The First 7 Questions I Ask When Evaluating a Small Group Ministry

I get a steady stream of emails asking for help with small group ministries.  I also find myself sitting down with small group pastors and senior pastors when I’m at conferences (or when ministry teams stop in to see me in Vegas).

It’s fun and I love the opportunity to help.  But I thought it might help you to know that I ask the same basic diagnostic questions in almost every case.  Yes…there are exceptions and yes, the answers lead me to different follow up questions.  But the set of first questions is such a pattern I thought it might help you to see what they are.

The First 7 Questions I Ask:

  1. What is your church’s average adult worship attendance?  Depending on your church’s philosophy of ministry, you might need to back out children and students in worship, but this is an important number.
  2. What is your church’s Easter or Christmas Eve adult attendance?  Again, this may take some thinking and it might require an intelligent guess.  You need to know this number though, since it is a more accurate reflection of the number of adults who consider your church to be their church.
  3. How many small groups do you currently have (and how many adults are in them)?  This is an important number but must be wisely defined.  I’m only referring to small groups that meet certain criteria (i.e., they need to meet 2 to 4 times a month and they need to be integrating most of the basic ingredients of life-change).  Using the right criteria will usually exclude some groups.  That is important because the count is meaningless if you don’t.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected? and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
  4. How did the groups you currently have get started (and how old are they)?  This is important information.  If you’re not launching new groups on a regular basis, you’re often falling for the temptation to add members to existing groups instead of prioritizing launching new groups.  See also, 5 Clues that Reveal Your Small Group Ministry’s Best Next Step.
  5. Is your senior pastor in a small group?  Very hard to believably champion something in which you’re not involved.  Your pastor doesn’t need to lead a group.  They do need to be a member of a group.  See also, What Part Does Your Senior Pastor Play?
  6. Is your senior pastor the small groups champion?  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, there is no substitute or work-around for a senior pastor as small group champion.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  7. Are small groups the way you connect and disciple adults?  Or are small groups one of several options?  The answers to these questions actually reveal two very important understandings.  First, how clearly have you defined this important next step?  If you’re offering multiple menu options you shouldn’t be surprised when adults have difficulty choosing.  Second, if you’ve designed (or allowed to exist) a strategy that makes discipleship an extra step you shouldn’t be surprised when it begins to be defined as a step for spiritual super heroes and ninjas.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

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

Top 10 Posts of March, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of March, 2014.

Three Cool Stats: I had visitors from 89 countries!  Just as cool, my blog was read in 45 different languages!  And, 56.6% of my visitors were new!  However you got here and whatever language you use to read…thanks for stopping by!

  1. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May 2008)
  2. 5 Strategic Flaws That Cripple Ministry Impact (March, 2014) 
  3. North Point’s Small Group System (October 2009)
  4. Launch New Groups on Easter with This Simple Strategy (March 2014)
  5. How to Make Next Steps Easier to Choose (June 2012)
  6. Learning How to Pray Together (April 2009)
  7. My Top 3 Ninja Ideas for Recruiting Small Group Leaders (June 2013)
  8. Please Don’t Miss This Resource: Life As We Know It (March 2014)
  9. Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions (January 2013)
  10. An Analysis of the Sermon Based Small Group Strategy (June 2013)

New from Jennie Allen: Restless: Because You Were Made for More

restlessI’ve been working my way through a new study from Jennie Allen this week.  Restless: Because You Were Made for More is an 8 session study of the life of Joseph.  More importantly, Restless is a study that “helps you discover a practical plan to identify the threads of your life and how to weave them together for God’s glory and purposes.”

DVD-driven, Restless is a little less artsy and a little more straight up Bible study delivery than Chase, but is absolutely still 100% genuine Jennie Allen.  Bursting with enthusiasm for God’s word, Allen delivers with no-holds-barred energy in every session.

The study guide is designed to guide participants on a journey of discovery far beyond the life of Joseph.  While nowhere near overwhelming, working through each week’s lesson will provide the right amount of challenge for most.  Enough to require measured engagement; not too much to intimidate newer or less experienced participants.  Very well written, there is both depth and plenty of next steps prescribed.

As was the case with Chase, I really love the creative elements of the Restless.  Every session includes four projects designed to creatively open eyes to see and ears to hear the biblical truths being taught.  Exercises that help draw out insights or explore more deeply make this study move well beyond a fill-in-the-blank experience.

Another very cool ingredient are the conversation cards that accompany each session.  Introducing the ingredient of play, the cards nonetheless prompt a deeper, more provocative conversation.

An extremely helpful leader’s guide is included in the study kit.  It’s no exaggeration for me to call this one of the most helpful leader’s guides you’ll ever run across.  Very complete, even the least experienced leaders will find the helps they need to lead with confidence.

I really like this study.  Whether you’re looking for a new study for off-campus women’s small groups or an on-campus Bible study, you definitely need to have Restless on your radar.  It will surely be a life-changing experience for those who do the work of discovering how the threads of their life reveal God’s purposes.

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.”

Quotebook: The Only Thing We Have to Bring to Community

“The only thing we have to bring to community is ourselves, so the contemplative process of recovering our true selves in solitude is never selfish.  It is ultimately the best thing we can give to others.” Parker Palmer, The Active Life, p. 29

You’re Invited! Join My Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network

Looking for an opportunity to grow in your ability to connect beyond usual suspects? I want to invite you to join my Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience 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 to many that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. The coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

My Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in August and I’ve just opened up applications. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

Five Keys to Getting Everyone to Join a Group

I get questions…a lot of questions!  When they apply to lots of people, I try to answer them here on the blog!  This is one of those times.  Here’s a question from a reader:

How do you motivate people in the pews & leadership to join a group? What are the keys to get everyone into a group?

That is a great question…don’t you think?

I’ve answered this question in different ways a number of times, but maybe never quite from this angle.  Let me take a fresh shot.

First, motivating everyone to join a group (from members and attendees to church leadership begins with your senior pastor.  It cannot be otherwise and to attempt it without your senior pastor’s full engagement is folly.  Don’t get me wrong, you can have small groups without your senior pastor’s help.  In my experience almost all churches have a group of people who will find a way to connect to a group whether groups are a priority or not.  In fact, there are people in nearly every church who find a way to connect even if it was discouraged.  But if we’re talking about getting everyone in a group…that begins with the full engagement of your senior pastor.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups.

Second, motivating members and attendees to join a group requires the enthusiastic endorsement and participation of key influencers.  I’ve seen too many churches try to become a church OF groups without the support of key influencers (elders, senior staff, key volunteers, etc.) to be very enthusiastic about your chances without it.  See also, How to Engage Everyone: Notes and Resources.

Third, motivating everyone to join a group requires budget and staff that reflects its importance.  Declaring that being part of a group is important without redrawing and recalculating the budget and staffing is ludicrous.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.

Fourth, motivating everyone to join a group requires prioritizing group participation.  This often means paring back what is offered.  At a minimum, it means choosing to promote only small groups during certain key seasons.  This step, by definition requires choosing who you will disappoint.  Can you see it?  Prioritizing small groups as an essential step requires not prioritizing other menu options.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Fifth, motivating everyone to join requires an all out effort over several seasons.  This isn’t a mission that can be accomplished in one all out effort.  If you want to connect everyone, way beyond the usual suspects, you must stay this course for several seasons.  The best example of this, at least in the U.S., is Saddleback where they’ve been on a mission since the mid to late 90s.  Since they’ve currently connected over 140% of their weekend adult attendance in groups…they are a good example to emulate.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run and The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula.

Full Disclosure: The very best way to do all of this is to commit to an annual church-wide campaign.  I can coach you on this.  I regularly have 5 to 10 churches that I work with personally to help design a custom strategy.  I’ve worked with a long list of churches of all sizes.  Interested? Email me to find out how.

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

3 Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor #FAILS

flux capacitorI love Ed Stetzer’s line that “If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready.”  I don’t know what happens when you read the line, but here’s what runs through my mind*:

  • Sunday morning services featuring stanzas 1, 2 and 4 from two hymns from the 16th, 17th or 18th century (Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and John Newton) and one from either the 19th century (Fanny Crosby) or a southern gospel chorus (think How Great Thou Art or He Touched Me).  Ultra progressive churches would later substitute a praise chorus from the Gaither Vocal Band.
  • King James Version (even though the last native users of the King James english had been dead for over 200 years).
  • Come forward invitations (The busses will wait.  If you came with a friend…they’ll wait).
  • Sunday school for all ages.
  • Dinner on the grounds.
  • Sunday night services (unique content, sometimes tailored to the most faithful)
  • Sunday night programming (discipleship training, youth choir, etc.).
  • Monday night visitation (who doesn’t like two strangers showing up at dinner time)
  • Wednesday night prayer meeting.
  • Wednesday night programming (Royal Ambassadors, Girls Auxiliary, choir practice, etc.).

Here’s the question of the day:

How close does your church’s current ministry model fit this paradigm?

Listen…if you’ve simply substituted menu items (i.e., Awana for Royal Ambassadors and Girls Auxiliary, on-campus discipleship groups for prayer meeting, and the New King James Version for the original)…you fit the mold Ed Stetzer has written about.  It may very well be that you have a myopic understanding of the culture.  As a result, you probably have a bloated belong and become menu that is keeping you from effectively reaching your community.

Here’s reality.  If this is your current ministry model, you’re counting on a flux capacitor.

Need to change?

I realize that what I’ve identified here is laughable to churches that have already joined the 21st century and terrifying to those that haven’t.  Still…I’m hoping that if you need to change and want to change, you’ll take these critical steps.  Please don’t hear judgement.  Hear encouragement!

Three Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor #FAILS

  1. A thorough diagnosis of your present.  See also, Diagnosis: Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  2. A thoughtful declaration of your preferred future.  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  3. A series of determined steps in the right direction.  See also, Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.

*I was born in 1956…so I’m really describing Southern Baptist churches of the 1960s.

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

Don’t Miss This Timely Study from Rick Warren: Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You

son of godI had a chance to spend some time this week with a powerful new study from Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.  Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You, is a new 6 session small group study based on the feature film produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

DVD-driven, this 6 session study features teaching by Rick Warren as he explains how you can find your purpose in studying the life of Jesus.  The video sessions are 20 to 35 minutes in length and are enhanced with scenes from the Son of God movie.

Son of God focuses on a very powerful set of themes that do much more than follow the life of Jesus.  This study is designed to give you “practical steps to overcome temptation, suffering, and persecution and leverage these challenges to discover and fulfill God’s plan for you.”

The 6 session titles and themes are:

  • Jesus’ Baptism and Your Baptism
  • Jesus’ Temptation and Your Temptation
  • Jesus’ Suffering and Your Suffering
  • Jesus’ Death and Your Death
  • Jesus’ Resurrection and Your Resurrection
  • Jesus’ Ministry and Your Ministry

The study guide provides a number of very important features:

  • A lesson outline designed to help you take notes as you watch the session video
  • Discovery questions designed to help you dig in to the truths you are learning,
  • Application exercises to help you put what you’re learning into practice
  • Prayer helps
  • Additional scripture for further study and personal devotions

Son of God is very skillfully designed to be user friendly.  The member book makes it easy for just about anyone to host a study in their home, at work, at church or even at a coffee shop.  Every member book includes a set of helps for hosts.  The video is very inspiring and application oriented.

Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You is a very powerful experience.  The unique combination of Rick Warren’s sensitivity to the hangups and hurts of real people coupled with the compelling video from the feature film make this study very timely.  If you’re on the lookout for small group material that is an easy invite and even easier to use, don’t miss this study.  I highly recommend it!

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.”

Do Your Small Groups Cultivate This Powerful Ingredient?

What have you designed your small groups to produce?  Such an important question.  When I’m asked a question like that, I’m always drawn back to Andy Stanley’s line that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  It’s easy to substitute the words small groups for ministry as in “your small groups are perfectly designed…”

So what have you designed your small groups to produce?

I guess the easy answer is something like, “our small groups are designed to produce disciples.”  Or “disciples who make disciples.”  Or fully devoted followers.”

All good.  Hopefully all true.  But I want to shine the spotlight for a moment on an ingredient I’m thinking about more and more.  I want our small groups to intentionally cultivate a sense of family.  This was one of several ingredients I wrote about in The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

A sense of family.  Why is that ingredient important?  Clearly the family is God’s design and yet a growing number of people don’t live anywhere near their family.  You may live near your family, but if you do, you are rapidly becoming an exception.

With one exception, most of my ministry has been in areas that were quite transient.  Cities or parts of cities where it was common for few were from there.  Southern California. The Woodlands, Texas.  Roseville, California.  Las Vegas.

The one exception has been Orland Park, Illinois in southwest Chicago.  What an amazing thing to realize that many in our congregation lived within 20 minutes of where they grew up.  Southwest Chicago is one of the most static communities in the country.  It is very common for adults to have large extended families, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and cousins who live nearby.

My sense is that one of the ingredients we must help our groups cultivate is a sense of family.  Far beyond a Bible study.  Way beyond a group that gathers for two hours on Thursday nights…we need to be cultivating a sense of family.

In The End in Mind for My Idea Small Group I wrote:

My ideal group will definitely have a sense of family.  A really healthy family.  We may not always agree, but we’ll always feel like we’re safe, loved no matter what, forgiven when we do dumb things or say dumb things.  Or mean things.  When something good happens for us everyone will celebrate with us.  When something bad or difficult happens, those same people will be the ones crying with us.  My ideal group will make it easy for me to belong.

Life-change happens when we’re known.

What are you doing to cultivate a sense of family in your groups?

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

FAQ: What Needs to Be Done in the First 100 Days?

I get asked a lot of questions.  Emails.  Twitter and Facebook messages.  Blog comments.  You get the picture.

I answer a lot of questions.  And some of them turn into blog posts.  Especially when they are a question a lot of people have.

The question yesterday was: “If you were in my shoes what would you do in your 1st 100 days in a new small group ministry position?”

That’s a good question.  You might not have it right now…but you may one day.  And in the meantime, the answer is a collection of agenda items that will help you too.

And it turns out I’ve got a lot of experience at this very thing.  I’ve had 5 first 100 days in the last 10 years.  You read that right.

Here are the things I do in the first 100 days.  Very important: These are not sequential.  The first three are done concurrently.

  1. Get an accurate sense/count of the existing small groups and their leaders.  I want to know how many there really are, how long they’ve been meeting, and how they began.  I want to know how many members actually attend.  I want to know if they have an apprentice or co-leader.  Depending on the size of the church and the number of existing groups you can gather this information several ways (email survey, phone call, cup of coffee, etc.).  See also, How to Diagnose the Groups in Your System.
  2. Get an accurate sense of any existing coaching structure.  This is very important and it’s second on my list because it determines some very important moves.  This information tends to be most effectively gathered in person because it’s difficult to assess someone’s capacity in an email response or even over the phone.  I want to form my own opinion about the capacity of each current member of the coaching team (30, 60 or 100 fold).  I also want to know whether they are really engaged in it.  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  3. Get a very accurate sense of your new senior pastor’s enthusiasm for small groups, discipleship and community.  Ideally, you will have begun this before you agreed to join the new team, but this is of great importance.  What you are able to expect in the way of support, whether your new senior pastor is in a group, if they freely talk about the importance of being connected, and if they are willing to embed asks into their weekend messages are all extremely important to understand.  What they are willing to do absolutely determines what you are able to accomplish.  See also, 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  4. Develop a grouplife calendar and strategy for the first year.  What the next 12 months look like is somewhat based on what you are discovering in the three assessments you are processing.  You’ll need to include strategies that launch groups and connect unconnected people and take advantage of the three main connecting seasons.  You’ll also need to include coaching development and leader development.  The season in which you begin and the urgency of the connected/unconnected ratio play key roles in what you do first but the big rocks are nearly the same everywhere.  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.

I’ve written a couple series of articles that are important understanding about the bigger picture.  If I Was Starting Today is a 7 part series that tackles this same idea from another angle.  Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge takes an important look at the design of a small group ministry capable of reaching  beyond the congregation.

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