4 Keys to Sustaining New Groups

Last week we talked about the 5 keys to starting new groups.  Today I want to focus on how to sustain the new groups you start.  Very important stuff.  After all…if you expend the energy it takes to get these new groups going, you want to keep them going!

There are 3 things you need to do in order to give your new groups the best opportunity to continue.  But before we even get into how to do it, let’s define what sustain means.  When I talk about sustaining new groups, I’m talking about helping new groups make it into a 3rd study.  6 weeks is short enough to help unconnected people commit and long enough to help them begin to develop some connective tissue.  The second 6 week study will go a long way to helping them truly connect and if they make it into their 3rd study they will have enough muscle memory to keep them going.

Here are the 4 keys to sustaining new groups:

First, give them a coach before they even begin to meet.  If you’ve made it easy to start new groups (one of the keys to starting lots of new groups), you’re going to enlist a lot of group leaders with great potential and no experience.  To give each of them a person who can walk alongside them for their first 10 to 13 weeks is a huge advantage.  A relatively short connection with a coach each week will go a long way toward helping new leaders feel confident and make adjustments.  See also, Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns and Clarifying the Win for Launch-Phase Coaches.

Second, help every new leader recruit a co-leader as their first assignment.  Don’t miss this important idea!  If you help new leaders recruit a co-leader (who is NOT their spouse), they’ll have a much better chance of continuing.  It will lighten the load for the new leader and they’ll be able to meet more consistently (even when the leader cannot be there).

Third, give each of your new groups a study to do next that is similar in kind to their first study in about week 4.  This is very important.  Remember, you helped them get started by giving them an easy-to-use study on a topic that mattered to unconnected people.  Your new leaders said “yes” to a 6 week commitment and their members said “yes” to a 6 week commitment.  But…about 4 weeks into their study they’ll begin to develop a level of relational connective tissue.  They’ll be looking forward to their meeting.  In most cases they’ll actually be mindful of the fact that “there are only 2 more weeks” and they’ll begin to ask if “there’s anything after this?”  If you choose a study that is similar to what they’re currently using (i.e., DVD-driven, on a topic they’ll enjoy, limited prep required, etc.), they’ll be more likely to continue.  See also, What’s Next?  When (and how) to Promote the Next Study and Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Fourth, help them do the calendar work as part of their meeting.  This may seem a little over-the-top prescriptive, but trust me, one of the most important steps you can take to help new groups sustain is to help them plan their next meetings.  This is especially true when there are holidays or long breaks in the picture.  For example, if you’ve launched a wave of new groups with a fall church-wide campaign you need to be aware of and help new leaders and new groups proactively plan for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.  For example, if they begin a 6 week study in the 4th week of September, they’ll be ready to start a new 6 week study the first week of November.  They might be able to meet 2 or 3 more times before Thanksgiving, but will not be able to finish before the holidays.  Guiding your newest groups to take out their calendars and plan a Christmas party, an opportunity to serve together, and when their first meeting in January is (so they can finish their 2nd study) is essential!  See also, Skill Training: Help Your Small Group Survive the Holidays!

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

New DVD-Driven Study from Lisa Chan: Not of This World

not of this worldHad a look at the latest installment to Lisa Chan’s True Beauty series over the weekend.  Not of This World, the 3rd film in the series, is itself a thing of beauty.  Produced by Flannel, the non-profit behind the NOOMA, Basic, and Ed’s Story films, Not of This World is another great example of a very “fresh look at the teachings of Jesus.”  You can read my review of True Beauty: Be Still, the first film in the series, right here.

Just 17 minutes long, Not of This World is an engaging, can’t look away example of story-driven media.  With Lisa Chan’s teaching as foundation and backdrop, the film interweaves an intriguing story thread that resolves in the final moments.

A downloadable reflection guide provides the questions and prompts needed for an extended discussion with plenty of personal application.

I think this film (as well as the others in the series) could be used in several ways.  While it can certainly be used as a stand-alone study for a small group, it may also be just the thing as a theme-setting piece for a retreat or women’s event.

Looking for something like that?  I love this study and I think you will too!

True Beauty Not of This World TRAILER from Flannel Staff on Vimeo.

Can’t see the video? Click here to watch it.

Would Your Groups Wrestle with the Challenge of Homelessness?

homelessnessYesterday I mentioned that my ideal group will make having an impact a natural thing.  Maybe yours will too!

A friend at one of the sponsoring organizations let me know about Time to Listen, a 15 minute film focusing on the stories of six different homeless individuals and how they navigate life.  I watched it.  It’s a very compelling story and one that helps you see the faces and hear the backstory of those we just just pass by.

There’s also a very simple discussion guide that will help groups process the film.  A downloadable 90 second preview could make it a system-wide initiative.

Interested?  It’s free.  It’s very well done.  You can find out more about it right here.

The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group

cone_slide8Ever spent any time thinking about your ideal small group?  What would it be like?  What kind of people would be part of it?  What would you do together?  What difference would it make in your life to be part of a group like that?

Ever had those thoughts?

I suppose you’ve got good memories of some groups you’ve been part of in the past.  Maybe seasons where the group members just jelled and it was easy to be together.  Maybe other times where it was obvious that the members in your group really received a lot…but you mostly gave and didn’t get a whole lot out of it.

Have memories–good or bad–about groups that you’ve been in?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of group I’d like to have.  Really, the kind of group I think we ought to have in mind for every group member.  And whether you think of it as the end in mind for your ideal small group or the preferred future for your ideal small group…I think there ought to be things that we hope happen for everyone.

Here are a few of the things that I hope happen

Here are a few of the things that I hope happen.  This is the end in mind for my ideal small group:

First, my ideal small group will definitely have a sense of family.  A really healthy family.  We may not always agree, but we’ll always feel like we’re safe, loved no matter what, forgiven when we do dumb things or say dumb things.  Or mean things.  When something good happens for us everyone will celebrate with us.  When something bad or difficult happens, those same people will be the ones crying with us.  My ideal group will make it easy for me to belong.  See also, Do Your Small Groups Cultivate This Powerful Ingredient?

Life-change happens when we’re known.

Second, my ideal group will definitely know that spiritual growth is an expectation.  Changing to become more like Jesus all the time will be more than expected.  It will be anticipated.  And it won’t really be about completing a study guide or workbook.  It will be all about becoming the kind of people who live their lives like Jesus would if He were in our bodies.  My ideal group will make it natural for me to become.  See also, Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.

Life-change happens when becoming like Jesus isn’t just something we’re studying.

Third, my ideal group will definitely make having an impact a natural thing.  We’ll hang out and enjoy each other’s company.  We’ll study the Bible together.  But making a difference will also be just part of the normal thing we do.  Whether it’s putting in a little extra to help someone with a need, giving time to help out with the needs of a neighbor, or pitching in to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the community.  My ideal group will make having an impact just part of the normal day-to-day reality.  See also, The Primary Activity of the Early Church and 101 Ways to Reach Your Community.

Life-change happens when we begin to live beyond ourselves.

That’s the end in mind for my ideal small group.  Is my group like that now?  Are our groups that way now?  No…they’re not.  But if we’re serious about arriving at the preferred future, we’ll be intentionally designing in elements and activities that move what we’re doing onto the trajectory that will take us there.  And there’ll be a set of milestones that help us see progress.

Won’t be easy.  Won’t happen without intentionality.  But won’t it be a story to end up in the preferred future?

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

This Simple Coaching Idea Pays Big Dividends

A very simple idea.  Three simple steps.  This simple coaching idea will pay big dividends!

Step One: Take 5 minutes now to understand the concept.

Step Two: Teach it to your coaches this summer.

Step Three: Begin implementing with your leaders this fall!

Here’s the set-up:

You’ve heard me say this: “Whatever you want to happen in the lives of small group members, must happen first in the lives of your leaders.”

With me?  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Whatever you want to happen in the lives of small group members (i.e., the sense that someone cares for them, that they’re known, that they belong, that they’re loved, etc.) has to happen first in the lives of your leaders.

Question:  How will it happen for your leaders?

You see where this is going, right?  Your leaders must have these experiences first.  How will it happen?  In most cases, the most likely delivery system will be some kind of coaching/mentoring system.  After all, unless you have fewer than 10 groups in your small group ministry, you can’t coach/mentor all of your leaders.  Right?  See also, The One Thing Every Small Group Pastor Must Do…for Small Group Leaders.

So, you have at least the beginnings of a coaching structure (if you don’t, read my four part series, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure).  And here’s what to do with your coaches.  It’s an easy idea.

Here’s the concept:

  1. Send your coaches this link and have them take the Purpose Driven Life Health Assessment.  This is a free version.  You can buy an easy to use version that gives you permission to make copies right here.
  2. Get your coaches together and have them bring their completed health assessment (an alternative is to print off a few assessments and have them do it together with you).
  3. Have them spend a little time talking through what they learned from the assessment.  If you have more than 5 coaches, seat them at tables in groups of 3 to 5.  The key here is for them to talk together about what they learned.
  4. Pass out copies of the Purpose Driven Life Health Plan (this is an old version, but it works).  I highly recommend spending a few bucks and purchasing the new version right here.
  5. Teach your coaches how to use the health plan.  The health plan can be used very effectively to help your coaches begin a conversation with you about areas they are working on.  Once they learn to do that, they will be able to do that for the leaders in their huddle this fall.

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

Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.

If you’ve been along for any of this conversation, you know that I believe unconnected people are always one tough thing away from not being around.  Always.  An illness.  A difficult marriage or divorce.  The loss of a job.  A child making bad decisions.  One tough thing.  One.  I know that and you do too.  Unconnected people don’t call the church when tough things happen.  They stop coming.  They abruptly disappear.

If that is true, shouldn’t connecting unconnected people be one of our highest priorities?

And if that is one of our highest priorities, what’s the best way to connect unconnected people?

New groups are the very best way to connect unconnected people…by a landslide.  Compared to the effectiveness of adding new members to existing groups, there is no comparison!  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups

Here are the top 5 keys to starting new groups…as many as possible:

Make starting new groups a high priority.  If starting new groups is not already one of your highest priorities, it’s time to rearrange priorities.  If new groups is not on your dashboard, it’s time to take another look at the dashboard.

Remove every unnecessary barrier to starting a new group.  Barriers might include leader qualifications and training requirements, room availability and prioritization, and narrow or infrequent windows to launch.  Unnecessary is a key word.  Some barriers might be helpful, but many are ill-conceived and need to be revisited.  Remember, there is no problem-free solution.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?

Make starting new groups easy.  Three of the easiest ways to start new groups are launching a church-wide campaign, holding an on-campus connecting event, and providing an attractive short-term on-campus opportunity that leads to a longer term commitment.  See also, Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events.

Make heroes of new group leaders.  Sad to say, but in many churches the staff and veteran leaders are made out to be the heroes.  Trust me, one of the keys to starting new groups is to make a big deal out of the people who respond to the call, step out in faith, and start a group!

Challenge (and inspire) everyone to join a group.  This might be counterintuitive, but one of the reasons that many churches struggle to start new groups is that they don’t sense a need.  After all, the number of groups they have seems adequate.  They can fit everyone in that wants to come.  What do they need a new group for?  If you want to start new groups you’ve got to change that mindset.

Here are four important steps:

  1. Schedule a church-wide campaign or alignment.  A campaign that aligns the topic of your weekend message with the small group study  allows your senior pastor to say, “In order to get everything possible out of our upcoming series, you need to be in a group that is using the study that goes along with my message.”  See also, The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign.
  2. Choose a topic that is appealing to unconnected people.  I don’t think I can overemphasize this point.  The topic you choose needs to appeal to the people you are trying to connect!  Here are some of my favorites: Add Pressure Points to Your Church-Wide Campaign Short List and 5 Cross Cultural Church-Wide Campaigns that Ought to Be on Your Radar.
  3. Ask your congregation for a 6 week commitment.  This is very important.  If you want to help unconnected people take a first step, you’ve got to give them a reasonable first step to take.  6 weeks.  Short enough to seem realistic.  Long enough to begin to form connective tissue with the others in their group.
  4. Give unconnected people an easy way to respond.  Depending on the size of your congregation, there are several options.  Although you can include an insert in your bulletin, I’ve found it preferable to give prospective members a way to join a group without a middle man.  A small group fair with booths for every group, an online small group finder or catalog, on-campus connecting events like a small group connection or Group Link are all ways that allow direct access.

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

Real Win: A New DVD-Driven Study featuring Colt McCoy and Matt Carter

real winTook some time this week to review a new DVD-driven men’s study featuring NFL quarterback Colt McCoy and Matt Carter, founding pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas.  McCoy, the starting quarterback for the University of Texas Longhorns from 2006 to 2009, met Carter while attending church.

A six session study, Real Win tackles an important topic for men.  In a culture that is all about the pursuit of success, “this Bible study challenges men to aim for the real win–to strive for the kind of success that comes from trusting God and serving Him.”

Anchored by the six DVD sessions, we follow Colt, Matt, and others as they hunt and fish for game and use their hunting experiences as illustrations to talk about the primary themes of each session.  I’m no hunter, but I have to say these sessions were very engaging.

The in-session activities and discussion questions were definitely developed with men in mind.  I really like the way the questions will pull guys into the kinds of conversations where life-change actually happens.  A memory verse, a short reading assignment and a set of personal learning activities follow each session.

For those who are ready to invest more deeply in the work, the Leader Kit also includes a copy of the Real Win book.  “Packed with inspiration and practical guidance,” the book isn’t essential but will definitely enhance the experience of group members.

If you’re looking for a study that men will be drawn to…I think this is one you’re going to want to take a look at.  A DVD that features hunting, fishing, a conversation with one of the winningest quarterbacks in NCAA history.  Real Win has a lot of the right stuff.  I really liked it and I think your men 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. I am also 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.”

An Analysis of the Free Market Small Group System

One of several popular small group systems is called Free Market.  Taking its name from one of the basic concepts of economics, a free market system allows and encourages leaders to choose the study (or activity) they’d like to do (as opposed to a controlled or regulated model where they’re told what to do).

Free Market is most commonly associated with Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, by Ted Haggard.  In the book, Haggard describes a system of groups that are based on common interests.  For example, if you’re a dog trainer (or want to train your dog), you might look in the groups catalog and see an upcoming dog training group and join it.  Your common interests would provide the basis for a good fit.  Or if you like fly fishing…I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Although it may seem from the title that most groups are based on an activity or common interest, there are usually many groups that are more typical (meeting in homes, using a study guide, etc.).

Common distinctives:

When a Free Market system is most true to the original model described in Dog Training, Fly Fishing it has several other common characteristics:

  • It’s semester-based.  Typically two or three 8 to 12 week semesters are offered at prime times during the year.  Often fall, winter and spring with the summer off.
  • There’s typically a catalog that lists all the upcoming opportunities.
  • There’s often a small group fair associated with the beginning of a new semester.  Group leaders are at tables in the lobby or nearby and potential members cruise the tables looking for a group to join.

Suggested advantages of the Free Market system:

There is a short-list of advantages that are often listed by free market proponents.  For example:

  • Like every semester-based system, there are several opportunities a year to promote on-ramps into groups.
  • Like every semester-based system, potential members see the 8 to 12 week commitments as short enough to consider.
  • The definite off-ramp at the end of 8 to 12 weeks is reassuring to any first timer.

Groups based on common interests draw unconnected people who share the interest.

Disadvantages to be aware of:

Although I’m the first to acknowledge that there are no problem-free systems or strategies, in my experience, there are several disadvantages to at least be aware of with Free Market.  For example:

  • The catalog is always in the process of being updated for the next semester.
  • Must be constantly on the lookout for new leaders.
  • Counterintuitive, but difficult to truly deliver something for everyone and connect the number of unconnected people that most churches have.
  • If the goal is making disciples, interest based groups often struggle to make this happen naturally.

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

New from Priscilla Shirer | Gideon: Your Weakness, God’s Strength

gideonHad an opportunity to review Gideon: Your Weakness, God’s Strength, the newest study from Priscilla Shirer today.  The daughter of well-known pastor Tony Evans, Shirer is a very popular teacher in her own right.  A dynamic communicator, this is a study that will resonate very well with many Bible study groups.

When I pulled this study out of the stack to review, I have to admit that my first thought was that there’s not a whole lot in the Bible about Gideon.  He’s a great story, but not a long story.  At least we don’t hear much about him.  Other than that one story.  Trust me…by the time I finished reviewing the study, I did not feel that way.  There is way more here than I remembered!

Gideon is a 7 session DVD-driven study featuring Shirer teaching before a live studio audience.  Full length video (the sessions average 40+ minutes), this study is probably most suitable for women’s Bible studies that are used to watching the video together and then discussing their homework from the previous week.  On-campus or off-campus, this will be a great option.

The Member Book includes a video viewer guide to help capture the big ideas from each video.  In addition, the Member Book includes six weeks of personal study, a fairly deep dive into the story of Gideon.  Each week includes 5 days of homework, each 6 to 7 pages long; a combination of reading, Bible study supported by questions designed to help the participant dig deeply into the biblical truth found in this Old Testament story.

I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a very helpful Leader’s Guide in the back of the Member Book. Just the right amount of leader content to help make this a great experience for members.

Whether you’re familiar with Priscilla Shirer or not, take it from me that this is a study that will have great impact!

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. I am also 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.”

*And Some People Will Still Leave

In a recent article I wrote that one of the artificial barriers limiting small group ministry growth is too many selections on the next step menu.  You know that scenario right?  Even if you’ve worked hard to become a simple church and you’ve embraced the idea of narrowing the focus, you’re probably still in the majority of churches that have Sunday school for adults, a Wednesday night program for adults, and off-campus small groups that meet in homes.  See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?

Is that you?  Having any problems trimming the menu?  Thought so.

How about this one.  You have ambitions of having a world-class Sunday morning program for children but can’t find enough high-capacity volunteers to make it happen.  And at the same time, you’ve got an Awana program that is running at capacity, has great leadership, more volunteers than they actually need, and lots of kids from your church and many other churches in the area.

Sound familiar?

Too many selections on the next step menu is a reality almost everywhere.  Yet, it is definitely the case that narrowing the focus and  plated meals lead to a churches OF groups.  To quote Captain Jack Ross, “These are the facts…and they are undisputed.”  See also, Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups and A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups.

Is there a solution?  Is there an easy way to trim the number of selections on the menu?  Not an easy way.  But there is a way.

Here’s my prescription:

First, make it a priority to integrate Thom Rainer’s new book, I Am a Church Member, into your study.  Work it into your weekend sermon calendar.  It’s all very good, but of particular interest should be the section on “I will not let my church be about my preferences and my desires.”

Second, spend time wrestling with the concept that there need to be “next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.”  This is an essential ingredient to understand.  If you’re not creating next steps for all 5 components of Saddleback’s concentric circle model, you’re going to miss out on a big idea.  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System and Next Steps for Everyone and First Steps for Their Friends.

Third, add a key question to your strategic bag-of-tricks.  When considering how to build next steps for everyone (and first steps for their friends), start asking the question, “What’s the best way to connect the unconnected adults in your congregation?”  Or, “What’s the best way to help children learn about Jesus?” Or, you name it.  Just fill in the blank.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions.

Fourth, begin choosing the best way to do everything and prioritize the promotion of those programs.  What happens to the programs that aren’t the best way to…?  They may fit in as next steps.  A long conversation may be in order.  Certainly, it won’t often be an easy redesign.

Not everyone will understand.  Not everyone will be be able to embrace the idea that their program is not the best way.  Against all odds, some will actually come to see the world differently.  And some will still leave, unwilling to set their program aside.

I like Ed Stetzer’s line that “If the 50s ever come back, most of my churches and most of your churches are ready to go.”  Only some are able to embrace the truth that if we’re going to connect the widening 60%, we’ll have to be open to doing things the best way.

*And some people will still leave.

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