Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Dilbert on Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle

Sometimes…you just need to laugh!


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

Simon Sinek on Curiosity

curiosity“Curiosity is essential for progress. Only when we look to worlds beyond our own can we really know if there’s room for improvement.” Simon Sinek

Further Reading:

Image by Mohammad Abdullah

Don’t Miss the Upside of a Good Problem, Crisis, or Constraint

doorwayDon’t Miss the Upside of a Good Problem, Crisis, or Constraint

I’ve written extensively about there being no problem-free solution, strategy, or model. If you’ve read much here you know the next line is that wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.


I don’t talk about it as much, but it’s also true that we should never waste a good problem. A problem can lead to delay, frustration, or even despair. But it doesn’t have to. It can lead to some of the best thinking you will ever do. A good problem can force or help you to try out a new perspective and “perspective is worth 80 IQ points (Alan Kay).”

Before you simply chalk up what’s happening as a problem, spend some time analyzing the problem itself. Ask, “How might this problem actually help us rethink the solution?” See also, 4 Foundational Questions for Small Group Ministries.


In a slight modernization of Machiavelli*, Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The essence of his thinking? Crises afford opportunities to do things you wouldn’t do (or be able to do) in the absence of a crisis.

The next time a crisis develops in your ministry, spend some time evaluating what opportunities the crisis might be affording. See also, Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril.


Constraints (budget, volunteers, the attention span of your senior pastor, etc.) can feel like deal breakers. Constraints can feel like impassible barriers.

But they don’t have to. Jason Fried, a co-founder of Basecamp, has pointed out that, “Instead of freaking out about these constraints, embrace them. Let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.”

The essence of Fried’s thinking? Simple. When confronted by a constraint, focus your thinking and action on what you can do. See also, Diagnosing Your Discipleship Strategy.


Don’t miss the upside of a good problem, crisis, or constraint. They each offer a doorway to great opportunity.

*“Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Image by Joanna Paterson


3 Surprisingly Simple Solutions to Big Small Group Ministry Problems

problems-solutions3 Surprisingly Simple Solutions to Big Small Group Ministry Problems

Sometimes in life (and ministry) you trip across a solution to a problem and it truly is a Eureka! moment. You know what I’m talking about?

And I guess the longer you work at something, the longer you are kind of stuck, the more amazing the moment is when you discover a surprisingly simple solution to a big problem.

Here are some surprisingly simple solutions to big small group ministry problems.

Big Problem #1: Can’t find enough small group leaders.

This is a big problem for many small group ministries. Apprenticing rarely produces new leaders fast enough to meet the need. Tapping shoulders and individually inviting/challenging potential leaders relies on increasingly limited knowledge of who’s got potential. Planning and holding new leader training sessions produces mixed results with a few graduates who will easily succeed, a number of others who might succeed, and a few who clearly won’t.

What’s the solution?

Surprisingly simple solution: Hold events designed to help groups identify their own leader (from amongst themselves).

The small group connection strategy relies on two key ingredients:

  1. Natural human ability to quickly recognize potential. If you’re familiar with the premise of Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, people can accurately assess other people very quickly.  In my experience, adults can easily identify the relative shepherd after a 45 minute conversation.
  2. Skillful addition of spiritual guidance to fine-tune leader selection. The small group connection strategy does an excellent job of clarifying for a group who they ought to choose. All the facilitator has to do is help the group understand the qualities of the right leader.

See also, Design a System that Identifies Potential Leaders.

Big Problem #2: Can’t find people with the right stuff to be effective small group coaches.

This is a BIG problem. And it’s a problem almost everywhere. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten emails or comments here on the blog about the difficulty of finding the right people to serve as coaches. I’m sure most people just give up and abandon the idea altogether.

Surprisingly simple solution: Implement a “test-drive.”

This really was a Eureka! moment for me. How simple! I simply combined my growing awareness of how to identify a potential coach with a simple strategy that leveraged a reasonable favor. Once I combined those two things, the big problem disappeared! An amazingly simple solution.

Now, you do need to know how to identify a potential coach. There’s no substitute for that. And you need to know how to correctly and skillfully ask the right person for the right favor. But once you have those two things down, you too will be amazed at how simple this solution really is.

See also, Skill Training: How to Identify a Potential Coach and Skill Training: How to Recruit a Potential Coach.

Big Problem #3: Can’t persuade unconnected people to join a small group.

This also is a big problem in most churches. You know your congregation need to be connected in groups. You believe it is the optimal environment for life-change.

And despite your knowledge of what they need, you can’t persuade them to join a group. It’s actually like they say, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Can I add the horse-sense add-on phrase? “Unless you put salt in his oats.”

Surprisingly simple solution: Plan on-campus “studies” that lead to off-campus groups.

This is another really surprisingly simple solution. It helps to think about the big problem this way:

Unconnected people are mostly comfortable sitting in rows in the auditorium. Many of them have a longing to belong and to be known, but they don’t connect that longing with joining a small group. After all, who wants to go over to a stranger’s house!

How do you “salt their oats”? The surprisingly simple solution? Simply plan an occasional 6 week on-campus study on an attractive topic for each affinity you need to connect.

  • Do NOT call it a small group study.
  • Pick the right topic.
  • Hold the study at a convenient time.
  • Offer childcare where necessary.
  • Seat attendees by affinity around tables.
  • Let attendees experience the beginnings of being known and belonging for 4 or 5 weeks.
  • Encourage everyone to consider continuing to meet off-campus if they are enjoying the group.
  • Provide a great follow-up study for groups that want to continue.

See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy

Image by Susan Smith

These Are the Books You Need to Be Reading

books-you-need-to-readThese Are the Books You Need to Be Reading

“What should I be reading?!!”

I get asked that question all the time. When I checked Google Analytics just now, I noticed again (for the millionth time) that the “reading list” tab in the menu bar was my 5th most popular page or post in the last 12 months.

For years I’ve simply linked the “reading list” tab in the menu bar to an Amazon store with my recommendations. Honestly, I’ve never been sure how effective that was.

Today, I’ve decided it might be better to simply include a link to 5 of the most important reading lists I’ve built over the last several years.

See what you think!

Required Reading for the Small Group Pastor: Systems I think of some books as required reading. The books in this first list fall in the category of systems.  These 7 books provide an overview of what I view as the major small group ministry systems in use right now.

Required Reading for the Small Group Pastor: Building a GroupLife Culture I consider the previous list as required reading for the development of grouplife systems.  This list includes 4 of my favorite books on how to build a grouplife culture.

7 Must-Have Resources for Training Small Group Leaders Many books and resources have been produced to help small group pastors train their small group leaders. I believe these 7 books are the best of the best.

Resources that Equip Small Group Coaches You’ll notice that this is not a long list. While other books and resources have been produced, I think these are the best.

Books that Have Shaped My Thinking If you’ve read very much at all here at, you know that I read continually. I almost always have 2 or 3 that I’m reading at any one time and another 4 or 5 on the stack. Still…certain books are more important than others. These are the book that have shaped my thinking.

Image by Lydia Liu

Do NOT Miss Designed to Lead: The Latest from Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck

designed-to-leadSpent some time this week with Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development, a new book from Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck. If Geiger’s name sounds familiar it’s because he is the co-author (with Thom Rainer) of best-seller Simple Church, one of the most influential ministry books in the last decade. If you’re unfamiliar with Peck it’s because he is Lead Pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church (where Matt Carter is Pastor of Preaching and Vision). Can I begin by saying, “these two might know a thing or two about leadership development and the church?”

I love the thesis of Designed to Lead: “The center of leadership development must be the Church–meaning, that the leaders who will ultimately transform communities and change the world come from the Church (p. 4).” Far beyond developing an inspiring thesis, the authors do an excellent job of both laying the theological foundation and delivering “a framework for developing leaders in your church.”

Like several of Geiger’s previous books, Designed to Lead is organized in a very logical and understandable way. Making the argument that “churches that consistently produce leaders have strong conviction to develop leaders, a healthy culture for leadership development, and helpful constructs to systematically and intentionally build leaders (from the cover),” Designed to Lead illustrates convincingly demonstrates the why and the what. Most importantly (to me), the book is made complete with numerous examples of implementable constructs.

If you’re looking for help in building a leadership development pipeline, the chapter on discipleship and leadership development is easily worth the price of the book. At the same time, the chapter on pipelines and pathways will definitely end up not only underlined, starred, annotated, and dog-eared…but also end up in what you practice.

Finally, I’ve made a single pass through Designed to Lead and can see that just like Simple Church made it into church-growth lingo, the constructs here will provide a better way of thinking about leadership development and the Church’s role, your church’s role, in transforming your community.

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.”

Still Time to Catch the Extra Super Early Bird Price for GroupLife Southwest

glsw-squareI hope you’re planning to join us for GroupLife Southwest! And I really hope you’ll take advantage of the Extra Super Early Bird Price ($99.95 until October 15th)!

A powerful lineup of trusted small group ministry experts and leading practitioners (Bill Willits and Tim Cooper from North Point, Chris Surratt from LifeWay, Dave Enns from North Coast, Hugh Halter from Forge America, Todd Engstrom from Austin Stone, me, and more).

Do you know what’s timeless and what’s timely? Learn the principles and practices that are making grouplife work in the 21st century.

Hang out with hundreds of small group ministry practitioners.

Las Vegas in March!

Find out more at

Simon Sinek on the Value of Experimentation

experimentation“The value of experimentation is not the trying. It’s the trying again after the experiment fails.” Simon Sinek

I don’t know about you, but I love this line from Simon Sinek.

I’ve said before that one of my proudest moments was when my prospective boss at Parkview was told “if you’re okay with a mad scientist…Mark will be a good hire.”

Let me say this to you. Sticking with the same design year after year guarantees you will not escape the gravitational pull of the status quo. Breaking free of the status quo requires experimentation and that means trying again when the experiment fails.

See also, 5 Ideas You Ought to Be Testing This Fall.

Image by dife88

4 Ways the Cultural Shift Impacts GroupLife

culture-shift4 Ways the Cultural Shift Impacts GroupLife

Has it happened yet? If it hasn’t, it’s just a matter of time. Most likely, it will happen before you see it coming.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about ways the culture shift impacts grouplife.

4 ways the culture shift impacts grouplife:

  1. Biblical illiteracy is on the rise. Yes, most Americans still have more than one Bible in their homes. They simply don’t read or understand their Bible. At a minimum, this immediately affects both the selection of studies you offer and the way you must train and resource group leaders. If you haven’t already begun to shift your strategy, you are behind.
  2. A Christian worldview cannot be assumed. This is not just about the arrival and growing influence of other world religions. It actually has just as much to do with the decades long trend to simply include popular wisdom and practices of celebrities (think Oprah), politicians, philosophers, and social activists. Syncretism is “the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” If you haven’t already adjusted your leader training to anticipate this you are behind.
  3. Moral ambiguity is pervasive. Remember when that was only done in secret? Remember when that could only be said in an R rated movie? Or when everyone knew you just didn’t do that?  This challenge is not reserved for those who haven’t joined a small group. If you haven’t begun to help group leaders learn to help members set appropriate guardrails, you are behind.
  4. Marital status debates, sexual preferences and gender issues are not just in the news. These issues are also not reserved for those outside of the church. If you haven’t already felt the impact in your small group ministry, it is moments away. If you’re not already equipping your group leaders and coaches you are behind.

Culture shift is right at the heart of why I’m holding GroupLife Southwest, a new small group ministry conference. See also, 5 Reasons I’m Launching GroupLife Southwest.

Further Reading:

Image by Anders Sandberg

You’re Invited! Join My 2017 Coaching Network!

2017-coaching-network-finalMy 2017 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network experience is designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century. The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. My coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

Who will be part of the network? Each of my networks are limited to 15 participants and are designed for small group champions who serve in a local church. Because of the nature of the role, champions may be senior pastors, executive pastors, small group pastors and directors, ministers of education, and other key leaders.

What will you receive?

  • Five monthly coaching sessions. Anchored by a 90 minute video conference call, these group session provides focused exposure to the strategies that will build a more powerful platform.  Sessions are scheduled at 11am Pacific on January 19th, February 16th, April 20th, May 18th, and June 15th).
  • Two day gathering in Las Vegas. March 29th: 1pm-5pm followed by dinner | March 30th: 8am-12pm
  • Bonus: Registration for GroupLife Southwest is included (my small group conference here in Las Vegas is March 27th and 28th)
  • Focused training on key strategic steps including planning with the end in mind, developing an annual grouplife calendar, identifying an unlimited number of new leaders, launching new groups in waves, and impacting your community through groups.
  • Tools, strategies and next steps to be implemented after every session.
  • Access to special password protected network pages with customized content for each session.
  • Scheduled 60 minute one-on-one calls to address questions more specifically, bring team members into the conversation, or help equip your senior pastor or other key staff members.
  • The opportunity to connect with other network participants between sessions
  • Email access to Mark during the six months

What are the expectations?

  • Participate in all six sessions
  • Invest as little as $1050* (*super early bird pricing thru 10/31/15, early bird pricing of $1150 from 11/1-11/30, $1250 after 11/30/15)
  • Cover your own travel expenses to the two day gathering
  • Commit to the reading and exercises between sessions

What’s next? Complete the Coaching Network Application. My 2017 Coaching Network begins on January 19th, 2017. Questions? Contact me.

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