Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Mike Foster’s People of the Second Chance Is a MUST-READ

people-of-the-second-chanceSpent some time this week with the newest resource from Mike Foster. Very powerful and one you definitely will want to take a look at yourself. Not exactly sure how I should say this, but People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World feels like Bob Goff’s Love Does, only more motivating.

I love it that Bob Goff wrote the forward and had a lot of fun imagining these two hanging out together.

This snippet from the forward will tell you what you need to know:

“This isn’t a self-help book about just being happy; it’s about being aware of the beauty of becoming whole. It’s not about finding meaning in our lives by looking perfect; instead, it’s about realizing that we are perfectly loved and allowing this to give our lives meaning. This is a book for messed-up overcomers, for religious rebels, for the broken but resilient. It’s not about taking a knee in the end zone when you win; it’s about taking both when you don’t.”

People of the Second Chance is an easy read in one sense and a very challenging one in another. Filled with very personal stories and written in a rhythm that immediately pulls you in, this is a special book. And at the same time, it pulls you steadily toward action; not the need for action…personal action.

My recurring thought as I read People of the Second Chance was that this will provoke a powerful conversation in small groups, ministry teams and book clubs. I’ve already suggested that including a few discussion questions for each chapter would make it even more accessible, but I really think that the content itself will grab readers hard enough to naturally compel dynamic conversations.

I love this book! If you’re looking for a great book suggestion for groups, do your groups a favor and add  People of the Second Chance to your recommended list!

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.”


dancing“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”  Angela Monet (quoted in On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson)

Image by Michael Ryan

This Little Tweak Will 10X the Impact of Your Coaching Structure

10x-tweakThis Little Tweak Will 10X the Impact of Your Coaching Structure

I write a lot about building an effective coaching structure. Maybe I should say, I write a LOT about building an effective coaching structure.

Building an effective coaching structure is a frequent topic here for two reasons:

  1. Coaching plays a very significant role in launching and sustaining new groups. This should not be overlooked or dismissed. Think about the energy you expend in getting a new group going. Now think about the wasted energy you expend starting groups that don’t survive. An effective coaching structure can help the new groups you launch sustain long enough to build the connective tissue that will keep them going.
  2. An effective coaching structure is not easy to build! In fact, it is one of the most challenging steps in building a thriving small group ministry. I field more questions about small group coaching than any other topic. It can be done. I’ve taught many to do it. You can do it. But it takes doing the right things at the right time and in the right way.

This Little Tweak Will 10X the Impact of Your Coaching Structure

You know how little things can make a big difference? Like discovering the brightness key on your laptop? Or how to set up favorites in your contacts? Or training your admin to schedule your appointments? Or training your dog to use the doggie door?

Little things can often make a big difference.

A little thing that can make a big difference in the impact of your coaching structure?

How about when and how you introduce a coach to a new leader?

I don’t know when you introduce a coach to a new leader or how you introduce a coach to a new leader…but if you’re struggling to build an effective coaching structure, you might want to consider this little tweak.

When to introduce a coach to a new leader

The best time to introduce a coach to a new leader is at the very beginning. The longer a new leader has been a leader, the harder it gets for the coach to successfully build a relationship.

For example, when a new leader is identified in one of our small group connections, that new leader is introduced to their coach in the short stand-up leaders’ meeting immediately following the connection.

Why is that important? Easy. The new leader will never again be as thankful for access to a coach as they are in that moment.

How quickly are you introducing your new leaders to a coach? The longer you wait the harder it gets.

How to introduce a coach to a new leader

The best way to introduce a coach to a new leader is by clearly establishing that their coach is a huge asset and a great person to know.

For example, during our small group connections we use our coaches to help in several key ways during the connection. We point them out as the process begins. They’re wearing a distinctive t-shirt. We brag on them a little bit. Our coaches help each group that is forming identify a leader.

As soon as leaders are identified, we remind them that they will be connected with a coach; someone who has been leading groups for a long time and really knows the ins and outs of having a great small group.

Immediately following the small group connection we hold a very short (5 minutes) stand-up leaders’ meeting. As the meeting is wrapping up we hand the leaders over to their coaches with this transition statement: “As we mentioned in the connection, we’re pairing each of you up with a coach who will be helping you and your group get off to a great start. Our coaches are very experienced small group leaders who really know how to get groups off to a great start. They’ll want to have a weekly conversation about how it’s going.”

How does your when and how stack up?

How does your when and how stack up to the way we do it? If you’re waiting too long to introduce coaches to your new leaders, if you’re not making a big enough deal about the value of a coach…this little tweak will make a big difference.

If you need help building an effective coaching structure, this tip is an example of the strategies, tactics and practices you learn in How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure (one of my most popular mini-courses).

Image by Sophie


Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80%


Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80% (of their average weekend adult worship attendance)

One of the most effective small group systems is the one made popular by Larry Osborne’s Sticky Church. Osborne is the Senior Pastor of North Coast Church, a multisite church in southern California.

Every system has a distinctive (or several). North Coast’s is what I refer to as a semester system (participants sign up for a semester). Another very important distinctive of their system is that most of their groups use a sermon-based study developed to accompany the weekend message.

A very important distinctive of the North Coast system is that they consistently connect more than 80% of their average adult weekend worship attendance in groups. And by consistently I don’t mean sometimes or even most of the time. They have consistently exceeded that percentage as long as I can remember.

How have they consistently connected over 80% of their weekend worship adult attendance in groups?

Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Consistently Connected Over 80%

  1. Senior pastor Larry Osborne has consistently championed involvement in a growth group as one of two essential commitments that lead to spiritual growth (the other being a commitment to God and the Bible). By the way, all churches with truly effective small group systems have senior pastors who are champions of the importance of small group participation.
  2. The sermon-based aspect of their growth group strategy allows their teaching team to consistently make the case for joining a group as a way to understand and apply the principles they’re learning about on the weekend. While this is a benefit I point to during a church-wide campaign (typically six weeks), at North Coast is is virtually a year-round benefit.
  3. They’ve very consistently run their system over many years (I first became aware of their system and strategy in 2003). There may be innovative tweaks from time to time, but attenders at North Coast know what to expect.
  4. The semester system offers a consistent set of onramps over the course of the year. New attenders are never more than a couple months from the next onramp.
  5. Every semester is promoted aggressively and extensively over a period of weeks. It is very difficult for even the most infrequent attenders to miss the invitation and challenge to join a growth group.
  6. The 10 week commitment to a growth group is short enough to feel like a reasonable test-drive (While I prefer a shorter initial commitment, 10 weeks is still a reasonable length of time).
  7. Signing up for a 10 week semester also has the upside of a hard stop.  While most members reup for the next semester with the same group, if the group turns out to be a poor match for a new member, it is a simple matter to simply not sign up for the next one.
  8. They have consistently high quality promotion (see below) that peaks the interest and engages the kind of people they attract and hope to connect.
  9. The content for the weekend message series is developed far enough in advance to allow the team that creates the growth group study material to produce an excellent discussion guide. This is an important reason behind their system’s effectiveness. While many churches like the benefit of deepening their members’ understanding and application of the weekend message content, few churches are as disciplined as North Coast at the production of quality material in advance.
  10. North Coast provides their group leaders with the resources they need to facilitate a great discussion. In addition to their Leader Notes and Homework Guide, they also produce a weekly Growth Group Leader podcast to further resource their leaders. See their Leader Tools page here.

See also, Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72000* in Groups and Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups.

Growth Groups: Narcolepsy from North Coast Church on Vimeo.



The True Measure of “Effective” Ministry Systems, Models and Strategies

true-measureThe True Measure of “Effective” Ministry Systems, Models and Strategies

How do you truly evaluate the effectiveness of ministry system, models or strategies?

I have this conversation all the time (and you probably do too). Particularly when a change initiative is in the works and at least a few of the architects or caretakers of an legacy system are still at large.

I love a couple treasured lines from favorite wordsmiths:

“Every company is in the process of becoming an anachronism, irrelevant to the future, or the harbinger of the future.” Gary Hamel

When I read this line I long to be a harbinger of the future.

“There are always two parties, the party of the past and the party of the future; the establishment and the movement.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I read this line I deeply desire to be part of the movement.

Whether you long to be a harbinger of the future or deeply desire to be part of a movement…you must learn to truly evaluate the effectiveness of ministry system, models or strategies.

How do you truly evaluate the effectiveness of ministry system, models or strategies?

First, we need to agree on a couple terms:

  • Effective: “Producing a result that is wanted. Having an intended effect.” Clearly…this definition explicitly indicates a result or effect that was determined in advance.
  • True: “Being in accordance with fact or reality.” Not wishful thinking, rose-colored glasses, or “ministerially speaking.”

Second, in order to truly evaluate the effectiveness of a small group systems we’d need to:

  1. Agree in advance about the desired results. For example, it has long been my ambition to have more adults in groups than our average adult weekend worship attendance. This is shaped in large part by my belief that since people are attending less frequently, the average adult weekend worship attendance isn’t an accurate reflection of the size of our crowd (let alone our congregation).
  2. Fairly and objectively examine the results. By taking an annual (or semi-annual) snapshot of our true percentage connected (number of adults connected) divided by the number of adults at our Easter or Christmas Eve services we can know whether we are gaining ground or losing ground.
  3. Be good stewards of the opportunity and take personal responsibility for the results. A good steward keeps track of the inventory. They know that there is a window of opportunity for every person. They take personal responsibility for the many and the one. They know that every number has a name.
  4. Make adjustments in our system to:
    • Optimize what is right
    • Fix what is wrong
    • Clarify what is confused
    • Add what is missing

Want to be a harbinger? Long to be part of a movement? Commit yourself (and your team) to a true evaluation of the effectiveness of your ministry system, model or strategy.

Further Reading:

Image by Ricardo Cuppini

5 Reasons I Launched GroupLife Southwest: a New Small Group Ministry Conference


5 Reasons I Launched GroupLife Southwest

I get a lot of questions. I’ve had a lot over the last few weeks as I’ve moved closer to launching GroupLife Southwest 2017.

“Why are you launching a new small group ministry conference?”

“Do we really need another small group ministry conference?”

“Shouldn’t you just stream the conference? Why host a live venue?”

Good questions. And these are just a few. There have definitely been others.

Here are the 5 main reasons:

  1. To give you live access to some of the most important small group ministry ideas. Reading about small group ministry is one thing. Interacting with leading practitioners and trusted experts is another thing.
  2. To expose you to the systems, models and strategies designed for the 21st century. If you’re paying attention to the culture, it is an inescapable reality that every step into the 21st century takes us farther away from the way things were when many of the most common small group ministry practices were developed. Connecting people and making disciples in the 21st century will require new insights.
  3. To provide a west coast gathering for small group ministry practitioners. When I’ve written about conferences I’ve been to in other parts of the country, I’ve routinely heard from readers who’ve wished for a closer option.
  4. To provide an additional conference at a time when there are limited options. It just seems like there were more options not that long ago. At the moment, there are only two main options (Saddleback’s The Lobby and North Point’s re:group). Both are excellent. GroupLife Southwest will add an important additional option.
  5. To provide a conference that curates a diverse collection of systems, models and strategies, The speakers you’ll hear are representatives of a variety of effective systems, models and strategies. Exposure to their thinking will help you identify and develop the best approach for your church and your community.

Bottom line? I really hope you’ll join us for GroupLife Southwest 2017! I don’t want you to miss it. And I’d love to meet you!  Here’s a link to the conference website for more information.

GroupLife Southwest 2017 Launches TODAY!

grouplife-southwest-eventbrite-banner-2It’s official! I launched the website for GroupLife Southwest 2017 this morning!

It’s been on my mind for a number of years to hold a small group ministry conference here in Las Vegas. And it finally happens  March 27-28, 2017 (just about the perfect time to come to Vegas. Warm here. Not so much elsewhere ;-))

We’ve invited a fantastic lineup of speakers (Bill Willits and Tim Cooper from North Point, Chris Surratt from LifeWay, Dave Enns from North Coast, Todd Engstrom from Austin Stone, and Hugh Halter from Forge America. And me!).

And one other small detail. For the first 30 days I’m offering an extra super early bird price. I think you’ll like it.

You can find out everything you need to know about GroupLife Southwest 2017 right here.

Quotebook: Bill Taylor on Imagination

imagination“How do you make sure that what you know doesn’t limit what you can imagine?” Bill Taylor, Simply Brilliant

Image by Thomas Hawk

5 Keys to Keep in Mind When Choosing Your Small Group System


5 Keys to Keep in Mind When Choosing Your Small Group System

Yesterday’s post, Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72,000 in Groups*, prompted me to think about the similarities (and the differences) between North Point system and Saddleback’s system. In the midst of that process I thought about North Coast’s successful group strategy (consistently over 80% of their adults in groups) as well as a couple other significantly successful churches (i.e., Life.Church and Willow Creek in the 90s).

There are similarities between them. There are also some fairly significant differences.

Can we learn from them? Are there some common threads in the fabric of successful systems?

I think there are.

Here are 5 keys to keep in mind when choosing your small group system:

  1. Successful small group systems are championed by the senior pastor. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Larry Osborne or Craig Groeschel, when it comes to owning the small group champion role, they are very, very similar.  As the most influential people in their respective congregations, they own the champion role. They talk about their own group involvement and they regularly challenge everyone to join a small group. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Churches with successful small group systems run virtually the same playbook year round and year after year. This is significant. When you look closely at the churches who are best known for small group ministry success, they have chosen a system and ridden that system for many years. The way the system works is familiar to all but the least frequent attenders. It doesn’t change from one year to the next. See also, 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.
  3. Churches with successful small group systems regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies. Any and all variables are carefully evaluated and subject to modification. This may sound counter to the second key, but it is actually their commitment to the recognition that results are a product of designs. If you want different results, you must alter the design. Saddleback’s HOST strategy was about altering the design. Saddleback’s “if you have a couple friends” strategy was developed to alter the design. The addition of North Point’s short-term group offering was about altering the design. See also, Orchestrate and Evaluate Everything.
  4. Churches with successful small group systems have a clearly defined engagement pathway. Small groups are not necessarily the only next step they offer, but the importance of both being in a small group and how to join one is clearly articulated. While the size of the “become and belong” menu is quite different at Saddleback and North Point, it would be impossible to attend either without knowing exactly what to do right now. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  5. Successful small group systems have powerful rhythms that connect people in waves. When you look closely at the systems of churches with successful small group ministries, it is easy to spot the fact that they aren’t connecting unconnected people one at a time. Match-making is the exception. The rule is that North Point’s GroupLink starts waves of new groups twice a year. Saddleback’s annual church-wide campaign starts hundreds of new groups every year. North Coast’s semester system offers an easy way to join in three times a year. See also, Saddleback’s Not-So-Secret Strategy of Launching New Groups in Waves.

Image by Thomas Angermann

Top 10 Reasons North Point Has Connected Over 72,000* in Groups

north point ministriesOne of the churches you ought to be paying attention to when it comes to small group ministry is North Point Community Church (technically, North Point Ministries, which is their name for their 6 Atlanta churches and global network of more than 30 strategic partner churches). Led by senior pastor Andy Stanley, North Point has accomplished some amazing things and is on an incredible trajectory.

Full Disclosure: I have long admired Andy Stanley and the North Point team and strategy. A capstone statement Andy made in 2012 sums it up for me:

Let’s say that something happens to me, all the staff, and all the buildings simultaneously explode.  Let’s make it worst case scenario.  There’s no staff.  There’s no buildings.  And there’s no me.  Here’s what would happen.  On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the following week, thousands and thousands of adults would gather in homes all over the city and pray together, and do Bible study together and take care of whatever family members are left over and the church is going to go on.

Because at the end of the day, circles are better than rows.  And from day one, we’ve been committed to creating a culture that’s all about circles and not rows.  We are famous for our rows.  But the strength of our churches is what happens in circles.

Here are my top 10 reasons North Point has connected over 72,000* in groups:

  1. Andy Stanley has consistently championed the importance of being involved in a small group. The champion role has never been delegated. In addition to the role of champion, Andy talks regularly about his own small group involvement and the difference it makes in his life (and his family’s life). See also, 18 Great Lines from Andy Stanley and Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. They’ve had consistent point leadership in Bill Willits (Executive Director of Ministry Environments for North Point Ministries) for their entire 20 year history. One of 6 founding staff members, Bill has provided strategic leadership, helping their team to meet the challenges and dynamics of one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country. Bill Willits is a featured speaker at GroupLife Southwest, a new small group ministry conference launching 3/27-28/16.
  3. They have consistently kept a narrow focus and offered small groups as the lone menu item to connect people and help them grow spiritually. This is deceptively significant. The fact that they’ve never had to take apart a legacy system from a previous paradigm is more than the result of just turning 20 years old. In addition, they’ve made wise decisions based on their strategy (and not on sentimentality). See also, Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  4. They’ve consistently made getting connected easy, obvious and strategic. A quick look at their website easily demonstrates the win they’ve clarified. See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  5. They’ve had one numeric goal (to have 100,000 in groups) for 20 years. A singular focus has helped them determine time and again what is important and what is sideways energy.
  6. They’ve prioritized small group ministry in their budget. Stanley has said their one numeric goal “has shaped everything. It has shaped everything including our budget. Your goals shape where the money goes. Groups is the best bet.” As an example of their commitment to groups, recognizing the importance of the coaching component, they’ve staffed a “groups director” position that is essentially a coach to 60 to 80 small group leaders. They’ve also budgeted to help tackle the childcare challenge and offered reimbursement for childcare expenses for groups.
  7. GroupLink (their connection event) is a powerful twice a year engine that connects unconnected people in massive waves. Although there are other ways to start groups and other ways to get connected, their focused energy on this twice a year strategy is like a laser beam. See also, Three Observations that Made Me a Fan of North Point’s Closed Group Strategy and Distinctives of Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events.
  8. They regularly use baptism testimonies and virtually all of them point to the significant role played by the small group in  spiritual development. This is not a new development. Recognizing the power of story-telling happened early and is a time-tested strategy.
  9. They are committed to evaluation and regularly review their strategies and tactics for improvement. For example, after evaluating the length of time between when an attender begins to attend the weekend service and then joins a group by attending GroupLink (which has a 12 to 18 month commitment), they were concerned about the length of time and made a strategic adjustment. Adding a short-term group option, with only a 6 to 8 week commitment, shortened the time between beginning to attend the weekend service and joining a short-term group. See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step and Three Important Distinctives of North Point’s Access Group Strategy.
  10. They are committed to acknowledging that results are directly related to design. Andy Stanley said, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” Translated: Your results are not a fluke. They are produced by your design. If you want different results…you must change the design. This is always present in their thinking. They’ve relentlessly abandoned less productive strategies and programs (i.e., KidStuff and 7:22). See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design Is Inadequate.

This is my list of the top 10 reasons North Point has connected over 72,000 in small groups. Can I add a bonus reason? My bonus reason is likely to turn out to be very significant in the coming season. Recognizing that a different day is here (not just on the horizon), they’ve determined that in order to be true to their ambition (for everyone to experience life-changing community) they needed to make space in groups for people with a variety of lifestyles and theological beliefs. See also, Community for Everyone.

*North Point Ministries includes students and children who are in small groups.

See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups and Top 10 Reasons North Coast Has Connected Over 80% in Groups.

Image by North Point Ministries


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