Essential Reading: The Church in an Age of Crisis

church in an age of crisisHad a chance this weekend to devour The Church in an Age of Crisis; the newest book from James Emery White.  White, the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the blogger behind the Church & Culture blog (a must-read for anyone interested in life at crowd’s edge).

The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity is a fascinating, gut-wrenching, and terrifying read.  Anything but a page-turner…but only because every other paragraph contains a wait…what?  Can that be true? moment.  Definitely in the category of The Next Christians as essential reading for anyone attempting ministry in the 21st century.

I was both rocked and intrigued by what I discovered in this book.  Rocked at the thought of how different life is for the Church in 21st century western culture.  Intrigued (and challenged) by the thoughts of what it will take to change the trajectory.  I have no doubt that you will all feel the same way.

As the subtitle declares, The Church in an Age of Crisis dives into 25 new realities facing Christianity.  Ranging from issues of faith and mindset, to marriage and family, and then on to media, technology and mission…the book is literally packed with cultural references that will both leave you scratching your head, wondering how did this happen, and shaking your head, thinking how can we change course?

Setting the tone for the whole book is White’s brief acknowledgement of the enigmatic biblical references to the “men of Issachar,” who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.”  Friends, we must be like the men of Issachar.  We must understand the times and the best course to take.  If you want to play a part in a trajectory change…The Church in an Age of Crisis is a must read.

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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Dilbert on Precedent and the Status Quo

I know most of you won’t understand–actually, I think all of you will understand.  Hopefully, we can laugh (while plotting another run at the status quo!

how we have always done it

Wanna Play? What’s Your Best New Idea for Connecting People?

I’ve always been amazed at the real potential to be found in looking at something from another angle, a different point-of-view, a new perspective.  That’s probably why I’ve always loved the line from computer theorist Alan Kay:

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

One of my favorite reads in recent years was Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From and one of the best ideas in the book is the concept of the adjacent possible–the notion that as each advance is made, new possibilities emerge.  See Where Do You Want to Go with Your Small Group Ministry.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, an angle emerges that you’ve never noticed before.  Just when you’re reveling in the amazing potential of the small group connection, the HOST strategy comes out of nowhere.  A few months ago I heard about a way to leverage the exponential power of the HOST strategy and a church-wide campaign with a twist of Group Link.

Wanna play?  What are you trying (or considering) that may make it possible to connect beyond the usual suspects?  Who knows!  What you’re considering may be the breakthrough everyone needs!

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

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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

3 Important GroupLife Lessons from Week 5 of Saddleback’s Church-Wide Campaign

One of the things that I talk about in most consultations is how to leverage your small group ministry as a delivery system for almost everything else.  A very frequent question is “If we’re really going to prioritize being in a small group, how can we still raise awareness of the need to serve in a ministry or be involved in a mission opportunity?”

Here is a link to last weekend’s message at Saddleback.  It was week 5 of Live Your Calling (the new version of the 40 Days of Purpose).  On the 4th purpose, God Shaped You to Serve Him, the title of the message is You Are Called to Bless.

You’ll hear lots of great ideas throughout the sermon, but when you get to 27:50 minutes there are three very important group ideas.  Do not miss what happens right here.

About to release the service a little early so everyone can walk over to the ministry fair, Rick says three important things:

  • “First, go out and collect as many ideas as you can, visit all the tables.  Then, bring your best ideas back to your group and discuss doing a group project, with your small group.  Just find one thing that you can do together as a group.”  Did you catch it?  He challenged the hosts to proactively engage their groups in a ministry or project they could do together.
  • “How many of you are hosts, can I see your hands?  I’m authorizing all of you hosts to say, ‘Okay, Rick said for all of us to pick a project that we could do together.  One thing that we could do together to get started on.  Just take a baby step.”  Can you hear it?  Rick is letting every member know that this is coming.
  • “And by the way, those of you who raised your hand (indicating that they were hosting a group), go out there on the patio afterwards and sign up because I’m having lunch with you, all the hosts, next Sunday afternoon.  Did you hear that?  Week 5.  Looking ahead to week 6 and it’s all about celebrating the commitment of the hosts and sustaining new groups.

Can I tell you something?  None of what happened was off script or invented in the moment.  All of it was carefully designed to leverage this opportunity to help thousands respond to the challenge of serving.  Guess what.  Over 2600 signed up to start serving.

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

Quotebook: Arriving at the Preferred Destination

Sometimes a great one-liner can be very useful.

I love this line from Lewis Carroll:

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland

You can see some of my other favorite quotes and one-liners right here.

 

4 GroupLife Learnings from Amazon

There are times when I come across something and it literally takes my breath away.  I know that probably sounds weird…but it is the truth.  When it happens, I almost always want to share the idea with you.  This is one of those times.

Last Friday I tripped across this article that referenced an Amazon shareholder meeting with CEO Jeff Bezos (HT @ScottDAnthony)

I loved this line from Jeff Bezos on innovation and the culture of Amazon:

“A big piece of the story we tell ourselves about who we are, is that we are willing to invent. We are willing to think long-term. We start with the customer and work backwards. And, very importantly, we are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”

Just take a moment and digest what Bezos is saying about Amazon’s corporate culture:

  • They are willing to invent
  • They think long-term
  • They start with the customer and work backwards
  • They are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time

That, friends, is a commitment to innovation.  There is a ton there about why so many of us are stuck.  But if you’re tempted to shrug your shoulders, read on:

“I believe if you don’t have that set of things in your corporate culture, then you can’t do large-scale invention. You can do incremental invention, which is critically important for any company. But it is very difficult — if you are not willing to be misunderstood. People will misunderstand you.”

Why is this so big?  Why did it take my breath away?  Easy.  If you want to connect people no one else is connecting, you’ve got to do things no one else is doing.  Incremental invention will not get that done.

Incremental invention…tightening up the process, designing a more effective way to do a small group connection or a more efficient way to design the semester catalog…will never connect beyond the usual suspects.  If we want to do that, we need a willingness to invent, we need to think long-term, we need to start with the customer and work backward, and we need to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.

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

Follow Me: A Powerful New DVD-Driven Study and Church-Wide Campaign

Are you truly a follower of Jesus?  That is the central question of Follow Me, David Platt’s new Bible study.  Based on his new book by the same title, this is a challenging and important study that takes his teaching from Radical to a whole new depth.

Anchored by a six session DVD, each of the sessions are classic David Platt.  Great teaching.  Very passionate.  Packed with biblical content.  And…each of the sessions is about 30 minutes in length (which would be a little long for the average attention span, but for Platt’s very compelling intensity).

The teaching wrestles with six intentional questions:

  • What does it mean to truly be a follower of Jesus?
  • What does it means to trust Jesus with our minds?
  • Are our affections and desires really what they need to be?
  • Is total abandonment really required?
  • Are we committed to the Church as God has designed it?
  • What does it mean to make disciples who make disciples?

The Member Book is well designed.  An opening exercise replaces the more common ice-breaker questions intended to prime the conversation pump.  A combination of reflecting on the previous week’s assignment with a twist of a group project (session one’s is to come up with a group definition of “what it means to follow Christ”).

Along with the opening exercise, each session includes the session outline you’ll need to capture everything from the DVD teaching segment.  The built-in group discussion questions will take the conversation very intentionally into a deep dive into what it means to truly follow Jesus.  Application steps and scripture memory assignment finish out each session.

The Member Book also includes 5 daily lessons for each of the 6 sessions.  The daily lessons are 4 to 5 pages in length and will require a commitment of 30 to 60 minutes to complete, but will lead members deeply into what it means to follow Jesus.

An available Follow Me Church Kit, as well as Student and Preteen study materials make it possible to do Follow Me as a church-wide campaign. In addition to copies of the Student and Preteen Member books, the Follow Me Church Kit includes an administration guide, sermon outlines, and digital art files for a promotional poster, bulletin inserts, presentation slides, and more.

Do you have small groups that are asking for a real challenge?  Does your church need to take a fresh look at Jesus’ simple request to follow Him?  I believe the answer is yes to both and Follow Me is a small group study and a church-wide campaign designed to meet both needs.

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. In addition, I am the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Wrestling with “Why” We Do “What” We Do

I’m re-reading Simon Sinek’s Start with Why right now.  It really has so much gold that we can talk about.  At the root of the book is the simple and profound idea that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

He uses this illustration to tease out the idea.  What he points out is that most organizations actually talk about their products or services (what they do) when they should be talking about why they do what they do.

Here’s a quote:

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do.

HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do.

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do.  When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money—that’s a result.  By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief.  WHY does your company exist?  WHY do you get out of bed every morning?  And WHY should anyone care?  (p. 39)

Now, I think this has profound implications for the business we’re in (you probably know that I think knowing the business we’re in is the very first thing we ought to figure out).

So…I think we all know what we do.  I’m not sure we’ve thought enough about why we do it.

Here’s another quote from the book:

When communicating from the inside out, however, the WHY is offered as the reason to buy and the WHATs serve as the tangible proof of that belief. (p. 42)

WHAT Apple makes, serve as tangible roof of what they believe.  It is that clear correlation between WHAT they do and WHY they do it that makes Apple stand out.  This is the reason we perceive Apple as being authentic.  Everything they do works to demonstrate their WHY, to challenge the status quo.  Regardless of the products they make or industry in which they operate, it is always clear that Apple ‘thinks different.’” (p. 43)

So if Apple’s WHY is to challenge the status quo, what is your WHY?

What do you think?  Want to take a shot at your “why”? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

By the way, I’ve linked to his TED video in the past.  Easily one of the most fascinating talks I’ve ever heard.  And if you haven’t read Start with Why…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 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.”

4 Important Innovations in Small Group Ministry

I’ve been a student of small group ministry and ministries for almost 25 years.  I’ve read everything I could find.  Found ways to ask a lot of questions.  Even cultivated my own set of confidential informants (okay, that’s not really what they were, but you get the idea).

Let’s just say I have been a student and I’m still learning.

Here are what I think are 4 of the most important innovations in small group ministry:

  1. Events that form and launch new groups.  The Small Group Connection, designed to sort out people by affinity and help them choose a leader from amongst themselves, and Group Link, designed to help unconnected people form a group around a pre-qualified leader are both examples events that form and launch new groups.  North Point’s Access Group strategy is a variation of this innovation.  6 to 8 weeks instead of a one time event, it is a step that leads toward grouplife.  See also Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events and Three Important Distinctives of North Point’s Access Group Strategy.
  2. Church-wide campaigns like 40 Days of Purpose allow churches to set in motion an alignment between the weekend message and a small group curriculum and encourage everyone to join in.  See also The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign and Church-Wide Campaigns.
  3. The HOST strategy allows senior pastors to recruit people who have a HEART for unconnected people to OPEN their homes for six weeks, SERVE some simple refreshments, and TELL a few of their friends.  The grab-and-go strategy is a version of HOST that takes the concept even further, often enlisting another 5 to 10% more hosts.  See also HOST: What Does It Mean? and Add 5 to 10% More Hosts with this Jedi Move.
  4. Video based curriculum.  First developed as VHS and later DVD, video based curriculum allows ordinary people to say “yes” to hosting or leading a group.  It doesn’t require a teacher.  While new groups won’t always need video based curriculum (they’ll develop the confidence to meet without it), it is a great advantage in starting new groups.  An important wrinkle in video based curriculum is the ability to stream video to a computer or other device.  This will allow an even larger number of groups to access video based content.  See also Update: Now Even More to Choose from at RightNow Media.

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

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. In addition, RightNow.org is a regular sponsor of MarkHowellLive.com. 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.”

Update: Even More to Choose from at RightNow Media

Looking for a new study for your small group or Bible study?  Need it tonight?  Want to check out a larger selection than you can find at your local bookstore?  Want to actually preview the study?  Want to make this service available to every staff person, every youth teacher, every  small group leader and Bible study teacher, all of your women’s study leaders, all of your men’s study leaders in your congregation?

You need to take a look at RightNow Media.  Now with over 2000 video studies, it’s even more like Netflix.  You can stream the video content right to any of your devices (computer, iPad, iPhone, or Android).  You can download a pdf copy of the curriculum or order it online (in most cases for purchase).

I bought an inexpensive HDMI cable and an adapter for my iPhone and was watching a study on my 42″ flatscreen in minutes.  This weekend I bought an Apple TV ($99 at BestBuy.com) and was streaming directly in minutes.  Very cool!

Depending on the size of your congregation, the current* monthly pricing ranges from $49.99 (for churches under 100) to $299.99 (for churches over 3000).

Want to take a test drive?  You can sign up for a free 30 day trial right here.

I took a look at RightNow Media in August, 2012 and was very impressed by the service.  You can read my original review right here.

*This is a special price.  The regular pricing ranges from $69.99 to $399.99 per month.

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. In addition, RightNow.org is a regular sponsor of MarkHowellLive.com. 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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