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5 Problems Only an Experienced Small Group Pastor Recognizes

experiencedThere are certain problems only an experienced small group pastor recognizes. Without the wisdom produced by multiple rodeos, less experienced small group pastors often operate from a wishful thinking kind of optimism born of naïveté.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly new small group pastors who are quick learners and wiser beyond their years. And there are also long-time small group pastors who still haven’t learned to recognize certain problems.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a wiser than your years rookie, this set of problems only an experienced small group pastor recognizes will make life better if you learn to spot them (and apply the right steps to mitigate or solve them).

5 problems only an experienced small group pastor recognizes:

  1. Certain coaches on your coaching team are the wrong people. You cannot build an effective coaching structure with anything less than higher capacity men and women who are both fruitful and fulfilled in the role of a coach. Recruiting warm and willing people who lack capacity and are only fruitful or fulfilled leads to an ineffective coaching structure. Turning a blind eye to less-than-qualified members of your coaching team only perpetuates the problem. Experienced small group pastors recognize the members of the coaching team in the wrong role and skillfully move to replace them. See also, 6 Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  2. Your senior pastor’s lack of engagement has created a lid. Your senior pastor as small group champion is not an optional ingredient and there is no real workaround. While there are things you can do if you realize change is unlikely your senior pastor’s lack of engagement is a problem that needs to be recognized for what it is and acknowledged. This  limitation is a design element that cannot help but affect your results. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  3. Lack of clarity about the best next step has created a lid. More options does not lead to more next steps being taken. The larger the menu the more difficult it is to choose and the more likely outcome is a kind of decision paralysis. The hard and challenging work of trimming the belong and become menu is the solution but trimming comes hand in hand with “last 10%” conversations and hard fought decisions. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  4. Your strategy will not consistently make disciples. If making disciples is the end game (and it should be), then a strategy that is not making disciples consistently is a problem. While there are no problem-free strategies (wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have), this is a problem that experienced small group pastors will recognize and take steps to correct. See also, 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.
  5. Your strategy cannot produce new leaders fast enough. When your weekend attendance is growing and you’re not adding new groups (with new leaders) faster it is a problem. When your percentage connected remains flatlined whether your attendance is growing or remains steady, it is a problem. Experienced small group pastors recognize that their leader identification and development strategy is inadequate and do something about it. See also, 6 Steps to Building a Leader Development Process.

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

Image by Hamed Parham

Required Reading: Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgement

brimstone

I’ve just finished a book I know you’re going to want to pick up. The latest from Hugh Halter, Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgement picks up an important thread from his last book (Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth) and offers what turns out to be an essential read if you hope to reach real people who are far from God.

The idea at the heart of Brimstone is that Jesus “was the least judgmental person the world had ever met and that if 1 John 2:6 is serious, then everyone who claims to be a Christian must walk as Jesus walked.” Halter goes on to write that “this should make the Christian movement–the church–full of the least judgmental people the world has ever known.”

Brimstone begins with a look back at a question Halter posed on his blog “the day the story broke about the Christian bakery owners who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.”

“In a small town there is only one bakery.

Jesus is the baker.

Two gay men walk in and ask Him to bake a cake for their wedding.

Would Jesus bake the cake.”

A great question and one that generated over 4500 responses in the first hour. The responses were split down the middle and “almost every response contained an air of confidence, and often arrogance, as if it was unfathomable not to take the side of that dilemma.”

Brimstone, like Flesh, is not a difficult read. Halter’s writing is always engaging and peppered with personal stories from his own journey. Honestly, it is equally a challenging read in that I found myself and my own judgmental tendencies peeking out a number of  times. The bottom line though is that it is an important read and well worth a thoughtful and careful investment. If we want to truly follow Jesus we’ve got to learn to walk as He walked.

There is something about the way Halter works his way through our need to develop a nonjudgmental posture that lowers our defenses. He lays out the challenge very thoroughly but with a sensitivity that acknowledges his own struggles.

Brimstone is best read with a group. While there isn’t a study guide that accompanies it, every chapter concludes with a set of thought-provoking observations and questions that will easily form the basis for a powerful discussion.

I have to say I love this book and have already recommended it to many of my friends. If you’re serious about incarnational ministry, Brimstone might be required reading. Certainly, if we have any hope of sharing what we have with the men and women all around us, we need to learn to live the way Jesus lived. Brimstone will help us do that. I highly recommend this book.

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.”

Thinking Thursday: Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

andy puddicombeWhen is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in uncomfortable positions.)

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

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

Quotebook: Intentions and Actions

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It’s one thing to intend to do something. It’s another thing entirely to do the things that lead to your goal. What makes the difference? What accounts for the gap?

“The gap between intentions and actions is character.” Orrin Woodward

Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward

Image by Marco Leo

5 Ways Your Small Group Ministry Needs to Change…Today

changeCan you feel it yet in your community? Are you recognizing the signs that there is a change in the wind? Does your small group ministry have the design that will work effectively in light of the seismic changes happening in our culture?

Ed Stetzer has famously pointed out that “if the 1950s came back many churches are ready.”

Is your small group ministry designed to meet the needs of the 21st century? How might your ministry need to change?

Here are 5 ways your small group ministry needs to change today:

  1. Decentralize leader development. If you’re still offering a centralized and synchronous form of leader development as the primary way you develop leaders…you are out of touch with two important cultural shifts. The calendars and commitments of your leaders are not that different from the rest of your congregation and crowd. Busy, overcommitted men and women are already able to time-shift virtually every other thing they do. Taking steps to decentralize and offer asynchronous training does more than make it convenient. They make it possible to influence and develop 21st century leaders.
  2. Focus vision and training on cultivating friendships in the community. Every day it becomes more and more common for the most likely invitation to be “come over” to my house (as opposed to “come with” me to church). As the shift to a Post-Christian America accelerates, it becomes ever more important to envision and equip members to invest in their neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances and family, cultivating genuine friendships in the community.
  3. Tilt connecting strategies to established strong ties. If all of your connecting strategies depend on unconnected attenders signing up to attend an event that happens on-campus you are already missing out on the most natural way to connect people. The least connected people in your congregation and crowd are almost always the most connected people in the community. When the least connected people in your congregation and crowd participate in a social event (office party, block party, Little League game, softball league, etc.), they are strengthening ties with people who have never attended your church. Why not leverage these already established strong ties?
  4. Create culturally aware value-added next steps and first steps. If the next steps (out of the auditorium) and first steps (from the community) you are offering depend on an established Christian interest or worldview (i.e., Men’s Fraternity, Beth Moore Bible studies, Precepts, etc.), you need to be aware that the needs and interests of the unconnected attenders in your congregation and crowd are not that different than those in the community. Identifying, creating and offering next steps and first steps that appeal to those with a Post-Christian worldview (single parenting skills, budgeting, etc.) is already an essential ingredient.
  5. Infuse ordinary grouplife with connection to a cross-cultural cause. Involvement in providing clean water, orphan care, or stopping human trafficking are three of the most cross-cultural causes. Small groups have commonly been involved with supporting missionaries and local and global church planting efforts. When caring for the least becomes part of ordinary grouplife, the causes your small groups are involved in become more relevant to neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and family.

Image by SomeDriftwood

How to Launch a Small Group Ministry

launch a small group ministryPlanning to launch a small group ministry but not sure what to do first? In my experience there are four key steps to launching a small group ministry. These steps are not hard, but they do require some thinking and decision making. There are also a couple shortcuts if you don’t have the discipline to take the necessary steps (see below for the shortcuts).

Four steps to launching a small group ministry:

  1. Answer fundamental questions. Before you do anything else, you need to answer some fundamental questions. “What business you will be in?” “Who will be your customer?” and “What will you call success?” are three of a set of very important questions that I believe must be answered first. These answers allow you to begin with the end in mind and help you avoid time consuming and costly backtracking. One of the most common reasons small group ministries fail to get off the ground is a lack of clarity about the answers to these questions. See also, 7 Steps I’d Take If I Was Starting Today.
  2. Determine the end in mind. Only after determining the answers to fundamental questions would it be wise to begin to develop a preferred future for your small group ministry. Developing a preferred future, a well thought out vision for what you want things to look like 10 years from now, can help you see clearly what will need to happen first and 15 to 18 months from now. See also, Start with the End in MindCreating Your “Refined” Preferred Future and Is Your Preferred Future Grand Enough?.
  3. Choose a small group system, model or strategy. Once you’ve determined your preferred future, what you want things to look like 10 years from now, you will be ready to choose a small group system, model or strategy. Once you’ve determined a preferred future, a destination, it becomes easier to decide on a small group system that will take you where you want to go. For example, you may determine that because you need to connect a larger number of people in the first 2 years, you can’t rely on a system that organically develops new leaders every 18 months. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  4. Evaluate after every ministry season. You should be evaluating the effectiveness of your ministry on a regular basis. Not that you would choose a new system after one season, but you should be determining what went right and what went wrong, what was missing or confused after the season is over. Developing the habit of evaluating everything will protect you from getting miles off course or wasting time on a strategy that is ill-suited for your needs. See also, How Are You Evaluating Your Small Group Ministry?

As I mentioned, there are a couple shortcuts to launching. You could hire a coach (someone who could walk you more quickly through the fundamental questions and decisions). Or you could skip the preliminaries and simply run a strategy that will launch a lot of new groups and connect a lot of unconnected people in a wave (i.e., launch a church-wide campaign or a small group connection). See also, 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign and How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.

Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Don’t Miss this Inspiring New Study: I Like Giving

i like givingA few weeks ago I heard about a small group study that I think you’re going to want to know about. I Like Giving, based on a best-selling book by Brad Formsma, is a powerful four session study that features some of the most memorable video segments I’ve ever seen.

“I Like Giving invites you on a four-session journey, with a bonus fifth-session, to experience the joy of a generous life (from the cover). The study delivers tons of fresh ideas and engaging conversations that will help members understand generosity in ways they’ve never considered before.

The DVD features an amazing collection of short videos that tell powerful short stories of how the joy of a generous life changed the lives of the givers and the receivers. The videos prompt a powerful discussion that leads to fresh eyes understanding of a new way to live.

Every session in the participants guide includes a number of elements. A Check In section allows group members to share experiences from the Live It assignment at the end of the previous session. The Reflection segment guides group members to silently read and reflect on scripture passages that explore the generous life. Multiple Consider segments prompt an engaging conversation about scripture and stories of generosity. The video segments and related stories are interspersed throughout the session and every session ends with a Live It assignment designed to encourage practical first steps. Every session also includes a reading assignment from the book.

I review many studies over the course of an average year. A few of them have what it takes to truly be a transformational experience. I Like Giving is one of the few. I loved this study and I know your members will too. More importantly, I Like Giving is an experience that just might change the way your members live and help them take their first steps into a generous life.

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.”

Thinking Thursday: Candy Chang: Before I die I want to…

candy changIn her New Orleans neighborhood, artist and TED Fellow Candy Chang turned an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard asking a fill-in-the-blank question: “Before I die I want to ___.” Her neighbors’ answers — surprising, poignant, funny — became an unexpected mirror for the community. (What’s your answer?)

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

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

Add “Small Groups for the Rest of Us” to the Recommended List

small groups for the rest of usI spent some time with a new book from Chris Surratt you are definitely going to want to pick up. Small Groups for the Rest of Us is a great read and is packed with the great insights that only come from a seasoned practitioner accustomed to figuring out how to connect the people you aren’t already connecting and actually make disciples.

There are a number of things to really love about Small Groups for the Rest of Us. First, I love the fact that Chris has been there and done that. He’s a veteran who has wrestled honestly with how to connect the people who aren’t easy to connect. His season as small group pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville provided him with all the hands-on experience needed to keep tweaking the strategy until they began to have the results they were looking for.

Another very important thing to love about the book is that while it is easy to read, every chapter is packed with takeaways you will find very helpful. I’ve had the opportunity to study just about every book on small groups that has been published in the last 20 to 25 years and found some very wise perspectives and unique twists on ideas in Small Groups for the Rest of Us.

While “the book is not designed to be a how-to for doing small groups in your church,” the issues covered here are the ones all small group pastors find themselves trying to figure out. How to connect the people at the fringes, how to find the leaders you need, how to construct a system that truly makes disciples and how to figure out whether you need to just start over are all included. Small Groups for the Rest of Us doesn’t present a ready made template or plug-and-play system. Instead, it wisely walks the reader through the challenges at Cross Point and the thinking behind the strategies they adopted.

Finally, I like the way every chapter concludes with a set of questions that will make this a great book to read and study as a team. If your team is like mine, they’ll also come up with their own questions but this is a very good starter set.

I have a set of books I recommend every small group pastor should read and be familiar with. Small Groups for the Rest of Us is a very good addition to that list. I loved this book 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.”

5 Daily Reminders for Building an Effective Coaching Structure

remindersI learn some things over and over again. And I need a set of reminders that keep me on track. Bet you could use these reminders too.

5 daily reminders when I’m building an effective coaching structure:

  1. Never settle for warm and willing. It takes hot and qualified to build something worth having. We need high capacity men and women who have a passion for groups and making disciples. Settling for warm and willing may give the illusion we have the span of care we want, but it will be an illusion. Better to build our coaching structure with the right people. See also, Skill Training: How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach.
  2. The coaching role must be the biggest hat they have on. High capacity people are almost always busy people. They will more than likely be leading a group and they may also be serving in other ways at your church (greeters, teaching the 3rd grade boys class at 11:00 am, etc.). We are okay with all of that, but we always insist that the coaching role “be the biggest hat they have on.” If there is ever a conflict, they must commit to taking care of their coaching responsibilities as first priority.
  3. Always start with a no obligation test-drive. When we discover someone we believe has what it takes to be a coach we invite them to “make a 10 to 13 week commitment to take 2 or 3 new life group leaders under their wing and help them get off to a great start.” We make no mention of any commitment (or opportunity) beyond 10 to 13 weeks. “It’s a couple weeks on the front end, the six weeks of the campaign, and a couple weeks on the back end to make sure their new groups have the best chance to continue.” See also, Skill Training: How to Recruit a Potential Small Group Coach.
  4. Make the investment in our coaches we want them to invest in their leaders. If we want the coaches to invest time in their leaders, we need to be investing time in the coaches! If we want the coaches calling their leaders instead of emailing them, then we need to be calling instead of emailing. If we want our coaches to meet their leaders for coffee, we need to meet our coaches for coffee. If we want our coaches to build relationships and make disciples, we need to build relationships with our coaches and make disciples. See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  5. We never compromise when we invite someone to join the coaching team. Not only do they need to be the right kind of men and women, they need to be able to commit to the full responsibilities. We use a job description and thoroughly talk through it before we accept their commitment. You can see our current job description for a coach right here. See also, Skill Training: How to Do an “Exit Interview” with a Launch-Phase Coach.

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

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