is compounded by the unspoken belief held by many that it’s important to speak an unfamiliar dialect when praying (a thee and thou palooza).

What can a leader do (who may have their own struggle) to help members learn to pray together?  Here are my top 10 ideas:

  1. Distribute index cards and pens and ask each person to write out a simple one sentence prayer request.  Swap cards and read them aloud.
  2. Ask each person to fill in the blank and say one thing they’re thankful for:  “God, I’m thankful for my ______________,”
  3. Pull a chair into the middle of the room and suggest that since Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20), “in tonight’s meeting let’s speak to Jesus as if He was right in that chair.
  4. Sentence prayers with no conjunctions (and).  One idea only.  For example, “God help me with __________.”  “God I’m thankful for _______________.”  “God be with Dean tonight in a way he can sense.”
  5. Ground rule: You can only pray for a personal concern tonight.  Nothing for your sister’s husband’s co-worker’s daughter.
  6. Ask your members to pair up or get in groups of three. I’ve written much more about this idea in The Power of a Spiritual Training Partner.
  7. Read Psalm 8 from a modern translation.  Move the group outdoors and ask each person to thank God for a specific aspect of nature.
  8. Choose a verse about prayer (for example, Philippians 4:6-7).  Print it for each member.  Talk about each phrase.  Ask each member to complete the phrase: “I’m most anxious about ______________.”  Then, simply express it to God: “God, I’m anxious about _____________.  Thank you for being a God who cares.”
  9. Many of the Psalms are actually prayers.  Have each member choose a section of a Psalm they can identify with to share as their own prayer.
  10. Print copies of Psalm 61 (or a Psalm of your own choice) from The Message.  Have your members read it aloud together.

These are just a few ideas.  There are many, many more that will help leaders and members who struggle with this powerful aspect of group life.  Do you have one that’s worked for you?  Use the comments to share it with the rest of us!

Looking for other skill training ideas?  Click here for additional resources.

To Do List: Film Video Testimonies That Inspire Action

The best way to launch small groups is with a church-wide campaign.  The best time to do it is in the fall.  I’ve written extensively about how to sequence a campaign.  One of the key steps in the sequence is recruiting hosts.

As you know by now, I am huge fan of using the personal stories of people who have hosted a small group in the recent past to recruit the next wave.  There is nothing more inspiring to someone who is considering opening their home and inviting a few friends.

If you want to capture great video (or live) testimony…the key is to start as early as possible.  Now really is the time to be identifying who has the best stories (leaders and members) and scheduling a video shoot.  Doing it early allows you to get compelling stories that inspire action.

Here’s a video that I helped produce in 2009:

A Heart for People from Mark Howell on Vimeo.

I’ve written a lot about using video testimony to recruit hosts and members right here.  The key really is to start early!  Don’t wait until the last minute.  You’ll miss stories like this one if you do.