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FAQ: How Do You Get Those on the Fringe to Lead Groups?

I get questions…a lot of questions.  And some of them are just too good to pass up.  In response to my post, I Dreamed I Was at the Southern Baptist Convention…, I got this question:

I have always appreciated your thinking on these subjects, however I have some questions for you.  How do you get those on the fringe to lead groups.  We can hardly get them to do anything much less step-out and start a group in their home or anywhere.  What is the divine spark?  Do you use campaigns, ready made dvd lessons they can lead?  What gets those spiritual infants to take step out.

Good questions…don’t you think?  Maybe you’ve even asked them yourself.  Here’s my answer:

There are several keys to understanding how this works.

First, I think you might need a better understanding of what I’m calling crowd’s edge.  Think about the folks that attend less than twice a month.  I like to think “they’re one conversation away, one life event away, from deciding to make attending a more regular event.  It may be strange to think of it that way, but it’s the reason so many refer back to an Easter or Christmas Eve service and say “that’s when I really got it.”  Or they might refer to a message series that pulled them in (“We didn’t miss a week during the 40 Days of Purpose”).”  See also, A Road Map to Crowd’s Edge.

Second, think about who their friends are, who their closest connections are?  Unlike the most connected people in your congregation, their friends have never even been to your church.  Ever.  What if you made it possible for the least connected adults in your church to invite their friends to join them for a small group?  “I know it doesn’t sound like something I’d do…but we’re going to watch this video about figuring out your life’s purpose and talk about it.”  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

Third, think about the kind of topic that would make it easy for the least connected people to invite their friends.  Obviously, the topic you choose determines a lot.  Doing a series on prayer?  Evangelism?  How about 40 Days in the Word?  Trust me…those are the wrong topics if you want your least connected attendees to play.  On the flip side, what about 40 Days of Purpose?  How about Pressure Points?  How about WEiRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer and Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

Full Disclosure: It’s never as easy as I make it sound.  It’s always hard work.  And when you do what I’m truly suggesting, not half way, full on, you will see amazing things happen.  You’ll see the very people I’m suggesting who will pick up a grab and go kit and invite their family and friends.  And their lives will never, ever be the same.  Ever.

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

Here’s Where I’ll Be This Fall

I’m so excited!  I’m doing 4 FREE workshops this fall.

I’m doing two sessions in all four locations:

  1. How to Build a Thriving Small Groups Ministry
  2. How to Maximize a Church-Wide Campaign to Launch and Sustain a Wave of New Groups

Here’s where I’ll be:

  • Houston, Texas, Monday, September 16th from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Copperfield Church, 8350 Highway 6 North
    Houston, Texas 77096.  To register for this FREE event or for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Pat Ford at pat.ford@lifeway.com.
  • Orlando, Florida, Tuesday, September 17th from 9:00 a.m. to noon at First Baptist Orlando.  To register for this free event, and for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Shannon Eads at shannon.eads@lifeway.com.
  • Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday, October 23rd at Cross Pointe Church, 1800 Satellite Boulevard, Duluth, GA 30097 (I’ll be at North Point’s re:group conference.  This is the next day.)  To register for this FREE event or for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Richard Edfeldt at richard.edfeldt@lifeway.com.
  • Dallas, Texas, Tuesday, November 5th from 9:00 a.m. to noon at The Church on Rush Creek, 2350 SW Green Oaks Blvd. Arlington, Tx 76017 (I’ll be at the RightNow Conference.  This is the day before.)  To register for this FREE event or for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Larry Golden at larry.golden@lifeway.com.

Can’t make these dates?  Stay tuned.  These sound like a good time and I may add more dates.  And I’m always available as a speaker for your own conference or leader training.  You can find out more right here.

I Dreamed I Was at the Southern Baptist Convention…

I dreamed I was at the Southern Baptist Convention…fighting for the rights of the spiritually unborn.

In my dream I was standing near a concession stand and suddenly realized there was a lady with a clipboard and she had just asked if I was Mark Howell.  She was an older lady with her hair in a bun and was wearing one of those dresses that button up the front, like a house dress.

Lady with the clipboard:  Are you Mark Howell?

Me: Yes.  Why?

Lady: You need to present this motion in the next session.

Me: What is it about?

Lady: It is a motion requiring people to be church members before they can host a small group.


And that’s about when I woke up.  It was kind of a “Noooooooooo!” moment. 

Never forget that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.

It was a crazy dream.  It would never happen.  That’s not the way the Southern Baptist Convention rolls.  They are about evangelism!  (Plus, I was at the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this year and I didn’t see anyone that looked like that!)

And yet, I couldn’t go back to sleep!  I was still wrestling with the idea that someone would try to prevent the people with the strongest connections to the outside from hosting a group and inviting their seeking friends and neighbors to join the group!

And so today, I am announcing my campaign for the rights of the spiritually unborn.  As Mayor of Crowd’s Edge, I am asking you to never forget that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community [click to tweet].

Nervous about what a less connected, less mature host might teach their group?  Use a customized approach to determine who the host will be able to invite.  Just don’t lose sight of the fact that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.  See also, Customized Leader Benefits and Requirements, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret? and 5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry.

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

6 Communication Mistakes that Limit Ministry Effectiveness

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw

I have a love/hate relationship with Shaw’s line.  I love the simple truth in it.  And…I hate the simple truth in it.

One of the greatest inhibitors of effective ministry is poor (or less than great) communication.

Here are six very common mistakes:

  1. We assume that everyone already knows.  As infrequent attendance becomes more and more common, our assumption needs to be that everyone doesn’t already know.  This is why I’ve suggested that we need to make the host ask several weeks in a row.
  2. We try to explain detailed information in the wrong settings.  Some things need a more thorough explanation.  Detail can be provided in a well written FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document.  Here’s an example of a Host FAQ.
  3. We try to automate too much communication.  Some things need a personal touch.  I hand out a lot of business cards and say, “Call me.  Let’s talk about it.”  No matter the size of your ministry, personalizing some communication is just good practice.  I’ve pointed out this little detail before.  See also, The Teeny Tiny Detail at the Bottom of This Saddleback Web Page.
  4. We manufacture enthusiasm and it doesn’t fool anyone.  This is central issue in communication.  When the communicator doesn’t isn’t truly enthused about the program or event…everyone can sense it.  If the communicator isn’t enthused, either you have the wrong communicator or the wrong program.
  5. We communicate only the what (or the how) but not the why.  This is a very important understanding.  When all we do is explain what we’re doing or how we’re doing it, we miss the most important aspect…the why behind it.  Why is the most effective persuader/influencer.  See also, Wrestling with Why.
  6. We limit communication to an information/data exchange.  Like it or not, wired for it or not, there are many in your crowd who primarily respond to passion or emotion.  If all we do is communicate the facts, we miss this group.  Conversely, there are some that are wired to respond to the facts.  If all we do is make emotional appeals, we miss this group.  Balance is essential.

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

New from David Morlan and D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In

Gospel of LukeWorked my way this week through The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In, a new DVD-enhanced study from LifeWay.  Featuring teaching by D.A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and written by David Morlan, co-founder and teaching pastor at Fellowship Denver Church, this study is a Gospel Coalition venture.

With the DVD segments coming in at 4 to 6 minutes, this is what’s being referred to as a DVD-enhanced study.  While short, the teaching of D.A. Carson is simple, but quite engaging.  Seated at a club table and explaining portions of Luke’s gospel, the video segments are stripped down to the essence but do a good job opening eyes and ears to a fresh understanding of scripture.

A 12 session study, there is plenty here to digest.  Designed to take participants through 12 themes of the gospel of Luke, the related scripture passages and commentary are included in the member book, but ranging from 5 to 7 pages of text, will most likely be read in preparation for the group study.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the study are the series of notes in the margin of the commentary sections, designed to ask reflective questions that prompt either a good opportunity for discussion or contemplation.

The study design itself is relatively compact with:

  • a warm-up question to prime the pump of discussion
  • watching the short video segment
  • a simple set of discussion questions
  • a wrap up section with takeaways

A simple leader’s guide is included in the member book with helps and tips primarily for new small group leaders.

I like the simple format and think this study will be a helpful resource for groups that are looking for a study that will keep their meetings focused on a study of the Bible.  At 12 sessions it is too long for a first commitment to a group, but excellent for established groups looking for a study that will provide some guidance with plenty of room for their particular rhythms.

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 LifeWay’s small group specialist. 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.”

Designing Your Groups for Maximum Impact

When you think about your small group , was it assembled by design?  With some kind of intentionality?  Or did it just sort’ve randomly come together?

The same questions could be asked about the small groups in your ministry.  Were they assembled by design?  With some kind of intentionality?  Or did they just sort’ve randomly come together?

These are very important questions that are almost never asked.  They’re important because, to paraphrase Andy Stanley, “your small group (ministry) is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

Think about that line for a moment.  The results you’re experiencing are directly linked to the design of your group (or your ministry).  That should tell us that we ought to be paying attention to the design.

Design Your Groups for Maximum Impact

There are a number of important aspects to the design of a group.  Keep in mind that like everything else, there are no problem-free designs.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  Every design combination will produce different results.  Wise leaders choose the design combination that produces the results they want to have.

  • Affinity (men, women, couples, singles, single again, single parents, mixed):  Affinity plays a role in determining the studies that are most appropriate and helpful.  It can also influence interaction and intimacy.  Intentionally choosing which affinities to use to form groups helps determine the set of problems you’ll have.  For example, North Point’s Group Link forms groups for men, women and married couples.
  • Life-stage (college, premarital, newlywed, parents of toddlers, parents of teens, empty-nesters, etc.): Groups defined by life-stage can be very productive from a support and encouragement standpoint.  Like affinity, life-stage can play a role in curriculum selection.
  • Intergenerational (including members from a variety of affinities and life-stages): Like every other decision, there are advantages and disadvantages to an intentionally intergenerational format.  Proponents argue that younger or less experienced adults can learn from older participants with more life experience.  Fans of the life-stage form maintain that the appeal of common interests makes it easier to connect and strong bonds form more naturally.
  • Open vs Closed (are you open to new members or closed?):  Both forms have their advantages and disadvantages.  Open groups can make it easier to include friends and neighbors of members.  Closed groups can help create authentic community. See also, Top 10 Reasons I’m a Fan of Open Groups and Three Observations that Made Me a Fan of North Point’s Closed Group Strategy.
  • Short-Term or Ongoing (Start and stop, like a semester?  Keep on meeting for a lifetime?): Again, both forms have their advantages and disadvantages.  Short-term and semester-based groups offer multiple onramps per year, as well as clearly defined off-ramps.  Ongoing groups offer continuity and often the sense of family.

In addition to group type, other aspects affect impact.  The most important design element probably has to do with what happens in the meeting.  Healthy groups design certain ingredients into their regular gathering.  I personally believe that the most impactful groups are designed to connect outside of the meeting (and it might be even more important than what happens in the meeting itself).  See also, Healthy Groups Integrate Four Components into Every Gathering, 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience and Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

Important Note: I’m not suggesting blowing up what you have, simply that awareness of design (the lack of intention is a type of design) will begin to pay off as you take steps toward the preferred future of your small group ministry.

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

What’s in the 3rd Box?

What are you doing in your ministry that is about creating the future?  Remember, “the day to day execution of your existing model is vitally important.”  At least it is for me.  It’s important for me to do everything I can to connect as many unconnected people as possible and do it as fast as I can.  If I’m not on that mission, if my team loses focus on this task…it’s a bad thing.  And I’m betting it’s a bad thing for you too!

Still, as we’re learning from Vijay Govindarajan, it’s not enough to get box 1 right.  If we really want to continue making a difference 5, 10 or 20 years into the future, we need to be actively working on box 2 and box 3.  I’ve written about Saddleback’s repeated willingness to radically shift the way they connect people.  Want to play in the future?  We’ve got to be willing to work on box three initiatives.  See also, Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach and Are You Wrestling with the Menace of Organizational Memory?

I’ve hinted at what we’re preparing to do in September.  Think Church-Wide Campaign with the HOST strategy and a new twist of a small group fair.  Could be a game-changer.  Can’t wait to see what happens!  Definitely a box 3 free-for-all!  See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula and A Potentially Game-Changing Mashup We’ll Be Testing in September.

So what’s in your 3rd box?  Want to share with us what you’re getting ready to do?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Are You Wrestling with the Menace of Organizational Memory

Yesterday I posted an article explaining one of Vijay Govindarajan’s ideas from his important talk at the Global Leadership Summit.  If you missed it, I’d suggest going back and read Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach.  Very important stuff.

Today, I want to dive in one more time to one of Govindarajan’s points in his article, The CEO’s Role in Business Model Reinvention.  In yesterday’s post I described his three box approach to organizational reinvention.  You’ll remember that Box 1 is about preservation, Box 2 is about destruction, and Box 3 is about creation.

Box 2 might seem straightforward, prune underperforming or outdated ministries and programs.  But I want to draw your attention to what he refers to as a “less-evident menace: organizational memory.”  Here’s how he describes the challenge:

As managers run the core business, they develop biases, assumptions, and entrenched mind-sets. These become further embedded in planning processes, performance evaluation systems, organizational structures, and human resources policies. Organizational memory is particularly powerful in companies that tend to promote from within and to have homogeneous cultures, strong socialization mechanisms, and long track records of success. Such deeply rooted memory may be great for preservation (box 1), but if it is not tamed sufficiently (box 2), it gets in the way of creation (box 3). That’s why all box 3 initiatives must start in box 2. Bottom line: Before you can create, you must forget.

Can you see how built-in biases, assumptions, and entrenched mind-sets might be clouding your ministry evaluation?  As I reflect on arm-wrestling sessions in the past about ministry effectiveness and new ideas, I can see clearly the impact of bias, assumptions, and mind-sets.  And while I can’t change what happened in the past, I can influence the way going forward by incorporating fresh eyes to discussions on change as well as new awareness of the menace of organizational memory.  See also, What In Your Ministry Is Off-Limits for Debate,

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

Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach

Note: This concept has tremendous application regardless of the ministry you lead.  Don’t be put off by what might seem to be a more corporate concept and strategy.  Take my word for it, if you’ll take a few minutes to grasp the idea you’ll never look at your ministry in the same way again.


In the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, Vijay Govindarajan* introduced what he refers to as the three box approach to manage organizational reinvention.  Now, you probably already understand the need for reinvention, so I won’t go into any real detail.  Suffice it to say, that if any of the following are true, you need to think about reinvention:

  • If your ministry impact is plateaued or in decline.
  • If your ministry impact is limited to a small percentage of the community in which you operate.
  • If there are ministry opportunities you are aware of but haven’t identified a way to capture.
  • If your budget only fuels yesterday’s winners.
  • Etc.

See where this goes?

When you begin to see the need for reinvention (or to be honest, whether you see it or not), here is a very basic overview:

The essence of the idea is that all activity in an organization fits in one of three boxes.  Keep in mind that activity means much more than the programs or ministries themselves.  Activity includes planning, preparation, execution and evaluation.

Here are the three boxes:

  • Box #1 is managing the present: You might think of these activities as intended to improve today’s current ministry winners.  They’re flourishing.  Everyone can see that good things are happening.  There is good reason to preserve these things along with the sense that it makes sense to invest energy in tweaking design for even greater impact.  The key word for this box preservation.
  • Box #2 is selectively forget the past: You might think of these activities as aimed at stopping underperforming ministries and outdated programs.  The key word for this box is destruction.
  • Box #3 is creating the future: You might think of these activities as those that prepare your ministry for the long term, the next phase or season.  The key word for this box is creation.  

According to Govindarajin, for organizations to endure, “they must get the forces of preservation (box 1), destruction (box 2), and creation (box 3) in the right balance.”  He goes on to write that while striking this balance is the leader’s most important task, most organizations “overwhelmingly favor box 1.”

How about your ministry?  Are you balancing the three boxes?  Or are almost all of your eggs in preserving the status quo?

Here’s your assignment:  I love this diagnostic exercise from The CEO’s Role in Business Model Reinvention.

  1. Write Box 1, Box 2 and Box 3 on individual post-its and use them as headings on a wall.
  2. Spend some time imagining ministry in 5, 10 or 20 years.  Incorporate as much of what you’re seeing in the changing culture, changing demographics, pace of life, economics, morality, etc.
  3. Now take individual post-its and write each of the important initiatives under way in your ministry.  Stick them on the wall under the appropriate heading (Box 1, Box 2 or Box 3) in light of the 5, 10, or 20 year horizon you’ve identified.

How’d you do?  Are you balancing the three boxes?  Or are you overweighted in preservation?

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

*Vijay Govindarajan is the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business and the founding director of the Center for Global Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.  He is also the author of a number of books including The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge and Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution.