What Can a Class Do That a Small Group Cannot?

What can a class do that a group cannot?  Specifically…what benefits or upsides can a class provide that a small group cannot?

Ever have this conversation?

I have this one more and more frequently, both in person and via email or blog comment.  Long-time advocates of classes have difficulty seeing both the downside and the upside of the strategy.  Remember, there is an upside and a downside to everything.  No exceptions.

Can you see that this is another angle on the discussion of rows versus circles?

Here’s my take on the benefits (or upsides) a class can provide:

  1. A class can leverage the teaching gifts of a live master teacher to impart knowledge or information.  True, the members of a small group would also benefit from a master teacher, but it would impact a smaller number.  There is no upside to a class viewing video content.  A small group receives the same benefit.
  2. Because communication is typically one-way (with the exception of an opportunity for Q&A), a teacher can often cover more ground and deliver information more systematically.

Of course, depending on what you hope to produce, there are a number of disadvantages or downsides to a class.  There are a number of essential ingredients that produce life-change that are difficult to incorporate into a class.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

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

FAQ: How Often Should Our Group Meet?

How often should our group meet?

This might be one of my most frequently asked questions.  And it’s actually a very good question.

How often should our small group meet?

There are at least three important considerations:

First, keep in mind that especially when your group is just starting out, frequency is very important.  I suggest that new groups meet weekly because if someone misses a meeting it will only be two weeks between meetings.  If you only meet twice a month and someone misses a meeting, it will be a month between meetings.

Second, keep in mind that consistency plays a major role in connection.  Lyman Coleman pointed out over 20 years ago that six weeks is short enough for unconnected people to commit to and long enough for them to begin to establish a connection.  I’ve found that the stronger connective tissue that holds groups together is formed in weeks 7 to 12.  New groups that make it into their third six week have the best chance of forming an enduring connection.  See also, 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders

Third, keep in mind that the meeting itself plays a very small part in how men and women become like Jesus.  Whether you meet weekly or twice a month, it is those purposeful conversations over coffee or a meal or dessert that have the greatest potential.  It can be as simple as a text message or Facebook comment or as complicated as sitting in silence in a hospital waiting room.  Real connection grows in between meetings.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

The most frequent responses to my three considerations?

  1. People’s lives are too busy to commit to meeting weekly (let alone connecting between meetings).  This is true almost everywhere.  Your community is not unique.  Making disciples requires recalibration.  The right toe-in-the-water, a simple test-drive, is often enough to give them the taste they need to begin.  This is one of the reasons a church-wide campaign works so well.  See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone to Join a Group.
  2. People are too busy with other church commitments to commit to meeting weekly.  This is true almost everywhere.  If you want to make disciples you need to clarify the minimum and recommended dose.

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

Quotebook: Options and Differentiation

I am a fan of Simon Sinek’s thinking.  Start with Why has had a great influence on my thinking in the last several years.

I tripped across this line from Sinek last week.  Think about what it means for churches that are serving up a buffet of options:

“Companies that offer lots of options are often struggling to differentiate. Differentiation comes from clarity of Why, not excess of What.” Simon Sinek

If your church offers a menu of options (as opposed to a plated meal), might it be that the struggle is to differentiate brought on by a lack of clarity of Why?

By the way, Sinek’s take here reminded me of Youngme Moon’s insightful book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.  If you’re involved in strategy, it is a must read in my opinion.

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.

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