Don’t Miss This Resource: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

autopsy of a deceased churchHad an opportunity this week to spend some time with Autopsy of a Deceased Church,  Thom Rainer’s latest book.  Prior to his work as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, he led The Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period.

Thom Rainer is a very respected researcher and a keen observer of church health.  He’s also the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches and Simple Church.

Using the format of last year’s best-seller I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a very easy read with a powerful message.  With an estimated 100,000 churches showing the signs of decline toward death, this is a book that’s going to help more than a few pastors and church leaders.

There are several things to love about Autopsy of a Deceased Church.  First, it is the kind of book that can be passed out to staff and key leaders that they will actually read.  Just 102 pages, it is easy reading.

Second, it is packed with insight and will grab the attention of teams from the opening pages.  Many of the symptoms identified will  keep church leaders up at night.  Some of what Rainer points out will finally cause some to act and their action will be just in time.

Third, each chapter includes a set of provocative questions that should get the attention of teams.  I can imagine the discussions these questions will produce!  Along with the set of questions, every chapter includes a prayer commitment.

If you’re committed to the health of your church, Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a book you’ll want to pick up.  I can see it having a very strong impact on the kinds of church leaders who truly care enough about their church to act on wise counsel.

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.”

Dilbert on Vision Clarity

Sometimes we just need to laugh…or cry.  Either way, this one will resonate with lots of us!vision clarity

Ready to Take Your Ministry to the Next Level? Join My Fall 2014 Coaching Network

Looking for an opportunity to grow in your ability to connect beyond usual suspects? I want to invite you to join my Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century.

The coaching network program will expose you to a new perspective. While it makes sense to many that in order to get different results you need to do different things…it’s not always clear what those different things might be. The coaching network program is designed around the idea that different, not better, leads to the kind of strategy that connects beyond the usual suspects.

My Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in September (with a bonus call on August 14th) and I’ve just opened up applications. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

5 New Assumptions As I Step Further into the 21st Century

21st CenturyI asked you recently if it was time for you to take a fresh look at your assumptions.  I really do believe we are irresponsible when we just continue down a well-worn path expecting to arrive at a new destination.  And yet, that is what many of us do.

Because I am more and more convinced that we are now just a short step or two from a dramatically different and increasingly post-Christian era in the West, I wanted to give you a look at what I found when I re-examined my own assumptions.

Here are 5 of my new assumptions:

  1. It will become increasingly harder to say “come with me to church” and increasingly easier to say “meet me at Starbucks (or the pub).”  There are places in the world where this is already true and there are definitely cities in the U.S. where this is already true.  The time may not have arrived in your community where it is true…but it will.  We need to begin building a “meet me” philosophy of ministry.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  2. Every biblical reference or allusion is obscure to almost everyone.  As messages and small group curriculum is developed, it must be understood that most of the people in the auditorium and most of the people in the living room have never heard the story we are telling.  When we reference biblical concepts like communion or Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we must never forget that what we take for granted is a complete mystery to many of the people in the room.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture.
  3. Leader training will be accessed on a “need-to-know” basis and distributed on a “just-in-time” basis.  Gone are the days of advance training in preparation for an assignment.  Now arriving are the days of leader training that takes advantage of 24/7 delivery made possible by the internet, and streaming content.
  4. Leader development and encouragement will be decentralized.  Churches everywhere are discovering that the pace of life is making centralized gatherings more difficult to demand and less productive to implement.  Far easier to instill and more productive are decentralized gatherings at the local coffee shop or for that matter, in the living room or kitchen.  See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.
  5. The speed of change is accelerating.  Gone are the days of change as something that will happen someday.  Gone are the days when a change is followed by a decade or multiple decades of the status quo.  Still, more often than not the pace of change on the outside is greater than the pace of change on the inside.  And that leads to a perilous disconnect.  See also, The Perils of the Inside-Outside Disconnect.

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

Image by Pete Ashton

FAQ: School Starts in August. Shouldn’t Our Fall Campaign Launch in August?

I get a lot of questions.  This question is high on the list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).

The Question:

School starts in mid August in our community.  Shouldn’t our fall church-wide campaign launch when school starts?

Assumptions that drive the question:

  • An attendance surge often coincides with school starting.  “Our congregation is back after taking vacations in June and July.”
  • People often report being too busy to join a group in late September.  “They’ve already arranged their family calendars and commitments before a late September launch of a church-wide campaign.”

My Answer: You probably should not launch in August.  At least not without wrestling through several major questions.  Here are the 4 questions that must be answered:

When will you promote your church-wide campaign?  The most effective campaigns are well promoted.  For example, although Saddleback’s fall campaigns typically begin in late September or early October, it’s not unusual for Rick Warren to begin talking about their fall campaign in late spring.  A successful mid August campaign would need to begin promotion no later than late May or early June.  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign?

Who will lead the new groups you hope to launch?  The most impactful campaigns engage a wave of new small group leaders.  Rather than being content to tap the usual suspects, the HOST strategy is implemented specifically to offer potential leaders an opportunity to put their toes in the water.  A successful mid August campaign would need to begin recruiting group leaders no later than early July.

Who do you hope to connect?  Church-wide campaigns offer the very best opportunity to connect the largest number of unconnected people…provided the campaign is well planned and strategically implemented.  Unconnected people are infrequent attenders and may be attending for the first time in many weeks right when your campaign is launching.  A successful mid August campaign would need to take the traits of unconnected people into consideration.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

What is the purpose of your church-wide campaign?  This is a critical question.  Campaigns can unify churches, deepen the prayer life of members, and make stronger disciples.  They can also reach the friends, neighbors, co-workers and family of hosts who invite them to join their group.

  • Note: Attempting to do “all of the above” is a recipe that leads to ineffective campaigns.  Far better to develop a clear objective and design everything around it.
  • Note: Churches that have a clear understanding of their objective (i.e., what they will call success) have the best opportunity to succeed.

My Takeaway: Although I am regularly asked this question, I sincerely believe it is best to follow my 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

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

Don’t Miss Matt Chandler’s Newest Study: Recovering Redemption

recovering redemptionHad the opportunity to take a look at Matt Chandler’s newest study this week.  Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas, is one of America’s most popular preachers.  He is the author of a number of books and a regular contributor of Bible study  curriculum.  In Recovering Redemption: How Christ Changes Everything Chandler “gets to root of brokenness and our destructive patterns of behavior.”

Recovering Redemption is a 12 session DVD-driven study.  The video segments are classic Chandler.  28 to 36 minutes each, this is weekend sermon footage recorded live at The Village Church in 2013.  Chandler is a powerful speaker in the way few preachers are and these messages are no exception.  The DVD also includes several personal stories of redemption.

The Recovering Redemption study is designed to include three important components.

  • Attend each group experience (where you’ll watch the video, complete the viewing guide and participate in the group discussions).
  • Complete the content in the member book
  • Read Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer’s book Recovering Redemption

The member book (also referred to as the Bible study workbook) includes:

  • A video viewing guide that is designed to help members focus attention on the teaching, capture important ideas, and take notes.
  • Discussion questions for each session that will guide your conversation about the video and also about learnings in the weekly Bible study.
  • Each week includes three personal Bible studies that will take members deep into the topic.

A companion book by the same title is available to be read alongside the study.  Cowritten by Chandler and Michael Snetzer (a groups pastor at The Village Church), is very readable.  Written in an almost conversational style and packed with stories and illustrations that make the concept leap off the page, the book will help members take the message even further.

Recovering Redemption is an extremely powerful study.  If you’ve never heard Matt Chandler, you’re in for a kind of treat.  Although deeply theological, his messages always break through my personal bias toward seeker sensitive in the first few minutes and I find myself listening intently, caught off guard and fully immersed in what God’s word has to say to me.

I begin my review of every Matt Chandler study with my own bias completely in control and within minutes find myself thinking about all of the small groups that really need this study.  Recovering Redemption is a must add to your recommended list.  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.”

Connecting Millennials: What Are You Doing That’s Working?

What are you doing to connect Millennials?  You know the generation, right?  Sometimes referred to as “Generation Y”.  Everyone seems to have their own idea about the actual years included in the generation, but if we say they were born between 1982 and 2004, they are roughly 10 to 32 years old today.  And by the way…there are over 80 million of them in the U.S. alone.

It helps me to think about the Millennial generation in two main brackets: 16-24 and 25 to 34.  Can you picture them?

You can learn a lot about them from Barna’s Millenials Project.  For example,

“The first factor that will engage Millennials at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships. When comparing twentysomethings who remained active in their faith beyond high school and twenty-somethings who dropped out of church, the Barna study uncovered a significant difference between the two. Those who stay were twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an adult inside the church (59% of those who stayed report such a friendship versus 31% among those who are no longer active). The same pattern is evident among more intentional relationships such as mentoring—28% of Millennials who stay had an adult mentor at the church other than their pastor, compared to 11% of dropouts who say the same.”  5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to the Church

But…my question today is what are you doing to connect them?

What is working?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Quotebook: When An Organization Begins to Die

I loved Bob Buford’s book, Drucker & Me.  If you’ve not picked it up yet, I highly recommend it.  It’s a behind the scenes glimpse of one of history’s greatest strategic minds.  It’s also highly practical and you will come away with a great set of takeaways.

Here’s a one liner that instantly made it onto my post-it note wall:

“An organization begins to die the day it begins to be run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the customers.”  Drucker & Me

Powerful and sobering.  Early on I was influenced by a talk given by Jim Dethmer where he pointed out that Willow Creek’s primary customers, their end users, were not the people in the seats.  Their customers were the people not in the seats.

Dethmer’s line of reasoning was that Willow Creek existed to reach the customer and that once reached that customer would become an envisioned and empowered “employee” who would join the mission of reaching other customers.

Made great sense when I first heard it in 1991.  Makes even more sense today.

“An organization begins to dies the day it begins to be run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the customers.”

35 Mistakes, Blind Spots and Faulty Assumptions That Neutralize Small Group Ministry

blindspotI don’t know about you…but when I think back on my over 25 years of small group ministry experience, I can spot a truckload of mistakes, blind spots, and faulty assumptions that neutralized a thriving small group ministry.  And I’ve made every one of them.

I’m sure there are many, many more, but here are the first 35 that occurred to me.

35 mistakes: 

  1. I didn’t realize my senior pastor needed to be the small group champion.
  2. I didn’t understand my opportunity or responsibility to help my pastor be the small group champion.
  3. I believed I could build a thriving small group ministry without the engagement of key church leadership.
  4. I under-appreciated my own role in developing a culture of authentic community.
  5. I didn’t realize that a small group is the optimum environment for life-change.
  6. I didn’t recognize that the primary activity of the early church was one-anothering one another.
  7. I spent 5 years believing that the Meta Church model alone would build a thriving small group ministry.
  8. I spent another 5 years on the hunt for a problem-free small group model.
  9. I accepted the idea that meeting twice a month was ideal.
  10. I thought the most important ingredient in a small group was good curriculum.
  11. I didn’t realize that the usual suspects want to study topics that unconnected people don’t care about.
  12. I didn’t realize that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at my church again.
  13. I thought the best way to multiply groups was for groups to “grow and birth.”
  14. I thought the best way to identify potential small group leaders was to ask existing small group leaders for their recommendations.
  15. I didn’t realize that God has already answered the Matthew 9 prayer for workers and that most churches just don’t know who they are.
  16. I thought the small group connection strategy sounded crazy.
  17. I thought the HOST strategy sounded crazy.
  18. I didn’t see the exponential outreach potential of a church-wide campaign using the HOST strategy for several years.
  19. I didn’t appreciate the outreach limitation of a church-wide campaign using the HOST strategy until I attempted to use it in what turned out to be a fortress church.
  20. I have tweaked a less-than-effective strategy when I needed to admit that it was perfectly designed to produce the results we were experiencing.
  21. I didn’t realize that skilled Bible teachers could actually impede steps into leadership for group members.
  22. I didn’t recognize the potential of video-driven small group curriculum to help ordinary people start groups.
  23. I didn’t realize that the most connected people in a church have the fewest connections outside the church.
  24. I didn’t anticipate the time when it would be far easier to say “come over to my house” than “come with me to my church.”
  25. I didn’t appreciate the fact that options actually make choosing a next step more difficult.
  26. I didn’t know that the leap from the safety of the auditorium to a stranger’s living room was too big of a step.
  27. I didn’t understand that a six-week commitment to a group was short enough to help unconnected people say “yes” and long enough for them to begin to feel connected.
  28. I missed the significance of helping new groups survive the holidays.
  29. I underestimated the potential of a summer “book club” to connect men and women.
  30. I thought the best way to train small group leaders was to hold a required small group leader training course.
  31. I thought the best way to disciple people was one-on-one.
  32. I thought making disciples depended on a curriculum.
  33. I said “yes” to people who wanted to be a coach without testing their motives or their capacity.
  34. I over-appreciated the “instructor of technique” role of a coach (i.e., coaching leaders to add or improve their skills).
  35. I under-appreciated the modeling role of a coach (doing to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members).

What do you think?  Have one to add that I missed?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Christian Yves Ocampo

7 Decisions That Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact

DecisionsThere are a few decisions that predetermine whether your small group ministry thrives or struggles.  Further, I think an honest diagnosis can actually predict your chances of small group ministry impact.  As you read, give some thought to how you’d score your own ministry.

Here are 7 questions that predetermine small group ministry impact:

  1. Will you position small groups as an essential ingredient or an enhancement?  You should understand at the foundational level that it is virtually impossible to build a thriving small group ministry if groups are viewed as anything other than essential.  When small groups develop a reputation as something that is a nice extra, an enhancement, that reputation predetermine ineffectiveness.  (+10 if essential, -10 if enhancement) See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  2. Will your commitment to small group ministry be evident 100% of the time (i.e., no matter where you are, what you’re doing or who you’re talking with)?  A great temptation for many pastors is to act as if every ministry is “just as important” as the rest.  When pastors give in to this temptation, communication becomes extremely foggy.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, it must be clear to your congregation (and congregational leaders) that group participation is essential.  (+10 if 100%, -10 if not) See also, Determining the Minimum and Recommended Dose and Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist.
  3. Will small groups be the way to belong and become or one option among many?  A very important concept for all of us to understand is that choices and options make taking the next step more difficult.  When the next step is easy, obvious, and strategic it is more likely.  (+10 if the way, -10 if one option among many) See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu and Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?
  4. Will your investment in leader development be intentional and proactive or haphazard and reactive?  Remember, whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  This reality makes leader development an essential ingredient of small group ministry.  (+5 if intentional, -5 if haphazard) See also, Life-Change at the Member Level and 7 Practices for Discipling and Developing Your Coaches.
  5. Will your resource allocation for small group ministry mirror your stated convictions?  You’ve said that being in a small group is an essential ingredient, but is that reflected in your resource allocation?  If it is truly an essential ingredient it will be reflected in your budget, staffing, on-campus room prioritization, and communication (website, bulletin, e-newsletter, etc.).  Carl George was right when he said, “Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”   (+5 if mirror image, -5 if poor reflection) See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  6. Do you have the necessary determination to maintain pursuit for multiple years?  Building a thriving small group ministry is an ambitious goal and not for the faint at heart.  To arrive at the preferred future of a church of groups and more adults in groups than your average adult weekend worship attendance will not happen in a single great effort or even in a short series of great efforts.  If you want to arrive at this preferred future, it will require commitment to the long pursuit.  (+5 if yes, -5 if no) See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future and Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  7. Do you have the patience required to commit to a small group model for multiple years?  Making a wise choice of small group model or system and then sticking to it for multiple years is very important.  Switching from one model to the next every time you read a new book or attend a new conference is deadly.  Idea fatigue and shiny object syndrome have killed more small group ministries than almost anything else.  (+5 if yes, -5 if no) See also, Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry is Schizophrenic.

Scoring: Add up your score.  35 to 50, you have a very good chance of building a thriving small group ministry.  25 to 35, a few strategic changes will move you in the right direction.  15 to 25, you’ve got some hard work ahead.  Less than 15, you may want to rethink your commitment.

Need help moving in the right direction?  You can find out about my Small Group Ministry Health Assessment right here.

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

Image by Jose Maria Cuellar