“What Is”, “What If” and the Challenge of the Preferred Future

cone_slide8If you’ve been along for much of this journey you know we’ve talked a lot about the preferred future.  A lot.  In fact, when I used the search box here on the blog I discovered that 52 of my articles use the term “preferred future” in the title.  That is a lot!  (see the search results for yourself)

Why so much about the preferred future?  I think because all of us, and that includes me, know intuitively that the way things are right now isn’t what it should be…or could be.

We know that if life-change happens in circles, we should have more people in groups.  We dream of that preferred future.

We know that men and women truly become disciples who make disciples only in relationship and we know that happens best in groups.  So we dream of that preferred future.

And yet…one of the greatest difficulties is achieving escape velocity, “the speed needed to escape the gravitational pull” of  the way it is today, the deep rut of our current trajectory–that leads to the probable future, in order to begin moving toward the preferred future.

Why is it so hard achieve escape velocity?  To break out of the rut of “what is?”  I think this line from Erwin McManus explains it as well as anything I’ve ever seen:

“We live in this “what is” reality, and then we talk about things like creating culture, making history, creating the future, and we don’t realize that we actually do not have the fundamental core values of a “what if” culture because they violate our core values that protect the “what is.” Erwin McManus

Could it be as simple as that?  Do we have trouble achieving escape velocity, breaking free from the current trajectory, because our organization’s true core values protect what is?  I think you know that’s true.  If we want to arrive in the preferred future we’ll first have to embrace the core values of what if?

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

Open New Windows of Opportunity with This Strategic Tweak

I want to pitch an idea at you today.  I was inspired by a quote yesterday and it got me thinking about the way most of our small group ministries operate.  Here’s the quote:

“We live in this “what is” reality, and then we talk about things like creating culture, making history, creating the future, and we don’t realize that we actually do not have the fundamental core values of a “what if” culture because they violate our core values that protect the “what is.”  Erwin McManus

A “what if” culture.  I love it!  And I hope you do too.  Can we think “what if” for a few minutes?

The Idea

The network of small groups in many churches is often one of their greatest untapped resources.  Since small groups at their core are much more than learning and caring communities, they have an innate (but often dormant) potential to play a part way beyond meeting to study something and eat chips and salsa.  See also, Skill Training: Healthy Groups Integrate Four Components into Every Gathering.

With me so far?  Every small group has the potential to play a part way beyond meeting for Bible study and fellowship.

What if we could activate the innate (but dormant) potential to play a far greater part?  What if we could build in a few simple steps that helped the groups in our ministries move in the direction of impact?  What if helping them move from consumer to contributor turned out to be far simpler than we ever imagined.

For example:

  • What if your senior pastor challenged every group member to meet someone new in the auditorium every weekend; to learn their name, write it down, and remember it the next weekend.  Think it would warm up your auditorium?
  • What if every small group identified a family or two to bless with a little extra care?  It might be groceries, or babysitting, or car repair.  Who do you think would benefit the most?
  • What if every small group got involved with Compassion and sponsored children from the same communities?  Can you imagine what might happen next?
  • What if every small group a single mom or dad and helped fill the gaps?
  • What if every small group found a senior adult to provide for?

Every small group has the potential to play a part way beyond meeting for Bible study and fellowship.  See also, 5 Keys to Becoming a More Caring Group.

The best part?  We get the opportunity to help awaken their innate (and often dormant) potential.

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

Prerequisite to the New and Highly Promising

Last fall I posted an article about the 5 Compromises That Derail Small Group Ministry.  This morning I began to feel like I needed to revisit compromise #3, Shrinking Back from Prioritizing Steps that Lead to GroupLife.

What got me today was Peter Drucker’s insistence that “Planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising.”  See also, Purposeful Abandonment: Prerequisite to Innovation.

Unrewarding.  Good word.  Loved this line from The 5 Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Your Organization: “Like the New Testament parable of the talents, your job is to invest your resources where the returns are manifold, where you can have success.”

Why is this so hard?  Again, Drucker was almost always spot on:

“People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete–the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are (Pg 54, The 5 Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Your Organization).”

Do you have programs that are begging to be abandoned?  Now you know why…

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

10 Ways to Know If Your Small Group Ministry Is Gaining Ground

gaining groundHow can you tell if your small group ministry is gaining ground?  What are the signs?  Can it be measured quantitatively?  Or do you have to know how to measure qualitatively?

Obviously, you can measure many things quantitatively.  Quantitative measurements like how many groups you have, how many leaders and apprentices you have, and how many people you have in groups all tell you something.  The reality though, is quantitative measurements don’t tell you the whole story.

Recently, I shared 5 keys to taking new ground in 2014.  In this post I want to highlight 10 ways to know if your small group ministry is gaining ground.

10 Ways to Know If Your Small Group Ministry is Gaining Ground:

  1. Life-change stories begin to be more common (and have a small group angle).  Clearly a qualitative measure, but if it’s true that the optimum environment for life-change is a small group, doesn’t it make sense that as your small group ministry grows…there should be more life-change stories?
  2. “One another” stories begin to be more common than complaints.  Since most of the one-anothers cannot happen in rows, doesn’t it make sense that as your small group ministry grows you’d begin hearing more one another stories?  And by extension, wouldn’t complaints decrease.  See also, The Primary Activity of the Early Church and 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  3. Your senior pastor begins to talk about “my small group …”  Isn’t it just self-evident that people rarely do what their leader doesn’t see as important?  Isn’t it just obvious that if anyone is going to champion a counter-cultural practice is going to be the senior pastor?  See also, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.
  4. Your staff and key opinion leaders begin talking about “my small group…”  An extension of #3, isn’t it intuitive that a tipping point for small group ministry is somewhere between staff and the key opinion leaders of your congregation (i.e., elders, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.)?
  5. Your website prioritizes small groups (i.e., small groups are on your home page and above the fold).  There is very little qualitative analysis necessary with this one.  If you have to be Sherlock Holmes to find information about small groups on your website, you can be sure that you’re not ready to gain much ground.  Here’s a great example: Saddleback.com.
  6. Your church’s highest capacity leaders begin saying “yes” to serving as leaders of leaders (community leaders, coaches, etc.).  Coaching is an essential ingredient since “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.”  If you truly want to influence the leaders of groups, you’ll need a growing number of high capacity leaders (sixty or hundred fold) to get in the game.  See also, 5 Assumptions That Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL.
  7. The number of people in circles gains on the number of people in rows.  See also, What’s Better?  Rows or Circles?
  8. Programs that focus on learning information begin to shift toward the activities that produce life-change.  Have legacy programs that meet in rows and deliver a learning experience?  The more life-on-life activities are integrated into these programs, the greater the potential for life-change.  See also, True Community?  Or a Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?
  9. Requests for counseling begin to shift from predominantly church members to predominantly the friends of church members.  This is a significant aspect that is often overlooked.  As more of your congregation becomes part of a small group, much of what they would ordinarily seek out counseling to manage will be handled within their group.
  10. There is a growing sense that people are known as more weekend attendees sit together and fewer are sitting alone.  Again, this is intuitively obvious, isn’t it?  Think about your auditorium on the weekend.  How many times have you heard, “I feel like a face in the crowd” or “I just don’t know anyone?”  A clear sign that you’re gaining ground is when you begin to hear that less frequently.

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

Image by The Happy Rower

Dilbert on Offering Constructive Criticism

It sounded good at the leadership development seminar…

criticize behavior not person

New Must-Read from Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer: Transformational Groups

transformational groupsI’ve been working my way through an important new book from Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer this week.  Transformational Groups: Creating a New Scorecard for Groups is the latest project in the transformational series (Transformational Church and Transformational Discipleship).  All three have been researched based and packed with insights that ought to be on your radar.

Whether you’re new to groups ministry or you’re a seasoned veteran, you’re going to want to digest the information and ideas in Transformational Groups.  And regardless of the system you use or whether your groups are off-campus or on-campus, I think you’ll find the content very helpful as you think about both the need for groups and also the obstacles that might be preventing your church from both connecting unconnected people and genuinely making disciples.

I was captured by several insights just in the first couple chapters; things I had wondered about and dismissed as outside of what I could know for sure.  The research that went into the development of this project definitely helped me come to a couple important new convictions.

My copy is pretty marked up after just one pass through the content.  In addition to many spot on research insights, I came across a number of ideas that will make it into my thinking for upcoming discussions on our groups team.  One idea in particular that I grabbed in the first few pages is that “the study what you want approach is irresponsible unless there is clear training that equips leaders for wise choices (p. 8).”  I’ve developed many “recommended study lists” but I’ve never taken the time to develop either intentional training for leaders on wisely choosing what’s next or an intentional menu that guides new groups through a core curriculum.  Great insight.  I’ll be moving on this one quickly.

There are several things to love about Transformational Groups.  First, it is research based; the result of multiple research projects over several years.  That’s important because the contribution Geiger and Stetzer make is not based on opinion or theory.

Second, I love the fact that while neither of the authors are currently in full-time local church ministry, they are grouplife advocates.  They are both “intimately involved in small group-life because we know that groups matter.”  And that’s important because they’re looking at the research through the lens of a practitioner, not theorists.

Third, Transformational Groups is much more than statistics and numbers.  Geiger and Stetzer do a very good job of unpacking their findings, making many important understandings very accessible.  Like me, I bet you’ll come away with many new insights that will begin to shape a number of important ahas about why things are the way they are.

This is an important book.  If you are looking for practical help and powerful insights that will help you and your team advance the cause of connecting unconnected people and making disciples, you won’t want to miss Transformational Groups.  I highly recommend it.

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.”

5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry

I hear from pastors all the time who are desperate to crack the small group ministry code.  Many have tried multiple systems and strategies, only to be disappointed and discouraged.

It’s not hard to get in touch with their desperation.  Often, it comes across as a mix of question and exclamation:

What does it take to build a thriving small group ministry?!?!

Here are 5 easily overlooked secrets:

  1. It takes time to build a thriving small group ministry.  Nothing of significance is built overnight.  Anything truly worth doing is worth committing to for the long haul.  Yes, Saddleback has a thriving small group ministry.  They’ve committed the last 15 to 20 years building it.  Year in.  Year out.  Yes, North Point has a thriving small group ministry.  They’ve committed the last 17 years to building it.  Year in.  Year out.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat…and the Long Run.
  2. It takes commitment to a strategy to build a thriving small group ministry.  Switching to a new strategy every year (or every time you read a new book or attend a new conference) is a recipe for failure.  Can you adjust to take advantage of new opportunities?  Absolutely.  In fact, you need to make strategic shifts when ministry windows end.  But switching on what seems like a whim to your key leaders leads to idea fatigue.  See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula.
  3. It takes personal commitment to authentic community to build a thriving small group ministry.  If you truly want to build a thriving small group ministry it requires the personal commitment of your senior pastor.  It requires the personal commitment of your staff and key leaders in your congregation.  See also, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You and 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4. It takes a healthy budget to build a thriving small group ministry.  Your budget reflects your true priorities.  If you really want a thriving small group ministry, even your auditor will be able to figure it out.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. It takes willingness to shorten the discipleship menu to build a thriving small group ministry.  You may think a buffet provides more entrees and more entrees leads to more diners, but what a buffet really does is make it hard to choose.  And if you want to build a thriving small group ministry you need to make it easy to choose.  See also, A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups and 5 Compromises That Derail Small Group Ministry.

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

Can You Imagine GroupLife in the First Century?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few days.  What was grouplife in the first century really like?  We can learn some things and draw some conclusions from the New Testament.  Although the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters are packed with references to what was happening in houses everywhere, the key passage might be Acts 2:42-47:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  

How’s that compare with your small group?  I’m increasingly absolutely certain that grouplife in the first century was substantially different than most of us ever experience in the 21st century.  Here are just four ways:

  • The ratio of ordinary life conversations to spiritual conversations was probably reversed.  They were people, so they still talked about the stuff of ordinary life (i.e., who won the chariot race, the emperor’s new clothes, global warming, etc.), but their proximity to the power of God coupled with brevity of life had to have an impact on their conversations.
  • The sense that they were in it together and dependent on each other had to be always present.  They shared what they had, for the most part without holding back.  Acts 4:32-37 and Acts 5:1-11.
  • There had to be an eager and near desperate interest in including a neighbor, friend, or family member.
  • No DVDs or study guides, rarely a scroll or a copy of a letter, they listened intently to “the apostles teaching” and then had long discussions (sometimes all night) about what it all meant.  Acts 20:7-12

Sound like your group?  Or not?  It may be a good time to wonder whether your group might be a zombie.  It might also be time to actually design your group meeting for life-change.  See also, Can You Tell If Your Group Might Be a Zombie and Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

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

Can You Tell If Your Small Group Might Be a Zombie?

Can you tell the difference between a small group that’s fully alive and a zombie group?  You’ve probably seen and heard all the buzz about zombies.  You might have the general idea about what makes a person a zombie (as opposed to being alive).  But have you ever thought about what might make a small group a zombie?  And have you ever tried to figure out whether your group is a zombie?  Or how many of your groups are actually zombie groups?

Here’s a test:

  1. Your small group meets on a regular basis and everyone in your group is “doing great” every time you meet.  No one ever talks about their struggles.  They learned a long time ago that what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in your group is quickly public knowledge.  See also, Skill Training: The Power of a Small Group Agreement.
  2. The most common prayer request is for “a friend of your uncle’s who lives in another country and is pretty sure their ex-wife’s gardner has a rare form of cancer.”  See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Learn to Pray Together, The Simplest Way to Help Your Members Pray Out Loud, and Skill Training: Sub-Grouping for Deeper Connection.
  3. Your group is studying James but no one can come up with a personal application.  See also, Skill Training: Learn How to Apply Scripture as a Group.
  4. The first hour of every meeting is spent bemoaning the outcome of the Super Bowl (or the election, the boring weekend service, the senior pastor’s outfit from Buckle, etc.).
  5. Every time your group meets…everyone has to reintroduce themselves.  Might be because you only meet during the annual church-wide campaign.  Might be because you think everyone has to be there in order to convene.
  6. A lifeless mood inhabits your meetings.  The last time anyone laughed or cried was on November 8, 2008.
  7. The last suggestion that anyone needed to take a next spiritual step was met with denial…in 2012.  See also, Skill Training: Equip Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow.
  8. 90 minutes twice a month is the absolute limit to any sense of connection.  Any chance meeting in between meetings is just that.  Chance and nothing more.
  9. Serving anyone without calculated ROI (return on investment) is rare or nonexistent.  See also, Skill Training: 5 Keys to Becoming a More Caring Group.
  10. Your group has been meeting for 3 years (or 32 years) but no one ever changes.  “You know me…I am what I am.”  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and

You can (with effort) combat this natural trend.  What you ask your small group leaders to commit to do, as well as the habits of your small group leaders both play a significant role in whether your groups have life and life-change…or are zombies.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders.

I’ve written a post or two that have tackled a similar topic in the past.  See also, I See Dead Groups and Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

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

Top 10 Posts of January, 2014

Miss a day or two?  Here are my top 10 posts of January, 2014.  Actually, I included an 11th post this month because it was such a close race and #11 was very popular too.

By the way, I had visitors for 91 countries in January.  I think that might be a record!  Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Diagnosing a Small Group Ministry (February, 2010)
  2. Reboot Your Small Group Ministry with My 5 Step Prescription (January, 2014)
  3.  The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group (July, 2013)
  4. How to Launch Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  5. Here are My Small Group Ministry Resolutions for 2014 (January, 2014) 
  6. 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches (December, 2013)
  7. How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar (April, 2010)
  8. Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System (February, 2010)
  9. 6 Essential Components of a Small Group Launch (March, 2012)
  10. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway (January, 2011)
  11. Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist (December, 2013)