Quotebook: Tim Keller on Community

I love this line from Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God:

You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.”

Keller’s line is found as summary of a quote from C.S. Lewis on the importance of community in knowing each other.  You can read the C.S. Lewis quote right here.

May we be always about the formation of more and better community.

Watch Saddleback’s Most Recent HOST Rally

host rallySaddleback’s most recent HOST rally happened on March 13th (yes that was a Friday night!).

It was a packed auditorium.  Great worship.  Lots of fun.  And a very inspiring message from Rick Warren.

There were some cool innovations that will transfer to your church.  They ran a contest and gave hosts a chance to have Rick come to their group.  Any host that stayed after the rally could get their picture taken with Rick.  There was great energy in the rally and you could clearly see Rick’s passion for small groups and small group hosts as key leaders in the church.

This you cannot miss.  Rick Warren is the small group champion at Saddleback.  He regularly leverages his influence as senior pastor to invite more people to join in the mission.

You can watch the HOST Rally right here.

You can watch a special video that Saddleback’s small groups watched in preparation for their upcoming church-wide campaign.

I hope you’ll watch this from start to finish.  It’s inspiring and very motivating.

5 Faulty Assumptions about Small Group Ministry Impact

eyes shut 2

Courtesy Wan Mohd

You know how kids sometimes believe that if they close their eyes, you can’t see them?  That’s an assumption they eventually grow out of.

Do you have an assumption or two about small group ministry impact that you need to grow out of?

I was imagining the Family Feud set-up when I wrote this.  See yourself standing at the podium.  “What are the top 5 faulty assumptions about small group impact.  100 people surveyed.  The top 5 answers on the board. Survey says…”

Here are 5 faulty assumptions about small group impact:

  1. The optimum environment for life-change is a small group.  While this is a very popular notion, it’s only true when the small group environment is designed for life-change.  It is much more common for groups to never move beyond being about connect unconnected people.  If you want groups to be about life-change…intentionality is an essential ingredient.  See also, Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
  2. The small group champion role can be delegated.  NOT!  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, there is no workaround for a senior pastor who insists on delegating the small group champion role.  Period.  There is no question that in churches where a vibrant and thriving small group culture exists there is a senior pastor who walks the talk and talks about it all the time.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups.
  3. Coaching is primarily about problem solving and improving technique.  Nope!  “Coaching” small group leaders is nearly 100% about doing to and for (and with) your leaders whatever you want your leaders to do to and for (and with) the members of their groups.  And this is one of the main reasons that retroactively assigning a coach to an experienced leader is so deadly and almost never works.  Existing leaders know for sure that they do not need a coach.  If they needed a coach, they would have need a coach in their first 90 days.  See also, Coaching FAQ: How Much of Coaching Is about Technique and Small Group Ministry Myth #5: Only New Small Group Leaders Need a Coach.
  4. Requiring leader training as a prerequisite ensures a better member experience.  The truth is that the only thing requiring leader training as a prerequisite ensures that you will always have a shortage of qualified leaders.  Requiring leader training in advance sets in motion a system that does one of two things: (a) hand selecting prime candidates (which indicates that you think you already know the best candidates) or (b) advertises an upcoming leader training course and takes volunteers.  Either way this doesn’t ensure a better member experience.  The only thing that even comes close to ensuring a better member experience is a coach working with a leader doing to and for (and with) whatever you want the members of your groups to experience.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure the Safety of the Flock.
  5. Unconnected people will respond because “it’s good for them.”  Listen, unconnected people don’t respond to “what’s good for them” anymore than children eats their vegetables because it’s good for them.  If you are banking on that, you are relying on a faulty assumption.  If you want to connect unconnected people, you must shift your thinking and focus on understanding the things that appeal to them in their current state.  What are their hopes and dreams?  What keeps them awake at night?  What do they long for?   When you understand those things you will finally begin to understand how to help them take first steps into authentic community.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

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

What Love Is: The Letters of 1, 2, 3 John

what love isFinally had an opportunity this week to spend some time with a new study from Kelly Minter.  What Love Is: The Letters of 1, 2, 3 John is “a theologically rich study–that also includes recipes for deeper fellowship.”  This line from the cover caught my eye as I began my review: “John anchors us with truth in a culture that has lost its way.  He separates light from darkness, offers community for loneliness and rest for our striving.”

What Love Is is a 7 session study DVD-driven study.  Featuring Kelly Minter, “an acclaimed author, speaker, songwriter, and worship leader,” there is a fresh feel to her speaking style that draws you in as though you are in the room.  With an average length of 30 to 34 minutes, she does a good job of holding attention by weaving personal stories into a rich study of the letters of John.

The member book includes a small section for jotting down notes from the video and a set of discussion questions designed to help members reflect on their daily studies from the prior week.  The five daily studies each week will take some commitment.  With 4 to 5 pages per day, your members should expect to spend about an hour a day in their daily study.

The member book also includes a simple leader’s guide with additional questions that “supplement the discussion starter questions on the viewer guide pages…intended to assist you and stimulate discussion.”

If you’re looking for a timely study, What Love Is is a study that will likely strike a chord with many of your members.  “In an age when opinions fly at us unbridled, John gives us the immutable gift of truth. When science and philosophy and your social circles say you can’t really know God, John says, yes you can.  And perhaps most importantly, at a time when the word love means just about anything under the sun, and therefore almost nothing, John tells us ‘this is what love is…(from the introduction).’”

Kelly Minter will be a fresh voice for many groups and the study’s content will provide rich and timely takeaways.  I like What Love Is and I think your groups 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 may 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.”

Thinking Thursday: Tales of Creativity and Play

Designer Tim Brown talks about the powerful relationship between creative thinking and play — with many examples you can try at home (and one that maybe you shouldn’t).

Take a few minutes today to watch this short TED video and see if it might have an impact on your work environment.

5 Implications for Small Group Ministries As Powerful Trends Emerge

riverThink about two powerful rivers merging to form one seemingly unstoppable force and you have a good image for the confluence of two accelerating trendlines.  Call river #1 the rise of the nones (those who claim no religious affiliation) and call river #2, the  decreasing frequency church attendance among churched Americans.  See also, How Will This Trend Affect Small Group Ministries?

Takeaway: We are not in Kansas anymore.

5 Important Implications

These combination of these two powerful trends have many implications for small group ministry in the 21st Century.  I’ve identified a few of the more immediate here.  I’m sure there are others.

  • Promoting connecting opportunities over multiple weekends is now required.  As the frequency of attendance decreases it becomes less and less effective to promote something once and expect that unconnected people will hear about it.  See also, 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Ministry at the Corner of “Belonging” and “Becoming”.
  • Stories and examples of authentic community must be included in everything (sermons, on the website, in enewsletters and printed materials).  An aspect of the trend of less frequent church attendance is that online participation is growing.  It’s easier and more convenient.  In many cases I can watch the service when I want to (the DVR has made time-shifting expected).  The experience is similar whether I’m in the auditorium or sitting on the couch at home.  If we believe there is value in connecting and that life-on-life is an essential ingredient of life-change, we need to work harder to ensure the value is communicated well.  See also, Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  • Emphasizing a more organic form of connection that organizes around naturally occurring relationships becomes a primary path, as opposed to plan b.  While in the past, it may have been most effective to offer on-campus connecting events designed to launch groups of 10 to 12, it will become increasingly more productive to make it easy to start a group with friends.  Making it easy to “do the study with a couple friends” is a powerful antidote to busy schedules and infrequent attendance.  See also, Saddleback Changes the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  • Emphasizing personal relationship (with neighbors, co-workers, and family connections) becomes the highest priority.  It is the best way to overcome barriers in post-Christian America.  The research in The Rise of the Nones as well as UnChristian indicates that an increasing number of Americans no longer view attending church as something that is helpful.  This is a key takeaway in Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians (another must read).  See also, The Next Christians: A Book You Should Be Reading.
  • Studies and resources that require less familiarity with the Bible become more essential every day.  If prior knowledge is required in order to understand what you are studying (i.e., who are the Ephesians, is this the same Joseph that was married to Mary, etc.), it will be a nearly insurmountable barrier to participation.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System.

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

How Will This Trend Affect Small Group Ministries?


Infographic courtesy of Barna.org

One of the most important trends that surfaced in 2014 was what’s been called “the rise of the nones.”  In a continuation of the trendline, one of the most significant trends in 2015 is that churched Americans are attending less frequently.

Let me say that again.  The research shows that churched Americans are attending less frequently.

In my mind, the research begs a number of questions:

  • How might the trend affect small group ministries?
  • Is the trend reversible?
  • Do we (small group ministry point people) have a role to play in reversing the trend?

Actually, I think our first responsibility is to learn as much as we can about the trend.  Here is the beginning of a collection of books, blog posts, podcasts, and interviews that will help you begin to have an opinion.

I don’t know about you, but I have long believed that the days of “come with me to my church” will be supplanted by “come over to my house.”  As that happens, church attendance (and unconnected churchgoers) will be a less important pool than the neighborhood.

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

5 Signs You Are Too Close to See Your Ministry Problems Clearly

mirrorDo you know the signs that you are too close to the problem to know that you have a problem?  I’m betting we all know this experience in life, right?  “Do these jeans make me look fat?”  “Tell me the truth…would a faux hawk look okay on me?”  “My presentation was good, wasn’t it?”

With me?  Been there?  On the receiving end and the giving end?

Now clearly, one of the major themes here has been the conviction that there really is no problem-free system, model or strategy.  There aren’t.  I know that.  And I think by now you do too.  See also, Breaking:  No Problem-Free Small Group System, Solution or Strategy.

Still…think we can be too close to see ministry problems clearly?  I do.  And I think it’s a very common problem.

Here are 5 signs you are too close:

  1. Even though you’ve already tried a strategy three times, you’re going to give it one more try “just to make sure.”  This is a dangerous mistake.  Remember, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results (Einstein).”  If you’ve tried a strategy more than once and experienced the same results, it’s time to rethink the way you are doing what you are doing.  See also, The 5 Biggest Ministry Mistakes I’ve Made.
  2. You refuse to connect results with design and grasp for straws blaming results on flukes.  A classic indication that you are too close to truly see the issue.  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you find yourself assigning blame to the weather, the popularity of the local football team or the economy…you’re in denial.  It is the design.  See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design is Inadequate.
  3. Your research indicates you’re inadequately prepared to try a new strategy, but you are “praying for God to move.”  Obviously, you must have access to unbiased and objective research.  That is a given.  Still, if after researching a strategy you are willing to go forward in spite of your lack of preparation, you need to take a closer look in the mirror.  Remember, “Smart people learn from their own mistakes. However, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes.”
  4. You’re hesitant to ask more knowledgable ministry veterans because you “know what they’ll say.”  This is another extremely dangerous mistake.  Yes, there will always be the guardians of the status quo.  I’m not suggesting that you go to them for breakthrough ideas.  I am suggesting that the time spent asking great questions of ministry veterans is always worthwhile.
  5. You’re not asking the right questions.  Sometimes the biggest indication that we are too close to the problem is when we operate with a ready, fire, aim mentality.  Instead of spending the required time asking the right questions, we push ahead, eager to get started and overlooking many obvious issues.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

Starting Point: A Conversation about Faith

starting pointI spent some time this week with a resource I think you should know about and if you already know about it, maybe rethink how it might be used.  Starting Point: A Conversation about Faith is not a new resource, although this is a revised version.  And I have to be honest.  I had heard about it many times over the last few years, but I had never looked at it.

Starting Point is an 8 week DVD-driven study featuring Andy Stanley that is based on the understanding that many of us might need a new starting point for our faith.  I like the way the cover of the conversation guide puts it: “Everything has a starting point–your life, your relationships, your education, your career.  Sometimes we forget that faith has a starting point as well.  For some of us, our faith journeys began in childhood as a set of beliefs handed to us by a parent, teacher or pastor.  Maybe you developed a framework of faith based on personal experience.  Or maybe you had no faith at all.  Too often, a faith formed in childhood isn’t strong enough to withstand the pressures of adult life.”

The DVD features Andy Stanley and the video is taken from a series of messages delivered live at North Point.  Each of the segments is 22 to 25 minutes delivered by one of the most compelling communicators in America and they easily hold attention.  As is the case on most North Point studies, the DVD also includes full messages in addition to the segments.

The DVD also includes a downloadable leader’s guide and a collection of additional resources (banner ad, templates for bulletins, postcards, and posters, as well as a powerpoint template).  The leader’s guide is very thorough on it’s own, but also includes a link to an online leader’s resource that is even more complete.

The conversation guide includes everything you need for a great experience.  Designed a little differently than many study guides, the intent is that members spend some time each week in preparation for the group meeting, work their way through a short set of readings and questions for reflection, and then come to the meeting prepared to talk about what they’ve learned.

If your church is looking for a way to help seekers (those who are curious about God, Jesus, the Bible or Christianity), starters (those who have just begun a relationship with Jesus Christ), or returners (those who have some church experience but have been away for awhile), Starting Point is a fantastic resource.  I also think this is a great study for individual small groups that are comprised of seekers, starters, and returners.  I love this new edition and I think you’ll agree that it is a great resource.

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 may 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.”



Thinking Thursday: On Design’s Next Great Frontiers

Every Thursday I am posting a video that I think you need to watch.  Most of my previous suggestions have been from TED.  This video is from the Kellogg School of Management and features Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer of IDEO.  This video is a little more than an hour long.  Bennett has some fascinating insights into a number of topics that on the surface might seem pretty far afield from ours.  I think you’ll discover just a few minutes in that this is must watch content.

“A bonafide rockstar in the innovation and design world, Paul spoke to students from across Northwestern on the future of design. Topics included how IDEO has harnessed design to foster innovation in health care, education, and communities by focusing on love, beauty, religion, death and space. Learn more by watching the event video below (from the intro at Kellogg).

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

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