3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community

Last week I challenged senior pastors with a bold statement.  I said, “If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you.”  See my post, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.

Although I included a simple example of how it could begin with the senior pastor, I had a great question from a very respected source.  He asked:

“How do you help pastors overcome the fear of authenticity and desire for self protection/preservation?”

An important and complex question.  At its core, I believe the answer is this simple:  The road to overcoming the fear of authenticity and desire for self protection/preservation is taken one courageous step at a time.  I don’t believe there is any substitute.

I do believe there are 3 prerequisite convictions for senior pastors who want authentic community.

3 Preliminary Convictions

  1. A preliminary step is the senior pastor’s conviction that life-change really does happen best in the midst of life-on-life relationship.  As long as there is there is the remnant of hope that life-change is likely to happen in rows there will be resistance. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  2. Another foundational conviction is that whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  Isn’t it logical to conclude that it would be folly to assume that there would be much happening at the member level that hadn’t already been experienced by the senior pastor?
  3. Finally, shouldn’t it be every senior pastor’s ambition to be able to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ”?  Shouldn’t their conviction be that they must lead to authentic community?   See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and 10 Commandments of Small Group Ministry.

Easy?  No.  Consequence free?  Not hardly.  Essential?  Absolutely.

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

New from Beth Moore: Sacred Secrets

sacred secrets squareI’ve been waiting and I bet you’ve been waiting too.  Maybe even impatiently waiting…for the newest Beth Moore study.  Well, wait no more!  It’s out and it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Sacred Secrets is a 5 (or 6) session study and it’s a little different than you might be used to experiencing.  With video captured from a Living Proof Live event in Greensboro, North Carolina, this has some of the feel of being at a Friday night, Saturday morning conference.  In fact, it could be used for a weekend retreat, although the study journal is primarily designed to be used over the 5 week period.

Sacred Secrets finds its theme verse in Psalm 51:6: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”  The topic is very compelling and will be a powerful experience for many.  The opening session cracks open the doorway to an intriguing and quite powerful idea; that although “the world is obsessed with telling secrets for the sake of sensationalism, not all hidden things are poisonous and dark. Some secrets are forgiven, some are covered, and some are kept between you and God (from the jacket).”

The Sacred Secrets Study Journal includes a viewer guide (designed to help guide the participant through each of video sessions) as well as a journal section to independently work through the teaching through the week.  Each journal section includes word studies, stimulating questions and scripture passages to take participants deeper into the topic.

I loved Beth’s closing paragraph in the introduction to the study journal:

“My prayer is that you will go beyond what can be accomplished at an event and walk forward into a relationship with Christ that is exceedingly more intimate and rewarding.  May God invite you to embrace a while new journey, with Him in the secret places where He longs for you to find him.”

I can confidently tell you this: however you make this study available, whether at a weekend retreat or a short-term Bible study, there is a powerful impact that is built-in.  In fact, I’ll go a little further.  This is life-changing stuff and will no doubt alter some trajectories.  Personally…I can’t wait to see what it does!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. In addition, LifeWay is a regular sponsor of MarkHowellLive.com. 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.”

5 Things I Used to Believe about Small Group Ministry

Don’t hate me, but there are at least 5 things I used to believe about small group ministry…that I no longer believe are true.  Actually, I no longer believe they are the best way to do what needs to be done.

Here are 5 things I used to believe…and what I’ve found to be a better solution:

  1. Then: The best way to multiply small group leaders is to recruit and develop an apprentice (who would be ready to birth a new group in 18 to 24 meetings).  Now: Apprenticing is a very important practice and ought to be part of every leadership development plan.  At the same time, the idea that it is the best way to multiply small group leaders is a beautiful sentiment that almost never works in the real world.  The best way to identify, recruit and develop leaders is with a well planned and well executed church-wide campaign.  The second best way is to use a connecting event that identifies leaders (like a small group connection).  See also, Five GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting and How Important Is It to Have An Apprentice?
  2. Then: The best way to multiply small groups is birthing new groups out of healthy and growing groups (every 18 to 24 months).  Now: Growing and birthing new groups every 18 to 24 months only works on paper (with very few exceptions).  What does work is a church-wide campaign or small group connecting event that emphasizes a short-term commitment (six weeks) on a topic that appeals to unconnected people.  See also, What’s the Best Way to Launch New Groups?
  3. Then: The best way to envision, equip and encourage small group leaders is with a monthly centralized meeting.  Now: The era of centralized meetings has left the building.  While periodic centralized meetings can provide the much needed sense of a movement and an experience that can’t be duplicated when downloadable or streamed, the pace of life along with available technology to deliver training and encouragement anytime and anywhere cannot be ignored.  The best solution is a combination of periodic centralized and frequent decentralized opportunities for envisioning, equipping and encouraging.  See also, Envision, Equip and Encourage Your Leaders with This 25 Year Old Idea and Breaking: Add This Host Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks.
  4. Then: The best way to protect the flock is to require small group leaders to be church members.  Now: “Protecting the flock” is most frequently a euphemism for never taking a risk.  At the same time efforts were made to protect the flock, untold numbers of unconnected people were allowed to slip away when “one tough thing” was one tough thing too many.  Since there are no problem-free solutions, the preferred solution is the one that connects the largest number of unconnected people and at the same time, works to mitigate the risks.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar? and Customized Leader Requirements and Benefits.
  5. Then: The best way to help groups maintain their vitality was to train leaders to fill the open chair.  Now: Groups that have been meeting longer than about three months begin to form an almost impenetrable membrane and become increasing more difficult for anyone but the most brazen and extroverted to connect with.  If you want to connect the largest number of unconnected people, it is far more effective to focus on launching new small groups.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and FAQ: How Can We Help Groups That Are Struggling Learn to Add New Members?

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

The Primary Activity of the Early Church

Have you ever thought about the frequent “one another” commands in the Bible?  Ever counted them?  I haven’t either…but a quick Google search of “how many one anothers in the bible” pulls up 41,200 results.

I’m sure there were earlier trustworthy references in the Google results.  I came across this list from Intervarsity on page two.  They found 55 references to “one another” or “each other” in the New Testament alone.  You can download their list right here.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot after hearing Andy Stanley make two attention-grabbing comments in a talk at the re:group conference.

Here’s his first comment:

“The primary activity of the early church was one-anothering one another.” Andy Stanley

Just think about that for a minute.  Really let it soak in.  Now ask yourself this: How much one-anothering is going on in your church?  Is it the primary activity in your church?

Here’s his second comment:

“When everyone is sitting in rows…you can’t do any one anothers.”

This comment ought to help all of us make decisions about how to integrate the essential ingredients of life-change.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.

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

Ready for What’s Next? Join My 2014 Coaching Network

I’m getting more stoked every day about my 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  It’s not too late.  I still have 6 openings.

I love blogging about how to connect unconnected people and how to build a thriving small group ministry.  I’m always excited when I get to speak at a conference, whether it’s live or on a webcast.  I love it when one of my articles gets picked up in a magazine.

All good things…and I love doing them.

But, can I tell you something?  What I really love doing is helping my coaching network members move their ministry forward.  It’s just what I love doing the most.

I ran into a few coaching network alumni at the re:group conference a couple weeks ago.  Here’s what they had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor, LifeChurch.tv, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

I want to invite you to join my 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century.

The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense to many that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. The coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

My 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in January and I still have 6 openings. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You

Senior pastors…you need to know something.  If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you.

I don’t know what has prompted your hope for authentic community to take hold in your church.  Maybe you’ve listened to Rick Warren or Andy Stanley or Bill Hybels talk about their own personal small groups and how important they’ve been in their own lives.  Maybe you’ve come to it through your own insight from scripture that you can’t do the one anothers in rows.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups and Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles.

I don’t know.  But I do know this: If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you because the hope that your congregation will experience something different or more than your own experience…isn’t anchored in reality.  If you want your congregation to experience authentic community it begins with you.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and 5 Things Senior Pastor Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.

And the question might be, if you’re not in a small group now, how can it begin with you?

Here are a five ideas to help you get started:

  1. Start your group as a test-drive.  You don’t have to begin with a lifetime commitment!  It’s okay to start with a toe-in-the-water.  “Would you do this six-week  study with me (or with us)?”  You’ll probably begin to get the hang of it in about week 3 or 4.  When you get to about week 5 you might actually start looking forward to spending time with your group.
  2. Hand pick the members of your group.  It shouldn’t be open to everyone.  Hand selecting your group members will give you (and your spouse) confidence that you can do life together.  Choose people you like to spend time with.  Choose people who are refreshing to be around.  Choose people you already trust.  Be prepared to say, “I hope you understand but our group isn’t an open group.  Might be someday, but not right now.”
  3. You don’t have to lead your group.  When you include the right members, the group doesn’t need to meet at your house, you won’t need to facilitate the meetings, or provide all the snacks.  Your group meetings can be all about building relationships and experiencing authentic community.
  4. Choose the best possible time for you and your family.  Your group can also meet with the frequency that works for you.  You know the rhythm of your life.  Choose a meeting time that makes sense for you.  The right members will accommodate your situation.  Note: Frequency is an important ingredient of authentic community.  The more frequently you meet, the easier it becomes to reconnect.
  5. Choose a study that requires no preparation.  It shouldn’t be work or one more thing to get done.  Choosing a simple “show up” study makes it easy to focus on relationships.

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

You Know Netflix? Meet RightNow Media

Welcome to the 21st century!  If you haven’t taken a look at RightNow Media (or if you haven’t looked lately…), you need to check this out.

First…the Backstory

Netflix entered the entertainment media business in 1997, with a unique strategy that quickly took out Blockbuster as the way to rent and watch movies.  A simple concept, instead of building retail stores…they just mailed you the DVD.  That was 1997.  In 2007, Netflix introduced video-on-demand via the internet.  By 2010, Netflix’s streaming business had grown so quickly that within months the company had shifted from the fastest-growing customer of the United States Postal Service’s first-class mail service to the biggest source of Internet traffic in North America in the evening (from Wikipedia’s Netflix article).

Enter RightNow Media

Partnering with bluefish tv, one of the earliest producers of Christian video content, RightNow Media has rapidly developed a video library of over 3400 discipleship videos for kids, youth and adults and a delivery system that allows that content to be streamed to any  device (computer, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.)?  Their library is filled with amazing teachers on a variety of great topics.

In addition to their Bible study library, you’ll also find a customizable leadership training library as well as a growing library of sessions from leadership events like Catalyst, Verge, and the RightNow Conference.

If you’re a Netflix customer, you already know how easy it is stream content right into your living room (or for that matter, your laptop at Starbucks).  If you’re unfamiliar (and maybe a little nervous), RightNow Media has developed a great set of video tutorials that will have you watching Andy Stanley, Max Lucado or Francis Chan in minutes.

Watch the video:

Can’t see the video? Click here to watch it.

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. In addition, RightNow.org is a regular sponsor of MarkHowellLive.com. 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.”

Don’t Miss the Latest from Will Mancini: Innovating Discipleship

innovating discipleshipHad a chance to work my way through a new book by Will Mancini.  Innovating Discipleship: Four Paths to Real Discipleship Results is a quick read only if you’re in a hurry and not really paying attention.  Mancini, the author of Church Unique and the founder of Auxano is on to a very important idea with Innovating Discipleship.  In fact, I’d say you should only read it if you’re serious about your mission.

A slim book, Innovating Discipleship is just 85 pages (when you include the appendix).  At the same time, any one of several killer concepts is worth way more than the price of this book.  If you read with an eye for game-changing insight…you’ll have no trouble uncovering a set of new questions and new insights that will spur new conversations for a long time.

In the opening pages of the book, Mancini unveils an intriguing formula: 1 + 2 + 4 + 16.  Here’s what it means: one whiteboard drawing defined by two vision decisions reals four paths to the future that provide sixteen super questions for limitless ministry innovation.  He has a passion for tool-making.  Innovating Discipleship is a great tool!

I am always on the lookout for great ways to diagnose or dissect ministry issues and challenges.  I read broadly and continually.  I scour and sift to find new and better ways of thinking about strategies and solutions.  Church Unique had such an impact on my vantage point, that when I saw the first mentions of Innovating Discipleship I knew I had to see it.  I was not disappointed!  This is great stuff.

My copy is a little bit of a mess.  Underlined.  Starred.  Dog-eared with a broken spine.  My copy looks like I’ve had it much longer than I have.  Packed with keen insights, if you’re looking for the truth about your current situation and more importantly, what and where your next steps could be…I highly recommend that you pick up your own copy of Innovating Discipleship.  You’ll be very glad you did!

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.”

Quotebook: Goal Setting

As one of the world’s preeminent advisers to CEOs and boards, Ram Charan has spent the past 35 years on the road, watching hundreds of executives deal with their toughest challenges.

Here’s his take on the greatest mistake CEOs make in setting goals:

“As a rule CEOs don’t give enough attention to setting goals. The greatest mistake they make is to look in the rearview mirror at what they did last year or at what their competition did. The brilliant decision makers look at the runway ahead.”  (Harvard Business Review, November, 2013)

When you set goals…are you looking in the rearview mirror?  Or are you looking at the runway ahead?  A brilliant insight.

By the way, I’ve greatly benefitted from the insights of Ram Charan.  He is the co-author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (with Larry Bossidy) and Know-How: the 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don’t.

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.”

Great New Men’s Study from Craig Groeschel: Fight: Winning the Battles That Matter Most

fightHad an opportunity over the weekend to check out Fight, a new study for men from Craig Groeschel.  Fight: Winning the Battles That Matter Most is a 5 session, DVD-driven study that I think you’re going to want to take a look at.

Anchored by Groeschel’s dynamic teaching, each of the DVD sessions are about 20 minutes long, on the upper end of today’s attention spans…but still very watchable.  Presented in front of a live audience, there are no punches pulled here.  This is Craig Groeschel at his most direct.

The study guide includes a video viewing guide, a great set of discussion questions (written by long-time Willow Creek veteran Judson Poling), and an individual activity designed to help capture the key takeaway from the session.  A section for personal study is also included for each of the 5 sessions.  Designed to be used in conjunction with Groeschel’s hardback by the same title, each of the personal study assignments contain a few insight generating questions that will take the learnings from the group session deeper.

The reading assignment each week is about 30 pages long. but it is an easy-to-read, very attention grabbing exercise.  Packed with personal stories and illustrations from the life of Samson, possibly the greatest Bible story for men to understand.

Looking for a campaign that will help the men in your church uncover who they really are–men created in the image of God with a warrior’s heart–and learn how to stand up and fight for what is right?  Fight is designed to be used as a church-wide campaign that will do just that.  Additional resources are being added to www.fightthebook.com and www.open.lifechurch.tv including downloadable preaching resources, promotional pieces and samples.

Fight is a great addition to the recommended list for men and men’s small groups.  If you’re looking for material that will resonate with guys…you really need to check this one out.  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.”