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quote marks“The best plan is only good intentions unless it degenerates into work.” Peter Drucker

Top 10 Reasons Your Small Group Ministry Is Tanking

tanking

Top 10 Reasons Your Small Group Ministry Is Tanking

Is your small group ministry struggling? Do you feel like you’re spinning your wheels; not gaining traction; going nowhere fast?

When a small group ministry is struggling–tanking–there is almost always a combination of the following issues.

  1. Your senior pastor is not the champion. The role of small group champion really cannot be delegated. In order to build a thriving small group ministry your congregation (and crowd) must hear about the importance of being connected, of community, from the most influential person in your church. In almost every case that is your senior pastor. See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups.
  2. You have too many connecting and/or disciple-making options on your menu. It has been conclusively demonstrated that offering more options (a buffet) does not lead to more people connected. More options makes it more difficult to choose; to decide what to do. Narrowing the focus, making the step into community easy, obvious and strategic, results in a larger number of people connected. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  3. You aren’t identifying enough new leaders. An important key to building a thriving small group ministry is launching enough new groups to connect a growing number of unconnected people. In order to launch enough new groups to do that you must be able to identify enough new leaders. If you aren’t identifying enough new leaders it is almost never because there aren’t enough potential leaders. It’s almost always because you just can’t spot them. See also, How Can I Find More Leaders.
  4. You’ve made it too hard to become a leader. Raising the bar in terms of the steps that lead to becoming a leader (i.e., must be a member, must attend the 8 week class, must know the secret handshake, etc.) does not actually ensure the safety of the flock or prevent dissension or much of anything. Raising the bar does ensure that it will be harder to recruit enough new leaders and new leaders are essential if you want to start enough new groups. See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.
  5. You’ve made it too hard to join a small group. There are a number of barriers that make it more difficult to join a group than it needs to be. Not offering connecting opportunities frequently enough, not making the information easily available, and not talking about small groups often enough are just three of a long list of barriers that make it hard to join a group.
  6. You’re not talking about small groups and the value of community often enough. Unconnected people are almost always attend less frequently. If you aren’t talking about small groups often enough, it is quite likely they will not be there when you are talking about groups. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Unconnected People.
  7. You’re not doing the things that enable the largest number of new groups to survive. It is not enough to start enough new groups. If you want to build a thriving small group ministry you must also be doing the things that help the largest number of the new groups you launch to sustain into their second and third study. See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Groups You Launch.
  8. You’re not developing and discipling your small group leaders. A well-launched new group will come with a built-in support relationship with a coach. While most new leaders will quickly figure out the basics of leading a group (within a few months), they will continue to benefit from a spiritual mentoring relationship with someone a few steps ahead. In addition, the best way to ensure that the leader is doing the right things TO and FOR the members of their group is to focus the right attention on the leaders of your groups. See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.
  9. You’ve prioritized adding new members to existing groups over starting new groups. When I’m diagnosing struggling small group ministries, few issues crop up more frequently than this one. In order to build a thriving small group ministry, prioritizing new groups is an essential practice. See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.
  10. You haven’t paid enough attention to the needs and interests of the crowd and community. Another very common issue in struggling small group ministries is paying too much attention to the needs and interests of the core and committed (the usual suspects) and not enough attention to the needs and interests of the crowd and community (unconnected people). When you’re choosing the topic for your church-wide campaign, don’t miss this important issue. When you’re choosing the topic for your small group connection, pay close attention to what an unconnected person might see as a helpful study or an interesting study. See also, 5 Subtle Differences between Thriving and Struggling Small Group Ministries.

Image by Dave Wilson

How Many of These 4 Essential Activities Are You Missing?

essential activitiesHow Many of These Essential Activities Are You Missing?

What if it turned out that you spent your time and energy focusing on good things but not the right things?

What if at the end of the season you realized that while you were busy taking care of the squeakiest wheels, you were overlooking the bigger issues or opportunities?

What if at the end of your ministry you finally saw with stark clarity what you sensed was happening but never acted on?

Peter Drucker pointed out that “every institution must build into its day-to-day management four essential entrepreneurial activities that run in parallel.” He went on to point out activities, these disciplines, were not just desirable but “conditions for survival today.”

Here are the four activities that Drucker isolated as essential:

  1. Organized abandonment of products, services, and processes that are no longer the optimal allocation of resources.
  2. Organized for systematic, continuing, improvement.
  3. Organized for systematic and continuous exploitation of successes.
  4. Organized for systematic innovation.

Spend a moment and evaluate how effectively you are addressing each of the four activities:

Organized abandonment of products, services, and processes that are no longer the optimal allocation of resources.

Are any of your products, services or processes holdovers from a previous era? Are any of your products, services or processes still budgeted for even though less effective than they once were? Still allocated prime space or optimal times? Still occupy the attention of key staff or high capacity volunteers?

According to Peter Drucker, the organized abandonment of products, services and processes that are no longer the optimal allocation of resources is a condition for survival.

Organized for systematic, continuing, improvement.

Which of your products, services or processes are you systematically improving?

According to Peter Drucker, organizing for systematic, continuing, improvement is a condition for survival.

Organized for systematic and continuous exploitation of successes.

Which of your latest successes have you exploited by increasing the budget, moving to prime location or time, or adding key staff or high capacity volunteers?

According to Peter Drucker, organizing for systematic and continuous exploitation of success is a condition for survival.

Organized for systematic innovation.

How frequently are you setting aside time, energy, and budget to explore new opportunities? Craig Groeschel pointed out that “if you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do things that no one else is doing.”

According to Peter Drucker, organizing for systematic innovation is a condition for survival.

Which of the four essential activities are you missing?

As you evaluate your ministry, which of the four essential activities are you doing? Which of the four activities are you missing?

What if they really are conditions for survival?

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

Image by Mob Mob

Further Reading:

FAQ: How Far Ahead Should I Be Planning?

FAQ: How Far Ahead Should I Be Planning?

4249518893_32cf9577c8_bI get questions. A lot of questions. Some are very particular to specific churches. Others are such common questions, they really beg to be answered here on the blog.

One of my most frequently asked questions is, “How far ahead should I be planning?”

Here’s how I answer that question.

There’s an element of planning that is an annual process with a view to a 12 month period. There is another element that happens in rolling 4 month segments.

There are several key components to our planning process:

First, we start with a year-long calendar approach where we pencil in the major pieces of our annual strategy to launch new groups. Although some of the details are exact and fine-tuned, some of the strategies that are farther removed from the planning process will be fine-tuned later.

  1. We intend to run a church-wide campaign every fall. It is without question the very best way to launch the largest number of new groups. The fall ministry season is the easiest time to recruit the largest number of new leaders and unconnected people.
  2. Late January/early February is another very good window to launch new groups. We like to schedule a small group connection at the end of January or the beginning of February. With its shorter promotion requirements (3 weekends as opposed to the 6 to 8 weeks required to properly promote a church-wide campaign), it makes sense to block in a connection.
  3. We drop base-groups (a 6 week on-campus strategy that launches off-campus groups) into our calendar once or twice a year, fitting them in in late spring and early summer.
  4. We’ve had very good success with running a “book club” approach off of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Generally, we like to begin promoting a week before the special day and start the “book club” about 10 days after the special day.

Second, we are committed to developing and discipling our leaders and leaders of leaders. You can see that these dates are pencilled in with an annual view.

  1. Twice a year we hold an on-campus event on a Saturday morning called Lead Well. The combination of a slate of breakouts (sometimes by ministry area and other times by topic) and a plenary session featuring our senior pastor or a guest speaker allows us to invest in our leaders and leaders of leaders.
  2. 8 times a year we hold a Saturday morning gathering for community leaders (our term for coaches) and groups directors (our term for leaders of leaders of leaders).

Third, after the strategies for launching new groups and developing and discipling our leaders are pencilled in, we begin fine-tuning with the nearest four month segment. For example, this article posted on April 18th. The fall ministry season (September through December) will begin to be fine-tuned in mid-May (Note: The promotion sequence planning for our fall church-wide campaign [June through August] is happening as we speak).

Fine-tuning includes the following:

  1. Reserving on-campus space for priority events (small group connections, location for Groups Central booth, Lead Well plenary and breakout sessions, etc.).
  2. Scheduling communication elements (promotional videos and pre-service slides, service host and sermon references, church-wide emails, bulletin inserts, website content placement, etc.).
  3. Planning meetings and discussions with weekend teachers to clarify the “ask” for recruiting hosts and participants for church-wide campaigns.

Summary

As you can see, this description of our planning process is very specific to our work at Canyon Ridge. Will your planning process be different? Most likely. The key is that there is an annual planning element and a shorter term component. Both are essential.

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

Don’t Miss Perry Noble’s Latest: The Most Excellent Way to Lead

the most excellent wayI spent some time this week with The Most Excellent Way to Lead, a new book from Perry Noble. Noble is the senior and founding pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina. The church averages 35,000 people during weekend services at multiple campuses throughout the state. If you’re not familiar with Perry Noble, in addition to being a pastor, he is one of the most engaging speakers I’ve ever heard and an author of books like Overwhelmed and Unleash (Overwhelmed was developed into a very powerful DVD-driven study).

If you didn’t catch it from the title, The Most Excellent Way to Lead is based on 1 Corinthians 13. Often referred to as “the love chapter,” Noble points out in the introduction that while these verses are commonly used  in wedding ceremonies or as advice for newlyweds, chapter 13 is “primarily a chapter on how to lead, not how to have a great marriage.”

The Most Excellent Way to Lead: Discover the Heart of Great Leadership is a very good read. If you’ve ever heard Perry speak, you’ll easily recognize his voice right away in the book. Definitely a speaker that grabs attention and holds onto it, his writing has a very similar quality. Packed with stories that you can just hear him telling, it is a page-turner and an easy read.

In addition to being an easy read, The Most Excellent Way to Lead is also very practical and would be a great book to read with a team. Ever chapter concludes with two sets of questions (one to ask yourself and another to ask your team). I can definitely see this book being used by many to disciple and develop leaders and coaches.

If you want to become a better leader or to grow in your leadership capability, you’ll want to devour The Most Excellent Way to Lead. Perry Noble is a leader God is using in an amazing way and this book offers many great insights into the process God used to make a great leader. Don’t miss this one! I loved it 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.”

quote marksInspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso

4 Things Small Group Pastors Should Never Settle For

settlingHave you settled? I think we’re all familiar with the idea of settling for something less than we’ve hoped for or settling for something less than we deserve.

But have you ever examined your small group ministry for signs of settling?

I believe there are some things we should never settle for.

4 Things Small Group Pastors Should Never Settle For

  1. Belonging without Becoming. In order for a group to truly be the optimum environment for life-change, something far beyond mere connection must take place. Unless we have some other plan for making disciples (and I believe the search for or the creation of an additional thing that makes disciples is almost always ineffective), the group must offer both belonging and becoming. If we’re not doing the right things TO and FOR our leaders and equipping them to design their group meetings for life-change we’ve settled.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level and Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
  2. A static percentage connected. Every congregation has people that have a natural bent for community and connection. They will end up in groups despite ineffective small group strategies. They will end up in groups even when there is no system or strategy. Connecting beyond the usual suspects requires intentionality and effort. When your small group ministry struggles to increase the percentage connected beyond those with a natural bent, it is often a result of settling for what happens without intentionality and effort. See also, What Is Your Urgency Level for Connecting People? and 5 Symptoms of Healthy Small Group Ministries.
  3. Knowing without Becoming. In the sense of balancing the purposes, small groups naturally gravitate toward fellowship and discipleship and struggle with worship, ministry and evangelism. To be clear, few groups do much more together than gather to be together and learn something from a study they are studying. We’ve settled for imbalance when we’ve done nothing to help rebalance the purposes. See also, Balancing the Purposes.
  4. Hosts or facilitators but not leaders. It is not any great challenge to find people willing to open up their home and invite a few friends or even welcome in a group assembled by the church. It’s not much of a challenge to find people willing to facilitate a discussion (or at a minimum, watch a DVD and read the questions out loud). Finding the number of leaders needed to truly care for the members of their group is never easy. Once you conclude that life-change happens best in circles and it becomes your ambition to connect everyone in groups, developing and discipling leaders becomes an essential and never-ending activity. If you only launch groups when you have leaders in place (as opposed to hosts or facilitators), you’ve often settled for what can be found or discovered as opposed to developed or discipled. See also, How to Help a HOST Become a Small Group Leader and 4 Obsessions of Extraordinary Small Group Pastors.

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

Image by Kerry Lannert

Are We There Yet?

are we there yetAre we there yet?

I’m positive we’ve all asked the question. As children. From the back seat. On a road trip with our parents.

Many of us have answered the question. As parents. From the front seat. On a road trip with our children.

Are we there yet?

The Question

Have you ever been asked the question as a small group pastor? Or maybe asked it as a senior pastor? In a way, it is kind of a preferred future question. Can you see it?

I had a conversation last Sunday that had echoes of the “are we there yet?” conversation.

A groups guy from a church in another state was in town and dropped by Canyon Ridge on Sunday. It was great to catch up. After a few minutes, he said, “I need to ask the key question.”

“What’s the question?”

“What’s your percentage connected?”

Now admittedly, it’s not the exact same question. But can you see how it is related?

And it is a key question, don’t you think? After all–if we’re truly in the business of connecting men and women in groups where they can grow in Christ, love one another and further the work of the Kingdom–wouldn’t we keep track of this very important number?)

The Answer

Here’s what I said:

“We had a very high percentage connected in the fall. We started 85 new groups at our connection events and over 350 people picked up Host Kits so they could “do the study with a couple friends.” And we sold just under 5500 copies of the study guide.

“And then when the dust cleared we had added over 100 new groups and connected another 1000 to groups.

“And that puts us in the range of 60% of our average adult weekend worship attendance in groups. Not bad for a 4 year run. Another 3 or 4 years and we’ll be pushing the 100% threshold.

The Truth

The truth is, arriving at the preferred future of more than 100% of your average adult weekend worship attendance in groups is something that happens in waves over multiple years. It can’t be done in a single move or a couple tries.

If you wan’t to arrive at this preferred future you must commit to the long run. I’ve written about this several times. You can read about Saddleback’s commitment to the long run right here:

I hope you can make the commitment to the long run! When you arrive at this preferred future is truly a destination worth the journey!

Image by Brandon

Books that Have Shaped My Thinking

booksI read continually. I can’t remember the last time there hasn’t been a stack of books on the bedside table and another in my office. One of my early mentors told me you could tell when someone’s brain died by the copyrights dates on his library shelves. I believed him.

Still, not every book truly shapes my thinking. Some I simply skim. Some I never finish. And some I read again and again.

There have been a number of books that create an indelible mark on my brain. They shape my thinking.

I’ve been thinking about which books have made the biggest difference in my thinking.

For now, these are the lists:

Thinking Strategically

Leadership

Productivity

The Changing Western Culture

Spiritual Formation

Image by Sam Greenhalgh

What Can I “Require” of My Small Group Leaders?

leader requirementsI get a lot of questions. Most I just answer with a quick email and a link to one of my almost 1900 articles.

Some questions are fairly common, truly a frequently asked question, and they end up as blog posts.

“What can I require of my small group leaders?” is that kind of question.

What Can I “Require” of My Small Group Leaders?

That’s a good question, don’t you think? You may have wondered the very same thing. You may have a small group leader “job description” and wonder whether you’re asking your leaders to do the right things. You may also be wondering if what you’re asking them to do is unreasonable.

I think the answer to the question, “What can I require of my small group leaders?” depends on who your leaders are and what you want them to become.

Who Your Leaders Are

I’ve written before that I want to make it as easy as possible for people to step into leadership and nearly automatic that they step onto a leader development conveyor belt. Should the job description of the new leader be the same as the job description of the veteran? Or could what you expect of your leaders depend on where they are on the leader development conveyor belt?

Example #1: In our last church-wide campaign (Transformed) over 350 people heard our invitation to do the study with a couple friends and picked up a Host Kit at Group Central. We said, “If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with, we want to help you, We’ve made it easy and affordable and you can do it.”

What did we require of them?

  • They had to fill out a form giving us their name, best email, best phone, and they had the option to indicate the type of group they would be hosting (by the way, that was the only mention of “group” in the invitation or the form).
  • They were sent a series of emails with tips, ideas, and information designed to help them (and those they invited) have a great experience.
  • They were invited to the Host Rally.

Can you see that filling out the simple form was the only requirement?

Why were the requirements so minimal? We wanted to make it as easy as possible for as many as possible to step into leadership and nearly automatic that they step onto a leader development conveyor belt.

Opening and reading our regular emails encouraged them to step onto the leader development conveyor belt. Attending the Host Rally encouraged them to stay on the conveyor belt.

As the Transformed campaign unfolded these new hosts (and their members) learned about a study we were recommending if they wanted to continue. They could see it at Group Central. If they chose to continue they were assigned a coach. At that point it became the coach’s responsibility to begin to do TO and FOR the host the things we want our leaders to do TO and FOR their members.

Can you see there could be the essence of a job description shift at that point?

Example #2: In preparation for our last church-wide campaign (Transformed) our existing leaders were invited to attend a leader briefing the first weekend of June (to hear about the September launch of Transformed). We had good attendance (about 40% of our existing leaders). We recorded the preview and made portions of it available for replay and then emailed the link to the video to the leaders who did not attend the briefing.

Were our leaders required to attend the briefing? No. They were invited.

Existing leaders are connected to a coach and responsive to requests for information about their group. In order to remain in our system they are required to have a certain level of responsiveness. We don’t keep unresponsive groups in our system.

Example #3: As the Transformed campaign ramped up, existing leaders (of groups in our system) were invited to pick up their DVD and leader packet at Group Central, which was prominently placed on our campus. Only existing leaders (of groups in our system) were allowed to pick up the DVD and leader packet at Group Central. “Leaders” of groups that were not in our system were required to complete a simple form to rejoin the system and receive their DVD and packet.

Completing the form and rejoining the system renewed our ability to send them the series of emails with tips, ideas, and information designed to help them (and those they invited) have a great experience.

Why did we make it that simple? We want to make it as easy as possible to begin and nearly automatic that they step onto our leader development conveyor belt.

What You Want Them to Become

The answer to the question, “What can I require of my small group leaders?” depends on who your leaders are and what you want them to become.

Can you see that what you want them to become is not really about requirements?

Requirements have more to do with what you want them to be.

I believe we have a better chance of keeping them on the leader development conveyor belt if we focus on doing the right things TO and FOR our leaders.

Conclusion

Can you see that I really believe we need to focus less on what we require and more on what we will do TO and FOR the leaders of groups? Focusing on requirements is the wrong angle. Focusing on development results in leaders who will do the right things TO and FOR their members.

Further Reading:

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