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You May Need This Simple Logic about Small Group Coaching

simple-logicYou May Need This Simple Logic about Small Group Coaching

Follow me on this simple logic about small group coaching:

  1. Whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our small groups has to happen in the lives of our small group leaders first. I believe you know that too, even if this is the very first time you’ve ever thought about it.
  2. Small group coaching is only initially about technique. That is, only in a new small group leader’s first 3 or 4 months will a coach be needed for guidance on technique (i.e., how to help the non-stop talker in the group let others into the conversation, how to help the group pray together, etc.). If the new small group leader doesn’t learn the basic in the first few months, the group probably dies.
    • Note: I’m often asked whether a coach has to have experience leading a small group. Can you see that these first 3 or 4 months make it important that the coach has some experience leading a small group?
    • Note: This is also at the root of why retroactively assigning a coach to an experienced leader is almost always rejected. Experienced leaders know they know what they need to know in order to lead a group.
  3. Only after a relationship is established between a new leader and coach (in those first 3 or 4 months), does the coach have the  opportunity to take on the role of a spiritual mentor or discipler.
    • Note: In order for the coach to take on the role of a spiritual mentor or discipler, they need to be the right kind of people.
    • Note: The most effective spiritual mentors or disciplers have someone mentoring or discipling them.
  4. Until the coach takes on the role of a spiritual mentor or discipler they don’t have permission to do TO and FOR the leader whatever we want the leader to do TO and FOR their members. Effective coaches build relationships with leaders in the first few months and earn permission to speak into the life of the leader.

Questions that begged to be asked:

  1. Do the men and women who are currently serving as coaches in your small group ministry know what they need to know to begin working with new small group leaders? Remember, what the new leader needs in their first few months is almost entirely about technique.
  2. Are the men and women who are currently serving as coaches in your small group ministry the kind of people who can take on the role of a spiritual mentor or discipler?
  3. Do the men and women who are currently serving as coaches in your small group ministry know how to shift from coaching on technique to coaching on life?
  4. Who is doing TO and FOR your coaches whatever you want them to do TO and FOR the leaders they are coaching?
  5. Who is mentoring or discipling you?

Further Reading:

  1. Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders (2015)
  2. 7 Rules at the Essence of Small Group Coaching (2014)
  3. The Big Idea Behind Small Group Coaching (2015)
  4. The Big Misunderstanding that Dooms Most Coaching Structures (2015)
  5. 5 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Coaching Strategy (2015)

Image by Derek Bruff

Top 10 Reasons My Church Has a Long Way to Go (in small group ministry)

top-10-reasons-my-church-has-a-long-way-to-goTop 10 Reasons My Church Has a Long Way to Go (in small group ministry)

I’ve shared a few top 10 lists with reasons Saddleback, North Point and North Coast have had great success with their small group ministries.

I thought it might be time for me to share why my church still has a long way to go in its small group ministry efforts before we make the who’s who list ourselves.

Depending on your own progress in building a thriving small group ministry, you might want to spend some time talking about my list and developing your own. Until we are crystal clear on the state of our own present is remains impossible to arrive at our preferred future.

Here are my top 10 reasons we have a long way to go:

  1. Our groups pastor (me) isn’t staying 100% focused on our groups ministry. I will acknowledge that as a member of our lead team I have responsibilities beyond groups. At the same time, I must acknowledge that accomplishing our mission and reaching anywhere near the preferred future we have identified will require a much greater focus than I have given.
  2. We still haven’t narrowed the focus enough to help unconnected people know for sure what is important. We have made very good strides in the direction of a narrow focus. We’ve reduced the offerings on the buffet, but we still have a buffet. It’s not easy to find the buffet…but it’s still there.
  3. We are still figuring out how to consistently tell the stories that establish that it is essential to be in a group. This is almost entirely a matter of prioritizing the collection of stories. The stories are there. We hear them when we ask the right questions or happen to be standing in the right place. But if we prioritized their collection we’d never lack for a great story about the power of community.
  4. Too few of our coaches are effectively doing TO and FOR our leaders what we want our leaders doing TO and FOR their members. Although our span of care (the coach to leader ratio) is improving and looks much better on paper, beautiful org charts do not produce results. Span of care is important, but only if leaders are being cared for in a way that impacts the members of their groups.
  5. Our senior pastor and teaching pastors mention groups regularly but only occasionally have the stories they need to be convincing and compelling. Unconnected people are rarely convinced to put a toe in the water with hum drum announcements and pronouncements. Testimonials and satisfied customers sell more than soap and weight loss products. If we want to connect unconnected people we need to be better at collecting stories and using them compellingly in message after message, service after service.
  6. Our annual church-wide campaign has been hit or miss with focused energy and effectiveness. There is no question in my mind that a well-run and executed annual church-wide campaign provides the greatest opportunity to connect the largest number of unconnected people. It is simple to do but definitely not easy. Missteps and false starts are so common! Skillful execution can lead to a home run and be followed the very next year with an overconfident and half-hearted swing. If we want to optimize the results of this powerful strategy, I need to be much more dedicated to execution.
  7. We have relied too heavily on just-in-time leader training and haven’t invested enough energy in a leadership development system. Yes, some of our reliance on just-in-time leader training is simply the result of my commitment to make it as easy as possible to begin to lead (to build the bridge as we walk on it), knowing that we in order to connect the vast number of unconnected people (whose windows are closing) we’ve got to act now and not wait for systems to be developed. Still, we need to work harder and exert more energy in building the leadership development conveyor belt for our newest leaders to step onto.
  8. We haven’t identified the right ingredients that will help experienced leaders stay invested in their own development. It is far too common for new leaders to form groups and slip away before they develop the connective tissue, rhythm and desire for their own development. We need to be on an all out hunt for these missing ingredients.
  9. We haven’t created a compelling sense of responsibility for our experienced leaders to prioritize investing in an apprentice. While apprenticing is clearly not a strategy that multiplies groups dependably and at the pace we need, we are leaving a massive opportunity on the table. We must make apprenticing a priority and we must make it a priority immediately.
  10. We haven’t built a culture that makes leadership development both an ordinary and an extraordinary experience. This must become a system-wide preoccupation. While this is not something I can do alone, it is a preoccupation by which I must be seized.

Further Reading:

I’d love to keep you posted as things develop. Want to stay in touch?

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How Do We Help a New Host* Get Off to a Great Start?

help-a-hostHow Do We Help a New Host* Get Off to a Great Start?

“How do you help a host* get off to a great start?”

This is easily one of the most frequent questions asked about one of our main strategies for launching new groups at Canyon Ridge (the other strategy being a small group connection).

*Important Note: Although some small group models emphasize the roles of leader (the person who leads the group) and host (the person who opens their home for the group meeting), that is NOT what is meant here. In this case “host” refers to someone who simply responds to our invitation to invite a few friends to do a study together. Often referred to as the host “ask,” it is simply including the following phrase in the weekend sermon and/or announcements:

“If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with, drop by Groups Central after the service today and pick up a HOST Kit. It has everything you need to do the study with a couple friends and we’ve made it super affordable.”

Often used in combination with the church-wide campaign strategy, in it’s earlier form the Host ask was a little more involved. You can read a little bit about the history and earlier strategy right here: How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version.

Here’s how we help a host get off to a great start:

A few things to remember about the host strategy:

  1. Our first contact with most people who respond to the host ask is a stop at Groups Central to pick up a Host Kit. We have discovered it to be highly advantageous for the first contact to be face to face.
  2. We staff Groups Central with small group coaches and leaders who are knowledgable about starting groups and the specifics of the campaign.
  3. In most cases we charge a nominal amount for the kit. We incentivize the price to make it attractive (for example, in 2015 we wold the host kits for $20 (it had a $65 retail value). We try to decrease the burden for the host to shoulder the whole expense of inviting a couple friends.
  4. The kit includes everything needed to invite a couple friends and do the study with them (a host kit typically includes (a) the DVD, (b) 3 study guides, (c) a few simple invitations, and (d) a thumb drive with some helpful “how to get started” videos and information.
  5. In order to pick up the host kit a simple Host Info card must be completed. The card collects the host’s name, best phone, and best email.
  6. Only new hosts can pick up the host kit. Leaders of previously existing small groups pick up materials on a separate days.

Here are a few specifics about how we help new hosts begin well:

  1. When they complete and turn in the Host Info card, they immediately begin receiving a series of emails that provide just-in-time coaching.
    • Tips on inviting a few friends
    • The ABCs of a great first meeting
    • Ideas for helping new group members connect
  2. Each week the email includes specific tips and ideas for the upcoming session of the study.
  3. The weekly email also includes a look ahead at what’s coming.
  4. The 4th and 5th week’s emails point them toward a study to do next.
  5. New hosts are invited to a host gathering at or near the end of the series. At the host gathering they are connected to a coach.

As you can see, the connection with a coach happens much later for a host than it does for someone who is chosen as a leader at a small group connection. Because most host groups begin with the simple invitation of a couple of friends, the need for a coach is seen as less urgent on the part of the host. As the weeks progress they are often more and more receptive to the idea of a coach. See also, How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection – 2016.

Further Reading

Can I help you? It’s actually why I do this!

Can I help you? It’s actually why I do this!

mark_howell-headshotI created my first conference in 1996 (or maybe it was ’97). It was a children’s ministry conference (think about that!)

I invited Sue Miller to bring some of her Promiseland team to the Houston area. I got ahold of a mailing list of Willow Creek Association churches and other like-minded churches in the region and promoted it to them. It was before Willow Creek or anyone like that began holding conferences away from their own place.

The conference was great! We did it two years in a row. It was well attended.

I remember at the conference the second year someone asked me why I had organized it. Off the cuff I said, “Because I can.” What I really meant was, “It seemed like a way I could help children’s ministry leaders.”

Can I help you? It’s actually why I do this!

There are several ways I might be able to help you (beyond my blog).

GroupLife Southwest – 2017

I’m hosting a small group ministry conference March 27-28, 2017. I’m excited about it. I’ve lined up a great speaker list and am planning some experiences that I think will really help small group ministry point people build thriving small group ministries in 21st century North America. You can find out about it right here (and p.s., the Super Early Bird Pricing ends tomorrow).

My 2017 Coaching Network

I’ve just opened registration and started taking applications for my 2017 small group ministry coaching network. There are 12 to 15 spots. I love the interaction. It really is a highlight for me and has been every year since 2008. This year early signups include a registration for GroupLife Southwest – 2017. You can find out about my 2017 coaching network right here.

Coaching and Consulting

Every year I work directly with 10 to 20 churches. I actually do an onsite consultation at a few and provide telephone (Skype or FaceTime) at most, You can find out about setting up coaching or consulting right here.  You can also find out about what people are saying about my coaching and consulting right here and see a partial list of who has used my services right here.

Downloadable Mini-Courses

I’ve videoed many of my most popular workshops and made them available as downloadable resources. This is an increasingly popular option as it’s less expensive and convenient. You can see all my current offerings right here.

New to Small Group Ministry Course

I’m always experimenting with something and right now I’m testing a series of emails designed to coach new small group champions step by step through a process. You can find out about that right here.

together“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb

To see the rest of my quotebook, click here.

Image by Georgie Pauwels

Do You Have a Personal Huddle?

huddleI have been thinking about this lately. Most of us are playing important roles in our churches. We are working hard, running hard, to connect people and make disciples. We’re working to develop leaders and coaches.

And many of us are going it alone or nearly alone.

I hope you are finding ways to connect deeply with some compadres who are going the same way, whether they are nearby or far away. We are not made to do this long alone.

I love the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We’ve moved so often I’ve got remnants of huddles, close friends in lots of ports. And we’ve stayed here in Vegas long enough now to have some who are nearby.

I hope you are cultivating a personal huddle, the kind of community that will allow you to go far.


P.S. This is why I’ve talked so often about joining a huddle. It’s also one of the most important reasons I’m holding GroupLife Southwest, a small group ministry conference here in Las Vegas.

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Will You Take Advantage of This Price for GroupLife Southwest?

glsw-squareWill You Take Advantage of THIS Price for GroupLife Southwest?

I hope you’re planning to join us for GroupLife Southwest! And I really hope you’ll take advantage of the Extra Super Early Bird Price of $99.95 (the Extra Super Early Bird Price ends on the 15th…and that’s Saturday!).

But why should you join us at the GroupLife Southwest conference?

That is a great question! Here’s why you should join us in Las Vegas next March for this conference:

  1. You read my blog for a reason! I know that may sound like a weird thing to say right off, but isn’t it true? If you weren’t learning the things you need to know, you would have stopped reading here a long time ago! Right? And I organized the conference!
  2. I’ve invited a powerful lineup of trusted small group ministry experts and leading practitioners to offer timely breakouts on the topics that you need to know about and will benefit greatly from!
    • Bill Willits from North Point. Bill has been at North Point since their beginning and has been the point person for the small group ministry that has connected over 72,000! His insights alone will be worth the price of the conference.
    • Tim Cooper from North Point. You may not know Tim, but I can tell you his breakout at re:group 2016, Community for Everyone, was truly inspiring and incredibly challenging. I personally came away from his breakouts with a number of game-changing insights.
    • Chris Surratt from LifeWay. You probably recognize Chris’s name, but you may not remember his role as the Small Group Pastor for Cross Point Church (and prior to that Seacoast Community Church) and the author of Small Groups for the Rest of Us (packed with the great insights that only come from a seasoned practitioner accustomed to figuring out how to connect the people you aren’t already connecting and actually make disciples).
    • Dave Enns from North Coast. Again, you may not recognize Dave’s name, but you probably recognize North Coast Church. Well known for their sticky church small group strategy and philosophy, they have consistently connected over 80% of their weekend adult worship attendance in small groups. And they’ve been doing it for years while they’ve become one of the largest churches in the country.
    • Hugh Halter from Forge America. Hugh is not a household name…unless you want to connect unchurched friends, neighbors, co-workers and family. I’ve heard him a number of times at conferences like Exponential. His latest book Happy Hour is packed with insights. When I was assembling the lineup, he was the first person I contacted. If you want to be effective in the 21st century, you need to be paying attention to Hugh.
    • Todd Engstrom from Austin Stone. Several years ago The Austin Stone Community Church began a transition from an ordinary, business-as-usual small group ministry (that primarily existed for insiders) to a missional community strategy, intent on becoming a force that would impact Austin. Their journey is a great story and their transition is full of lessons learned.
    • Me. In addition to hosting the conference, I’m planning to present two breakouts that I think you’ll find very helpful. In addition, I’m cooking up a special breakout for Monday night that will be a live demonstration of how a small group connection works.
  3. Hang out with hundreds of small group practitioners! I learn more from the people I meet during the breaks at conferences every time I go. I’m doing a couple special things to help you do the same.
  4. Las Vegas in March! Trust me, March is one of the best times to come to Vegas. The weather is beautiful…and it’s not beautiful almost everywhere else.

Do you know what’s timeless and what’s timely? Learn the principles and practices that are making grouplife work in the 21st century.

The Extra Super Early Bird price ends on the 15th

The Extra Super Early Bird price ends on the 15th and jumps up $124.95 per person. Why not take advantage of $99.95? And maybe even bring another team member or two? You can buy your tickets right here.


You can find out more at

Listen, I’d love it if you’d join us. Don’t miss a great conference!

How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection – 2016


How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection

I posted the first series of articles on launching new groups with a small group connection in 2008. At the time I wrote them, I’d been using the small group connection strategy for 8 years and had already launched almost 1000 groups.

Over the last 8 years thousands of people have read that first series of articles. It has consistently been my most popular series every year.

But last year when I wrote Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection I realized I’ve made some pretty significant changes in how I prepare for, execute and follow up on a small group connection. And I knew I should offer a revised and updated version of my original series.

I ended up reformatting the revised and updated version as a downloadable PDF.

You can download your copy of my newly revised and updated version of How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection by subscribing to my email list below!

If you don’t see the subscription form, click here to hop over to my blog to sign up.

Dilbert on Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle

Sometimes…you just need to laugh!


You can see the rest of my Dilbert posts right here.

Simon Sinek on Curiosity

curiosity“Curiosity is essential for progress. Only when we look to worlds beyond our own can we really know if there’s room for improvement.” Simon Sinek

Further Reading:

Image by Mohammad Abdullah

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