5 Small Group Ministry Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know

Ever had this happen?  You’re doing a repetitive task the same way you’ve been doing it for years and then someone sees what you’re doing and tells you an easier way.

Or how about this, you’re driving somewhere you’ve been a million times and someone in the backseat says, “Did you know that there’s a much faster way?”

It’s kind of like that in small group ministry, you know.  There are definitely secrets and shortcuts that will get you where you want to go faster and more effectively.

Here are 5 small group ministry secrets and shortcuts:

  1. There are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  This may not seem like a shortcut, but believe me, the pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  Wise leaders recognize that there is no problem-free and simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  2. If you’re having problems recruiting enough leaders, you’re using the wrong strategy.  If you’re still signing up leader candidates to attend the upcoming leader training course, you are overlooking the elephant in the room.  A significant percentage of leader training sign-ups (in a system where members are supplied) have below-the-waterline issues and will never lead a group.  Far better to leverage preexisting relationships (i.e., “If you have a couple friends you’d like to invite, you can host a group”) or leverage the ability of members to wisely choose leaders from amongst themselves.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock and Top 10 Articles on Starting New Groups.
  3. Offering a short test-drive is the best way to engage more people in small groups.  If you want to connect more of your adults to groups, shift your offer from a 13 week commitment (or a 12 to 18 month commitment) to a 6 week test-drive.  Lyman Coleman was right when he recognized that 6 weeks is short enough to commit to and long enough to help people begin to feel connected.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. Restocking dying groups with new members is almost always a bad idea.  It will seem cruel to some, but it is far more effective to teach existing group leaders and members to fill their own groups and focus your limited energy on starting new groups.  See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members and Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.
  5. The best way to recruit small group coaches is to simply invite the right people to “help for a few weeks.”  Inviting the right people to help for a few weeks by “coming alongside 2 or 3 of our new small group leaders” gives you a chance to see them in action.  The right people will be both fruitful and fulfilled.  You only want people who are both fruitful and fulfilled.  Go for both.  Don’t ever compromise.  It’s a lot harder to get someone into a job than out of one.  See also, Three Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up.

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

Don’t Miss This New Study for Women: Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus

hebrewsSpent some time with a new study from Lisa Harper this week.  Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus is a 7 session study that takes an engaging look at “two contrasting realities: Jesus is supreme, yet Jesus is approachable.”  I reviewed Malachi: A Love that Never Give Up, an earlier study by Harper, about 18 months ago and loved that one.  Hebrews is no different.  I loved it and I bet your members will too.

DVD-driven, each of the video sessions is 30 minutes to 39 minutes long.  Although the video is a little on the long side by ordinary standards, Harper is such a gifted teacher that these sessions fly by.  A great story-teller, you will find yourself captivated (as I did).

Each session in the member book includes a video guide designed to help everyone capture the key ideas in Harper’s teaching as well as a short set of discussion questions.  In addition to these session resources the member book includes a weekly Bible study to be completed independently.  Along with the Bible study, the independent portion also includes a creative exercise of some kind.  For example, week one’s assignment is to rent and watch To Kill a Mockingbird and think about several application questions.  Finally, every session includes a “extra credit questions for Bible nerds.”

Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus is a powerful study.  It ought to be on your radar.  If you’re not familiar with Lisa Harper, you will be soon.  This is good stuff.  I think your members will really find themselves captivated and with a new appreciation for the book of Hebrews.

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, LifeWay is a regular sponsor here at MarkHowellLive.com. 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.”

Take Advantage of My New Short Course: Supercharge Your Fall

Want to supercharge your fall ministry season?  Sign up for my new four week course and buckle up!  It’s short.  It’s action packed.  And has a money back guarantee.

Supercharge Your Fall

  • Launch more groups than ever
  • Connect way beyond the usual suspects
  • Sustain more of the groups you launch
  • Build next steps for everyone you connect

What’s Included:

  1. Four 75-minute conference calls (60 minutes content + 15 minutes Q&A)
  2. Downloadable outlines (allowing you to capture every detail)
  3. Each session is packed with actionable takeaways
  4. All calls are recorded and downloadable to share with your team
  5. Password-protected site with additional supporting resources.
  6. 100% money back guarantee.  If you’re not completely satisfied…I’ll refund your money.

When, Where and Other Details:

  • The first session is on Thursday, July 24th at 11:00 a.m. pacific.
  • Sessions 2 thru 4 are on July 31st, August 7th and August 14th.
  • Regular pricing: $49.95
  • Take advantage of a 20% discount ($39.95) through July 16th.
  • Questions?  Email Me for information.

Ready to jump in?


Registration Prices



  • Can’t make all four weeks?  No worries!  Every call is recorded and downloadable the same day.
  • Already have your fall programming buttoned up?  What if one idea per week was just too good to pass up?  You’d figure out a way to implement it, wouldn’t you?
  • New to small group ministry and not sure you’ll catch on?  I am known for clear, step-by-step strategies that can be implemented by experienced pros and rookies alike.
  • Seasoned veteran and already know the basics?  I guarantee you’ll come away with an idea every week that will help you connect a dot you’ve never noticed before.

Ready to jump in?


Registration Prices



Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril

I know there are some who object to references to customers and products and marketing…but some things are made so clear by shifting the vocabulary from church to business.

Alan Kay, the computer scientist, said “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”  His famous quote is also recorded as “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Either way, he’s pointing out that acquiring a different perspective or point of view can make us a lot smarter.

For example, here are 4 realities that Peter Drucker identified in Managing for Results.  See if these add up for you and actually provide a helpful new perspective about the design of connecting strategies for unconnected people:

  1. “What the people in the business think they know about customer and market is more likely to be wrong than right.”  Can you see the truth in Drucker’s thinking?  Can you see how it might apply to our work in designing strategies to connect unconnected people and make disciples?  See also, Design Your Connecting Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  2. “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  The obvious question is, what do we think we are providing for unconnected people and are we providing what they actually value?  See also, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps.
  3. “An important corollary is that what the producer or supplier thinks the most important feature of a product to be may well be relatively unimportant to the customer.”  Again, what if an active conversation with unconnected people revealed that they don’t actually value what we think is something they ought to value?  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. “The customers have to be assumed to be rational.  But their rationality is not necessarily that of the manufacturer; it is their own rationality.”  How many times have we said, “If people just knew what was good for them they’d sign up for a small group!”  What if we simply embraced the idea that our customers have their own rationality and the sooner we learn what it is the sooner we’ll begin to design connecting strategies that appeal to unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Small Group Ministry for Results.

See also, Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.

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

6 Things Not to Say about Small Group Ministry

Have you learned there are certain things that you should never say about small group ministry?  Sometimes I cringe when I hear them.  There’s definitely a list of things not to say that approach stupid.  And sometimes I have the urge to say “ixnay on the oopid stay.”

There are a few things not to say:

  1. “This is the way we’re going to do small group ministry from now on.”  Trust me, this is a terrible one-liner and the cause of much unnecessary frustration and confusion.  Fed up with the flaws of your current system?  Far better to learn to say, “This new strategy will help us take the next step in connecting people…”  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  2. If you’re ready to lead a small group, sign up today.  This is a recipe for disappointment.  With a near guarantee that more than half of your sign-ups to lead groups will have below-the-waterline issues, it is almost never a good idea.  Far better to rely on the HOST method to recruit volunteers (who will fill their own group ) or a small group connection (where the members choose a leader from amongst themselves).
  3. If you’re ready to step up and be a small group coach, sign up today.  This is a terrible idea!  Settling for anything less than a high capacity candidate is never a good idea.  Taking volunteers for coaches is guaranteed to stack your coaching team with people who will be fulfilled in having the title but ineffective at the job itself.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.
  4. We’ve asked each our elders to be a coach.  Oh my…if I had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve heard this proposed as a viable way to build a coaching structure, I’d have a lot of money!  Just because someone is qualified to serve as an elder (or any other leadership position) doesn’t mean they have what it takes to serve as a coach.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  5. We’ve hired a small group pastor to be the small group champion. Some senior pastors have a great challenge resisting this statement.  If that’s you…resist!  If that’s your senior pastor, don’t let them go there.  The senior pastor is the most influential person in nearly 100% of churches.  The role of small group champion cannot be delegated.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  6. There are 3 great ways to get connected here at Community Church: Small groups, Sunday school classes and discipleship groups.  Unless you are confident that all of your options include the same essential ingredients, you need to be very careful to resist the temptation to talk about the different options as if they are the same.  See also, 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples and What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make.

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

5 People Every Small Group Pastor Needs in Their Circle

You may feel like the lone inventor, a prophet in your own town, or a sole proprietor desperately trying to keep the business afloat…

…but whatever you feel like there are a few people every small group pastor needs in their circle.  Every small group pastor.  That’s me.  That’s you.  There are no good exceptions to this one.

There are 5 people every small group pastor needs in their circle:

  1. Peers.  You need at least one (and preferably a network) of peers who are working to build thriving small group ministries.  I have always been a networker and over the years I’ve come to really appreciate the value of a extended circle of peers who are nostril deep in the same struggle.  Don’t really have anyone that fits the bill?  A great way to get started building this resource is by connecting with the small group network in your area.
  2. Mentor(s).  Whether you build this connection vicariously (by reading books, blogs or other resources), find a coach or join a coaching network, or simply make a connection at a conference, mentors provide invaluable thinking about what could be next.  I’ve been following in the footsteps of a few mentors for many years now.  I’ve met a few of them, but I’ve still learned a ton by reading their books and listening to them at conferences.  See also, Required Reading for Small Group Pastors: Systems.
  3. Comrades.  As you build a thriving small group ministry you’ll probably begin to notice leaders and coaches who share your passion.  There are few things more rewarding than building a team of fellow soldiers, fully engaged in the mission.  The sooner you reach this point in your ministry, the more fun you’ll have.
  4. Mentee(s).  I am convinced that one of the greatest benefits of the Small Group Network is that it makes it possible to learn from those who are ahead of us and teach those who are behind us.  Trust me, if you’ve been in this journey any length of time, there are people who could learn from you.
  5. Outsider(s) (with fresh eyes).  This may be an unanticipated ingredient/participant in your circle, but be sure and listen.  The greatest advances, the biggest “breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.”  And the presence or engagement of a strategic outsider almost always plays a key role (thanks to Will Mancini for the fantastic term!).

So here’s my question today: How many of the 5 do you have?  I sincerely believe that a quick assessment would reveal a high correlation between high impact and the presence of 4 of the 5 kinds of people and low impact and the absence of 4 of 5 kinds of people.

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

Top 10 Posts of June, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of June, 2014.

  1. New to Small Group Ministry? Start Here. 
  2. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure
  3. Six Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask
  4. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  5. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader
  6. Do You Have an Acts 2 Small Group Ministry in an Acts 17 Culture?
  7. What’s the Difference Between a Sunday School Class and a Small Group?
  8. Here’s My 2014 Summer Reading List
  9. Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups
  10. HOST: What Does It Mean?

By the way, thanks for stoping by!  I had readers from 88 countries in June (and 40 languages!).

Win 10 “Life As We Know It” Community Kits from Spread Truth

This Contest Is Over! Check back for other opportunities to win.
HostBox_WhiteBGLife As We Know It is one of the most interesting studies I’ve reviewed in the last several years.  Produced by Spread Truth, Life As We Know It is truly a cross-cultural experience and an enormously timely idea.

The powerful idea that makes this study so interesting is that everybody has a story.  Further, “sharing stories is foundational to community and the meaningful relationships we all long for.”

Because Life As We Know It is not a Bible study, it is well-suited for use with neighbors, friends and co-workers as well as small groups and ministry teams.  In my mind, the fact that it is designed to “facilitate gatherings where the art of storytelling is practiced and deeper relationships are forged” is one of the genius elements of the experience.

You can read my review right here.

Looking for a really great way to begin infiltrating your community?  Take advantage of the power of story!  Better yet, win 10 Community Kits that will help you connect over a hundred people!

Win 10 Community Kits that will help you connect over a hundred people!

To support the contest Spread Truth is including 10 Community Kits!

That’s a $700 value!

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do both to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win 10 “Life As We Know It” Community Kits, a $700 value  http://bit.ly/1xlDpxw”

The contest ends on Tuesday, July 7th at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

Ready for What’s Next? 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.

Here’s what three of my alumni had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor, LifeChurch.tv, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

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

Dilbert on Authentic Leadership

Sometimes you just need to laugh…and sometimes it hurts to laugh.

who is up for some leadership

Page 4 of 148« First...«23456»102030...Last »