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5 Things That Used to Work in Small Group Ministry

used to workNot long ago Craig Groeschel talked about the death of the five year plan:

“When I started in ministry two decades ago, everyone I knew was making five-year plans. While thoughtful planning is wise and biblical, I’ve changed how I plan.

Instead of planning for specific buildings, campuses, staff roles, and outreach, I plan to be prepared for opportunities that I can’t name today. Here at Life.Church, we’re focusing on creating margin and planning to respond quickly to ideas that we don’t yet have.”

He’s right. There was a time when everyone made five year plans. And then the speed of change sped up and called for a new practice. So Groeschel and Life.Church adapted to the challenges of a different day and adopted a new practice.

And many churches go right on making five year plans. Even though times have changed and the practice is no longer effective.

And so it is with small group ministry

In the same way, there are things that used to work in small group ministry…but no longer do.

  1. Relying on apprentice leaders as the main source of new group leaders. Apprenticing is a biblical practice and a timeless practice. It just doesn’t end up being a viable main source for new group leaders for most churches. If you’ve already connected a very large percentage of your weekend adult worship attendance in groups and can afford to wait 12 to 18 months for each new leader to emerge…you are the exception. Since the vast majority of churches have connected less than 50% of their weekend adult worship attendance, a faster and more reliable source for new leaders is required. This is why both the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy within a church-wide campaign are so important to understand and implement. Both strategies identify often unknown leaders from outside the usual suspect pool. See also, 8 Secrets for Identifying an Unlimited Number of Leaders.
  2. Matchmaking: Taking sign-ups to join a group and then placing members with leaders. There may have been a day when church staffing ratios were more robust and the hand-to-hand combat of finding just the right match for every person who wanted to sign up for a group made sense. Today’s staffing trends have long since made this practice an unsustainable practice. Hear me. I decided in 2000 to stop taking sign-ups to be added to a group and began only taking sign-ups to attend a small group connection or commit to host a group and fill my own group. There may have been a time when matchmaking worked. It is long gone in all but the rarest exceptions. See also, 5 Stupid Things that Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.
  3. Assuming that life-change is happening in every group. I’m not sure life-change ever happened in every group, but the assumption that it is happening needs to be carefully evaluated. Like the servants entrusted to invest the master’s resources (and held accountable for the results), a lack of intentionality in small groups leaves pastors and leaders open to a harsh accountability. Building an effective coaching structure, doing TO and FOR your leaders whatever you want them to do TO and FOR their members, and providing a discipleship/curriculum pathway are essential practices if you want to build optimum environments for life-change. See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
  4. Assuming biblical literacy. Unless your small groups only include Traditionalists (1945 and before) and older Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), you cannot assume biblical literacy. Think about what this means when you choose small group curriculum that assumes knowledge of anything more than the most basic theological understanding. Think about what biblical illiteracy means when less than half the members of a group know that the Joseph in the Old Testament is not the same as the Joseph that married Mary. If you’re not choosing curriculum (and training leaders) with an awareness of a lower biblical literacy, you’re setting your members up for a struggle. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  5. Assuming a biblical worldview. Similar to assuming biblical literacy, assuming a biblical worldview results in many forms of misunderstanding. What is obviously counter to God’s will for Christ-followers is often an unsolved mystery for people who are still far from God or beginners on a spiritual journey. Marriage, same sex attraction, and an ambiguous view of morality are just a few of the challenges of leading a small group ministry in the twenty-first century. See also, 6 Reasons Our Discipleship Strategies Miss Their Mark.

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

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A Man and His Fatherhood Is a Must-Add to Your Recommended List

a man and his fatherhoodJust previewed a study you are going to want to know about. A Man and His Fatherhood is the final installment in a line of six men’s studies called 33 The Series, inspired by the Men’s Fraternity material created by Robert Lewis (I reviewed part 1 of the series right here).

Important Note: Right up front, I want to make sure you know that the six studies in this series can easily be used independently and in just about any order.

Like the other studies in this series, A Man and His Fatherhood can be used in several ways.  Much like Men’s Fraternity, it can be used as a weekly on-campus large group study with discussion groups.  It can also be used very effectively by men’s small groups that meet in homes, at work, or in a coffee shop.

“Being a dad is one of the most important and influential roles a man could ever play in his life. But being a good dad doesn’t always come naturally (from the cover).”

A Man and His Fatherhood covers six important topics:

  • Five foundational truths of fatherhood
  • How to be a grace-based dad
  • How to instill true greatness in our kids
  • A framework for fathering sons
  • The connection between strong dads and strong daughters
  • Parental decisions that launch healthy sons and daughters

DVD-driven, A Man and His Fatherhood is a six session study that features teaching by Bryan Carter (senior pastor of Concord Church), Tierce Green (lead house church pastor of The Church Project),  and John Bryson (founding pastor of Fellowship Memphis).  These three communicators are known for their ability to connect with men.  In addition to series regulars Carter, Green and Bryson, this volume includes segments from fathering experts Dr. Tim Kimmel (author of Grace-Based Parenting and Raising Kids for True Greatness), Stephen James and David Thomas (authors of Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys), and Dr. Meg Meeker (author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know). The DVD segments average 30 to 35 minutes in length and include a variety of elements: teaching, man on the street interviews, and personal testimonies.

The Training Guide includes a note-taking section to be used while viewing the teaching segment, as well as a reflection and discussion guide that will direct the group experience.  In addition, you’ll also find an engaging set of short between-session reading assignments on a series of topics that will capture and hold the attention of group members. Because of the way the questions are designed, no leader is required.

Far more than a study guide, the design of the Training Guide has a very engaging design.  I’ve been impressed with the look and feel of every volume and this one is no exception.  It has a very contemporary feel and will hold attention very well.

The Leader Kit comes with a second DVD that includes a promotional trailer, leader ideas, creative ideas for building a men’s large group study and much more.

If you’re looking for a new study that will help dads launch healthy sons and daughters into the world, you need to take a look at A Man and His Fatherhood. I like this study and I think you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5846273434_ffcbff26a6_z“Wise people build their lives around what is eternal and squeeze in what is temporary. Not the other way around.” John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box

Image by Ryan Seyeau

5 Keys to Arriving at Your Preferred Future

17435989173_e4e8eeb084_cI have written many times about the preferred future (for small group ministries or otherwise). The first time I remember hearing the term was at a Fuller Church Growth workshop in 1992. In a session on vision I heard that Tom Peters described vision as a “picture of a preferred future.”

I believe the preferred future is what you’ve clarified as the ultimate win; what you’re trying to produce.  It’s what you will one day call success. It is worth sacrificing for, investing in, and it actually ought to keep you up at night. Or at least wake you up in the middle of the night.

Arriving at your preferred future is never something you can do in a single move. Arriving at your preferred future calls for a lifetime achievement award. Arriving at your preferred future is almost always accompanied by a suddenly illuminated vision of a destination that is only visible or imaginable from the vantage point of what you thought was the preferred future.

Here are what I believe are the 5 keys to arriving:

  • Choose a preferred future with which you can be truly preoccupied. If you can imagine anything less as satisfying or good enough, you’ll never make it. It must be a grand enough destination that upon arrival you can say with the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” See also, Is Your Preferred Future Grand Enough?
  • Build a team that shares the dream. More and more I’m finding myself talking about the importance of a great team in building a thriving small group ministry. Another way I’m saying it is that thriving small group ministries are never built by sole proprietors. The African proverb says it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” A preferred future worth the investment of a life can only be reached with a team. See also, Sole Proprietor? Or Builder of a Great Team?
  • Keep one eye on the preferred future and the other eye on the next milestone. Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable. Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.
  • Choose milestones that lead (and only lead) to the preferred future. The identification of milestones is an essential step in any hope of arriving or progressing toward a preferred future. Milestones also play an important role in the strategy of developing “next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.” A milestone isn’t a milestone unless it leads (and only leads) to the preferred future. See also, Have You Identified the Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future?
  • Celebrate with abandon every milestone attained and win experienced. The camaraderie of a team is a special thing. Part of budgeting for the preferred future is the investment is providing for refreshment and replenishment along the way. See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

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

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If You Want to Get There You Must Change Paths

10430459544_55f81c498b_cOne of my most frequent conversations with consulting or coaching clients goes like this:

Them: “We’d like to try a scaled back version of the small group connection strategy.”

Me: “Tell me what you mean by scaled back?”

Them: “We can’t devote three weekends to promoting just the connection. Actually, the weekend prior is all we can do. And our senior pastor won’t use part of his sermon to talk about it. We need to just make an announcement. And as much as we’d love to use the connection to help us identify new leaders, we’re really nervous about who might get chosen. So we were really thinking it would be more of a group fair.”

Me: “Anything else?”

Them: “Well…the only time we can get the best room for it is Sunday at 2:30 p.m. But other than those little tweaks we love the idea.”

The truth is often that the path they are on does not go where they’d like to go. To get where they want to go, they actually must move to a different path.

If you want to get to there, you must move to a different path. Wishful thinking won’t help. Trying really hard won’t get it done. Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is not only the definition of insanity. Importantly, doing the same thing leads to the same destination. If you want to arrive at a new destination, you must change paths.

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Dilbert on Excuses

Sometimes you just need a laugh.

excuses large

You can see the rest of my Dilbert selections right here.

Bill Hybels – Coffee with God

bill hybels coffee with GodOne of my convictions is that whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups, must happen first in the lives of your leaders. Isn’t this a no-brainer? And as a result, this conviction informs the work you do “training” your small group coaches and leaders. If you want the members of your groups to experience certain things, you make sure your coaches and leaders have already had (or are having) those experiences. See also, Model What You to Happen at the Member Level.

Spending time with God every day is one of the most essential things I want every member to experience. In order to encourage that in the lives of the members of our groups I’ve begun sharing this video with our coaches (and will soon be asking our leaders to share it with their groups).

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

My friend Mac Lake posted a great set of discussion questions for this video. You can see them right here.

2974862_91bebf1e6d_z“Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” Dallas Willard, Living a Transformed Life Adequate to Our Calling

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How to Build Volunteer Teams that Expand Your Ministry

teamsIn yesterday’s post I gave 7 tips that will help optimize your small group ministry. Tip #3 was to Make identifying and recruiting a volunteer team of men and women who are passionate about small groups part of what you do all the time.

I went on to write that “some of the most enthusiastic potential volunteers are not leaders of leaders (or even leaders).” I went on to write, “if you can’t figure out how to use them, spend an afternoon creating an org chart for your ideal small group ministry.”

One of the books that helped shape my thinking about ministry was The E-Myth by Michael Gerber (now available in a revised edition called The E-Myth Revisited). A business book, it is packed with takeaways that directly apply to what we do.

One of the ideas I got from The E-Myth was that the way to build the organization you’ll need tomorrow is to start today by charting out the org chart for the organization you’ll need sooner than later. That’s right. Take the time to draw the org chart in the way it would be drawn if you had plenty of help…already.

And I’m not the only one who picked up on this idea. I’ve heard Andy Stanley talk about being inspired by The E-Myth and doing the same thing at the very beginning of North Point.

Here’s how to do it:

Start by listing all of the individual tasks that you’re doing to keep things running. This list might give you a hint or two:

  • Recruiting small group leaders
  • Training new small group leaders
  • Coaching small group leaders
  • Following up on indications of interest in joining a small group (whether they’re coming in via the bulletin, phone, or in person)
  • Reviewing new small group studies and updating the recommended list
  • Training existing small group leaders
  • Planning training events to train small group leaders
  • Collecting life-change stories to pass on to your senior pastor
  • etc.

Next, begin to drop these individual roles into the format of an org chart. Keep in mind that right now your name might be in most of the boxes!  Here’s an example.

Finally, begin looking for people who would be great at the individual roles. You won’t find them all at once. You’ll find them one at a time. You’ll need a job description and a way to supervise every role. It will take some work. But when you find them, every one you find will begin to delegate away the things that could be done by volunteers or additional staff. And it will leave you doing what only you can do!

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

Image by Dawn Manser

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

7 Tips that Will Help Optimize Your Small Group Ministry

15894436305_29152fc7fd_cRegardless of your small group ministry model, there are a few things you can do to optimize your small group ministry.

Here are 7 tips that will help optimize your small group ministry:

  1. Focus your attention on the things that only you can do and delegate everything else, Conduct an audit on your weekly calendar. Whatever you are doing that could be done by someone else, must be delegated. If you don’t have anyone to delegate to, see tips #2 and #3.
  2. Make identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders your number one objective. Start by taking a serious, steely-eyed look at your existing small group leaders. Every super effective small group leader ought to be looked at as a possible coach (a leader of leaders). Anyone who is a sixty or hundred-fold leader and leading a small group of adults (even if there are 20+ members in their group) might actually be misappropriating their capacity on ordinary men or women when they could (and should) be focusing on leaders.
  3. Make identifying and recruiting a volunteer team of men and women who are passionate about small groups part of what you do all the time. Some of the most enthusiastic potential volunteers are not leaders of leaders. If you can’t figure out how to use them, spend an afternoon creating an org chart for your ideal small group ministry. Add positions for every person it would take to maximize your potential. Strapped for administrative help? Add a position or two. Serving as a greeter yourself at your small group connections? Add positions for greeters. Writing discussion questions yourself for your sermon-based study? Recruit a writing team.
  4. Give regular attention to optimizing your next step menu and strategy. A buffet does not lead to more participation. A carefully groomed selection of next steps takes great courage and skillful tact and wisdom. Trimming available options (or at a minimum highlighting only the best next step will yield the highest completion. This cannot be put off. Although it often can only be accomplished with the tenacity and temerity of a political operative, a carefully manicured becoming and belonging menu will maximize the number of adults who get connected.
  5. Eliminate every opportunity to sign up to join a small group. The only sign-ups you should be taking are sign-ups to attend the next event or program that will launch new groups. Every sign-up opportunity that necessitates a contact to arrange a matchmaker function on your part (or anyone on your team) is wasted energy. Edit your connection card to remove “I’d like to join a small group” and add “I’d like to sign up for the small group connection.” Edit your website content to remove matchmaker functions and replace with sign-ups that will ultimately launch new groups.
  6. Focus on launching new groups. Evaluate your menu of connecting opportunities and focus on events and strategies that launch new groups. Everything you are currently doing to add members to existing small groups (i.e., taking sign-ups to join a group, holding small group fairs that repopulate existing groups, editing catalogs or lists of open groups, etc.) are almost always the least effective ways to spend your time. Instead, focus your time and attention on planning and implementing events that launch new groups. The most effective way to connect unconnected people is to give them opportunities to join groups where everyone is new.
  7. Train leaders of existing groups to be always inviting new members to their group. Every group leader will eventually need to add new members. Their best chance of actually adding new members who can break through the nearly impermeable membrane of an existing group is when a leader or a member invites a friend to join their group. Matchmaking is almost always counter-productive. In most cases only the most brazenly extroverted (with the exception of experienced small group participants from other churches or who come from a group that died) will use a small group finder. It is also a seldom acknowledged reality that it is the addition of a brazen outsider that causes the demise of a number of otherwise healthy groups every year.

Further Reading:

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