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Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

working-on-the-right-thingsAre You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Short and simple today.

A short and simple question: Are you working on the right things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

“Are you working on the right things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?”

I’ve been reading a great book. 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney. A fantastic book. I highly recommend it.

The thing is, McChesney does a very good job of explaining that the key to achieving your wildly important goals (i.e., 100% or more of your average adult weekend worship attendance in groups, a span-of-care of one coach for every 5 small group leaders, etc.), is not the goal itself.

The WIG (wildly important goal) is what economists refer to as a “lag” measure. “A lag measure is the measurement of a result you are trying to achieve. We call them lag measures because by the time you get the data the result has already happened.”

Think about it. If your goal is to connect 100% or more of your average weekend adult attendance in groups, reaching your goal is awesome. But it doesn’t tell you until too late whether you are focusing on the right things.

“‘Lead’ measures, on the other hand, are different: they foretell the result. They have two primary characteristics. First, a lead measure is predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure also will change. Second, a lead measure is influenceable; it can be directly influenced by the team (p. 46-47).”

So think about what a lead measure or two might be for your wildly important goal. Let’s say your goal is to connect 100% of your average adult weekend attendance in groups.

Here’s how to arrive at a couple lead measures:

Predictive: What do you think might be a lead measure or two that would be predictive (that is, if you achieve the lead measure the lag number will also change)?

Influenceable: What would be a lead measure or two that would be influenceable (that is, the actions of your team can influence the outcome)?

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

Image by Johnny Silvercloud

design-build-and-sustain-a-thriving-small-group-ministry-footer

Friday’s List: November 4

fridays-listFriday’s List: November 4

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite awhile. I’m asked for recommendations all the time. I’ll be posting a short list every Friday.

Here are the things I’m reading, listening to, loving and wrestling with:

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

How to Make Your Church Feel Smaller Than It Is…And Why You Should via Carey Nieuwhof.  This is a guest post adapted from Rich Birch’s new book, Unreasonable Churches: 10 Churches Who Zagged When Others Zigged and Saw More Impact Because of It. And the book sounds like we may need to read it!

A Dark Chocolate Sampler, a very good read over on Seth Godin’s blog (which should be on everyones feed).

EIGHT REASONS MANY BIBLE BELT CHURCHES ARE IN TROUBLE, a great list from Thom Rainer. Whether your church is in the Bible belt or not, you will find this interesting.

Does Your Church Have a Front Door or Back Door Challenge? a very insightful post from Tony Morgan.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney. If you were at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, you heard McChesney. If you weren’t, you should find this video helpful as you consider picking up a copy for yourself.

Here’s what I’m listening to:

Seth Godin on Living with Purpose & Mission This is a great interview on Charles Lee’s Ideation Podcast.

Les McKeown on Getting Your Church or Organization into a Place of Predictable Success. If you haven’t heard of Les McKeown, you will. And this interview over on Carey Nieuwhof’s Leadership Podcast is a very good introduction.

Quote I’m wrestling with:

“To achieve a goal you’ve never achieved before, you must do things you’ve never done before.” Chris McChesney The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

My own post I hope you’re reading:

Your Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making.  In this post I took a look at how my philosophy of ministry and a set of deeply held assumptions make decision making easier. If you have tough decisions to make (and who doesn’t?), you need this advantage.

 

Goals

“To achieve a goal you’ve never achieved before, you must do things you’ve never done before.” Chris McChesney, The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals.

You can read more from my Quotebook right here.

Image by Alan Cleaver

 

Your Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making

decision-makingYour Philosophy of Ministry and Decision-Making

Have you ever really thought through your philosophy of ministry? How about the assumptions that shape your small group strategy? See also, 10 Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry and 7 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Strategy.

I know, it may seem like something you will do someday or something that would be nice to do if only you had more time. But, I have to tell you…once you have firm certain aspects of your philosophy and the assumptions that undergird your strategy, you will have a much, much easier time making decisions!

How will it make decision-making easier? Here’s an example:

A couple days ago I posted an article about How to Budget for a Thriving Small Group Ministry. In the article I listed four categories that I budget for and one of the categories was starting new groups. Another was our annual church-wide campaign. In the category for starting new groups I noted the following:

We budget money that will make it easy for a new host to say yes to hosting. When someone says “yes” to inviting a couple friends to do the study, we want to make it more affordable. We do that by “buying” down the price of the host kit (for example, the retail value of the Transformed host kit was $65. We sold them for $20).

We’ve made connecting unconnected people one of our highest priorities. It’s a higher priority than helping our existing groups continue (although we do want to do that too!).

My reference to this budget item drew a very good question from a reader:

“Are you offsetting the cost of the DVDs? I think you usually say you charge about $25 for the host kit and most DVDs that I’ve seen with the studies average [are much more expensive].”

And my answer to the reader was entirely shaped by my philosophy and assumptions:

Yes. When we did Transformed, the study guides retailed for $15 and the DVDs for $25. We had a budget for campaigns that allowed us to distribute the DVDs free to our group leaders and charge each member $10 for their study guide. In order to make it easy (and affordable) for new hosts who were inviting a couple unconnected friends to do the study with them, we sold them the kit for $20 ($70 retail).
We did not have the budget to do this when I first arrived. We got to this point by prioritizing new groups and the needs of the least connected.

To flesh out my response, here are a few other considerations:

  • When I arrived at Canyon Ridge in 2012 I discovered we were subsidizing the cost of many programs that were primarily designed to meet the needs of the already connected and more spiritually developed.
  • When I arrived at Canyon Ridge there wan’t a budget for connecting the least connected (i.e., church-wide campaigns, small group connections, etc.).
  • Over the course of the last 4 1/2 years we have progressively reapportioned the budget to prioritize the needs and interests of the least connected (and the least likely to have the discretionary funds to sign up).
  • While most of our already connected and more spiritually developed attenders (core, committed and congregation) have been understood the change, there have consistently been a few questions and comments (steadily decreasing) that required conversations.
  • All of this falls neatly under the heading of two of my most important assumptions
    • There are no problem-free solutions. All solutions come with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they would rather have.
    • Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.  Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy.

Takeaway:

My philosophy of ministry and assumptions that shape my small group strategy make this a very simple decision.

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

Image by Jessica Pankratz

Have You Made These 3 Game-Changing Observations about Small Group Ministry?

observationsI had lunch yesterday with a couple new friends from another church in town. We ended up having a wide ranging conversation about the rationale or underlying philosophy that makes certain small group ministry decisions obvious. Their answers to my battery of questions led to several observations about best practices. Sometimes you can see things you’ve never seen before when you look at situations from a new perspective.

Hopefully, they were helped by my observations and my perspective.

See if our conversation might help you also:

“Assigning” new people interested in joining a group to existing groups

I learned that while they were also starting many new groups, they were simply “assigning” many people who indicated they wanted to be in a group to an existing group.  This is a bad idea 90% (or more) of the time! Why? It is a bad idea for the simple reason that once a group has been meeting longer than about 3 or 4 months, it becomes increasingly more difficult for all but the most brazen extroverts (or friends of a group member) to break through the toughening membrane and actually connect with the group.

The only exception is just after you’ve formed new groups. If within two or three weeks you assign stragglers to brand new groups it will often result in a successful effort.

Best Practice:

Focus on launching new groups. Train existing leaders to “fish” for themselves. Assigning new members to existing groups is rarely effective. The easiest way to connect the largest number of people is to focus on launching new groups. See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups and How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection.

“Matchmaking” to form new groups

I learned that one of the primary ways they were starting new groups was by matchmaking unconnected people with a newly approved leader. If you’ve been reading here long, you already know that I think that is rarely effective enough to justify the time it takes to do it.

If you’re new to my philosophy, follow me on this for a moment. When you spend your time doing something, it always means you cannot spend your time on something else. With me? Matchmaking as a strategy forces you (or someone you’ve entrusted) to spend time on that instead of something else. If at the end of the week or the end of the month you consistently don’t have time to do the most important things (identify, recruit and develop coaches, collaborate with your senior pastor to start new groups, etc.), the time you are spending matchmaking is a poor investment.

Best Practice:

Matchmaking is almost always a bad idea. With very few exceptions, build a process that sends all unconnected people to a connecting event (small group connection, GroupLink, etc.) that forms and launches new groups. See also, 5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.

Losing focus on the true number of unconnected people

One of their aha moments was learned several years ago that over a 30 month period their weekend attendance had grown dramatically, but they’d had a much larger total number of people visit their church. Their takeaway? “We need to do a much better job of connecting new attenders to groups.”

While that was an excellent takeaway, they didn’t know their current total numbers. I like to use Easter adult worship attendance (or Christmas Eve adult worship attendance) as a basic way of understanding the true number of unconnected people. At the same time, a simple database query can yield a very important insight. For example, during a 15 month period at Canyon Ridge over 38,000 records in our database were updated (new givers, attended a class, signed up for a group, children checked in, etc.). During this same period our Easter adult worship attendance was around 11,000 (twice our average adult worship attendance).

When you maintain awareness of the true number of unconnected people, you evaluate situations through a different lens. For example, strategies that adequately connect 3 adults per week interested in joining a group might be seen as inadequate once you learn that you are sending 22 letters to first-time attenders every month. Because unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, you may need to evaluate and adjust your strategy to fit the true number of unconnected people.

Best Practice:

Maintain awareness of the true number of unconnected people. This should help you develop an appropriate sense of urgency that will see the status quo for what it really is. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

Image by Mads Bodker

FAQ: How to Budget for a Thriving Small Group Ministry

FAQ: How to Budget for a Thriving Small Group Ministry

I get questions. A LOT of questions. Some by email. Others embedded in comments here on the blog. And still more when I’m speaking at a conference or workshop.

Some version of today’s question is a very frequent question:

“What do you need to budget for if you want to build a small group ministry?”

Great question, don’t you think? Maybe you’ve wondered yourself!

Here’s how I think about the small group ministry budget:

Keep in mind that every church, every ministry, think about budgets differently. It really does have to do with individual priorities.

4 categories we budget for:

  1. Starting new groups. This may not be a priority in your environment, but if you want to build a thriving small group ministry you will prioritize launching new groups. We budget for two main initiatives:
    • An annual church-wide campaign: We budget money that will make it easy for a new host to say yes to hosting. When someone says “yes” to inviting a couple friends to do the study, we want to make it more affordable. We do that by “buying” down the price of the host kit (for example, the retail value of the Transformed host kit was $65. We sold them for $20).
    • Small group connections throughout the year: We want to make it easy for unconnected people to get connected. We budget for childcare and for a quick pizza and a drink lunch.
  2. Recruiting and developing small group coaches.  We believe that whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups must happen in the lives of the leaders first. Therefore, we budget money for both recruiting and developing coaches.
    • Coffee and meals: We budget so that our staff and Groups Directors (a volunteer position that cares for coaches) can meet coaches for coffee or meals.
    • Coach’s Huddles: We budget for 8 Coach’s Huddles a year. Gathering for encouragement and training is an essential part of our development initiative.
  3. Developing small group leaders. We make it as easy as possible for new leaders to step into leadership and nearly automatic that they step onto a leadership development “conveyor belt.” We budget for:
    • Coffee and meals: We will reimburse our coaches for reasonable expenses for coffee or meals when they gather with the leaders they are developing.
    • Twice a year Lead Well gatherings: We budget for an on-campus gathering twice a year for all leaders and coaches. We cover the cost of snacks, coffee and drinks, handouts, prizes, and fun.
  4. Church-Wide Campaigns: Once a year, usually in the fall, we schedule a church-wide campaign that aligns our weekend message series and a small group study (think Transformed). This is a major initiative and the primary way we launch new small groups. We budget for:
    • DVDs and Study Guides: We want to make it easy for everyone in the church to participate. We want to make it as affordable as possible. We’ve budgeted an increasing amount every year to make it more affordable every time we do it. In the most recent campaign we made study guides available at $5 (and gave away a significant number to any who couldn’t afford to pay).
    • Promotional materials: We budget money to produce invitations, mailings, host kits, collateral items (bulletin inserts, sign-up cards, FAQs, etc.).
    • Host Gathering: We set aside money to hold a host gathering. Food and fun set up the right environment to inspire our newest hosts and encourage our most experienced leaders.

These are the main categories we budget for. While there are other things that are nice to have (books, conferences, coaching for the small group pastor, etc.), these are essentials.

Image by Ken Teegardin

Friday’s List: October 28

fridays-listFriday’s List: October 28

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite awhile. I’m asked for recommendations all the time. I’ll be posting a short list every Friday.
Here are the things I’m reading, listening to, loving and wrestling with:

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

Steve Jobs on communicating your core values ow.ly/PM1u305qkDm by Garr Reynolds. Garr’s blog, Presentation Zen has been on my Design feed for years. If you’re interested in design in the way I talk about it (i.e., your ministry is perfectly designed…), you’d be wise to subscribe to this blog.

10 of the Greatest Leadership Questions Ever Asked by Ron Edmondson. You know I love a good question! And this is a good set of questions. 

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney. If you were at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, you heard McChesney. If you weren’t, you can read a good summary of his talk over at TonyMorganLive. Bottom line, if execution is part of your role, you need to read this book.

Here’s what I’m listening to:

Marcus Buckingham on Capitalizing on Your Personal Strengths. This is a great episode over at the EntreLeadership Podcast. Marcus is the author of a number of books including Now, Discover Your Strengths and Standout 2.0 (which are mentioned on this podcast).

Take Courage by Kristene DiMarco from Bethel. I saw this video on Church Music You Need to Know About by Greg Atkinson back in August. The whole list was great. This was my favorite and still on my playlist months later. Be patient, listen well. Give it a few minutes. Take Courage builds to an awesome anthem at about 4 minutes.

Quote I’m wrestling with:

“Nothing is more counterintuitive for a leader than saying no to a good idea, and nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes.” Chris McChesney The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

My own post I hope you’re reading:

7 Signs You May Have the Wrong Small Group Ministry System.  It turns out there are some important signs that there is something wrong with your small group system. Might have worked fine previously. Actually, might have never really fired on all cylinders. Might have even been running rough for quite a while.

Doesn’t have to. You can do something about it, you know.

“Nothing is more counterintuitive for a leader than saying no to a good idea, and nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes.” Chris McChesney The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

You can read more from my Quotebook right here.

Image by David Shankbone

Celebrating 2000 Posts: My 20 Favorites

celebrating-2000Earlier this month I published my 2000 post here at MarkHowellLive.com. I knew I was closing in on it, but honestly it slipped by without me noticing.

I began blogging here in early 2008. Although I don’t have accurate stats on readers and pageviews until 2009, I know it was a slow beginning in terms of traffic. Today…well today is different.

I realized that some of my top 20 posts (according to Google) had benefitted from being among my oldest posts. So I decided to choose my 20 favorites instead.

Here is my best attempt at my 20 favorite posts. Hope they’re among yours too!

  1. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader (October, 2013)
  2. 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People (May 2013)
  3. What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? (June 2012)
  4. 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Small Group Coaches  (December, 2013)
  5. 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System (August, 2012)
  6. 7 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Strategy (June, 2013)
  7. 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor (January, 2014)
  8. 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders (October, 2015)
  9. 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry(November, 2014)
  10. Four Obsessions of the Extraordinary Small Group Pastor (February, 2015)
  11. 5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing (September, 2015)
  12. Ten Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry (December, 2012)
  13. Top 5 Reasons Small Group Leaders Quit (August, 2015)
  14. 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Leaders (December, 2014)
  15. 5 Things that Used to Work in Small Group Ministry (January, 2016)
  16. 5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry  (September, 2015)
  17. Foundational Teaching: Next Steps for Everyone (October, 2015)
  18. 10 Things Small Group Pastors Should Always Be Thinking (September, 2015)
  19. 5 Clues that Point to a Change in Small Group Ministry (October, 2015)
  20. The Future of Small Group Ministry (July, 2016)

What do you think?  Is your favorite missing?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Evan Long

7 Signs You Have the Wrong Small Group Ministry System

Pressure GuagesYou know how there are times when you just can’t figure out what’s wrong. Something’s wrong, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it. Like you’re driving along and the car just doesn’t feel right. Or something’s just off kilter in a relationship. Or when your back gets that feeling like it could give way at any time.

Can you relate?

It turns out there are some important signs that there is something wrong with your small group system. Might have worked fine previously. Actually, might have never really fired on all cylinders. Might have even been running rough for quite a while.

Doesn’t have to. You can do something about it, you know.

Signs You Have the Wrong Small Group Ministry System

  1. Your percentage connected is flatlined.  Whether your weekend attendance is increasing or not, a flatlined percentage connected (the percentage of your adults who are connected in a group) indicates that you’ve chosen the wrong small group system. The right system will not just make it easier to connect people. It will also be able to keep up with growth. See also, Breaking the Mythical 150% Participation Barrier and The Catch a Moving Train Scenario.
  2. You have trouble finding enough leaders.  This is a common symptom of systems that depend on selecting new leaders from the usual suspects.  Once your congregation is larger than about 250 adults it will become increasingly common that your senior pastor and platform staff will be recognized at the grocery store and restaurants by people they don’t know.  When this happens your system must be able to recruit from the adults you do not know because some of the highest capacity potential leaders will be unknown.  This phenomenon is what makes the HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection strategy so effective.
  3. You have leaders ready but not enough interest to fill their groups. This is often an indication that there are too many options on the belonging and becoming menu (i.e., Sunday school, discipleship training, Precepts, off campus small groups, etc.). It can also be an indication that your congregation sees the weekend service as everything they need. See also,Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu and Determining the Minimum Required and Recommended Dose.
  4. Your coaching structure does not work. This is a common symptom of bad small group ministry system. The right system will make it easier to find the right people and enough of them to adequately care for a growing number of new small group leaders. The wrong system will make it more likely that the men and women chosen to be coaches will warm and willing as opposed to hot and qualified. See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  5. Your senior pastor is reluctant to champion the importance of community. Although there are several other reasons a senior pastor may be reluctant to be the small group champion, a common reason is they don’t see your system as effective. The right system will produce the results that demonstrate the right design. See also, 5 things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  6. Your small groups deliver a sense of belonging but rarely produce becoming.  Small group systems that make it easy to connect but aren’t designed to make disciples are poorly designed.  See also, 5 Keys to Building Small Group Ministry at the Corner of Becoming and Belonging and Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
  7. Only a small percentage of your new groups continue meeting after they’re launched. This design flaw is a leading indicator for flatlined percentage connected. Systems that struggle to launch and sustain new groups need an immediate overhaul.  Like a rocket launch, if massive energy is expended on the launch but the rocket’s orbit can’t be successfully sustained, there is a design flaw that must be corrected, See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Small Groups You Launch.

could-a-one-hour-coaching-call-help-your-ministry

Image by SteFou!

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