Review: Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun When You Love People Like Jesus Does

Jesus PromHad the opportunity to preview a new study from Jon Weece and Thomas Nelson.  Weece is the Lead Follower at Southland Christian Church–a community of fourteen thousand Jesus followers in Central Kentucky.

Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun When You Love People Like Jesus Does is a powerful study that might have slipped under your radar.  The unusual name comes from an party “that Southland throws every year for the disabled, handicapped, and mentally ill.”  At the essence of Jesus Prom is the the powerful idea that the church is not a place you go but “a kind of community we are.”  Further, six different verbs are explored (love, be, see, dance, give, and remember), “not ideas but invitations.”

DVD-driven, each session features the dynamic teaching of Jon Weece reinforced by a powerful testimony from someone from Southland whose life has been changed.  At a average length of 19 minutes, the video segments will hold attention spans very well.

The study guide is easy to use.  Each session begins with a checking-in opportunity; a set of questions that prime the pump of discussion.  Every session also includes a substantial  reading from a passage of scripture.  A simple viewing guide is followed by a set of well-written discussion questions that will help members wrestle with the key ideas in the teaching.

The study guide also includes a “be the church” section in every session that takes the teaching another step toward application.  Very creatively designed, there is a hands-on feel to the design of these activities.  You’ll also find between sessions content that will help every member move principles from head to heart.  Included in the between sessions content is a reading guide that will guide members through Weece’s book by the same name.

I like what Jesus Prom does!  Focusing on the actions of a kind of community, this study might be just the ticket for many of our groups.  Coupled with intentionality, this study could be a game changer for many.  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 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.

Top 10 Small Group Curriculum Reviews of 2014

Looking for great studies to add to your approved list?  Here are my top 10 small group curriculum reviews from 2014:

  1. Transformed: How God Changes Us by Rick Warren
  2. Children of the Day: 1st & 2nd Thessalonians by Beth Moore
  3. [7] Seven Questions that Rattle in the Minds of Most Men from John Woodall and North Point
  4. Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler
  5. Fight: Winning the Battles that Matter Most by Craig Groeschel:
  6. Manhood Restored by Eric Mason
  7. A Man and His Work
  8. Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry by Perry Noble
  9. Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus by Lisa Harper
  10. Jesus Is _____” by Judah Smith

Top 14 Posts of 2014

You can learn a lot by looking at a top 10 list (or in this case a top 14!).  I noticed a couple things right away as I compiled this list of the top posts of 2014.

First, I noticed how many of them are how-to posts and skill-training posts.  That tells me I should be writing more of those!

Second, I noticed how many of this years most read posts were from deep in my archives!  2008 was a very popular year!

With a 16% increase in page views, 2014 has been a good year here on the blog.  Thank you for coming along!

  1. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection  (May, 2008)
  2. New to Small Group Ministry? Start Here!
  3. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure (February, 2008)
  4. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader (October, 2013)
  5. How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy (October, 2009)
  6. This Is Why We Need Community (September, 2014)
  7. If I Was Starting Today (April, 2008)
  8. HOST: What Does It Mean? April, 2008)
  9. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups (April, 2008)
  10. Skill Training: Learning How to Pray Together (April, 2009)
  11. Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members (March, 2010)
  12. North Point’s Small Group System (October, 2009)
  13. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway (January, 2011)
  14. Rick Warren’s Newest Church-Wide Campaign: Transformed: How God Changes Us (December, 2013)

6 Questions We Should All Be Asking

I love a great question.  I collect them!  And I try to remember to ask them all the time and especially when I’m seeking to break free from the status quo and business-as-usual.

Here are 6 questions we should all be asking:

  1. What are the things we are doing that make it difficult for unconnected people to connect to a small group?  If we are truly on a hunt for the best ways to connect the largest number of people to a small group, we’ll need to pay careful attention to the things we are doing that make it difficult.
  2. What are the activities, attitudes and commitments that prevent unconnected people from connecting to a small group?  A best practice we could all adopt is to spend time on a regular basis listening to unconnected people.  Believe me, they have reasons they have not joined a group or are not currently connected to a group.  Until we figure out what those reasons are, we will struggle to make a compelling case for unconnected people to join a group.
  3. What are the ways we are allocating our resources that produce the greatest return on investment?  You may prefer “bear the most fruit” to “produce the greatest return on investment.”  No matter.  If we want to hear “well done,” we will all be paying attention to outcomes.  Doing the same things again and again, hoping for a different outcome, is more than the definition of insanity.  It is poor stewardship.
  4. What are the ways we are allocating our resources that produce the lowest return on investment?  This is obviously the flip side of the previous question, but it is potentially a very productive conversation.  Yes, it is a very difficult and challenging pathway, but if we would be good stewards it is a conversation we must have.
  5. What are we not doing that we should start doing immediately?  This is a game-changing conversation.  So often, we know what we should be doing and we just don’t do it.  It is about good stewardship.
  6. What are we doing that we should stop doing immediately?  Again, this is a flip side question but an essential conversation.  It is about stewardship.  It is about allocating resources to the critical growth path.

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

Here are some additional posts that might be helpful:

10 Simple Things You Can Start Doing to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

While there is definitely a list of complicated things you can start doing to build a thriving small group ministry, there is a list of simple things you can start doing.

It’s important to remember that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.  Easy is the opposite of hard or challenging.  Simple things are uncomplicated.  They can be done without a lot of prerequisite steps.  All of us have complicated things that need doing.  I call it “joining a game of pick-up-sticks in progress.”

What we’re talking about today are simple, uncomplicated, no excuses things you can start doing to build a thriving small group ministry.

Here are 10 simple things you can start doing:

  1. Invite your senior pastor to meet for breakfast, lunch or coffee.  If you have the relationship already, this will be easy.  If you don’t, you might have to develop a creative angle.  You can be your pastor’s source for life-change stories and you can help shape the belonging and becoming emphases, but only if you have the relationship.  See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask.
  2. Spend one hour shaping a grouplife calendar for 2015.  Where will you plug in your connecting events or strategies?  Where will you offer training and encouragement for your leaders?  Where will you invest in your coaches?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  3. Spend one hour thinking through your existing small group coaches.  Do you have the right people on your coaching team?  Are they fruitful and fulfilled?  Fulfilled but not fruitful?  Fruitful but not fulfilled?  Building an effective coaching structure requires getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus).  You may only be able to evaluate your coaches (without removing anyone).  That’s okay.  It is a start.  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  4. Spend one hour thinking through your existing group leaders.  Are there some sixty or hundred-fold leaders on your list who probably should be coaching?  One of the most powerful steps you can take in building a thriving small group ministry is to begin to build an effective coaching structure.  This simple exercise could be the very first step.  See Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns for a few ideas on how to do it.
  5. Spend one hour scheduling and planning a January coffee “get-together” for your small group leaders.  Make it simple and convenient.  Provide coffee, juice, donuts and fruit.  Pull together a few recommended studies for them to look over.  Choose a skill training idea to share.  Group them in a way that makes sense (life-stage, geography, affinity, etc.).  Give them something to talk about at their table.  See How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders for more ideas.
  6. Ask your small group leaders for their best story about life-change.  “What is the best thing happening in your group right now?” is a good question.  Email your leaders asking them to reply with their answer (or if you’re even a little bit tech savvy, create a Google survey).  This simple idea will pay huge dividends and give you plenty to talk about.
  7. Pick out a book to read or a study to do with your coaches.  If you’ve got the right people in the coaching role, you’ll want to spend time developing and discipling them.  Once you’ve chosen a book or a study, choose a morning that works for most and put it on the calendar.  Whether you meet once a month or even once a week for a season, it will be an investment with big returns.  See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  8. Join a Small Group Network huddle.  If you’re not already part of a huddle, you can find the best one for you right here.  If there’s not one in your area, consider starting your own!  It’s as easy as a quick phone call to have coffee with another small group pastor/director in your area.  You can do it and you’ll be glad you did.
  9. Meet with the leaders of any on-campus studies your church offers.  You can be a resource to the leaders of your church’s Beth Moore study, Men’s Fraternity, etc.  Offering to provide skill training for table leaders might be a simple first step that leads to helping them develop their own coaching structure for leaders.  And it will help establish you as their go to expert on how to deliver the best experience to members.  See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  10. Spend an hour getting to know some unconnected people in your church.  A few minutes learning about the lives, families, schedules, interests, problems and concerns of unconnected people will help you develop first steps and next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.  Until you actually know a few unconnected people you will pay too much attention to the interests of already connected people.  Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People and Learn to Empathize with Your End User.

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

Don’t Miss Philip Yancey’s New Study: Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News?

vanishing graceHad some time this week to take a look at Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News, a new study from Philip Yancey.  You probably recognize that name.  With over 14 million books sold and as the author of two ECPA Christian books of the year (The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing about Grace), Philip Yancey is one of the best-selling Christian authors.

Based on Yancey’s latest book by the same title, Vanishing Grace explores an important topic.  “What kind of news is good to a culture that thinks it has rejected the Christian version?”  The study also examines “illuminating stories of how faith can be expressed in ways that disarm even the most cynical critics.”

DVD-driven, Vanishing Grace features the teaching of Philip Yancey as well as a compelling guest list that includes Gabe Lyons, Rosaria Butterfield, Holly BurkhalterMakoto Fujimura, Ron Nikkel and Cliff and Wilma Derksen.  With an average length of about 20 minutes, the mix of Yancey’s intelligent presentation and the stories of the others captures and holds attention very well.

The study guide includes a video viewing guide and a well written set of discussion questions that will help participants absorb and wrestle with the video content.  Each session also includes an exploration of a set of Bible passages.  The study guide also includes a set of personal studies to be completed between sessions.  Participants are also encouraged to read the Vanishing Grace book, which will provide “even deeper insights that will make the journey richer and more meaningful.”

Vanishing Grace is a very timely study that will help your members understand the cultural shifts in an increasingly post-Christian America.  Although the study covers a topic that may not be right at the top of what your members would seek to study, with the right recommendation it will be both enlightening and challenging.  I highly recommend Vanishing Grace.  I came away with a number of new understandings and I know 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 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.

Merry Christmas from the Howells

dukesWISHING YOU THE VERY BEST. MAY GOD BLESS YOU THIS CHRISTMAS AND ALWAYS.  Mark and Debbie Howell

5 Things to Think about as 2014 Comes to a Close

The end of the year is the time to think about, to evaluate, how your strategy worked; how close you got to where you were aiming.

5 things you ought to be looking at:

  1. Did you establish “wins” for the strategies you used this year?  If so, how did you do?  Did your plans succeed or fail?  If you didn’t establish wins, plan on adding this very important ingredient in 2015.  Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry is an excellent resource for this.  See also, What Will You Call a “Win” for the Groups in Your Ministry?
  2. Did you move closer to the preferred future?  Or simply prevent slippage?  If you haven’t developed a refined preferred future, it is time and you need to do it.  See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.
  3. Are you ending the year with a solid plan for 2015?  Even if you developed an annual calendar for 2014-15 (i.e., September to August), it’s a good idea to recalibrate for the start of the new year.  What changes or adjustments do you need to make?  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  4. What have been your key learnings?  What have you learned is true in your setting that you didn’t know before?  What have you learned is actually an outdated assumption?  See also, Is It Time to Take a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions? and My Top 3 Learnings about Small Group Ministry This Year.
  5. What aspects of your design need to be carefully examined?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you want different results, you need to develop a different design.  Doing the same things again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (Albert Einstein).  Using the same strategy after you know it is ineffective is irresponsible and poor stewardship.  See also, 7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design.

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

8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Small Group Leaders

Help! I can’t find enough small group leaders!

One of the most common challenges for small group pastors is finding enough small group leaders.  To top it off, just when you think you’re getting a little bit of traction you learn that some of your best leaders are moving away or taking a break.

Can you relate?

8 secrets to finding an unlimited number of small group leaders:

  1. Leverage your senior pastor’s influence.  It is impossible to overstate the potential of your senior pastor as small group champion.  When your senior pastor learns to make the HOST ask effectively you will have unlocked a powerful secret.  Until you are learn to leverage your senior pastor’s influence you will be playing with both hands tied behind your back.  See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the HOST Ask.
  2. Set leader requirements at an entry level.  Setting your leader requirements too high only ensures you will not be able to find enough leaders.  Jesus himself was not looking for Jesus Jr. when he recruited the twelve.  See also, The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core.
  3. Keep your most important strategies focused on the edges.  There is nothing wrong with insisting that every leader have an apprentice.  It is a good strategy.  It is a biblical strategy.  It just has limited potential in most churches.  In most churches the largest number of potential group leaders are not currently in a group.  In addition, the least connected people in your congregation are often the most connected in the community.  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?
  4. Provide just-in-time coaching for new leaders.  You’ll retain more new leaders when you connect them to a coach (who knows the ropes) from the very beginning.  Remember, adults learn on a need-to-know basis and brand new leaders definitely have a need-to-know.  See also, 7 Core Ideas about Small Group Coaching.
  5. Get over the idea that the best candidates are people you know.  As your church grows it becomes increasingly less likely that your pastor and staff will know everyone.  This makes any leader identification strategy that depends on the personal knowledge of staff doomed to fail.  This make a small group connection (where the event itself identifies leader candidates) or the HOST strategy (which recruits people who know at least two other people) excellent strategies.  See also, HOST: What Does It Mean?
  6. Don’t expect the best candidates to volunteer.  A widespread trend in America is for people to migrate from smaller churches to larger churches where they will have access to more attractive opportunities.  Within the migration are many who were the 20% who did everything in their old church.  In many cases they are temporarily happy with the opportunity to arrive at 10:55, drop their kids in an excellent children’s program, sit in on a weekend service where they are anonymous, and be pulling out of the parking lot at 12:20 on their way to lunch.  They may respond to an opportunity to join a small group, but they will rarely sign up to lead one.  This trend makes a small group connection a very effective strategy because the event is designed to identify leader candidates.  See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  7. Create first steps that are short-term no-obligation test-drives.  You will engage many more leader candidates when you learn to create and implement first steps that feel like a test-drive.  If it feels like a lifetime commitment, you will miss out on many, many people who are reluctant to say yes.  See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.
  8. Create mission opportunities with built-in end dates.  At the same time many of the best leader candidates are people you don’t know, we all know that some groups are full of people who should be leading.  You know who they are.  You’ve probably even tried to recruit them to lead a group.  When you’ve tried they’ve said, “This group is how we are fed!”  Or maybe they’ve said, “We are already serving in two other ministries.  This is where we can get our own needs met.”  Sound familiar?  In my experience those same people will often respond to an invitation to “help start a new 6 week group and then you can go back.”  Essentially when you ask them to take a 6 week vacation.  See also, Take a Small Group Vacation.

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

New from Max Lucado | Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer

before amenSpent some time with a new study from Max Lucado this week.  Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer is Lucado’s newest study.  Dubbed “America’s Pastor” by Reader’s Digest and  named one of the most influential leaders in social media by The New York Times, Lucado is the Preaching Minister at San Antonio’s Oak Hills Church, and no stranger to most.  In almost 25 years of writing, more than 100 million products—80 million books—filled with his words have been sold.

Designed for anyone desiring an improved prayer life, Lucado reveals his struggles with prayer and his discovery that having a conversation with God is for everyone, not just for the pious few. Through the use of a simple, easy-to-remember, pocket-sized prayer that he distilled from the prayers in the Bible, he shows us how everyone can build a prayer life that is stronger, better and deeper.  “Father, you are good.  I need help.  They need help.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.”

DVD-driven, Before Amen is a four session study featuring the teaching of Max Lucado.  At 16 to 20 minutes in length, the video component will hold your members’ attention with Lucado’s inimitable style.

The study guide is well written and easy to use.  Developed by Kevin and Sherry Harney the study guide includes leader helps, discussion questions, conversation starters, and between-session activities to enhance your understanding and application of Max’s teaching.  Many groups will want to read Lucado’s book by the same title along with the study.

Prayer and how to pray is such a basic and common interest of nearly everyone (Christians and non-Christians alike), Before Amen will appeal to many groups.  I like it 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 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.

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