6 Keys to Accelerating Small Group Ministry Growth and Impact

Once you make the decision that small groups will be your primary (or only) delivery system for connection and discipleship it only makes sense to look for ways to accelerate small group ministry growth and impact.

Here are what I’ve found to be 6 keys:

  1. Your senior pastor must become the primary spokesperson and champion.  Although I’ve not ranked these 6 keys in order of importance, there is no question that this a very important key.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, there is no work-around for the absence of this key.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Move from promoting a menu of options (buffet) to a single next step (“plated meal”).  In its optimum form, this includes all types of promotion (verbal, print, and web).  Moving to a single next step is a very under-appreciated move.  At the same time, I’m not sure its power can be overstated.  See also, A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups and 10 Ideas That Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry.
  3. Rethink minimum leadership requirements to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic to continue.  This may seem completely counterintuitive, but, if you want to accelerate small group ministry growth and impact making the first step into leadership an easy, toe-in-the-water step is essential.  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret? and Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, and Open Bar.
  4. Focus affinity ministry efforts (i.e., men’s, women’s, couples and singles) on creating steps, not destinations.  Specialized events and short-term groups that are designed to appeal to specific affinities can be great first steps out of the anonymity of the auditorium.  They can also be invite opportunities (i.e., first steps for friends).   Thoughtful design can also build in next steps that lead to a group.  See also, Three Distinctives of North Point’s Access Group Strategy and Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  5. Rewrite staff scorecards to clarify wins related to small group ministry growth and impact.  Clarifying an organizational win is one thing.  Drilling down to identify wins at the individual staff member level is an essential ingredient if you want to accelerate ministry growth and impact.  See also, Who: The A Method for Hiring
  6. Allocate resources (budget, on-campus space, staffing, etc.) to support small group ministry growth and impact.  Want to accelerate small group ministry growth and impact?  Is it reflected in the way you’re allocating resources?  If you want to build a pervasive small group ministry, it will be reflected in the budget (staff, leader development, promotion, church-wide campaign, etc.).  It will also be reflected in things like the way on-campus space is allocated (i.e., in the competition for space, events/steps that lead to grouplife will be prioritized over “destinations” that are ends in themselves).  See also, Quotebook: Allocating Finite Resources.

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

Don’t Miss This Powerful Study: Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free

glorious ruin 2Spent some time with a new study from LifeWay this week.  Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free, a DVD-driven study by Tullian Tchividjian  (pronounced cha-vi-jin), senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, is a six session study on a very timely topic.

Full disclosure, it sat in my stack to review for several months.  I didn’t look at it because who wants to hear about suffering?  You know what I found?  Suffering is much more than the big things in life.  It’s unavoidable and in the mundane things, the day to day things, as well.

With the Old Testament book of Job as anchor and backdrop, the DVD segments and study guide take participants through a reassuring and hope-filled look at God’s promises and provision.

The topics covered include:

  • The Reality of Suffering
  • Moralizing Suffering
  • Minimizing Suffering
  • The Freedom of Defeat
  • The Gospel of Suffering
  • Weighty Mercies

Anchored by DVD-driven teaching, Glorious Ruin is very compelling.  There is a reason Tchividjian is a popular conference speaker.  The grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, he has an intensity that pulls the viewer in immediately and holds in rapt attention.  Teaching segments of 8 to 10 minutes combined with a set of very personal and powerful testimonies illustrate and drive home the concept.

The study guide is pitched just about right for a group looking for a little bit of a challenge.  By no means overwhelming, each segment includes enough content to drive the topic deeply into the lives of participants.  Each session of the study guide includes:

  • a short segment to be read in advance
  • a well thought out opening question that primes the pump for a great discussion
  • a note-taking page for viewing the DVD segment
  • a Bible study section that takes the study deeply into scripture
  • a personal time section that provides for further study and reflection through the following week

A basic leader guide is included on the DVD, as well as a church-wide campaign overview and guide.  In addition, you’ll find artwork and other promotional helps on the DVD.

Glorious Ruin will help group members wrestle with and understand suffering in a way that will be personally reassuring.  At the same time, I can imagine group members leaving the study with something way beyond personal reassurance; a kind of confidence that will unleash a rising tide of influence in the lives of their families, friends and neighbors.  Glorious Ruin might be the secret ingredient your groups need to truly impact their world.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. In addition, I am LifeWay’s Small Group Specialist. 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.”

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 GroupLeaders.org/startingwell.

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.