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Great New Study for Women: Seamless: Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story

Had an opportunity to preview a new study from Angie Smith. Seamless: Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story is a 7 session Bible study for women that “shows how the whole Bible–from Genesis through Revelation–connects as one beautiful seamless thread.” Angie Smith is the best-selling author of Mended, I Will Carry You and What Women Fear. Because of her background, she comes at the story of the Bible in a way that women who are new to Bible study will find very compelling.

DVD-driven, Seamless features the teaching of Angie Smith. The sessions are short, ranging from 11 to 16 minutes in length. Very conversational, her speaking style will grab your members’ attention from the opening moments.

The Bible Study book includes what you’d expect in a DVD-driven study. A section designed to help members review last week’s homework and questions that will help them talk about what they learned in the video. What may set this study apart is the care taken at setting up even the newest to the Bible members to gain a new understanding of the seamless story of the Bible. Each week has five days of homework and there’s enough there to take participants 30 to 60 minutes to complete. The writing is very engaging (sprinkled with trivia and fun facts) and will help along new members while keeping seasoned veterans engaged.

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly on the lookout for studies that will appeal to unconnected women who aren’t already part of a small group or Bible study. To qualify, the speaker on the video has to come across like someone a normal person can hang out with at a Starbucks. To qualify, the writing has to be understandable (without an interpreter) and engaging, pulling the member further into the content. Seamless qualifies. I loved it and I think your members will too.

Thinking Thursday: What All Great Design Companies Know

robert brunnerWe can learn a lot by listening to design experts talk about the care behind the design process at companies like Apple and BMW.  In this 99U talk, designer Robert Brunner deconstructs his creative process revealing the stories behind products like Beats by Dre headphones and the Polaroid Cube.

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

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Growth or Control? Which Do You Really Want?

limitless growthI often get a good conversation going when I write about the small group connection strategy or the HOST strategy (two small group strategies that seem to include high risk). Comments always include things like, “How do you know the people who are hosting a group aren’t ax murderers and adulterers?” Or, “How can you be sure the people who are chosen to lead the connection group are people your elders would approve as leaders?”

In reply, I’ve often said, “There is no problem-free small group model, system or strategy. Every small group strategy comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders choose the set of problems they’d rather have.”

The truth is, every strategy that seems safe also come with a set of problems. Problems included in safe strategies include things like:

  • Can’t find enough qualified leaders
  • Aren’t multiplying new groups fast enough
  • Difficult to match members with available groups

See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free System, Model, or Strategy.

My suggestion? Know that you can program for growth or control…but not both. If you’re stuck, if your small group ministry isn’t thriving, it is most likely because you’ve designed a system that feels safe and you haven’t acknowledged the fact that the factors you believe guarantee safety are actually obstacle that prevent growth.

I love this line from David Chrzan*, “You can have growth or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want.”

Are you so focused on safety that you’ve programmed out exponential growth?

Image by Stathis Stavrianos

*I’ve also heard this line associated with Rick Warren.

Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Connections

pointing connectionI get asked a lot of questions about the ins and outs of small group connections.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

  1. How many unconnected people do you need in order to hold a successful small group connection? I have successfully connected people with as few as 20 to 30 and as many as 350 in a single room. The more people you have, the better the affinity you can manufacture. The smaller the attendance, the more likely it becomes that you’ll end up with groups that don’t have enough in common to stick.
  2. What do you do if you don’t have enough people to form a good group for everyone at the connection? There are definitely times when there won’t be enough people to form all the groups you hope to form. For example, you might have enough couples and enough women to form couples’ groups and women’s groups, but only have 2 men show up. What do I do? We are always ready to call an audible and promise to do everything possible to connect everyone with the best match possible within 48 hours. That usually means an already existing men’s group. When we’ve done everything possible and there still isn’t a match, we call the person back and do our best to find a way to connect them.
  3. What happens if the group just doesn’t pick a leader or picks more than one? What they are being guided to choose is the “person they’d be willing to follow for a 6-week test-drive.” When you carefully follow the strategy it will almost always produce more than one leader from every group. In rare instances, it will only produce one leader. When the group is unanimous in their selection, something has almost always gone wrong.
  4. What happens if the group picks someone who is not a good choice? When the strategy is carefully followed, the group will almost always choose the best candidate(s). The connection strategy is designed to help each group choose the best potential leader(s). They might not meet the standards you have for a small group leader.  You might think of it as choosing the best candidate relative to the other members of the group. It is very common for the group’s selection to be considered a potential leader subject to a set of next steps (i.e., fill out a questionnaire, meet with a coach during the first 6 weeks, attend a leaders’ orientation, etc.).
  5. What happens when the chosen leader doesn’t want to be the leader? This does happen every once in a while. But since every group almost always chooses 2 (or more) leaders, there is almost always a fall back option. And on those rare occasions when things just go awry, you can always call an audible and ask “who would like to host the first meeting?”
  6. Doesn’t the small group connection strategy feel like a bait-and-switch to the people chosen as leaders? When I gather the newly chosen leaders for a brief standup meeting at the end of the connection event, I always ask two questions. First, I ask, “How many of you came tonight expecting to end up as the leader of a group?” There are always one or two people who raise their hands. Second, I ask, “How many of you feel a little bit like you got tricked? You came expecting to be in a group and you ended up the leader?” And there are almost always several who raise their hands. Which brings me to the main purpose for the leaders standup meeting at the end of the connection. I spend the last few minutes reminding them that there are no good stories in the Bible, Old Testament or New, of people volunteering to be a leader. All of the stories are about people being chosen. You’ll find a very complete example of how I talk about this in Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection.
  7. Are small group leaders of already existing groups (looking for a few new members) allowed to use the connection to fish for new members? No. The purpose of a small group connection is to identify new leaders and launch new groups. If you’re looking for a way to add members to existing groups, consider holding a small group fair. See also, Distinctives of the Three Types of Connecting Events.

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

Image by Gabe Austin

How Can I Find More Leaders!?

haystackSmall group pastors fall into one of three categories. Most of us can always use more small group leaders. Many of us are actively looking for more leaders. And some of us are desperately looking for more.

If finding new small group leaders is like looking for a needle in a haystack, you’ll want to take advantage of what I think are the three best ways to find new small group leaders. I’ll share the three methods in a moment, but first I want to point out two important assumptions that make these ideas very potent.

  1. Get over the idea that the best candidates are people you know.  As your church grows it becomes increasingly less likely that your pastor and staff will know everyone.  This makes any leader identification strategy that depends on the personal knowledge of staff doomed to fail.
  2. The most productive strategies will be focused on the edges.  There is nothing wrong with insisting that every leader have an apprentice.  It is a good strategy.  It is a biblical strategy.  It just has limited potential in most churches.  In most churches the largest number of potential group leaders are not currently in a group.  In addition, the least connected people in your congregation are often the most connected in the community.

You can read 8 Secrets for Discovering an Unlimited Number of Leaders for more, but can you see why you need to understand these two when it comes to finding more leaders?

Three Best Methods for Finding New Leaders

With that, here are what I think are the three best methods for finding new small group leaders:

Church-Wide Campaign

Launch a church-wide campaign with the HOST strategy. The very best way to recruit small group leaders is to do a church-wide campaign on a great topic and leverage your senior pastor’s influence to recruit people to host a group. The topic you choose for your campaign is very important. The topic determines who will say yes to hosting and who will say yes to joining.  I’ve written extensively on this topic.  It is not hard, but it does require the cooperation of your senior pastor.  Trust me.  If you select the right campaign, it becomes easy to recruit hosts.  And now with Saddleback’s latest game-changing way of inviting people to host a group, it is even easier and more productive. See How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again, and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

Small Group Connection

Hold a small group connection. Another great way to identify new small group leaders is to hold an event and let the design of the event itself do the heavy lifting. The small group connection process actually helps group members choose leaders at every table. This is not GroupLink. You don’t need preselected leaders to do it.

When I discovered the Small Group Connection event back in 2000, I was very skeptical.  VERY skeptical.  I became a believer after my very first event.  I’ve written a very detailed 5 part article on How to Launch New Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection.  I’ve recently written a very detailed explanation of how I lead a small group connection. Between the two, you will learn everything you need to know.  The key to this idea is that the event is designed to identify leaders in a way that nothing I’ve ever tried can beat.

Small Group Vacation

Encourage your small groups to take a small group vacation. Can’t see yourself pulling off idea #1 or 2?  Leveraging your senior pastor’s influence to challenge your existing groups to consider taking a small group vacation is another great way to identify some fantastic new leaders.   The plan is really very simple.  Choose a great small group study.  Ask your existing small groups to consider not meeting together as a group for the 6 weeks of the study you choose.  Instead, ask group members to pair up with another couple or 2 or 3 others and help launch a new group.  When the study is over…they can go back to their original group if they’d like.  Their commitment is only for the 6 weeks.  Time after time I’ve found that once group members experience what it’s like to be used by God to help connect a few more…they often choose not to go back to their original group.  See also, Take a Small Group Vacation.

Image by John Pavelka


Don’t Miss Pete Wilson’s New Study: “What Keeps You Up At Night?”

what keeps you up at nightI spent some time with a great new study today. One you are definitely going to want to know about and add to your recommended list. What Keeps You Up At Night: How to Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams is the latest study from Pete Wilson, founding and senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Pete’s ministry–”an outreach focused on helping people become radically devoted to Christ, irrevocably committed to each other, and relentlessly dedicated to reaching those outside of God’s family with the Gospel–has made Pete a frequent speaker at national and international church conferences.”

I love this line from the website: “Today’s world, with all its expectations, responsibilities, and shortcomings, has created an environment ripe for the kind of uncertainty that has shackled an entire generation. This small-group Bible study helps participants activate faith and trust in God that will propel them forward through fear and anxiety to peace, faithfulness, and trust.”

Based on Pete’s new book by the same titleWhat Keeps You Up At Night hits the bullseye of what I call a cross-cultural study. After all, doesn’t everyone have things that keep them up at night? That’s not a topic that only Christians care about. This is a study that neighbors, friends, co-workers and family will readily identify with and it will make a very easy invite.

What Keeps You Up At Night is a 6 week DVD-driven study featuring teaching by Pete Wilson. With his conversational style and the average session length of 16 minutes, the video segments easily hold group members’ attention.

The Bible study book includes a video viewing guide and an easy-to-use group discussion. It also includes a section between group meetings for personal reflection, organized as Personal Reflection, Deeper Look and Now What? At an average length of 12 pages, this section for personal reflection will take some time to complete but could be completed over several mornings.

If you’re looking for a study that will help your small groups wrestle with a topic that everyone deals with–Christians and nonChristians alike–What Keeps You Up At Night will be a great addition to your recommended list. I loved it and I’m sure your groups will find it extremely helpful.


Thinking Thursday: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiMihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-Sent-Me-High) asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

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

5 Simple Rules of Effective Small Group Ministry

rulesCan I let you in on a little secret? There are actually just a few simple rules of effective small group ministry. And if you can just follow the rules…you can build a thriving and effective small group ministry.

Here they are:

  1. Always be launching new groups while training leaders of existing small groups to fish for new members. One of the greatest dilemmas in small group ministry is whether to start new groups or add new members to existing groups. If you want to build an effective small group ministry, you need to focus on launching new groups. Whether you are brand new in a new place or a long-time veteran in a very familiar place, if you will focus on launching new groups while training leaders of existing groups to fish for new members, you will be headed in the right direction. See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups.
  2. Never stop looking for leaders of leaders. A relentless commitment to identifying and recruiting leaders of leaders is essential. If you want to launch and sustain new groups you must build an effective coaching structure at the same time. Make it a weekly priority to be on the lookout for high capacity leaders with a passion for community. Set aside time every week to spend time with the right candidates. See also, How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach.
  3. Personally invest in the development of the leaders you recruit. Remember, whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups, must happen first in the lives of the leaders. That means your investment in developing and discipling your coaches must be a priority for you. See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  4. Share success stories every week with your senior pastor. Even if you have to stake out your senior pastor’s office and look for any opportunity to tell them a good story…do it. They need to hear it and you need to let them tell the best life-change stories. See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask.
  5. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Just like on every airline’s safety message, if you want to have any role in the spiritual growth of others you have to be growing. It won’t happen in your ministry if it isn’t happening in you. And it won’t happen in you unless you make and keep a commitment to pursue it. That means a daily commitment to time with God and regular investment in your own journey. See also, Investing in Your Own Personal Growth.

Can I tell you something? It really is this simple.

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

Image by Erin

How Are You Evaluating Your Small Group Ministry?

evaluateHow are you evaluating the effectiveness of your small group ministry? Are you simply comparing the current number of groups and the current number of members with some previous snapshot? Or maybe against a goal? Are you maybe comparing your percentage adults connected with some preferred future goal? See also, Start with the End in Mind.

How are you evaluating the effectiveness of your small group ministry?

The Key Question

How you should evaluate your small group ministry actually depends on what you have predetermined you will call success. What you have decided in advance will be called success or a win ought to shape the questions you ask to evaluate your ministry. See also, Clarifying the Win for Your Small Group Ministry and 5 Non-Negotiables that Define True Small Group Ministry Success.

Need a few examples?

3 Examples:

If you’ve decided that success for your small group ministry is to make disciples, you should be asking questions like:

  • As a result of being in your current small group, are you becoming (a) more like Jesus, (b) less like Jesus, (c) staying the same, or (d) other?
  • How have you become more like Jesus this year?
  • Who are you discipling?
  • Where are you serving?
  • How have you become more generous this year?

If you’ve decided that success for your small group ministry is to create natural connecting opportunities for friends, neighbors, co-workers and family to join a group, you should be asking questions like:

  • Who have you invited to join your small group this year?
  • Who are you building a relationship with and will soon invite to your group?
  • How could your group have a more inviting atmosphere?
  • What might be happening in your gatherings that is an unnecessary barrier to inviting friends?

If you’ve decided that success for your small group ministry is to connect unconnected people in your congregation (and crowd) so they can make friends, you should be asking questions like:

  • Do you feel more connected now that you are in a group?
  • Have you made friends that you connect with outside of your group meeting?
  • Would you recommend joining a group as a way to make friends?

Takeaway: How you are evaluating the effectiveness of your small group ministry must be determined by what you’ve decided in advance to call a win. See also, 3 Questions You Should Be Asking about Your Small Group Ministry.

Image by Kenny Louie

Who Is Your Small Group Ministry Designed to Connect?

post christianWho is your small group ministry designed to connect? Have you ever spent any significant time evaluating who your small group ministry is designed to connect? Have you ever evaluated who your small group ministry is actually connecting?

What if your ministry is designed to connect a kind of person that is disappearing? What if the most likely people to connect are a shrinking minority in your crowd or community?

Did you know that the most recent Barna Group study indicated that “from 2013 to 2015 the percentage of Americans who qualify as ‘post-Christian’ rose by 7 percentage points?”

It’s important to understand how the Barna Group measures a person’s level of irreligion. They have identified 15 metrics related to faith (see below), and “in order to qualify as ‘post-Christian,’ individuals had to meet 60% or more of the factors (nine or more out of 15 criteria).

Here are the factors:

  1. Do not believe in God
  2. Identify as atheist or agnostic
  3. Disagree that faith is important in their lives
  4. Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
  5. Have never made a commitment to Jesus
  6. Disagree the Bible is accurate
  7. Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
  8. Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
  9. Agree that Jesus committed sins
  10. Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
  11. Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
  12. Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
  13. Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
  14. Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
  15. Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)

Think about the significance of a 7% increase in just two years.

3 observations:

  • If your small group ministry is designed to connect people who already believe what you believe, your target market is rapidly shrinking.
  • If the most common people you are connecting already read the Bible at least once a week, your current customer is far different than the fastest growing segment of Americans.
  • If the majority of your small groups never connect anyone who doesn’t already attend a Christian church, the fastest growing segment of your community is unreachable.

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

Image by Barna Group

I’ve written about this on a regular basis over the last 7 or 8 years.

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