Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Small Group Ministries

economic chartIn the world of economics, “lagging indicators are indicators that usually change after the economy as a whole does.”  For example, changes in the unemployment rate are lagging indicators that lag changes in the economy.  As the economy improves, more jobs are added and the unemployment rate decreases.  The Consumer Confidence Index and the Dow Jones Transportation Average are other examples of lagging indicators.  Their movement, up or down, trails changes in the economy.

Lagging indicators are useful for economists because they confirm the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of earlier strategies and actions.

Can you see where this is going?  Might there be lagging indicators that validate or invalidate the effectiveness of small group ministry disciple-making strategies and structures?  I believe there are a few that we should be tracking.

Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Strategies and Structures

This is a very preliminary list, but doesn’t it make sense that the following lagging indicators would be in evidence?

  • Growing evidence of a biblical worldview.  As more and more disciples are made, wouldn’t biblical principles infiltrate ordinary conversation among small group members?
  • A growing culture of generosity.  Couldn’t you compare the giving levels of small group members with the giving levels of those not in a group?
  • An others first mentality.  Doesn’t it make sense that a Philippians 2 attitude would begin to be in evidence?  With some work it should be possible to quantify a decrease in taking the best seat and an increase in setting aside what is due?
  • An abundance of ministry volunteers.  Wouldn’t every ministry have a surplus of committed volunteers?  Doesn’t the perennial shortage of ministry volunteers indicate an ineffective disciple-making strategy?
  • A pervasive attitude of humility.  If there was an effective disciple-making strategy, wouldn’t a growing percentage of small group members acknowledge that they have not yet arrived and readily recognize that they are not yet what they will be?
  • A persistent determination to clear up damaged relationships.  Don’t you imagine that an effective disciple-making strategy would greatly reduce the presence of petty grievances, malicious gossip, and barely covered ill will?
  • An increasing willingness to follow spiritual leadership.  Wouldn’t stubborn refusal to submit to spiritual authority steadily diminish when there is an effective disciple-making strategy?

Admittedly, in a growing church spiritual immaturity will always be present.  But in a church with an effective disciple-making strategy, there should also be the presence of an encouraging set of lagging indicators.

See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

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

5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design Is Inadequate

designIf it’s true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing,” it follows that the results you are currently experiencing clearly indicate whether your design is the right one or the wrong one.

See where I’m going with this?

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  If you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you must blame the design.  It is not a fluke.  Results are directly connected to design.

Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design is Inadequate

  1. You can’t find enough leaders.  If interest in joining a small group exceeds your ability to identify, recruit and develop small group leaders…you have an inadequate design.  The right design will produce an unlimited number of leaders and allow you to connect beyond 100% of your average adult weekend worship attendance.  See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders.
  2. You can’t find enough coaches.  If you are not able to identify, recruit and develop an adequate number of high capacity candidates, it is most likely that your design has incorrectly characterized the critical nature of the role.  The best candidates are almost always already serving in some capacity and will need encouragement and release to move to the right seat on the bus.  This is rarely an easy move and never without consequence.  As Carl George pointed out, “leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”  High capacity leaders might be the most finite of all resources and it the critical growth path includes a thriving small group ministry, the design must reflect wise reallocation of volunteers.
  3. Your percentage of connected adults is not increasing.  Many of us know this reality.  We find some new leaders and launch some new groups only to discover that some leaders decide to take a break or move away and some groups are always ending.  In a way our ministries are treading water.  A number of design elements can be responsible for a stuck percentage (A doubtful or conflicted senior pastor; a bloated belong and become menu; indecision about the best next step; a myopic understanding of the culture; or a leadership development disconnect).  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblocks.
  4. You are connecting unconnected people but not making disciples.  A pattern of launching new groups and connecting lots of unconnected people every year without the lagging indicators that evidence a growing number of disciples, is an indication that your design is inadequate.  See also, Four Leading Indicators of Groups that Make Disciples.
  5. You are making disciples but not connecting unconnected people.  Some inadequate designs have the opposite issue.  They can point to a trickle of new disciples on an annual basis but express frustration at the inability to attract the congregation and crowd to the disciple-making process.  While it is true that few will choose the narrow gate, the right design will maximize the opportunity to choose it.  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?

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

A Man and His Marriage: A Great Addition to 33 The Series

man and his marriageSpent some time with A Man and His Marriage this week.  The latest in a line of men’s studies called 33 The Series, it was inspired by the Men’s Fraternity material created by Robert Lewis (I reviewed part 1 of the series right here).

Like the other studies in this series, A Man and His Marriage 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.

“There are many important relationships in a man’s life, and none deserve more care, focus, and investment than the relationship with his wife.  A man’s marriage is meant to be and can be an incredible source of energy, joy and intimacy.” [From the cover]

A Man and His Marriage wrestles with 6 important topics:

  1. The Biblical Foundation for Marriage
  2. Die to Live
  3. Friendship in Marriage
  4. Physical Intimacy
  5. Obstacles to Biblical Oneness in Marriage
  6. Game Changers

DVD-driven, A Man and His Marriage 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 marriage expert Paul Tripp.  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 reinforce the marriages in your church, you need to take a look at A Man and His Marriage.  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 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: The Paradox of Choice

Building first steps and next steps in your ministry?  The Paradox of Choice is a must see TED talk.

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

6 Weird Ingredients in Recipes for Stalled Small Group Ministries

ingredientsIf you’ve ever done any cooking, you know that some recipes look good on paper or look good in the picture, but don’t turn out to be as good as they look!  They’re a waste of time and leave a bad taste in your mouth!  Sometimes recipes that don’t turn out well have mistakes in them.  And sometimes they just have weird ingredients.

6 weird ingredients in recipes for stalled small group ministries:

  1. New small group leaders must be apprentices first.  You can probably see the logic behind this one.  You may even be including this ingredient in your recipe.  Don’t miss the fact that it makes a requirement out of something that only works sometimes as a group multiplication strategy.  Apprenticing is a wonderful leadership development practice that doesn’t always lead to more groups.  At the same time, requiring apprenticeship first overlooks what probably is the largest pool of potential leaders in your church (those who are not yet in a group).  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Myths that Need Busting and 8 Things You Need to Know about Small Group Leaders.
  2. Small group leaders must be church members.  Interest in church membership is decreasing every year.  Why establish as a prerequisite something that unnecessarily shrinks the pool of potential leaders.  Better to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic to develop (and, if membership is emphasized in your church, make membership an aspect of development as a leader).  See also, Customized Leader Requirements and Benefits and Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?
  3. Elders as small group coaches.  Not to say some elders may have the characteristics of an effective small group coach.  They might.  But having the maturity needed to be selected as an elder doesn’t mean they have what it really takes to be a small group coach.  Select elders biblically and identify and recruit coaches wisely.  Remember, whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first (and that is determined by your coaching structure).  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach and Life-Change at the Member Level.
  4. Small groups only meet on Wednesday nights.  Establishing a single night (whether it’s Wednesday or Sunday or whenever it is) misses out on the full potential of making groups available to meet the needs of unconnected people.  It’s easy to see where the original logic comes from (often replacing a Wednesday night or Sunday night program), but it misses the opportunity to offer groups that meet everywhere and all the time.
  5. Calling everything a small group.  This is a truly weird ingredient.  Calling everything a group is almost always a copout designed to eliminate confusion about the best next step.  Building a thriving small group ministry requires the creation of next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic and the elimination of steps that lead anywhere else.  See also Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life Change.
  6. Small groups offered “for those who want to go deeper.”  When small groups are offered as optional menu items for those who want to go deeper or for those “who want more,” it is clear to unconnected people that groups are not essential.  Unless you believe that life-change happens in rows, this is a recipe for a stalled small group ministry.  See also, What’s Better? Rows or Circles?

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

4 Foundational Questions for Small Group Ministries

questionsThere are several foundational questions that must be asked and answered in order to determine what your small group ministry will look like.  Think every small group ministry has the same end in mind?  You might be surprised.  Alan Kay pointed out that “Point of view (or perspective) is worth 80 IQ points.”  Spending sufficient time wrestling these questions to the ground will help clarify many things before you even get started.  Or at least, before you build the next layer.  See also, Avoid These Four Realities at Your Own Peril.

The way these questions are answered should play a role in how your ministry is designed.  And the design of your ministry absolutely determines the results you should anticipate.  See also, 7 Signs You Have a Bad Design for Small Group Ministry.

  1. What need(s) do people have that might best be met by a small group?  Which of these needs would be seen as most pressing?  Which of these needs could be met in the same small group?  While there may be some overlap in your answers and mine, your answers should define your direction.
  2. What will have to be true about the small groups in your ministry for men and women to be willing to try one?  This is a critical question to ask.  It isn’t a 5 minute discussion.  Spend adequate time here and the gold that you discover will help you with a whole list of important decisions.
  3. What are the required characteristics of small group leaders who can cultivate the experience you want your small groups to have?  “Required” is an important word in this question.  Aspects of the experience you want your small groups to have can be cultivated other ways (i.e., curriculum choices, training and coaching, etc.).  Some of what is required will be driven (or not driven) by the leaders you choose.
  4. What will have to be true about your leadership pathway to produce a sufficient number of leaders who have (or develop) the characteristics you have determined are required?  A “sufficient number” is determined by a number of factors.  I can’t determine the number for you.  I can remind you that the number of people whose needs you to hope to meet (see the first question) will play a significant role in determining what a sufficient number is.

I love a good question!  You can find additional great questions in The First 7 Questions I Ask When Evaluating a Small Group Ministry and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

8 Things You Need to Know about Small Group Leaders

open bookFile this list in the category of “things I know now, but haven’t always known.”  You’ve got this filing system too, right?  With experience, we learn what we really wish we had known back then.  See also, 5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Small Group Leaders.

Can I help you skip a step?  Or maybe help you rethink an idea or two that is still in the formative stages?

8 things you need to know about small group leaders:

  1. The best small group leader candidates may not be in a group yet.  The notion that in order to become a small group leader you must first be a member of a small group (and then an apprentice and then a leader) is an old-fashioned recipe for a stalled small group ministry.  Think about it.  Unless you’ve already connected the majority of the adults in your church, odds actually favor finding many of the best leader candidates outside your group rosters.  See also, 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders.
  2. Some of the best leader candidates are unknown by staff members.  As a church grows and attendance slips beyond 200 it becomes more and more difficult for the senior pastor and other staff to actually know everyone.  For senior pastors and other staff members are routinely visible, being recognized by people who look familiar but are unknown becomes more and more common.  If this has already happened in your church, don’t miss the fact that some of the best leader candidates are unknown by staff members.  Note: This is why the small group connection strategy is so important.  It empowers group members to identify leaders.  See also, How to Launch Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  3. The best candidates almost never volunteer to be a small group leader.  The truth is that most of the best candidates are actually reluctant leaders.  And don’t miss the fact that many of the leaders in the best known Bible stories are reluctant (Moses and Gideon immediately come to mind).  Again, this is why strategies like the small group connection are so powerful.  Being chosen to lead is a powerful affirmation.  See also, The Upside of Reluctant Leaders.
  4. The most eager volunteers often have bad underlying motivations.  There is something destructive at work that prompts the wrong people to volunteer to lead.  Add below-the-waterline motivations (pride, control, desire for authority, etc.) to public appeals to “sign up for our leader training course” often result in the unfortunate pairing of unqualified leaders with those desperately seeking connection.
  5. The best small group leaders know they haven’t arrived.  Among the most important characteristics of life-changing small group leaders, the humble acknowledgement that they still have a long way to go is a key trait.  Disdain for spiritual formation and discipleship is not a trademark of maturity or arrival.  Rather, it is an indication of the miles yet to travel.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
  6. Small group leaders need to be discipled and developed.  “Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.”  If that is true, we need to pay careful attention to the development of a leadership development pathway.  If it is true, the role of a coach ought to be crystal clear.  See also, Life-Change at the Member-Level and Four Small Group Coaching Insights that Might Be Eye-Opening.
  7. Small group leaders come in all s.h.a.p.e.s and sizes.  The spiritual gift of leadership is not a requirement to lead a small group.  The particular spiritual gift or gift mix will often play a role in the way a group functions (for example, a group led by one with a shepherding gift may feel different than a group led by one with the gift of hospitality or mercy).
  8. The best small group leaders share the limelight.  The most meaningful small group experiences are rarely one man shows (or one woman shows).  To the contrary, the most meaningful small group experiences encourage the participation of every member.

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

The Making of a Man: A New Men’s Study featuring NFL Great Tim Brown

making of a manSpent some time with a new men’s study this week.  The Making of a Man, featuring NFL All-Pro and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown is a study I think the men in your church will want to know about.

Tim Brown will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer in Canton, Ohio.  While at Notre Dame, Brown was the first wide receiver to receive the Heisman Trophy.  He went on to play 16 years in the NFL, was voted to the Pro Bowl nine times and set many records that still stand at both wide receiver and kickoff/punt returner.

Based on Brown’s book by the same title, The Making of a Man study wrestles with 6 topics that will engage and challenge men:

  • A Man Uses His Talents
  • A Man Overcomes Temptation
  • A Man Takes Responsbility
  • A Man Forgives Others
  • A Man Has His Priorities in Order
  • A Man Builds a Godly Character

DVD-driven, The Making of a Man is a 6 session study featuring Tim Brown.  Each session is a blend of biblical stories and personal stories of struggling with God, overcoming temptations, and discovering what it takes to be a good husband and father.  Averaging 13 to 14 minutes, these sessions will easily hold the attention of group members.

The study guide is well-written and easy to use.  Every session starts out with a simple ice-breaker question that will prime the pump for men, quickly followed by a video outline that makes it easy for men to follow along and take notes if they’d like.  Brown’s main points and several of his key takeaway lines are summarized for easy recollection.  The discussion questions are well thought out and will be easy for men to in a meaningful discussion with great application.

Each session in the study guide concludes with a between sessions personal study that includes further Bible exploration as well as recommended reading from The Making of a Man book.

This is a study that will grab the attention of men in your congregation (and some of their friends).  Tim Brown’s name is well known among football fans and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer will be an easy reminder.  The Making of a Man is a study you ought to take a look at.  I liked it and I think your men 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. In addition, I am a small group specialist for LifeWay. 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: The Power of Motivation

How do you motivate the small group leaders and coaches in your ministry?  Or maybe I should be asking, “Do you do anything to motivate your small group leaders and coaches?”  This TED talk by Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, will definitely give you something to think about.

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

Easily Create Bible Studies for Your Small Groups with SmallGroup.com

smallgroup_byps300x250Looking for an in-house way to easily create Bible studies for your small groups?  Have the topic and theme but no one to write the study?  Have the ability to write the study yourself but really need to spend your time on more strategic things?

You need to take a look at a new service from LifeWay that will be filling in this gap for lots of churches.  SmallGroup.com makes it easy to put together custom studies that are biblically based.  It’s easy to get started by choosing a topic and selecting from over 1200 studies on over 400 topics from all 66 books of the Bible.  If you’re looking for a topic that you don’t see, you can request it and LifeWay’s writers will write the study at no extra charge.

The easy-to-use system also allows you to customize the end product so that it includes your unique language and look, integrating logos and color schemes to give a custom feel.

SmallGroup.com allows you to create multi-session studies to fully cover a theme or topic.  You can also easily create stand-alone studies for special situations or events.

Once assembled, your study will be ready to use.  You can download it, print it, or email a copy to your leaders.  Or you can save it for later.

The pricing for the service is set at a sliding scale based on the number of people in small groups at your church and I feel like the price point is very reasonable.  I’m always looking for ways to keep my attention focused on the things that only I can do.  SmallGroup.com enables you to provide biblically based studies covering the topics you need at a reasonable price.

I took advantage of a free two week trial and easily assembled a great study.  The site is easy to navigate and a downloadable quickstart guide was almost unnecessary.  I picked a topic, chose from an selection of studies, and the system generated a study that lined up very well with what I was looking for.  Within 20 minutes I had even customized the cover to include our church logo and color scheme.

I have to say, this is a pretty exciting innovation.  It’s the next best thing to have a gifted writer-in-residence…at a fraction of the cost.  And it will allow you to stay focused on building a thriving small group ministry.  My advice?  Take advantage of the free two week trial and see for yourself.

Disclosure of Material Connection: LifeWay is a frequent advertiser. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and/or 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.”

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