Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Global Leadership Summit GroupLife Insights Day 1

glsI had the privilege of attending the Global Leadership Summit yesterday. It’s an annual event for me and I’ve only missed a few of them since it began in 1995. If it’s not an annual event for you…it should be. The GLS is always inspiring and refreshing.

Day 1 was just another day at the GLS and featured talks by Bill Hybels, Jim Collins, Ed Catmull, Adam Grant, Dr, Brené Brown, Sallie Krawcheck, and Albert Tate.

Although every speaker had highlights, there were several that particularly pertain to small group ministry and our work as small group pastors and champions.

Here are my highlights:

Bill Hybels’ talk outlined what he referred to as the 5 intangibles of leadership. He identified them as grit, self-awareness, resourcefulness, self-sacrificing love, and a sense of meaning. His thoughts on self-sacrificing love will definitely make it into my work effective immediately.

  • Vision is not the core of the core of leadership.
  • Self-sacrificing love has always been and will always be at the absolute core of leadership.
  • Love never leaves a heart the way it found it. Love changes people.
  • Love melts people and molds people into tightly knit communities that feel more like families than work groups.

When I think about what I want to happen in the lives of the members of our life groups, there is no question that I want every one of them to know what it’s like to be loved and to learn how to love like Jesus loved. If ever there was one who practiced self-sacrificing love, it was Jesus.

Jim Collins’ talk laid out 7 questions that define our leadership:

  1. What cause do you serve with level 5 ambition?
  2. Will you settle for being a good leader or will you grow to become a great leader?
  3. How can you reframe failure as growth?
  4. How can you succeed by helping others succeed?
  5. Have you found your personal hedgehog?
  6. Will you build your unit into a pocket of greatness?
  7. How will you change the lives of others?

For me, the essence of Collins’ talk was that “level 4 leaders inspire people to follow them, but level 5 leaders inspire people to follow a cause.” I believe that is a very significant grouplife insight. Can you see it? Whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups, must happen in the life of the leader first. And if you want members to follow a cause, you will need to be recruiting high capacity (level 5) leaders as coaches and community leaders.

Brené Brown always delivers and it is always very powerful from a grouplife perspective. Yesterday’s talk was no exception and was packed with great insights into the heart of small group ministry.

The line that gripped me was this one: “The bravest among us will always be the most broken-hearted because we have the courage to love.”

Takeaway: If we we are not broken-hearted…we have probably remained aloof from the kind of authentic life-on-life that we tell everyone else they need. Life-change happens best in groups where people have the courage to love and be loved.

Thinking Thursday: Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do

tony robbinsTony Robbins discusses the “invisible forces” that motivate everyone’s actions — and high-fives Al Gore in the front row.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

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

Don’t Miss “I Will”: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian

i willA few weeks ago I received an email asking if I’d like to review a new book by Thom Rainer, the co-author of Simple Church (with Eric Geiger) and Transformational Church (with Ed Stetzer), two books I highly recommend.  The new book was called I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian.

Can I let you in on a secret? When I saw the title I was intrigued and even a little hopeful, but not at all confident that I’d find it helpful.  Nothing to do with Thom Rainer’s writing.  I’ve loved many of his books (and he has a very helpful blog).  I just wasn’t sure how well his ideas about an outward focus would line up with others who have championed an externally focused or missional approach.

Know what I found?  Just like my experience with I Am a Church Member, I could not put it down!  Read the whole thing in one sitting.  Again, it’s a short book. Just over 100 pages and it’s an easy read. Don’t be fooled though. I Will is packed with many powerful insights that will leave you nodding your head in agreement and vowing to do something with it.

I really like the way Rainer framed the discussion at the outset by contrasting the typical self-serving, the-church-exists-to-meet-my-needs church with a church with an others-centered approach.

Rainer’s I Am a Church Member was about being a part of the body of Christ. I Will is about the move from a right attitude (I am) to right actions (I will). What are the nine traits?

  • I will move from “I am” to “I will”
  • I will worship with others
  • I will grow together with others
  • I will serve
  • I will go
  • I will give generously
  • I will not be a church dropout
  • I will avoid the traps of Christianity
  • I will make a difference

Can you see where this goes? I Will assembles a very practical set of commitments that could form the basis of a church-wide campaign or assimilation class. In fact, you’ll find a fairly complete church resource kit at

I’m glad I took a look at I Will. If you’re on the lookout for some ideas that will help move your church from self-centered and self-serving to others-centered…you need to take a look at I Will. I found it very helpful 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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Warning: Without This Essential Skill You Can’t Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

speaking the truthI believe there is an essential skill that is missing in almost every case where building a thriving small group ministry proves difficult. What is it? I believe it is the ability to speak the truth in love.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul wrote, “We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”

Whether we simply haven’t developed the skill or ability to speak the truth in love, or perhaps we lack the courage to speak the truth, I am more convinced every day that if this essential skill missing build anything of significance.

  • Speaking the truth in love is essential if you want to build an effective coaching structure. Only the right men and women can do what needs to be done by a coach. Keeping a coach on the team who is not capable or not willing to do the job weakens the entire structure.
  • Speaking the truth in love is essential if you want to develop and disciple leaders. If all you do is make it easy to begin as a leader but never personally invest in developing and discipling them, you cannot expect them to become the kind of leaders who will disciple members.
  • Speaking the truth in love is essential if you want your groups themselves to be circles of mutual care. If it’s easy to join a group but the group members never learn to speak the truth in love to one another, they will never be more than surface level acquaintances.

Can I give you a simple test to see if you’ve developed the skill?

  1. Do you have coaches who are really aren’t the right people?
  2. Do you have leaders who aren’t growing in Christ?
  3. Do you have groups of surface level acquaintances?

How’d you do? If you’re like me…hopefully you are seeing room for improvement and an area to focus on in training.

Image by Sabrina M


Top 5 Reasons Small Group Leaders Quit

quitThere are a number of reasons that small group leaders quit. While some quit for good reasons, most quit for reasons that are completely avoidable.

Here are what I believe are the top 5 reasons:

  1. They aren’t being developed and discipled by a coach. This is probably the most common reason small group leaders quit. If someone (a coach or mentor) isn’t investing in them, it is unreasonable to think that the average leader will continue for long. While there will always be exceptional leaders who are essentially self-motivated, they are by definition the exceptions to the rule. Intentional investment in your leaders will overcome this very common reason for quitting. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciples Leaders.
  2. No one in their group is sharing the load. Some small group leaders don’t know any better and have never been coached to share the load with the members of their group. Others come naturally by misplaced pride that “since they do everything better than everyone else”…they can’t really let go of anything. Both patterns ultimately lead to burnout; both patterns lead to pent up frustrations that they have to do everything for the group to thrive or survive. In order for the leader and the group to survive, the leader must learn to share the load. See also, Skill Training: Priming the Leadership Pump and Skill Training: Rotating Host Homes.
  3. They are discouraged by member’s lack of participation. There are two main reasons for lack of member participation. First, not every leader comes equipped with a natural ability to facilitate. Those who don’t must learn the art of facilitating a discussion/conversation. Poorly facilitated groups usually die on their own, long before the leader quits. Attendance dwindles when everyone isn’t engaged in the group meeting. Teaching leaders the how to facilitate a great discussion ought to be part of your leader development plan. Second, smaller groups allow and encourage more participation. As a group grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for less dominating personalities to participate. Learning to sub-group is an essential leader skill. See also, Skill Training: How to Stimulate Better Discussions and Skill Training: Sub-Grouping for Deeper Connection.
  4. Their group dwindles in size and they can’t (or won’t) fish for new members. Some small group leaders are only interested in “leading” a gathered group. When members move away or otherwise opt out of the group, this kind of leader’s only recourse is to inform the small group pastor that they need some more members. And since feeding additional members to existing groups is almost never a successful strategy for growth, training your leaders to fish for their own new members is not optional. It is an essential skill for small group leaders. See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.
  5. The leader is unable to manage an issue within the group. Many groups come with a difficult personality or two. Carl George coined the term EGR (extra grace required) for the group member that requires extra attention. When the leader is unprepared for the challenge of skillfully leading through issues with problem personalities, sometimes it is just easier to quit than lovingly confront. This is primarily a coaching issue. When new leaders are given a coach from the beginning, challenging personalities can usually be spotted quickly and an appropriate strategy developed. See also, Four Questions Every Coach Should Be Asking.

Image by Pabak Sarkar

Add David Platt’s Counter Culture to Your Recommended List

counter cultureI finally had an opportunity this week to take a look at Counter Culture, the newest study from David Platt. A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture is designed to expose participants to the truths of the gospel that should “compel us to a contrite, compassionate, and courageous personal response to social issues in the culture.” Based on Platt’s 2015 book by the same title, the study looks at many of the most pressing social issues of the day:

  • slavery
  • abortion
  • sexual immorality
  • the degradation of marriage
  • the neglect of orphans and widows
  • racism
  • persecution

Dr. David Platt is probably best known for challenging books like Radical and Follow Me (and the small group studies that were developed from these books). He is “President of the International Mission Board, is deeply devoted to Christ and His Word. David’s first love in ministry is making disciples, sharing, showing, and teaching God’s Word in everyday life. He has traveled extensively to serve alongside church leaders throughout the United States and around the world (from his bio).”

Counter Culture is a 6 session DVD-driven study. The video segments average just over 30 minutes in length and are both very engaging and extremely challenging. Platt is a dynamic and passionate communicator and has no trouble holding the attention of participants.

The member book includes the now standard video viewing guide and group discussion questions. It also includes a well-written set of daily lessons (5 per week) that build on the group teaching.

This is a simple study to use. Although there isn’t a leader’s guide included, it shouldn’t be difficult for even an inexperienced leader to facilitate. At the same time, the content is deeply challenging. Like everything David Platt does, Counter Culture will reveal a pathway for Christ-followers that leads above and beyond the humdrum salt-free and light-free 21st century Christianity. If you’re looking for a study that will expose your group members to a life that is beyond ordinary, add Counter Culture to your recommended list.

Thinking Thursday: Mark Ronson: How sampling transformed music

mark ronsonSampling isn’t about “hijacking nostalgia wholesale,” says Mark Ronson. It’s about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward. In this mind-blowingly original talk, watch the DJ scramble 15 TED Talks into an audio-visual omelette, and trace the evolution of “La Di Da Di,” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s 1984 hit that has been reimagined for every generation since.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

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

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Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection

me leading a connectionI’m often asked for specifics about how I lead a small group connection. See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.

Here are two general assumptions:

  • The best laid plans will sometimes need to be set aside. The connection process is something like a quarterback standing at the line of scrimmage, ready to call an audible.
  • Plenty of help from coaches and other support players will help make the event a success. In order for you to lead effectively, you need to be able to delegate certain things.

Here is a moment by moment overview of the event:

  • (6:45 p.m.) A welcome table should be in place staffed by greeters (who might also be coaches) 10 to 15 minutes before the event begins. Name tags and medium point sharpies should be available. Everyone who arrives should put on a name tag (“and we’re preferring real names”)
  • (7:00 p.m.) As the event begins I give a few general instructions: (a) We’re going to be here for about 60 to 75 minutes, (b) for the next few minutes I’m going to ask some questions to see if I can get you sorted out into “groups” around the room.
  • We are currently only launching groups for women, men and couples. This sorts them into clumps around the room: “Show of hands…how many of you are hoping to get connected with a women’s group? Great! Would you all move over to this corner of the room.”  “How many of you are looking for a men’s group? Great. Would all of you guys move over to this corner.” And how many of you are hoping to connect with a couples group? Awesome. You all can move over to this corner.”
  • There will often be a few folks that have hopes of ending up in a coed singles group or a mixed group (of couples and singles). I always want to have someone I can point them to while I move ahead with the next step. The person I send them to will attempt to handle their concern and get them situated in the right clump.
  • (7:10 p.m.) “Now, what I want you to do within your clump is a little different depending on the clump. If you’re looking for a couples’ group, I want you to find another couple you’d like to get to know, introduce yourselves and tell each other how you ended up at Canyon Ridge the first time and what made you come back. If you’re looking for a men’s or women’s group, get in groups of 4, introduce yourselves and tell each other how you ended up at Canyon Ridge the first time and what made you come back.” Note: Sometimes our coaches are quietly guiding certain matches.
  • (7:20 p.m.) “Okay, now, I want you to take your group of 4 and join with another group of 4 within your clump. Once you’ve found another group of 4 you should be in a group of 8 and I want you to introduce yourselves again and answer this question: Have you been in a group before of any kind and what was your experience? Doesn’t matter the type of group. Could have been a small group, a Bible study Fellowship group, a 12 step group, a work group. Have you been in a group before of any kind and what was your experience?” Note: your coaches can help make this happen quicker.
  • (7:35 p.m.) “Okay! Now, if you’re looking for a couples group I want you to take your group of 8 and join up with another group of 8, and pull some chairs into a circle. If you’re in a men’s group or a women’s group, pull some chairs into a circle. Once you’re all seated, I’ve got one more question I want you to answer.” Note: your coaches should be proactively guiding this move.
  • “Ready for the final question? Listen…the first two questions were softball questions. I call this the white knuckle portion of the program because this next question is not a softball question. Before I give you the question, let me set it up. The thing I love about Canyon Ridge is that every time you sit down in the auditorium you are on a row with all kinds of people. There are some folks on your row who have been following Jesus for a long, long time. And on the same row, there are some who really are brand new. They’re just beginning. And then there are some on your row that are actually there against their will. Their spouse said, ‘We’re going and you’re coming with me!’ What I love about Canyon Ridge is that it really is a come as you are kind of church. And the thing is, all of those people are here tonight, too!  In this room are people from every possible spiritual background. And we love that! Note: this disclaimer is very important! It helps ease the tension in the room.
  • Here is the final question: “Briefly answer this question: Where are you on your spiritual journey? Where are you on your spiritual journey?  Now before you answer the question, here are a couple things I want you to keep in mind. First, the word ‘briefly’ is very important! If you each take 5 minutes to answer the question…we’ll all miss tonight’s episode of the Real Housewives. Second, if you’re brand new and still trying to figure things out, say that! If your wife made you come tonight, say that! Alright! Ready? Where are you on your spiritual journey?” Note: you will need to arrive at your own way of saying this. The key is that you want everyone to answer and you want to help them relax.
  • (8:00 p.m.) When everyone is finished answering you can move ahead with choosing leaders. “Okay! Has everyone had a chance to answer the question? Awesome! I hope that was not too painful. Here’s what we’re going to do next. Believe it or not, I’m now going to help you choose leaders from your group. And you’re going to love the way we do it. Believe it or not, I’m actually going to have you point to someone on the count of three!” Note: there is always laughter right here.
  • “But before I have you choose, let me tell you what to look for. The best leader may not be what you think. For example, there might be someone in your circle who has led groups before and they might be the best leader, but they might not. You might have someone in your circle who quoted a few Bible verses and seems to know a lot about the Bible. That’s not necessarily a sign they’d make the best leader. I want to suggest that the best leader is the person that as they shared their spiritual journey you found yourself thinking, ‘I wish I could grow like that.’ Or maybe you thought, ‘I think I could talk with them about my fears or my concerns.’ The best leader is the person you thought might care about you.” Note: what you say here shapes who gets chosen.
  • “Does that help? Okay, now I’m going to teach you how to point! In a minute I’m going to have you each point, on the count of three to the person you’d be willing to follow for this 6 week study. Not yet. Before you choose, keep a few things in mind. First, everyone needs to participate. You cannot abstain! Second, this is not Chicago and you can only vote once! You can only point to one person (I demonstrate by pointing to a different person with each hand). Third, this is not Florida and you can’t change your vote! There is a natural human reaction that causes you to see who the others are pointing to and do this (I point to someone and then shift my hand to someone else). And last, you need to keep pointing until I tell you to put your hand down!” Note: This takes some of the tension out of the room.
  • “Okay, ready to choose? Before we choose leaders, I’m going to pray and I want you to pray with me. Father, tonight we’ve heard a lot of stories from a lot of brave people. Would You through Your Holy Spirit prompt us right now to remember the things that people said that could help us choose a leader. Remind us right now of how we felt at the moment they shared. Guide us Father right now. Give us the wisdom we need to make a good choice.” Note: this prayer will often still the room and add a holy element that is almost tangible.
  • “Alright, ready to choose? Here’s how we’re going to do it. You know the game Paper, Rock, Scissors? (I hit my fist against my palm three times as I say paper, rock, scissors). That what’s we’re going to do. Not yet, but we’re all going to say, ‘One, two, three, point.’  And when you point you’re going to keep pointing until I tell you to put your hands down. Ready? Here we go. One, two, three, point!” Note: Your coaches will help each group figure out which people the group is pointing to. There will almost always be more than one person chosen. 
  • At this point the coaches take over at each circle. They should move systematically, and noticing who the largest number are pointing to should ask, ‘how many of you are pointing to her? How many of you are pointing to Linda? Okay, if you’re pointing to Linda, you can put your hands down.” Now noticing who the next most people are pointing to should say, Okay, if you’re pointing to Susan you can put your hands down.” Note: Once you’ve identified the two or three obvious leaders, you can move on to the next item.
  • The coaches now should say, “Okay, now we need to figure out the night you’re going to meet and where you’re going to meet. And while we’re doing this, I’m going to ask you to each write down your name and info on this roster.” (You’ll pass the roster around the circle on a clipboard). “Is there a night that you cannot meet?” (Start by looking at the leader(s) and asking this question, then ask the group. This will often reveal the remaining best night(s)). “Okay, so it looks like Monday and Tuesday and Friday are out. Can everyone meet Thursday? Great! Now where should we meet?” Note: it is very common for someone in the group to have such a busy schedule they simply cannot meet when the leader can meet. See if you can switch them to another group.
  • Once the group has (1) figured out who the leaders are, (2) where they are going to meet, and (3) completed the roster, the leaders are asked to step over to a brief leaders meeting and the members are dismissed. Note: the coaches need to be proactive right here. It is sometimes difficult to pull leaders away from their group, but they need to move to the leader’s meeting quickly or it will prolong the event for everyone.
  • (8:15 p.m.) Once the leaders are gathered, you can affirm them, distribute the leader packets, connect them with their coach, and dismiss them. I affirm them this way: “How many of you came tonight expecting to be a leader? (there is often a hand or two). How many of you feel like you’ve been tricked? You came expecting to be IN a group and you ended up LEADING a group? (this is usually everyone else). Okay, here’s what you need to know. When you read the Bible, you’ll notice that there are no great stories of people VOLUNTEERING to lead. All of the great stories are about people being CHOSEN to lead. In fact, in the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, there are stories of people VOLUNTEERING to lead. Sometimes people want to say, ‘What about Nehemiah?’ but Nehemiah didn’t volunteer to lead. He was brave and admitted concern for his homeland, but was actually chosen by the king to lead. Every other great story is about someone who was chosen. Moses? Chosen. Gideon? Chosen. The disciples? Chosen. Paul? Chosen. My favorite story is the story about how David was chosen to be the next king of Israel. The prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house and when he told Jesse he was there to anoint the next king, Jesse did what every good Hebrew dad would do, he brought out his oldest son. And I believe the Holy Spirit whispered to Samuel, ‘It’s not him.’ So Jesse brought out the next oldest, and I believe the Holy Spirit whispered, ‘It’s not him.’ And this went on all the way through until finally Samuel said, ‘Is there anyone else?’ And Jesse said, ‘There’s David, but he’s with the sheep.’ And the Holy Spirit said, ‘It’s David.’ I believe that when we prayed tonight and asked God through His Holy Spirit to help us choose leaders…you were chosen.” Note: affirming the leaders is important.
  • Once I’ve affirmed the leaders, I quickly go over the info in the packets and turn them over to their coaches for a very quick conversation and they are dismissed. Note: the coaches essentially just exchange contact info and arrange a phone call to follow up.

This is how I do it. It’s always fun. It’s always crazy. There is electricity in the room. And God often shows up in unexplainable moments. You can read more about the connection process right here.

Quotebook: The Personal Nature of Disciple Making

personal conversationOne of the books that influenced my early ministry direction was The Lost Art of Disciple Making by Leroy Eims. The notion that disciple making is carried on by people and not by programs shaped my conviction that whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups must happen first in the lives of the leaders.

“The ministry is to be carried on by people, not programs. It is to be carried by someone and not by some thing. Disciples cannot be mass produced. We cannot drop people into a ‘program’ and see disciples emerge at the end of the production line. It takes time to make disciples. It takes individual, personal attention. It takes hours of prayer for them. It takes patience and understanding to teach them how to get into the Word of God for themselves, how to feed and nourish their souls, and by the power of the Holy Spirit how to apply the word to their lives. And it takes being an example to them of all of the above.”

See also:

Everything You Need to Know about Small Group Models

everything libraryThere are many things you need to know about small group models, systems and strategies. Too many to include in a single article!

Here are three very important things to know (and links to other key posts on this topic):

First, every small group model, system or strategy comes with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. I like to say, “there are no problem-free small group models, systems or strategies.” That said, be prepared to acknowledge that there is an upside and a downside to every model.

If you like the semester model, don’t overlook the challenge of confirming which leaders will commit for the next semester and what they will study…early enough to assemble your catalog of available groups. If you like the cell group model, don’t turn a blind eye to the reality that groups don’t always birth new groups fast enough to absorb the number of unconnected people in your congregation. If you like the campaign-driven strategy, be prepared for messy. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.

Second, the model you choose should be predetermined by what you hope to accomplish. Before you choose a model, you should have already identified the business you are in, the customer you will be serving and what you will call success. I know that may seem like a strange way to say something about ministry, but it is the best way to point out a very important truth about a very important topic.

For example, if you’re in the business of giving group members an in-depth Bible study experience, you will be wise to choose certain models. If the customer you want to serve will be unchurched neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members…it will predetermine certain models and not others. And if you dream of more people in groups than you average at your weekend services, you must choose the right model, system or strategy. See also, If I Was Starting Today (I’ve written at length about this important idea in this series of posts).

Third, you should choose your model carefully and only change it after careful consideration.  A lot rides on decisions you make. Changing models every time you read a new book or attend a conference will shake the confidence of your group leaders and coaches. Changing models frequently can be quite toxic. See also, 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.

Aren’t there reasons to change models or implement a new strategy? Absolutely. A careful analysis of your small group ministry and its results may drive you to rethink the model you’ve chosen. After all, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” If you want different results, you’ll need a different design. See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design Is Inadequate.

Finally, there is a lot to know about small group models, systems and strategies! They are not all the same and they don’t all accomplish the same thing. They each have unique advantages and disadvantages. Some make it easy to find leaders. Some make it easier to connect beyond the usual suspects. Some more reliably make disciples. You can learn much more in the additional posts below.

Image by Loughborough University Library

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