The Power of Sequencing

One of the things at work in churches known for their growth and momentum is what I call the power of sequencing.  It’s not always visible.  You really have to know what you’re looking for to see it.  And once you’ve spotted the strategic practice at work, you’ll notice it’s absence when you look at churches and ministries that don’t know about sequencing.

I first really noticed it after I left Fellowship of The Woodlands and joined the staff of another large, landmark sort of church in Southern California.  Honestly, I didn’t know what I knew when I left Fellowship (now Woodlands Church), but I spotted the absence of sequencing in my first few weeks and within about 90 days even had a name for it.  Sequencing.

Here’s an example:

In churches like Woodlands Church, Easter is a big deal.  It is in your church too, but at Woodlands Church it is huge and very important (along with Christmas Eve) in the growth strategy.  Lots of planning and preparation.  Massive efforts to make the Easter services really powerful, very creative, and to make the campus amazingly welcoming and easy to navigate for first time guests.  Yada, yada, yada.

You do that too, at least to an extent, but here’s where sequencing comes in.

An invitation is built into the message that encourages a response.  There’s no come forward kind of response.  It’s the fill out the connect card in your program sort of response.  But there’s a very intentionally developed invitation built into the message that then encourages a trackable response.  “If you prayed with me, we’d love to know it and send you some information that will help you with next steps to grow in Christ.  Just drop your connect card in the offering or take it to the welcome center in the lobby.”

Next, in the same service, an invitation to “join us in 3 weeks for Class 101 (or whatever it’s called now), where you can find out more about us and why we do what we do” is given.  And there’s an opportunity to sign up for 101 by dropping your connect card in the offering.

On the following Saturday morning, everyone who filled out a card indicating a decision to follow Christ is called and invited to attend  Class 101.

In every service over the next 3 weekends the invitation to “join us for Class 101 is included.”

When Class 101 is offered, it is a great experience for the whole family.  Childcare, bounce houses, hamburgers on the grill, all hands on deck with the staff, friendly greeters, etc.

Very important, in the content of Class 101, an easy to understand explanation of the plan of salvation (call it what you do) is given as a major part of the class.  And, once explained, an opportunity to accept Christ today.  “If you’ve never personally invited Jesus to come into your life as leader and forgiver, you can do that right now.  Just pray along with me.”  Moments later, “If you prayed with me just now, you’ll want to indicate on your form that you accepted Christ today, here in Class 101.”

With me so far?  Here’s the next piece of the sequencing concept.  Also in Class 101, there is a well thought out explanation and teaching on the importance of baptism as an outward expression of inward change.  And, “if you’ve made the decision to follow Christ, you might want to be baptized at our next big baptism on June 20th!  If you’d like to be join us that day, just check that box on your form today.”

See how this is developing?  Sequencing.  The next aspect of the sequence is the inclusion of the importance of baptism in a message following Easter and before the big baptism on June 20th.  It won’t necessarily be a message about baptism.  It might be about commitment or discipline (or any number of other topics), but there will be a point in the message where the teaching will be clear about the importance of baptism as an outward expression of an inward change and an opportunity to sign up to be baptized will be clearly offered.  “In your program is this connect card.  If you need to be baptized as your next step and you’ll fill this out and drop it in the offering later, you can join us that day!”

How many sequencing steps did you spot?

There is a reason that hundreds and hundreds of people are baptized at Woodlands Church (and Saddleback, LifeChurch.TV, etc.).  Clearly, God is at work in the lives of people, but once you know the power of sequencing…it jumps out at you every time you see it (and when you don’t see it).

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

Quotebook: Rationalization

Working on something that you know needs to change but just aren’t ready to pull the trigger?  I love this line from Peter Block:

“The most common rationalization for doing things we do not believe in is that what we really desire either takes too long or costs too much.”  The Answer to How Is Yes

Your Thinking Determines Outcomes

Ever wonder why your decisions keep producing outcomes that are less than what you hoped for?  Maybe it’s because the thinking that determines your decisions is not based on truth.  Maybe it’s only wishful thinking.  Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  And yet…many of us make decisions all day long that are based on assumptions that are just not correct.

Some time back Andy Stanley talked about this concept in a message called “Breakaway.”  Here’s what he said, “Your thinking determines your decisions and your decisions determine your outcomes.”

Next time you find yourself standing amidst the debris field of a bad outcome, ask yourself: “What are the deeply held beliefs that led me to make the decisions that produced this outcome?”  That’s where you might find an adjustment to your thought process.  See also, 5 Assumptions That Stunt Small Group Ministry Growth and What In Your Ministry Is Off-Limits for Debate?

5 Commitments That Propel and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Ever wonder why some small group ministries seem to steadily move to new levels of success and health while others start with a bang and go out with a whimper?

Here are 5 commitments that make the difference:

  1. Connecting everyone to a small group is a top objective every year.  By “everyone” I mean everyone.  And not just 50% or 80% of the weekend adult attendance.  I’m talking about 150% of the weekend adult attendance number!  In addition, the commitment is to a small group (i.e., not a class or a Bible study that meets in rows).  And it’s not about off-campus versus on-campus.  It’s all about connecting to a group that includes the essential ingredients of life-change.  See also, Essential Ingredients of Life-Change and Design Your Group for Life-Change.
  2. Small group membership is an essential step in the strategy.  This is sometimes a little tricky but always very important.  If your church features a kind of buffet or a menu with multiple options to choose from for adults (i.e., Sunday morning classes, Wednesday night classes, discipleship groups, off-campus small groups, etc.), there is a strong possibility that you’re not clearly identifying active membership in a small group as essential.  See also, A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups and 5 Ways Your Small Group Ministry Is Being Throttled.
  3. Small group ministry is designed to make disciples.  If your church offers a discipleship ministry for high achiever adults with greater commitment and more extensive expectations than mere group membership…you are likely missing the great potential of grouplife to make disciples.  See also, 4 Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries That Make Disciples.
  4. Significant investment in leadership development is a priority.  Are you budgeting significant money, staff energy, and calendar for leadership development?  If you’re skimping on this commitment, it’s unrealistic to think that you’re on the path that leads to a dynamic, thriving small group ministry.  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway and Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. The senior pastor is the primary champion/spokesperson for the small group ministry year in and year out.  Are you there?  Does this describe your senior pastor’s involvement?  This has nothing to do with administrative involvement or behind the scenes planning or management.  It has everything to do with living and breathing small group as essential to life-change.  It has to do with the most influential person in your congregation serving as the main spokesperson.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

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

This Study Changes the Game: Community: Starting Well in Your Small Group

community starting wellHad an opportunity to preview a new DVD-driven small group study designed to help new groups get off to a good start.  Community: Starting Well in Your Small Group is an 8 session small group study that is designed to be used right out of the gate as a new group begins.

An updated version of a study originally developed to launch groups that begin at one of North Point’s grouplink events, this is a very important development.  Let me be quick to say, you do not have to be a fan of North Point or use the grouplink strategy to use this study.  In fact, Community jumps right to the top of the list in terms of studies that help launch new small groups regardless of your strategy!

If you’ve ever gone on a journey with a really good tour guide, you might already know what to expect in this study.  If you never have…you’re in for a real treat.

The DVD provides just the right amount of guidance and inspiration to help your new group talk about the things that make for great conversation.  5 of the 6 DVD segments average 7 to 10 minutes in length, just about the perfect length for today’s attention spans.  The one exception is a 20 minute segment designed to help group members share their stories.  With four vignettes modeling how to tell the story of the things that have shaped us, session 4′s DVD segment is very powerful and sets the stage for the session’s objective.

The participant guide is really a conversation guide.  And it’s important to note that Community is not a Bible study.  Instead, it really is a guided conversation designed to help the members of your new group show up, join in, and be real.  Every session includes an introduction and short reading assignment to be read as preparation.  A skillfully designed set of discussion questions will help group members share their story in a way that will help them talk about things that help knit hearts together.

A very thorough leader guide (along with a number of other very valuable small group resources) is available free online at

I want to say this carefully, but I believe the availability of Community: Starting Well in Your Small Group might be the most important development in group launching strategy in the last decade (see also, 4 Important Innovations in Small Group Ministry).  Community is a great study and is going to help launch and deeply connect a very large number of groups.  I love it and I’m sure 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 may 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: The Cost of Change and the Status Quo

Stuck?  Turns out that change is a math formula.

“Here’s the formula.  Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change: C(SQ) > R(C).”  Alan Webber, Rules of Thumb.

Webber, along with Bill Taylor, was a founder of Fast Company magazine. His book, Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self is a very good read, packed with insights that will have you marking up your copy.

Insight: Repositioning Affinity Ministries Helps Create Alignment

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “How do we grow both our small group ministry and our affinity ministries (women, men, couples, singles)?”  A variation is, “How can we focus everyone’s attention on a church-wide campaign when our fall ministry launch happens at the exact same time?”

Ever feel stuck at that very spot?  You want to build a pervasive and thriving small group ministry, but following the strategies of someone like me feels like you’re putting a lid on your women’s ministry!

What are you supposed to do?  How can you do both?

I want to give you a way to think about a possible solution.  I also want to remind you that solutions like this are almost never as simple as they sound.  But…when you get to where I’m suggesting, alignment is very powerful.

Two key discussions

My goal in this article is simply to help you think about possibilities.  What I’m suggesting is not fool-proof or fail-safe.  What I’m suggesting is the right direction, but not without challenges.

You’ll need to be able to navigate at least three very important discussions.  You’ll need to be able to use the 5 questions that supercharge ministry impact.

Here are the discussions:

Reimagine the purpose of your affinity ministries.  What if your affinity ministries took on the role as primary creators of events that would pull unconnected men, women, couples and singles from the auditorium?  What if your affinity ministry leaders could begin to see themselves as architects and designers of steps that would lead to connecting in a small group (whether on-campus or off-campus)?

Reposition affinity ministries to create alignment.  What if the primary role of your women’s ministry director shifted from promoter to shepherd?  What if your affinity ministry directors moved from champions to shepherds whose primary objectives was to provide the same kind of care to table leaders that you want group members to receive?

Redesign your affinity programs.  What if your on-campus affinity programs could be redesigned to offer easy first steps out of the auditorium and the same level of care as an off-campus group?  What if every on-campus program shifted (gradually) from rows to circles and from information/teaching to discussion/application?

See also, A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups, North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step, and Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

Takeaway:  I’m not suggesting an easy thing to do.  Rather, I’m suggesting a challenging process that leads to a very productive outcome.  Need help?  I love guiding these discussions and you can find out how to schedule a call right here.

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

Choose Sides. Which Side Are You On?

It happens every once in a while.  Disagreement and dialogue here in the comment section.  Most of the time the interaction is healthy.  Sometimes the conversation is so good it generates other posts.  And every once in a while I consider using my editorial privilege to delete a comment and block a reader.

I had one of those last week.  My post I Dreamed I Was at the Southern Baptist Convention, and specifically my urging that we make it possible for the least connected in our congregations (who are the most connected to the outside) to host a group and invite their seeking friends and neighbors to join, prompted a number of comments as well as a conversation of sorts.  Although the conversation ranged over several objections, it centered on what I would summarize as a debate about the importance of maintaining a very high bar of leader qualifications versus the relative lack of concern for the urgency of connecting anyone who is unconnected.

Upon further review…I’ve concluded that it is almost exactly the same debate found in Acts 15 where some, prioritizing the rules of the status quo, tried to put the kibosh on the grace oriented evangelism tactics of Paul and company:

“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  Acts 15:1 NIV

I love Andy Stanley’s line from a message he gave on Acts 15 at LifeChurch.TV:

“I don’t know what the requirements in your church are for membership.  I don’t know what the requirements in your church are for involvement, but I doubt they involve a surgery of any type.” (here’s the message it came from).

I don’t know if you can see the connection, but when it comes right down to it, I find the priority of connecting unchurched people in Jesus’ reaction to the needs of people in Matthew 9:36:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  See also, God’s Heart for Unconnected People.

What do you think Jesus’ priority is (in regards to unconnected people)?  Do you think Jesus would be content to insist on high entrance requirements for hosts/shepherds if it meant not caring for the harassed and helpless?  Or would Jesus recruit those who would take the first step and follow?

Should I insist that small group leaders meet the standards of an elder if it means that I can’t find enough or recruit enough to connect as many as possible?  Should I be looking for Jesus Jr. (and not accepting potential hosts who don’t meet those standards)…if it means that many will remain unconnected?

Should I insist on very high entrance requirements for leaders?  Or should I make it possible for the least connected on the inside (and the most connected on the outside) to take a first step toward hosting a group…and then make development steps an easy and natural process?

Hear me…I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about leader development.  I remain insistent that we can only expect the members to experience what their leader has already experienced.  At the same time, I am certain that insisting on high entrance requirements excludes many from  the care of a shepherd.  See also, Life Change at the Member Level.

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

Skill Training: 10 Keys to a Great 1st Meeting

Whether you’re a brand new leader or a seasoned veteran starting a new group, it’s natural to feel a little nervous about your first meeting.  Here are 10 keys that I’ve found very helpful as I get ready to launch a new group:

  1. Make it a point to call all of your members the week before your first meeting.  Don’t settle for voicemail.  And don’t just email them.  Be enthusiastic when you call!  Get yourself ready to call.  It’s amazing how even a quick phone call reminder will help your nerves begin to settle.
  2. Enlist someone to help you make the calls!  If you don’t have a co-leader yet, this may be your first step toward recruiting them.  Simply divide the list and split the work.  Pulling in someone to help you will go a long way toward easing your mind about the first meeting.
  3. Ask everyone to bring something (i.e., chips, salsa, cokes, cookies, etc.).  This cements attendance!  They’re much more likely to show if you’re depending on them.
  4. Start your group with an informal “meet and greet” session.  The agenda for the first meeting is all about making members feel comfortable with the new members of the group.
  5. Have nametags and markers ready at the door.  Nametags take the pressure off of remembering names.
  6. Arrange for an uninterrupted session (childcare needs, food prepared in advance, etc.).
  7. Your first meeting provides a great opportunity to get to know each other in a less formal way.  Here are a few questions I like to use:
    • Would you describe yourself as more of an extrovert or an introvert?  Give an example.
    • Would you describe yourself as a structured, “just settle it” kind of person or more of a play it by ear type?
    • Are you a hugger?  Or a non-hugger?
    • What motivated you to sign up for this group?
    • What are you most hopeful you’ll gain as a result of being in the group?
    • What are you most afraid of (in terms of the group)?
  8. This is a great time to talk over the Group Agreement.  No commitments required.  Nobody’s signing anything.  Just a good way to get values and expectations on the table.  Simply read over the values and reconfirm expectations.  See also, Skill Training: How to Use a Small Group Agreement.
  9. Talk about materials for your study.  Make sure everyone has book.  Your church may have a plan to ensure that everyone can have a book even if they can’t afford it.  If not, your group members may want to make it easy for everyone to participate.
  10. Pray to close the meeting.  Make it really simple.  Ask, “Is there anything we can be praying about for you personally?  There may be times when we pray for those who aren’t part of the group, but today, let’s keep prayer requests focused on just group members.”  Write down any prayer requests.  Close with a very simple prayer.  See also, Skill Training: The Simplest Way to Help Your Members Pray Out Loud.

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

New from People of the Second Chance: Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom

freewayFinally had a chance yesterday to dig into the newest resource from the folks at People of the Second Chance.  Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom is a powerful seven session study by Mike Foster and Garry Poole.  Built on God’s amazing grace, honest conversations with friends, and finding freedom from deepest pain and struggles, Freeway is way more than a study.  It’s an experience in the very best sense of the word.

“Freeway is a way to be free.  It’s a guide built upon God’s amazing grace, conversations with friends, and a personal exploration of our pain and loss.  Through the process of awareness, discovery, ownership, forgiveness, acceptance, and freedom, our hearts can be healed (from the introduction).”

Anchored by the workbook, you know you’re in for something really different when you start flipping through the pages.  I review a lot of small group material and I honestly can’t remember another workbook that is even remotely like Freeway.  Put together with real category busting ideas, the workbook is way more than a study guide.  I really wish there was a way you could see it.  I know you’d be hooked like I am.

The DVD segments give the feel that Mike Foster is simply reflecting on the journey; as it he is actually a member of your group.  Pure and unaffected.  I’ve never met Mike, but I came away feeling like we’d had a conversation.

Each of the seven sessions is an engaging combination of 5 components:

  • Prepare: includes a short set of introductions to the big idea of each step.
  • Explore: creative exercises designed to help you begin to process some of your struggles.
  • Share: includes watching a short video and working through a group discussion.
  • Jump in: practical life experiments designed to help you implement and put into practice what you’re learning.
  • Remember: a journal section that allows you to capture your thoughts and observations, helping further focus your thoughts.

I love this study.  If you’re looking for a study that will take people on a journey, a grace-filled journey, toward the life God dreams for them, you’ll love this study too.  Freeway is the kind of study that will cause you to see every other study in a new light.  Great stuff.  I loved it and I think you will too.