Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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AndyStanley“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” Andy Stanley

5 Things I Wish I Could Say to Your Senior Pastor

senior pastor

5 Things I Wish I Could Say to YOUR Senior Pastor

Are there conversations you hate to have? How about conversations you love to have?

I have to say, one of my favorite conversations is with senior pastors about the role they play in building a thriving small group ministry. I’m having it more and more often…because a growing number of senior pastors realize that life-change happens best in circles, not rows.

When I have the conversation, these are the 5 things I end up highlighting:

First, you need to know that you are the most important champion of small group ministry. If you want grouplife to happen, if you want to be a church OF groups, you must accept this role.  You might hope to delegate the role…but you can’t.  It’s not about humility.  It’s all about influence.

As I’ve said before, the senior pastor as champion leads to a church OF groups.  There is no better example of this principle than Rick Warren and Saddleback Church.  It is the real reason Saddleback connects so many in groups.

Second, you need to know that grouplife as a priority is caught…not taught.  In other words, no one is really too busy to make this commitment.  What’s vitally important at the member level is equally vital at your leadership level.  You cannot hope to truly connect beyond the usual suspects without your full engagement and participation.

At the same time, you should know that there is great flexibility and freedom on the makeup of the specific group of which you are a member.  I’ve seen numerous instances where senior pastors have been part of long-standing  closed groups with members specifically chosen for their trustworthiness and character.  I’ve also seen senior pastors build open groups right in their own neighborhoods.  The key is participation.

Third, you need to know that commitment to small group ministry is a year-round sport.  It is not three weeks in the fall and a mention in January.  It is week in, week out, full-on engagement.  It is one of the top 10 reasons Saddleback has connected beyond 130% in groups.  This is a huge challenge in a church with a cafeteria approach where every ministry expects their 15 minutes.  It is much more likely where there is a plated-meal approach.

Fourth, you need to know that small group ministry can be the delivery system for every other thing that must be done.  Want to build mission into the life of every believer?  The most productive path is to build mission engagement into every small group.  Want to build ministry participation into the life of every believer?  Build it into grouplife.

Fifth, you need to know that the optimum environment for life-change is a small group.  It’s not the weekend service.  As important as the weekend service is, with inspirational music and powerful messages, it is most like a defibrillator.  Only life-on-life can provide the ingredients of life-change.  Without a genuine conviction about the optimum environment, there cannot be the kind of emphasis that builds a church OF groups.

Those are the 5 things I wish I could say to your senior pastor.

Can I say something to you?

(Don’t miss this!)

The reason I have this conversation more and more often is that small group pastors are asking me to share with their senior pastor how Saddleback, North Point, Canyon Ridge (and other high profile churches) are able to build thriving small group ministries.

How does it happen? Usually, a senior pastor has already expressed a desire to have a thriving small group ministry. And usually, senior pastors who have expressed that desire are open to conversations that will help their church take giant steps in that direction.

Can I help you?

It’s easy, so easy to set up a coaching call as a first step. Want to take a shot? Just email me to get the ball rolling.

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Win 2 FREE Registrations to re:group: North Point’s Groups Conference

We have a winner! The contest is closed.

regroupmarkhowell_site1Join Andy Stanley and the North Point Groups team for re:group, one of the very best small groups conferences I’ve ever attended!  May 2-3, 2016 at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

You’ll be inspired and equipped with the nuts and bolts of building a small group culture for adults.  And they’ll do it in typical North Point fashion with main sessions, numerous breakouts, time for interaction, a few surprises, their most recent learnings–and lots of fun.

I’ve got 2 FREE registrations to give away! It’s a $438 value!  (Technically…it’s worth much, much more.  I came away with several killer ideas both of the last three years.  You’ll do the same this year).

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.  Be sure and use your first and last name (that’s how I find your Facebook post).  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win 2 Free Registrations to re:group, a $428 value #regroup16 @regroupco“

The contest ends on Thursday, March 17th, at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

Dilbert on Character (and who you are when no one’s looking)

Sometimes you just need to laugh. I had a good one when I saw this one!

dilbert on character

You can see the rest of Dilbert references right here.

Carl George on How Leaders Allocate Resources

carl georgeSome lines are more than just memorable. They reverberate long after they were spoken. This line from my friend Carl George has continued to come up in my own work for almost 25 years:

“Leaders allocate the finite resources to the critical growth path.” Carl George

When I use this line I always point out three things:

  1. Resources are finite. They are not infinite.
  2. There is a critical growth path. There may be more than one path, but there is one that is critical.
  3. Only leaders are willing to make this choice. All others blink.

How to Neutralize the Time Traps that Catch Small Group Pastors

trapHow to Neutralize the Time Traps that Catch Small Group Pastors

Yesterday we talked about the big rocks that must be added to your calendar…first. If you missed that post, you should go back and read it.

Today, I want to spend some time talking about the time traps that often catch small group pastors.

4 Time Traps that Catch Small Group Pastors

  1. Calendar: Take the first 30 minutes of every day to plan your day. Even better, start planning your day at the end of the previous day. Don’t allow other people to fill your calendar with their agenda. A key to ministry effectiveness is developing the skill of saying no. “I’m sorry, but I have another commitment.”
  2. Meetings: Manage your meetings. At least the meetings you schedule can be purposeful and the necessary length. Don’t let your calendar app determine how long a meeting needs to be. Never hold a meeting without an agenda.
  3. Email: Don’t check email first thing in the morning. Develop the practice of writing short emails. Encourage everyone on your team to do the same. Check your email for clarity BEFORE you send it. Clear email leads to fewer questions in the reply. Never say in an email what should only be said in person.
  4. Social Media: Don’t let social media control your time. Minimize social media notifications. Make it your practice to focus your attention on the conversation or meeting for which you are actually present.

Image by Royalty Free

Resources I’ve Found Helpful
Further Reading:

How an Effective Small Group Pastor Structures Their Calendar

rock-pebbles-sandHow an Effective Small Group Pastor Structures Their Calendar

You’ve made it through the hiring process, unpacked your books, and set up your office. You’ve even played around with your email  signature.

Now what?

What should you do with your time? How can you structure your calendar, your time, to have the greatest impact?

Dr. Steven Covey’s famous illustration of doing first things first is a great way to begin this discussion. On the table is a large glass container and three smaller containers filled with big rocks, pebbles or sand. The objective? Fit them all into the large glass container.

In the illustration you’re shown that if you begin by dumping the sand into the glass container, then add the pebbles, and finally try to add the big rocks…they will not all fit.

The alternative (and the point of the illustration) is that if you begin by placing the big rocks, followed by the pebbles, and then the sand, all three ingredients will fit into the glass container.

The moral of the story? Do the first things first. Start your day or your week by scheduling the big rocks (You can watch a short video right here if you’ve never seen it).

Why share this illustration with you today? If you want to be an effective small group pastor, you’ve got to put the big rocks into your calendar first. The big rocks do not take care of themselves. Only with intentional effort will the most important things get done. Without an intentional effort, many weeks, months, and even years, will come and go without accomplishing the things that must be done if you want to build a thriving small group ministry.

What are the big rocks? There are four big rocks, four main components, to the role of a small group pastor, at least as I envision it.

The Role of an Effective Small Group Pastor

  1. A behind the scenes instigator who sets in motion an annual strategy to connect people.  There are two key elements to this role.  First, the small group pastors with thriving small group ministries are almost always operate behind the scenes and are unknown by the congregation.  Second, they’re thinking year round about opportunities to connect unconnected people and designing strategies around those opportunities.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups Year Round.
  2. A role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) what you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  Since adults learn on a need to know basis, developing leaders is a customized and just-in-time practice.  When this role is played effectively, leaders learn to do what you want them to do to and for their group members.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of the Small Group Pastor.
  3. A talent scout always identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity people, managing a reasonable span of care.  The key here is that building a thriving small group ministry is a team effort and every congregation has high capacity people who will only be fruitful and fulfilled when they play a high-impact role.  5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4.  A Joshua to Moses or Timothy to Paul, looking for ways to help your senior pastor be the small group champion.  Never underestimate this aspect of the role of the small group pastor.  Thriving small group ministries aren’t built when the senior pastor delegates the role of small group champion, See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

These are the big rocks, as I see it. Put these things into your calendar first.

The Coaching Habit Is a Must Read for People Developers

coaching habitSpent some time with a new book from Michael Bungay Stanier this week. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever is probably something you ought to be taking a look at.

Stanier first caught my attention with Do More Great Work, an engaging book about productivity I discovered a few years ago. What I loved about Do More Great Work was its simple practicality; a set of simple and powerful exercises designed to help you find, start and sustain great work.

You’ll never guess what I found in The Coaching Habit. A set of simple and powerful questions designed to help you bring out the best in the people you coach (or should be coaching).

Stanier draws on years of experience training more than 10,000 managers around the world in practical, everyday coaching skills. I was immediately caught up in the easy-to-read and at the same time profoundly practical delivery of the ideas in the book.

At the heart of the book are 7 essential coaching questions that can be used very effectively to develop the people you are coaching. Yes, I am a fan of great questions and this is a very powerful set of questions.

A 21st century resource, The Coaching Habit references a number of podcasts and engaging training videos that enhance the experience (the videos are actually linked to in the Kindle version).

Don’t be distracted by the fact that this is a business book. If you lead a team or are responsible for developing and discipling coaches and leaders, your copy of The Coaching Habit will be just as marked up and highlighted as mine is.

If you’re looking for resources that will help you grow as a developer of people, don’t miss The Coaching Habit. I’ll be recommending this one to my whole team!

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. 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.”

Will I See You at re:group?

markhowell_site1I’m already getting excited about re:group, North Point Ministries small group conference! May 2-3, 2016 at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, GA.

Are you going? Have you ever been?

There are very few can’t miss events. re:group is definitely one of them!

The plenary sessions are always so creatively done, very fun and very challenging. The selection of breakouts is something I love exposing our team to. Whether you are a point leader or a member of a groups team, you will leave with a much better toolkit than you brought.

Want a taste? Tune in right here to a special Conference webcast today (Thursday) at 1:00 p.m. (Eastern)For the past few weeks, they’ve been collecting questions about groups ministry on Twitter and Facebook. On Thursday, our team is ready to weigh in. You can join the conversation on twitter #askregroup and follow us at regroupco.

As a special bonus, webcast attendees who register for the re:group conference during the month of March will receive a free digital download of this webcast to share with your church.

I hope to see you there!



tom peters“Irrelevance comes from always doing the things you know how to do in the way you’ve always done them.” Tom Peters

My longstanding interest in the application of the ideas of great business writers (such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Gary Hamel, and Patrick Lencioni and many more), began in 1986 when I read In Search of Excellence.

Image by McKinsey

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