Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Page 32 of 202

Thinking Thursday: Brené Brown: Listening to shame

brene brownShame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.

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.

5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves

toxicI’ve noticed that there is a short list of small group ministry moves that can be toxic. They often seem harmless. They don’t look dangerous. But they can cause great damage.

Here are a 5 toxic small group ministry moves:

  1. Switching to a different small group model, system or strategy…again. There are several main models or systems and versions of each. Whether you call it Idea fatigue or shiny object syndrome, switching models can be toxic. You may have just read a very good book or attended a conference that made a different model sound better, but when you choose a system you need to commit to it for 3 years. And by that, I mean you need to pursue it head long for 3 years. See also, How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy.
  2. Assigning coaches to experienced group leaders…again. Retroactively assigning coaches to experienced leaders almost never works. It often permanently sours the coach and almost always is rejected by the small group leader like a bad organ transplant. Fortunately, it is possible to provide care for experienced leaders with a little finesse and wisdom.  See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Group Leaders.
  3. Springing required curriculum on groups. Whether it happens as a result of a last minute inspiration on the part of your senior pastor or a poorly communicated church-wide campaign, mandating that all of your groups use a curriculum that they didn’t choose can have toxic results (the obvious exception is a sermon-based approach.) While there are definitely times that it just makes sense to call all groups to a common study (church-wide campaigns, the desire to align everyone around a single vision, the need to renew congregations, etc.), be very careful about last minute requirements. See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.
  4. Allowing the preferences of the wrong people to select study topics. We should all be clear about this dilemma. Groups that have been meeting longer will often settle into studies that are informative, but not necessarily application-oriented. Unconnected people will primarily be attracted to topics that seem directly related to their own personal struggles or interests. Be careful about allowing the preferences or tastes of the already connected to determine what you select if you hope to connect unconnected people. And be equally careful about adding studies to your recommended list if they don’t incorporate a healthy dose of application. See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer and Here’s a Sample Recommended List.
  5. Calling everything a group. If this happened in one church…it happened in 10,000 churches. You may have a desire to be a church OF small groups, but arbitrarily changing what you call classes or studies is delusional and toxic every time.  See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.

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

Image by Rob

Find the Gaps in Your Strategy with This Simple Technique

circlesI love Rick Warren’s concentric circles diagram; a classic illustration of the different segments of people who are associated with your church. The concentric circles also provide a visual representation of Saddleback’s crowd-to-core strategy. See also, Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding.

The way I talk about crowd-to-core is that I want to design next steps for every Ridger (crowd, congregation, committed and core) and first steps for their friends (community). And of course, when I draw the circles I don’t draw them the way they are in the diagram (equally spaced). I draw them as I believe they are at Canyon Ridge (see below). And as I draw the circles I talk about what they represent this way:

  • Outside of this circle is the community. In the 8 zip codes we draw from there are 250,000 people.
  • Inside the circle is the crowd. Based on our Easter numbers and our Christmas Eve numbers, we estimate there are between 10,000 and 12,000 adults who consider Canyon Ridge to be their church. They don’t come every week and they may only attend a few times a year.
  • Inside the crowd is the congregation (when I draw this circle I try to accurately represent the size, 2500 to 3500 adults). These people attend more frequently, 2 to 3 times a month. They are usually connected in some way (i.e., they may be in a small group, on a serving team, etc.). They give on a regular basis, but it is probably not a tithe.
  • Inside the congregation is the committed. They attend 3 to 4 times a month. They definitely serve and often are leaders of groups, teams, or ministries. They tithe. There are hundreds of these people.
  • And finally, inside the committed is the core. They don’t miss a week and are believers of “attend one, serve one.” They give sacrificially. They serve sacrificially. There are less than 300 of these people.

canyon ridge circlesSee how I use the diagram to segment the basic kinds of people who attend?

Here’s how you can use it to illustrate the gaps in your strategy. In my own diagram here, I’ve focused on our men’s ministry and three of their events.

  1. Take an honest look at each of the existing ministries, programs, classes and events and determine which segment of the church are they really designed for. Honesty is essential. You get no where with this is you turn a blind eye to what’s really going. Brutal honesty is required.
  2. Try to overlay them on the concentric circles to illustrate who you believe each menu item exists for.
  3. In order to truly have next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends, there will be no gaps. When you identify gaps you need to create the steps that are missing (that will help everyone take a step). See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.


  • Insiders have great difficulty recognizing that the programs they love don’t work for everyone.
  • Leaders of existing programs often see the world through rose colored glasses and don’t understand why everyone doesn’t come.
  • Most people need to be coached to see the wisdom that just like restaurants have a target customer, so do good programs, events, ministries, and classes.

See also:

Quotebook: The Essence of Discipleship

starting lineWhat is a disciple and how is a disciple made? When does it begin? What does it look like to begin? All good questions and should be driving our thinking as we set out to build a thriving small group ministry. After all, if you don’t know what you’re trying to make, how will you know if you’ve arrived at your preferred future? See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and Start with the End in Mind.

I’m finding Bill Hull’s, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ to be a rich resource and very thought-provoking. I came across this line in chapter 7:

“We don’t try to become like Jesus; instead we make a commitment to train to become the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus would do.”

You can hear the words of Dallas Willard in the line, but I love the clarity here. “We make a commitment to train to become the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus would do.”

In the preceding paragraph Hull points out that this “marks the starting line and represents the essence of discipleship. We make following Jesus our life’s goal and intention.”

Are your small groups designed to help members make a commitment to train to become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus would do?

Could it be that if the commitment to train is implied in joining a group, today’s question might be, [ctt title=”Do your groups train members to become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus would do?” tweet=”Do your groups train members to become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus would do? via @markchowell” coverup=”6UaZ6″]

Image by tableatny

See also:

Wanted: Men’s Pastor/Director at Canyon Ridge

Are you the man for the job? Do you know the man for the job?

We’re looking for the right player to join our team at Canyon Ridge and lead our Men’s “ministry.” It’s a groups position and the best fit will be someone with a minimum of 5 years experience in groups ministry and a passion to help men get connected and grow in Christ. Because of the size of Canyon Ridge (weekend attendance just over 7000), the right candidate will likely be someone leading a groups ministry.

The most important outcome/objective of this position is identifying, recruiting and developing leaders of leaders as our Men’s Life Group grows from 500 men connected to 2000. Another significant outcome is building the teams that will design and develop next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.

Could this be you? You can read more about the role right here.

Could this be someone you know? Why not forward them this post?

Have a question? Email me.

Thinking Thursday: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce

Malcolm Gladwell“Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell gets inside the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce — and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.

Why is this important for us? Think about your menu of next steps.

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

What’s on Your Small Group Ministry’s Stop Doing List?

stopResearcher and management guru Jim Collins is the author or co-author of Built to Last, Good to Great, Great by Choice and How the Mighty Fall (and a number of other books).

One of Collins’ most profound insights is that as important as a to-do list might be, organizations also need to “create a “stop doing” list and systematically unplug anything extraneous.” A corollary is that for every major ‘to-do’ on your list, you should have a corresponding item that you will stop doing.

Can you spot the looming question?

“What is on your stop doing list?

I can tell you a few things that have been on my stop doing list over the years:

  • Providing group members for unsolicited volunteer “leaders.”
  • Sending new members to groups who continually need a few more.
  • Providing a matchmaking service for people looking for the perfect group.
  • Allowing my senior pastor to delegate the small group champion role.
  • Accepting warm bodies willing (or clamoring) to be coaches.

I can also tell you a few things that are currently on my stop doing list:

  • Adding a new menu item without removing an old menu item.
  • Assigning new leaders to coaches without ongoing inspection. “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.”
  • Procrastinating discipleship conversations with ministry leaders.

What would be on your “stop doing” list?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

See also:

Image by Marlon Malabanan

Skill Training: How to Use a “Test Drive” to Screen for Ideal Coaches

6813153140_2d0ea9941a_cI’m very particular about the kind of men and women I want on my coaching team. If they don’t have the 6 characteristics I’m looking for, I don’t want them on the team. And you shouldn’t either. We should all have the opinion that anything other than the right kind of men and women will lead to a less than effective coaching structure. See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail. So, if you know what you’re looking for, how do you find them and end up with the right people on the team? I believe it’s actually a four step process.

How to Use a “Test-Drive” to Screen for Ideal Coaches

A little philosophy: I use a test-drive to screen for ideal coaches. I know what I’m looking for and I never want to compromise. When I recruit potential coaches the right way they believe they are making a short-term commitment to use their expertise to help with an important project. I believe they have the characteristics of an effective small group coach. I want to know if they will actually be fruitful and if they will be fulfilled in doing it. Don’t miss this very important concept. In order for them to actually be right for the job they need to be both fruitful and fulfilled. There are plenty of people who will be one or the other. There are some who would find having the title (or the name tag) very fulfilling. You’ve met some of them! They are fulfilled but never actually do what they are supposed to do. They are unfruitful. Then there are others are very fruitful (they do what they are supposed to do), but they are unfulfilled. They would rather devote their energies to children’s ministry or student ministry or missions or whatever. They key is they are unfulfilled and only those who are fruitful and fulfilled are the right people. Nuts and bolts: Once you’ve recruited them (using the formula in the previous skill-training), just monitor their progress in the 10 to 13 week test drive. At the end of the test-drive, conduct a kind of personal exit interview with each of them. Based on their performance during the test-drive you’ll already know whether they were fruitful. You’ll know whether they were helpful or not (often based on whether the groups they were supporting survived or not).

  • If they were not fruitful, simply thank them for serving. “Thanks for helping make this happen. Can we pull you in if we need help in the future?”

While there is an element of subjectivity, you will almost always know whether they were fruitful. The real point of the exit interview is to determine fulfillment. It isn’t difficult. “Bob, how does it feel to know that 3 of the 4 groups you were supporting have decided to continue meeting?” Their answer will tell you everything you need to know.

  • If they were fruitful and express fulfillment (I love it! One of the most rewarding things I’ve every done.), simply ask if they would consider continuing.
  • If they were fruitful but unfulfilled (I was glad for the opportunity to help, but now that the 10 weeks is over I’ll be back to serving in the children’s ministry), thank them for serving and ask if you can call on them again for a short-term assignment.

Remember, in order to truly to the kind of men and women you want on your coaching team, they must be both fruitful and fulfilled. Fruitful but not fulfilled is never more than a short term solution. Fulfilled but not fruitful is a recipe for an ineffective coach.

Image by Kim Seng

See also:

5 Quick Ideas that Will Connect More People This Fall


You might be thinking, “We don’t have time for anything complicated, but we really need to help a new wave of people get connected!” If that’s you…here’s some help!

5 Quick Ideas that Will Connect More People This Fall

  1. Plan a small group connection. Pick an appealing small group study. Pick a convenient day and time. Promote the connection 3 weekends in a row. It’s just about that simple. The study you choose determines who will attend. The process itself is designed to identify leaders at every table. You’ll find plenty of detail in How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.
  2. Plan a 6 week on-campus study that leads to an off-campus group. Choose a study that will grab the attention of a select group of people (i.e., Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage). If you have more than one group you’d like to target, choose the perfect study for each target (i.e., couples, men, women, etc.). Choose a convenient night and time when you have available on-campus space. Arrange child-care. Promote the study 3 weeks in a row. You’ll find additional details in Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.
  3. Plan a “book club.”  This strategy attracts people who wouldn’t ordinarily join a small group (but they might be attracted by an intriguing topic). Choose a book with a captivating title and built-in discussion questions. Choose a convenient day and time. Promote the “book club” 3 weeks in a row. You’ll find additional details in Two Big Opportunities That Will Connect More People This Spring.
  4. Plan a church-wide campaign. I know that doesn’t sound like a quick idea, but with the right off-the-shelf study it’s not difficult to pull off. Choose the right campaign. Choose a launch date in late September or early October. You’ll find plenty of ideas in 5 Best Church-Wide Campaigns for Fall 2015 and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Plan a special event with a speaker (live or video) on a topic that attracts an affinity (couples, singles, men, women, empty nesters, single parents, etc.).  With the right advance planning and a little creativity, it’s easy to imagine the strategic grouping of unconnected people at a first-step event that includes a speaker, dessert, and conversation.  Can you imagine how the right next step event (like a 6 week on-campus study) would connect even more people? You’ll find additional help in How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.

These are just 5 of many great ways to connect unconnected people. You’ll find more strategies in Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups.

Image by misspixels

See also:

Don’t Miss Saddleback’s Powerful New Campaign: Daring Faith

Daring FaithSpent some time this week with the newest spiritual growth emphasis from Rick Warren and Saddleback. Daring Faith: The Key to Miracles is a church-wide campaign you are going to want to know about.

What is it about? I love this paragraph from the study guide:

“Daring Faith is all about taking a bold risks. It requires unshakable courage to STEP UP and face the giants as you STEP OUT into the unknown. Cultivating a daring faith goes hand in hand with trusting God’s will. Where God guides, God provides. This is an opportunity to leave your comfort zone, and bravely move to where God is calling you.”

Daring Faith includes all of the elements that have been incorporated in all of Saddleback’s groundbreaking church-wide campaigns:

  • 6 session small group teaching DVD
  • Small group study guide (with daily devotionals)
  • Church training materials
  • Downloadable sermons from Rick Warren
  • Church promotional tools
  • Weekly memory verses

One of the things I always find so encouraging is that everything you hear, read and experience is deeply biblical. Everything is also steeped in the real-world empathy of one of America’s most powerful teachers.

Another aspect that I really find helpful every time Saddleback launches a new campaign is the daily devotional element included in the study guide. This simple element definitely goes a long way to help your group members incorporate God’s word and practical application into their lives every day.

An exciting element of Daring Faith is the fact that it is potentially more than this year’s church-wide campaign from Saddleback. It can be a very powerful giving campaign as well.  In a letter from Rick Warren to pastors and ministry leaders included on the resource disc Rick points out that “Daring Faith is not about getting your church members to give money; it’s about teaching them to trust God more so that they will live fruitful Christian lives.” He also notes that,

At Saddleback, we saw our members transformed as they learned that putting God first in their finances brings blessing, not burden. They learned the difference between feeling pressured to give and being challenged by God to give. They began to give thoughtfully, enthusiastically, and cheerfully, and as God worked in our hearts, it changed us, it changed our church, and it changed our impact on the world.

I have no doubt that all of us are actually praying for that kind of faith for everyone in our churches. Just imagine if after using Daring Faith in your own congregation you could write a similar testimonial!

The Daring Faith Resource Disc includes design files for the Daring Faith logo, PowerPoint background slides, promotional poster, web banners, and a 15-second, Daring Faith-themed bumper video to be used prior to each Daring Faith sermon.

The Resource Disc also includes a robust set of Giving Campaign Resources including:

  • Overview letter from Pastor Rick.
  • Leadership prep material to help you prepare and plan the course of the giving camaign.
  • Customizable informational and promotional material for your congregation to understand and engage in the vision you set for this campaign.
  • Tools to help your congregation write their testimony of how God has blessed them in committing to sacrifice financially.

Whether you are just looking for a powerful campaign that can ignite your congregation’s faith or you need a giving campaign that will enable exciting next steps for your church, Daring Faith: The Key to Miracles is a campaign you need to know about. I loved it and I think you will too.



« Older posts Newer posts »