Top 10 Posts of July, 2013

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of July, 2013.  Pretty cool to see that I had readers from 68 countries around the world!  Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups…Lots of New Groups (July, 2103)
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  3. New from Beth Moore | The Law of Love: Lessons from the Book of Deuteronomy (August, 2012)
  4. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure (February, 2008)
  5. 5 Keys to Launching Groups Year-Round (October, 2008)
  6. Add “Pressure Points” to Your Church-Wide Campaign Short-List (June, 2013)
  7. Is an Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry? (July, 2013)
  8. Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups? (May, 2012)
  9. The One Thing Every Small Group Pastor Must Do…for Small Group Leaders (November, 2012)
  10. 5 Cross-Cultural Church-Wide Campaigns that Ought to Be on Your Radar (May, 2013)

Don’t Miss These Two Huge Barna Findings for Small Group Ministries

I tweeted the link to Barna’s July 31st report yesterday.  I’m not going to go into the whole report here, but I wanted to point out two huge findings in their latest research.

The report compares “Americans’ descriptions of themselves from the early 2000s until now, illuminating how much American life has changed in the past decade, and how Americans see themselves moving forward into the future.”

There are many fascinating details in the report, but there are two related findings we dare not miss:

  • Ten years ago, 10% of Americans saw themselves as lonely.  Today, that number has doubled.
  • The desire to find a few good friends has also increased and in certain key demographics there has been an even larger increase.

Think about the implications of those two findings.  And you might think, well the loneliness number only moved from 10 to 20%, but think about it doubling in 10 years!  That is a huge statistical move with real challenges and opportunities for all of us.

Here are two paragraphs you’ll want to read:

One of the greatest self-perception changes over the past decade is in how Americans see themselves in relation to others. For all the technological advances in the past decade, the desire for human connectedness remains. Ten years ago, slightly over one out of 10 Americans self-identified as lonely. Today, that number has doubled—a paradoxical reality in the full swing of the social media age.

But while loneliness among Americans has risen, the desire to find one’s place among a few good friends has likewise increased—from 31% a decade ago to 37% today. Leading this charge today in finding friendship are Millennials (47%), Hispanics (47%) and never-married single adults (44%)—all higher than the national average.

You can read the full article right here and you should because there are a number of other findings that should influence our work.  A decreased commitment to getting ahead in life, an increased concern about the future, an increase in serious debt, and increased stress should all be on our radar.  Read the rest of the article right here.

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

4 Secrets of Connecting People

Want to connect unconnected people?  Want to connect beyond the usual suspects?  Way beyond?

Here are the 4 Secrets of Connecting People:

First, make sure that being connected is always presented as playing an essential role in growing spiritually.  Don’t miss this.  I believe being connected is essential to spiritual growth.  When this truth is clearly and frequently presented and really part of the fabric of your weekend service communication, there will be greater responsiveness to the invitation to join a small group.

This is a critically important idea.  In fact, I list the absence of this truth as one of five artificial barriers that limit growth in small group ministries.

If I can sit through a weekend service and not hear about the essential role that grouplife plays in spiritual growth, I’ll probably feel like I don’t need that extra ingredient that you talk about every once in a while.

Question: What percentage of your weekend services include a reference to the essential nature of being part of a group?

Second, make it easy for unconnected people to take a first step.  It shouldn’t be hard.  It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out.  And it shouldn’t require a person to be an extreme extrovert.

It should be easy.

That means whatever you design for connecting people should assume that they might be an introvert (or married to one).  You should assume they might need childcare.  You should assume that they have a crazy schedule.  And you should assume that the best process is the one with the fewest hoops to jump through.

Question: When you evaluate your connecting process, is it easy to get connected?  Or is it actually pretty hard?

Third, make the process obvious.  If connecting people is important…it shouldn’t take 5 clicks from the homepage to figure it out (or be below the fold).

First steps out of the auditorium shouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out.  There should be nothing that causes even fleeting hesitation.  You know the feeling you get when you’re suddenly unsure that this is the way to where you parked your car?  Your process needs to be so obvious that you eliminate every reason for indecision.

Question: How obvious are the steps to connection?

Fourth, make the connecting process strategic.  We know certain things about unconnected people:

  • They attend less frequently.  This usually means that you’ll need to promote your connecting event several weeks in a row.  It also means that you can’t rely on a once-a-year emphasis.
  • They often have more in common with their neighbor than with church people.  Think about what that means in terms of the topic you invite them to study!
  • They often have more “friends” who don’t attend your church than do attend your church.  Imagine what that might mean for new groups that form with a study that encourages everyone to invite a friend for week two!
  • Working up the nerve to attend your weekend service was incredibly hard.  Imagine showing up to a stranger’s living room as a next step? This gives on-campus connecting opportunities an edge over online group finders or sign-up forms that lead to match-making.

When you’re designing your connection process, you need to keep the feelings of unconnected people front and center.

There is an opportunity in designing the connecting process for careful analysis and thoughtful attention to detail.  There is also the real possibility that the process is actually just thrown together at the last minute, as if on a whim.

Question: How strategic are your connecting opportunities?  Is great intentionality interwoven into the design?

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

5 Things to Do in August to Prepare for Your Church-Wide Campaign

Ready for your church-wide campaign to begin?  Depending on your launch date, you’re probably approaching some of the most important weeks.  Although the launch of the actual campaign (the sermon series alignment) is still almost two months away, what you do in August has a lot to do with whether your campaign is a win or a loss.  (If you missed my July post, you can read it here).

Here are 5 things you must do in August:

First, although you’ve already met with your senior pastor and planned your HOST recruiting strategy (and your pastor’s role in it), I suggest making a weekly check-in with your pastor part of the plan.  Why?  In my experience, there is no substitute for a reminder.  Also, many pastor’s will benefit from a little bit of a script or bullets providing the actual verbiage required in the HOST ask.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask — the 2012 Version and Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row.

Second, there are a number of details that need to be confirmed.  You’ll want to confirm that the HOST bulletin inserts (to allow sign-up commitments to host a group) are ready.  You’ll want to double check the order of service and brief offering takers about the sign-up inserts that will be in the offering.  You’ll need to make sure the HOST FAQ is completed and available at a table in the lobby.

Third, you’ll need to fine-tune your host briefing or orientation agenda.  I’ve found that little details like a 2 minute thank you and affirmation from your senior pastor go a long way in helping new hosts feel valued and encouraged.  Although there is quite a range in terms of what’s in a host packet, you’ll want to include some invitations to be used to invite friends, neighbors, co-workers and family.  An outline of the briefing/orientation agenda is helpful.  I usually include a copy of the study guide as well.  See also, HOST Orientations That Work.

Fourth, although you should have already recruited a group of launch-phase coaches, you might not have trained them yet.  One of the concepts that I’ve used for a number of years include a simple job description and this skill training.  See also, Skill Training: Four Questions Every Coach Should Be Asking.

Fifth, August is the time to select the follow up study that you will be recommending to your new groups.  You’re going to want to select a study that is similar in kind to your launching study (i.e., DVD-driven, easy-to-use, on a topic that matters to unconnected people).  As you build your timeline, you’ll want to begin promoting the follow-up study in about week 4 or 5 of your church-wide campaign.  You might be tempted to allow your newest groups to make this choice on their own.  Don’t fall for that!  New groups are rarely strong enough to survive the kind of negotiation that is necessary when there are alternate ideas about what to do next.  See also, What’s Next? When (and how) to Promote the Next Study.

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

Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures

Here are what I believe to be the top 10 DNA markers of churches with thriving small group cultures:

  1. The senior pastor walks the talk.  I am unaware of a single instance of a church with a thriving small group culture where the senior pastor isn’t personally engaged in a group.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Staff and congregational leadership engagement in a group is far more than a written expectation.  Group engagement extends deeply into the leadership structure.  The most influential congregational leaders are clearly invested.
  3. Weekend services consistently refer to groups as an ordinary component in the life of a Christ follower.  Thriving small group cultures are in evidence 52 weeks a year.  Even an infrequent attendee understands that “this small group thing” is pretty important and not just something for high achievers.  See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups.
  4. Small groups are an essential component of the ministry to children and students.  Knowing their leader knows them and cares about them is vital to children and students.  The powerful need to belong cannot be met apart from being known.  As Carl George said, “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one ought to be caring for more than about ten people.”
  5. The church website (along with all communication forms) clearly prioritizes groups.  Churches with thriving small group cultures never present small groups as one option among many.  They also make small groups an above the fold home page item.  Learning about groups and joining a group is never more than one click away.  See and for more.
  6. Joining a group is easy.  The process is clear.  There are no prerequisites and no middlemen.  See also, Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.
  7. New groups are regularly forming.  There may not be a new group every week, but the next opportunity to get involved in a new group is never very far off.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People In Mind.
  8. The church budget clearly reflects small group priority.  Staffing, leader care and development, connecting events and strategies should all be resourced in a way that is indicative of their role in the overall philosophy of ministry.
  9. Significant resources are committed to caring for and developing group leaders.  Beyond budgeting, leaders receive the investment of time and attention of senior leadership.  In addition, the importance of small group ministry is evidenced in the allocation of on-campus space for encouragement, training and development events.
  10. Care happens systemwide through the small group.  Can you see it?  Pastoral care happens so regularly and routinely through the small group system that it reduces the number of phone calls to the church office.  Congregational care is decentralized and more hospital visits are made by group leaders and members than staff.

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

The Intersection of My Two Greatest Concerns

If you’ve been along for much of this conversation…very little of this will be new to you.  If you’re new, you might just be wondering what exactly I’m talking about.  No matter where you are in the mix…I think we all still need to hear this.  I know I need the reminder every day.

It’s about the intersection of my two greatest concerns.  Here they are:

First, I know that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from not being at my church.  Marriage trouble.  Loss of a job.  Bad diagnosis.  A child that goes south.  One tough thing.

By my estimate we have over 8000 unconnected adults at Canyon Ridge.  That means we need to add about 800 groups, as fast as we can.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?

You read that number right.  We’ve connected a lot in the last year.  But we have over 8000 to go.  And that’s just what we have now.

The thing is…you have a ton of unconnected adults too.  One tough thing.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

Second, I know that whatever I want the members of our groups to experience, the leaders of our groups must experience first.  In other words, if I want the members of our groups to know what’s it like to be prayed for, cared for, encouraged, challenged, loved unconditionally, forgiven, celebrated and admonished…they leaders must have had that experience first.

Where is the concern?  Follow me on this one.  Since I am a firm believer that Carl George was right when he said that “everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one ought to be taking care of more than about 10 people,” I know that we don’t have anywhere near the number of coaches we need in order to take care of the number of leaders we need to connect 8000 unconnected people.  See also, Span of Care.

If Carl was right, we need around 80 to 160 new coaches.  We probably don’t need them all at once.  But we’ll need them as fast as we can identify, recruit and develop them.

The thing is…you need coaches too.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

The Dilemma

Can you see the dilemma?  And I use the term, dilemma, somewhere between advisedly and tongue in cheek.  The dilemma is that we know how to start groups.  You do too.  If you’ve been part of this conversation you know that we can start an almost unlimited number of groups using the church-wide campaign strategy along with the small group connection strategy.

We have no trouble starting groups.  We are determined to connect unconnected people as fast as we can.

The dilemma?  In order to sustain the groups we start and in order to deliver the kind of experience to group members that we want them to have…we must become better at identifying, recruiting and developing coaches.  And we must become better today.  If not yesterday.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions.

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

Joel Comiskey’s Newest: Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church

biblical foundations for the cell based churchI’ve been working my way through Joel Comiskey’s Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church this week.  A very helpful work by one of the leading voices in the cell church movement.

I actually picked up a copy of the book several months ago hoping to gain some new insights into the cell group philosophy.  I wanted to be able to intelligently compare and contrast its guiding principles with those of the other small group systems and strategies.

What did I find?  What I found in part one of Biblical Foundations is a very helpful look at the Old Testament basis for community.  If you’ve read Gilbert Bilezikian’s Community 101, this will provide a kind of refresher with plenty of new insights.

Part two provides a very thoughtfully researched and carefully written look at the early church and its organization and structure, practices, and leadership development.  My copy is full of highlighted sections, bookmarks, and notes.  This quote is representative of many, many, that caught my eye:

“Most leaders elevate the large group as primary and the small group as optional. The New Testament writers were thinking about church much differently than we do today.”

Part three is a look at “cell church ecclesiology today.”  As much as I appreciated Comiskey’s work to provide a truly biblical basis for the cell-based church, I think I appreciated his frankness in part three even more.  Acknowledging the vast differences between the ancient culture of the early church and life in 21st century America and the Western world, he advocates strongly for a kind of deep ownership of the theology of community (as opposed to simply doing it because it works or makes your church successful).

I really appreciated the thoroughly gathered and assembled research with a wealth of quotes and references from a wide variety of other voices.  Interwoven and packed with so many biblical references, Biblical Foundations turned out to be much more than a look into the cell group philosophy.  In this book I’ve found so much to ponder and lots to reinforce the biblical underpinnings for small group ministry.

Whether you know much about Joel Comiskey and cell-based church movement or you’re new to the whole idea, I can highly recommend Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church.  I know you’ll be challenged like I was.  I also know you’ll come away with some important insights into grouplife and perhaps a new understanding of the theological underpinnings that ought to be informing our work.

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.”

A Small Group Pastor, a Discipleship Pastor and a Minister of Education Walk into a Bar

A small group pastor, a discipleship pastor and a minister of education walk into a bar.  The bartender says, “What is this, a joke?”

Actually…I don’t have a joke here.  I’m sure there is one.  It probably has to do with circles and rows or the shallowness of DVD-driven curriculum.  Or possibly it has to do with raising the bar, lowering the bar or an open bar.

Mostly, I’d love to see if you have an idea for the joke.

Want to give it a shot?  You can click here to take a stab at the punch line.

Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind

When you set up your connection strategy, did you stop to think about the folks you were hoping to connect?  You need to.  And don’t make the mistake of expecting the newest or least connected people in your congregation to have your sensibilities or priorities.  When you design your connection strategy you need to keep the priorities and interests of unconnected people in mind.

Here are four keys to connection that will help you evaluate your strategy:

It’s easier to connect in a new group than in an existing group.  The longer a group has been together, the more difficult it becomes for a new member to connect.  Groups that have been meeting longer than about 12 meetings have begun forming an almost impenetrable membrane around their nucleus and only the most extroverted (and sometimes brazen) can break through to connect.

Can you offer a new group 52 weeks a year?  No, but you can build in opportunities year round that make it easy to join a new group.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching Small Groups Year-Round.

It’s easier to connect in a familiar setting than a stranger’s living room.  Long-time church members and very connected people sometimes have a hard time understanding what it feels like to be new.  Many of your church’s newest attendees will tell you that coming for the first time was a giant step and filled with awkward moments.  Asking these same people to “find a group online” or “pick a group from our small group catalog that meets near you” is often even more scary than attending church the first time!

Are there people that can brave the unknown, find a group online or pick one out of the catalog and show up for a meeting?  Yes, but it’s important to design your strategy for the less sure of themselves majority.

Consider offering on-campus connecting events or short-term opportunities that lead to an off-campus group.  The familiar setting will make the first step out of the auditorium an easier step.  See also, North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

Choosing from a menu is preferred over assignment.  Think about it.  In almost every other experience, we are used to choosing from a menu of options.  What movie would you like to go to?  What restaurant?  What class would you like to take?  What store would you like to shop at?  What church would you like to attend?

When an unconnected person is assigned to a group (i.e., you live in 90210, you’re assigned to the Wilson’s group) they feel limited.  If your current system is to preemptively assign to a group based on zip code or life-stage, you may want to consider providing a way to choose from a short menu.

Choosing from a hand-selected menu is easier than choosing from a full buffet.  It may surprise you to learn that too many options is actually demotivating.  In a fascinating study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper (Choice is Demotivating) it was learned that more is rarely better.  See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?

An unconnected person is more likely to choose from a short menu of the best options than a wide menu of all options.  If your menu of next steps looks more like the buffet at Luby’s (or the Mirage), you’ll want to consider highlighting a hand-selected short menu.  Just because you have 9 entrees doesn’t mean you have to give all of them equally desirable platform.

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

Win a “Pressure Points” Church-Wide Campaign Package!

I’m so excited about a great give-away!  Pressure Points, a six session study based on the book of James, is a true church-wide campaign.  With curriculum available for adults, teens and kids, it will generate one conversation and leverage one of the real keys to a great church-wide experience.

New from Chip Henderson and published by LifeWay, this is a great match of a great topic and a great communicator.  I am always on the lookout for topics that are cross-cultural, that is they make sense to the friends, neighbors, family and co-workers, too.  Pressure Points fits this bill perfectly!  You can learn more about it right here.

To support the contest, LifeWay has put together a great offer!  The winner will receive:

That’s an $800.00 value!

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do both to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win a Pressure Points Church-Wide Campaign Kit by Chip Henderson, an $800 value  “”

The contest ends on Friday, July 26th, at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!