Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Thinking Thursday: Confessions of a Futurist

You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with small groups or discipleship?!?!”  And you’re right in wondering that.  It doesn’t…directly.  Learning how to think about the future, though, has everything to do with building thriving small group ministries.  This is a very interesting talk.  I hope you watch it.

Sheryl Connelly is manager of global trends and futuring for Ford Motor Company, tracking shifts and trends in topics as far reaching as the environment, politics and millennials and analyzing those shifts to predict consumer preferences. Her insights inform the company’s automotive design, product development and corporate strategy and help anticipate the needs and desires of car buyers.

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

Great Question: How Can I Recruit Leaders from the “Crowd”

Who Can Host (1)I get a lot of questions.  I got a great question yesterday and I thought many of you might be interested in this answer.

After reading Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret? a reader asked, “What are the best tactics to recruit leaders within the circle?”

Interpreting the Question

If you haven’t read the article, you might not have learned yet that I believe the most connected people in your church (represented by the square in the diagram) are almost often the least connected in the community (outside the circle).  And as the diagram illustrates, the people in the circle actually are the most connected in the community.

See why it’s a great question?  If you could learn how to recruit leaders from the circle (as opposed to the square) you’d actually be able to begin reaching into the community.

Here’s My Answer

Recruiting leaders from the circle isn’t problem-free.  It comes with a set of problems.  I often use this diagram as an alternative to Saddleback’s concentric circles, but if we were thinking about Saddleback’s diagram the square would roughly represent the core, committed, and the inner edge of the congregation.  The circle would represent the outer edge of the congregation and the crowd.  Recruiting from the circle comes with a set of problems.  People from the circle attend less frequently, are often younger in their faith and are actually more like the people in the community.

Don’t miss this important corollary: recruiting from the square has its own set of problems.  The most important problem with recruiting leaders from the square is that they often do not know anyone outside the square.  If you want to connect people outside the square, it is an advantage to have a leader who knows some!

So, how do you recruit leaders from the circle?

  • A church-wide campaign offers the best opportunity to recruit leaders from the circle.  A small group connection promoted the right way will also draw unconnected people to attend and within the attendees will be plenty of people from the circle.
  • Your senior pastor making the ask in the right way will get the attention of the right people.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version.
  • In most cases you will need to rethink who can lead in your church.  The people in the circle are often not members, attend less frequently, and may not meet high standards.  But they do have the most connections outside the circle.  See also, Small Group Leaders: Qualifications, Hoops and Lowering the Bar.
  • Keep in mind that the study you choose for the church-wide campaign determines who will say “yes” to hosting and who will say “yes” to attending.  See also, Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

You are asking a great question!  I hope this helps.  For a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges see also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System and Connecting the Gap Between Congregation and Community.

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

The Truths Only Fresh Eyes Can See

I was hanging out with some dear friends; friends I’ve had for many, many years.  We were having a great morning.  Many laughs.  So good to see them.

And then the subject of their church came up.  Trying to help, I said what turned out to be a buzz kill and then spent the next 45 minutes desperately trying to help them see the big, giant, massive elephant in the room.  In their church.

They just couldn’t fully see it.  It was really like they could only see the issue in their peripheral vision.  Looking at it straight on, they blinked it away.  A kind of denial I guess.

I talked with them for 45 minutes about the following concepts.

Three Breakthrough Concepts:

  1. No problem-free.  This idea comes up almost every time I’m consulting with a church.  The essence of the idea is that there are no problem-free solutions, strategies, or systems.  Every solution comes with its own unique set of problems.  Wise leaders understand this and choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  And then do what they can to mitigate the problems.  I encouraged them to actually sit down and make a list of the problems that come with the their current solution and then another list of problems that come with my solution.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Design determines results.  I got this idea from Andy Stanley’s great quote: “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  To me, this truth is as self-evident as anything Thomas Jefferson referred to in 1776.  The results you are experiencing are not a fluke or a coincidence.  The results you are experiencing are produced by the design you are using.  Lots of things go into the design (i.e., timing, finances, staff, coordination, etc.).  If you want different results, you must change the design.  See also, Five GroupLife Dots You Might Not Be Connecting.
  3. Fresh eyes and no emotional attachment.  I got this idea from a talk Andy Stanley gave where he mentioned something Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel said to Gordon Moore, when they were facing a tough decision at Intel.  Grove said, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  See also, Fresh Eyes and No Emotional Attachment.

If I told you what their problem was, many of you would get their issue right away.  Unless it is your issue.  Instead of telling you what their issue was, I’d rather suggest you spend some time talking with some other leaders at your church and see if you can identify some ways in which you are stuck.  Once you have a few ways in which your church is stuck, you might come back and think through these three breakthrough concepts.

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

The 5 Biggest Ministry Mistakes I’ve Made

All of us have made mistakes.  I have made plenty.  You have too.  The key is to learn from your mistakes and only make them once.

What are the biggest mistakes I’ve made?

  1. Using the same strategy and expecting different results.  Albert Einstein said it well, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”  I’ve fallen more than once for the temptation to try the same strategy one more time and pay closer attention to certain details.  I’d like to say I’ve made this mistake for the last time.  Trust me…resist the temptation!  See also, Start with the End in Mind and Top 10 Reasons to Try a Failed Strategy One More Time.
  2. Ignoring the elephant in the room.  The presence of certain ingredients and the absence of others should never be ignored.  Turning a blind eye to the fact that your senior pastor isn’t on board with essential aspects of your strategy is almost always a fatal mistake.  Ignoring the fact that other existing commitments will diffuse the impact of a church-wide campaign is foolish.  Don’t make this mistake!  Never ignore the elephant in the room.  See also, 5 Blatantly Obvious Truths about Starting New Groups.
  3. Rationalizing or minimizing the correlation of design and results.  If you only get one tattoo, it should be Andy Stanley’s one-liner: “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Rationalizing or minimizing the correlation of design and results is Exhibit A in the case against many of us.  Believe me when I tell you this, there is a direct correlation between the design of your ministry and the results of your ministry.  Can’t find enough volunteers for your weekend children’s program?  It is not a fluke or coincidence.  Didn’t get the connecting event sign-up you were hoping for?  Blame the design.  See also, 7 Signs You Have a Bad Design for Your Ministry.
  4. Assuming one meeting or one conversation would be sufficient.  Bottom line,  when I’ve been planning something, I’ve thought a lot about it.  A lot.  Most of the time I’ve been thinking about it for weeks and sometimes months.  When I share it with my senior pastor or our elder team, it is usually the first time they’ve heard it.  That is never enough.  I like this quote (possibly apocryphal) attributed to President Richard Nixon: “You know, when I’m tired of hearing it, I know my staff has gotten it.  When my staff is tired of hearing it, I know the press corp has gotten it.  And when the press corp is tired of hearing it, I know the nation has gotten it.”  The moral of the story?  One meeting or one conversation is never enough.  Over-communicating is the key.  This is one of the reasons I re-read Patrick Lencioni’s Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive every year.
  5. Procrastinating conversations and decisions.  Some conversations and some decisions cannot be put off until tomorrow (or next week) without consequence.  Life is better when conversations happen and decisions are made in a timely manner.  “Can we have this conversation next week at the meeting?”  “Can we put this decision off until after the teaching team retreat?”  “Can I call you when I’m back in town?”  Truthfully?  No.  The latest we can have the conversation or make the decision is Friday.  And it would be better if we could meet today and again on Friday in order to make the best decision.

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

Dilbert on Worst Case Scenario Planning

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

only losers plan for failure

Here’s a Quick Overview of a January Connecting Plan

Hard to believe it but the fall ministry season has come and gone.  Hopefully, you and your ministry reached the goals you set back in the spring for groups launched, unconnected people connected, coaches recruited, etc.

Have you already planned for January?  Are you making final tweaks to your plan or do you need to get serious about the strategies you will use?

January is a great time to connect people to groups.  I think of it as the second best time to launch groups (with the fall being the best time).  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch Groups?

There are some naturally motivating factors that really prompt movement and interest in January.  The idea of making New Year’s resolutions, turning over a new leaf or rebooting after a tough year is right at the front of many people’s minds in late December and January.

Capitalizing on New Year’s Resolutions

As you plan your January strategy, keep in mind the natural motivations of people.  Unconnected people are already thinking about what they need to do to have a better 2015.

Here are 7 ideas to help you plan:

  • Schedule a connecting opportunity in late January or early February.  This will provide several weeks to promote your connecting event.  See also, How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  • Choose an easy-to-use study with the right theme for the people you are trying to connect.  Think “fresh start” or “building a solid foundation.”  You might want to take a look at WEiRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working, Transformed: How God Changes Us, The Best Yes, or Fight: Winning the Battles That Matters Most.
  • Plan to spend several weekends promoting your connecting event.  Remember, unconnected people are infrequent attendees.  If you want them to hear about your event, you’ll need to promote it several times.  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch Groups?
  • Make it easy to sign up for your event.  An insert in your bulletin with a simple sign up form (first name, last name, best phone number, best email), an opportunity to sign up online (or via their phone), a convenient table in the lobby, should all be employed in the attempt to get the word out.
  • Leverage your senior pastor’s influence.  You have the greatest potential to connect people when your senior pastor is your small group champion and mentions the connecting event in the sermon.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church of Groups.
  • When people sign up to attend be sure and send a follow up email from your senior pastor congratulating them for taking an important next step and providing instructions for the event.
  • Plan to send a reminder email 3 days prior to your event.
  • Recruit a calling team to make quick reminder phone calls the day before the event.

Hope this helps as you plan!

Will You Take Your Ministry to a New Level in ’15? Join My Network!

Join my 2015 Coaching Network

I want to invite you to join my 2015 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.

Several of my 2014 alumni from quite a cross section of churches have already reported launching and sustaining record numbers of groups and connecting far more people than ever before.  I’d love to help you do the same thing!

Don’t take my word for it!

Here’s what three of my alumni 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,, 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

Ready to join?

My 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in February and as of 12/9 I have 6 spots left. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

7 Rules at the Essence of Small Group Coaching

heart of coachingI was on a coaching call yesterday and as we talked I realized that there are certain ideas, rules really, that always pop up in my conversations about small group coaching.

Here are 7 rules at the essence of small group coaching:

  1. Whatever you want to happen in the lives of small group members has to happen first in the lives of your small group leaders.  This is an idea at the very essence of a coaching.  It is just not wise to assume that small group leaders will be prepared to shepherd the members of their group in a way that makes disciples.  If you want to make disciples you’ve got to invest in your leaders first.  This has implications for how you develop your coaches too.  Can you see it?  See also, Life Change at the Member Level and 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  2. You can’t build an effective coaching structure with people who are warm and willing.  They need to be hot and qualified.  I got this line from Don Cousins over 20 years ago and it gets proven over and over again.  Building an effective coaching structure requires high capacity men and women who are passionate about investing in leaders.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  3. Everyone needs to be cared for by someone, but nobody can take care of more than (about) ten.  Carl George’s great shorthand for Jethro’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 18 is an understanding at the essence of coaching.  High capacity volunteers can invest in about 5 small group leaders (and often their apprentices).  See also, Span of Care.
  4. Coaching has very little to do with teaching technique (i.e., how to lead a discussion or how to subdivide your group for a deeper connection).  Adults learn on a need to know basis and new small group leaders learn most of what they need to know in the way of technique in the first 3 or 4 months.  Otherwise their new group dies.  See also, 7 Core Ideas about Small Group Coaching and Coaching FAQ: How Much of Coaching Is About Technique?
  5. Coaching has everything to do with care.  Care is about doing to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  6. New small group leaders will almost always eagerly accept coaching.  New small group leaders don’t know what they don’t know, but they quickly discover they could use some help.  New small group leaders typically learn nearly everything they need to know in their first 3 or 4 months.  If new small group leaders take their first steps with a coach they will be in a position to accept care when they no longer need technique.
  7. Experienced small group leaders who make it through their first 3 or 4 months without a coach know intuitively and with certainty that they don’t need a coach.  If they needed a coach, their group wouldn’t still be alive.  They may not be offended when you retroactively assign them a coach, but they will reject their new coach like a bad organ transplant.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Experienced Small Group Leaders and 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.

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

Image by Neil Moralee

5 Crucial Small Group Ministry Dashboard Indicators

dashboardHow healthy is your small group ministry?  How do you know?  What are you measuring?

The dashboard in your car monitors fuel level, speed, RPMs, oil pressure, engine temperature, etc.  What should your small group ministry’s dashboard be monitoring?  How do you know whether your ministry is healthy?

Here are the 5 crucial indicators I think you should be watching:

  1. The number of active small groups and active group members.  This may be an annual or semi-annual snapshot taken at a predictable time (i.e., mid-November or mid-April).  If you’re taking advantage of an easy-to-use church management system like Churchteams, you may be able to monitor this number week to week.  Be sure you are measuring in a way and at a time when you’re not simply noting the high water mark of a church-wide campaign.  Beyond simply monitoring the numbers it can provide a glimpse into the span of care in your groups.
  2. Year to date change in the number of active small groups.  Carefully monitoring the number of active groups helps keep your finger on the pulse of the groups in your system.  Active is an important word and should not include groups that only meet during your church-wide campaign.
  3. Year over year change in the number of active small groups and active group members.  Tracking this trend line over several years provides an important measure of effectiveness.  Remember, it is easiest to connect new members to new groups.  See also, Top 5 Advantages of New Groups.
  4. The number of active coaches and the number of leaders in their care.  Since whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups must happen first in the lives of your leaders, the number of active coaches is important to monitor.  Pay attention to the second aspect of this measurement.  Coaches can only influence and impact the leaders for whom they are actually providing care.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor and The Truth about Building an Effective Small Group Coaching Structure.
  5. The number of leaders not in the care of a coach.  This is an important number to monitor.  While some of these leaders may have someone encouraging their spiritual growth, it is quite likely that they do not.  Leaders who are not being cared for in a way that encourages spiritual growth are not likely to provide that kind of care for their members.

Here are a few more indicators you may want to watch:

  • The total number of facilitators.  How many different people take a turn at facilitating your groups?  This number can be captured in an annual or semi-annual snapshot.  It is a leading indicator that hints at the number of potential leaders within your existing small group membership.  Encouraging your group leaders to enlist and engage additional facilitators is important and can be part of your annual effort.  See also, 10 Things Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know and Skill Training: How to Develop More Leaders.
  • The total number of homes and locations used by your groups.  This is an important leading indicator for potential new group leaders.  See also, Skill Training: Rotating Host Homes.
  • The number of active group members who don’t attend your church.  This number can provide important clues into the inclusivity of your groups.  It can also provide a hint into the kinds of people who are leading your groups.  Remember, the least connected people in your church are often the most connected outside your church.  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

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

Image by Randy von Liski

The Power of God’s Names by Dr. Tony Evans

power of gods namesFinally had an opportunity this week to spend some time with a new study from Dr. Tony Evans.  The Power of God’s Names was published earlier this year (2014) and is another great offering from one of America’s most dynamic preachers.  Evans has been the Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship for close to four decades and is a popular conference speaker.

“In biblical times, names communicated a person’s essence–their history, nature, or character.  That’s why God revealed Himself by dozens of different names in Scripture.  No single name could convey the fullness of His character and works.  Learn the meanings of God’s names to know Him more fully and experience Him more deeply.” (from the cover)

A six session study, The Power of God’s Names examines 11 names of God.  Filmed live, the DVD segments capture Dr. Evans’ signature energy and style.  At an average length of 25 to 30 minutes, Dr. Evans intensity and the strength of his content will hold your members’ attention.

The member book includes a well-written set of opening questions designed to help members engage in the discussion.  A viewer guide makes it easy to follow the Dr. Evans’ teaching.  Each of the sessions conclude with a carefully designed set of discussion questions that will help members respond to what they have learned and experienced.

Each session in the member book also includes a set of five daily devotional studies that will help deepen your members’ understanding and expand application.

The leader kit also includes a copy of Dr. Evans’ book by the same title.  Members that desire a deeper understanding of the names of God may decide to read the book in addition to completing the weekly devotionals.

The Names of God is a powerful study that will be just the thing for groups searching for deeper knowledge of God’s character.  If you’re looking for a study that will show your members more of who God is, The Name of God ought to be on your radar.

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.”


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