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Do You Have an Acts 2 Small Group Ministry in an Acts 17 Culture?

acropolisWhat world is your small group ministry designed to operate in?  Ever thought about it?

Thanks to an insightful observation in a recent blog post by James Emery White I have what I think is a good way to frame today’s question.  White, the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, is also the author of a number of books (including The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated).

In an article entitled, “Why Baptists Aren’t Baptizing,” White pointed out that:

“Many churches are pursuing an Acts 2 strategy in an Acts 17 world. Meaning they are employing methods designed for the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem instead of the “nones” on Mars Hill.

The SBC and many other denominations were largely built on four evangelistic strategies: revivals, door-to-door visitation, busing, and Sunday School. All four were anointed for their time, and all four are predicated on the audience being a “God-fearing Jew.” Yet we now live in a post-Christian culture, and strategies must change.”

What world (culture) is your small group ministry designed to operate in?

Is your small group ministry designed to operate in the world (or culture)…

  • where everyone is familiar with the Bible?
  • where everyone knows the players (i.e., is the Joseph with the amazing technicolor coat the same man as the Joseph who was engaged to Mary?)?
  • where everyone believes the Bible is more than a religious fairy tale?
  • where Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus live in another country?
  • where truth isn’t your truth or my truth and everyone essentially thinks the same things are true?
  • where there are clear lines between right and wrong?
  • where sexual orientation is something only mentioned on the national evening news?

Sound familiar?  If that’s the world (culture) your small group ministry is designed to operate in…you actually have an Acts 2 small group ministry.  The reality is we live in an Acts 17 world.

The reality is we live in an Acts 17 world (culture)

We actually live in a world where most are unfamiliar with the Bible, few know the players and the majority believe the Bible is a a fairy tale.  We actually live in a world where it’s not unusual for neighbors and co-workers to practice another world religion (or describe themselves as spiritual but not religious).  We live in a world where truth is relative and what’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for you.  We live in a world where sexual orientation is way more than a local news story.

The culture we live in is an Acts 17 culture.  For our small group ministries to ever be more than collections of holy huddles designed to keep the flock safe…we must begin to operate like Paul on Mars Hill.  See also, 5 New Assumptions As I Step Further into the 21st CenturySmall Group Ministry Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture and  10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

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

Image by Dan Cross

A Great Study for Men: A Man and His Work

a man and his workTook a look at A Man and His Work this week.  The latest in a line of men’s studies called 33 The Series, it was inspired by the Men’s Fraternity material created by Robert Lewis (I reviewed part 1 of the series right here).  The relevance of the title caught my attention and the content of the study held my attention very well.

DVD-driven, A Man and His Work is a six session study that features teaching by Bryan Carter (senior pastor of Concord Church), Tierce Green (lead house church pastor of The Church Project),  and John Bryson (founding pastor of Fellowship Memphis).  These three communicators are known for their ability to connect with men.  The DVD segments average 30 to 35 minutes in length and include a variety of elements: teaching, man on the street interviews, and personal testimonies.

A Man and His Work wrestles with the following topics:

  • The tensions of work
  • A blueprint for work
  • Having courage at work
  • Essentials to help you follow the blueprint
  • Six traps to avoid at work
  • Six work catalyzers

The Training Guide includes a note-taking section to be used while viewing the teaching segment, as well as a reflection and discussion guide that will direct the group experience.  In addition, you’ll also find an engaging set of short between-session reading assignments on a series of topics that will capture and hold the attention of group members.  Because of the way the questions are designed, no leader is required.

The Leader Kit comes with a second DVD that includes a promotional trailer, leader ideas, creative ideas for building a men’s large group study and much more.

A Man and His Work is well designed to engage men in a study that will inspire and challenge.  The teaching has just the right amount of Biblical straight talk to keep men tuned in.  The discussion questions are pitched at the right level to help men engage.  And the between session reading assignments are short enough to be doable for every man.  If you’re looking for a study that will engage the men in your congregation, you need to take a look at A Man and His Work.  I like this study and this series, and I think you will too.

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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

5 Things I Learned from Carl George

A few months back, near the beginning of last years NBA season, there was a running dialogue about “Who’s on your NBA Mount Rushmore?”  Mount Rushmore you remember is a massive sculpture carved into the side of a South Dakota mountain featuring the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  The “who’s on your Mount Rushmore?” question made me think about who would be on my small group ministry Mount Rushmore.

The first face on my small group ministry Mount Rushmore has got to be Carl George.  No question.  The father of the Meta Church model and author of a number of books including Prepare Your Church for the Future and Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership, I have learned a lot from Carl.

Here are 5 things I learned from Carl George:

  • The importance of span of care.   Carl pointed out that “everyone needs to be cared for someone but no one can take care of more than about 10.  Drawing this true truth of life from Jethro’s counsel to Moses in Exodus 18, this is a foundational understanding about the care aspect of coaching.  The attempt to provide care for too many is one of the most common rookie small group pastor mistakes.
  • The power of apprenticing for leadership development.  Every leader ought to be trained to be intentional about identifying, recruiting and developing an apprentice.  This is about replacing yourself and it is about making disciples.  Imagine if every small group pastor, every coach, and every small group leader was developing a legitimate apprentice, someone who was learning to do the job.  What a concept.  Sometimes apprenticing is described primarily as a group multiplication strategy.  I see it as a powerful leadership development practice.  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Myths that Need Busting and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect.
  • Resources are finite and wise leaders allocate them to the critical growth path.  Grabbing hold of this conclusion and defining the critical growth path are elusive to some.  Still, this is an essential idea for effective ministry.  Missing this mark leads to diffused impact.  See also, Ten Ideas that Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry.
  • The size of the harvest is more important than the size of the building.  A thriving small group ministry makes it possible to connect far beyond your average adult worship attendance.  Every church has an almost unlimited seating capacity once every home, workplace and third place comes into play.  Further, as we slip further into the 21st century it becomes more evident every day that we are nearing the time when it will be far easier to say “come on over” than “come with me to church.”  See also, 5 New Assumptions as I Step Further into the 21st Century.
  • Churches of the future will be committed to making more and better disciples.  It will not be about attracting a crowd or building a larger space to hold the crowd.  It will be about what you do with the crowd.  “Making more and better disciples” is a common phrase today.  I first heard the line at a Fuller Church Growth conference in 1992.  The speaker was quoting Carl.  I have been captivated by that mission ever since.  See also, Top 10 Things I Need to Know about Discipleship.

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

5 Common Mistakes of Rookie Small Group Pastors

rookie little league“That was a rookie mistake.”

Ever heard that?  Ever said it to yourself?  Probably all of us have been there and done that.

Here are 5 of the most common mistakes of rookie small group pastors:

  1. Trying to take care of too many small group leaders.  This is a very common mistake and reflects a lack of understanding of span of care.  Caring for too many can only do two things: burn out the caregiver or provide inadequate and watered down care.  See also, Span of Care and How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  2. Propping up existing groups instead of starting new groups.  It happens to all of us and if we let it, it will happen over and over.  “We are down to three couples…if you could send us a couple more it would be helpful.”  This is a losing proposition.  Far better to prioritize new groups and teach existing group leaders how to be on the lookout for new members.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups and Great Question: How Do I Train Leaders to Add New Members?
  3. Not saying “no” to unfit “leaders”.  Although unfit can cover a lot of ground, the version that catches many rookie small group pastors are the people who want to be a leader but couldn’t build their own group if their life depended on it.  They need to be given 10 members and then don’t have what’s necessary to hold the group together.  Learning to say “no” often begins with learning to ask, “Do you already have a few people you can invite?”  Seasoned small group pastors learn to be wary of the “leaders” who can’t build their own group.
  4. Allowing their senior pastor to delegate the small group champion role.  This mistake has deadly implications.  It’s never good when the most influential person in the congregation (the senior pastor) delegates the champion role to the small group pastor.  Rookie small group pastors often have a very hard time helping their senior pastor see the opportunity that exists when the champion role is played by the right person.  See also, Your Senior Pastor As Small Group Champion Leads to a Church of Groups.
  5. Missing the opportunity to partner with their senior pastor.  Related to mistake #4, there is a tremendous opportunity for impact when a small group pastor learns how to help the senior pastor champion small group ministry.  See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask.

Here’s an important note.  All of us make these mistakes at one time or another.  The key is to learn from our mistakes and not make them again!

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

Image by Chuck Patch

5 Things To Do in June to Maximize Small Group Ministry This Fall

You can’t wait until the end of the summer to prepare for the fall ministry season.  Have you figured this out yet?  Most likely you’re on to this fact of life…but even if you are, you might need an idea or two about how to prepare and what to focus on.  See also, What To Do Before You Plan Another Church-Wide Campaign.

(Ready for my July List?  Click here to see what’s next.)

Here are 5 things I believe must be done in June:

  1. Meet with your senior pastor to clarify involvement and fine-tune where necessary.  It really doesn’t matter what strategy you’re using this fall to launch new groups, you need your pastor in the game.  Integrating the HOST ask into their sermon is essential.  Leveraging their influence at a HOST gathering is a huge opportunity.  Casting the vision for everyone to be involved in a group is something that only your pastor can do.  June is the time to confirm and clarify involvement (before vacations and/or study breaks).  See also, 6 Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask.
  2. Make sure your existing small group leaders are aware of the fall plans.  “Why are we just hearing about this now!”  “We’re three weeks into a 12 week study and won’t be able to participate in the church-wide campaign.”  All of us have heard these excuses for remaining on the sidelines.  Sometimes they’re legitimate and sometimes they’re just excuses.  Either way, making your existing group leaders aware of fall plans is not hard and will pay off.  Tip: It’s a good idea to communicate in a way that requires a response and follow up to confirm.
  3. Identify, recruit and begin training the coaches you’ll need for the new groups you hope to launch this fall.  We have conclusively demonstrated that the addition of a coach dramatically increases the likelihood that a new small group survives.  It is one of the two most important factors in sustaining new groups.  It takes the right kind of person and June is the time to engage them.  See also, Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  4. Identify and recruit the testimonies you’ll need to encourage potential leaders and members to say “yes” to a six-week test-drive.  This is a secret weapon that is often overlooked.  Take advantage of the tremendous power of personal story by finding HOSTs and group members who had life-changing experiences.  Add this powerful element to the HOST Ask and maximize the response.  Whether the testimonies are video or live the impact will be well worth the effort.  See also, Take Advantage of Testimony to Recruit HOSTs.
  5. Plan the communication and promotional pieces you will need for the fall launch.  Whether your church has a dedicated “director of communications” or you are the de facto director (or anything in between), now is absolutely the time to plan and coordinate all of the pieces you will need this fall.  That might include promotional copy for the website, e-newsletter and bulletin; inserts for HOST and member sign-ups; FAQs, invitations, and more.  The earlier you can have this conversation and the further ahead you can get the better.

(Ready for my July List?  Click here to see what’s next.)

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

Leading Missional Communities: A Must-Read Resource

leading missional communities croppedSpent some time with the newest book from Mike Breen and the 3DM team this week.  Leading Missional Communities was released last fall and is the fourth and final book of their current series (includes Building a Discipling Culture, Multiplying Missional Leaders, and Leading Kingdom Movements).  I really like the way the ideas of Building a Discipling Culture and Multiplying Missional Leaders are integrated into the fabric of Leading Missional Communities.  These books are clearly part of a larger tapestry.

Taking the concept far beyond launching, Leading Missional Communities is designed to explain “how to lead [missional communities] well so they become a reproducing hotbed for discipleship and mission in churches.”  Part one builds on a collection of four foundational principles:

  • MCs are Communities of Discipleship (building a discipling culture at the core).
  • MCs are Communities of Good News (embodying and proclaiming the gospel).
  • MCs find the Person of Peace (noticing where God is already at work).
  • MC is cultivating a commitment to the organized and the organic elements of the community’s life together

Part two gets right into the nitty gritty about leading a missional community.  Covering important aspects like vision and prayer as well as growing and multiplying, there is the distinct feel of walking side by side with a wise and knowledgeable guide.  The examples given are so helpful.  There truly is the sense that this is not theory, but recollection of actual events.

Part three digs into some very practical tips about life in missional communities.  The top ten reasons missional communities fail as well as the answers to many frequently asked questions provide a great overview of some of the biggest challenges (what to do about children, what about pastoral care, how do we handle conflict, etc.).

The appendices are packed with a ton of great material.  More about building a discipling culture, how to start a pilot missional community, what to do about existing or current programs, and a lengthy treatment of missional communities and church planting are included and really adds to the value of the resource.

As we slip further into the 21st century I am more convinced every day that we are rapidly approaching the time when it will be much easier to say “come on over to my house” or “meet me at Starbucks or the pub” than “come with me to church.”  Leading Missional Communities is a must read if you want to be prepared for what’s coming.  I highly recommend this book and this series.

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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Don’t Miss This Resource: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

autopsy of a deceased churchHad an opportunity this week to spend some time with Autopsy of a Deceased Church,  Thom Rainer’s latest book.  Prior to his work as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, he led The Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period.

Thom Rainer is a very respected researcher and a keen observer of church health.  He’s also the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches and Simple Church.

Using the format of last year’s best-seller I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a very easy read with a powerful message.  With an estimated 100,000 churches showing the signs of decline toward death, this is a book that’s going to help more than a few pastors and church leaders.

There are several things to love about Autopsy of a Deceased Church.  First, it is the kind of book that can be passed out to staff and key leaders that they will actually read.  Just 102 pages, it is easy reading.

Second, it is packed with insight and will grab the attention of teams from the opening pages.  Many of the symptoms identified will  keep church leaders up at night.  Some of what Rainer points out will finally cause some to act and their action will be just in time.

Third, each chapter includes a set of provocative questions that should get the attention of teams.  I can imagine the discussions these questions will produce!  Along with the set of questions, every chapter includes a prayer commitment.

If you’re committed to the health of your church, Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a book you’ll want to pick up.  I can see it having a very strong impact on the kinds of church leaders who truly care enough about their church to act on wise counsel.

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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Dilbert on Vision Clarity

Sometimes we just need to laugh…or cry.  Either way, this one will resonate with lots of us!vision clarity

Ready to Take Your Ministry to the Next Level? 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.

My Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in September (with a bonus call on August 14th) and I’ve just opened up applications. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

5 New Assumptions As I Step Further into the 21st Century

21st CenturyI asked you recently if it was time for you to take a fresh look at your assumptions.  I really do believe we are irresponsible when we just continue down a well-worn path expecting to arrive at a new destination.  And yet, that is what many of us do.

Because I am more and more convinced that we are now just a short step or two from a dramatically different and increasingly post-Christian era in the West, I wanted to give you a look at what I found when I re-examined my own assumptions.

Here are 5 of my new assumptions:

  1. It will become increasingly harder to say “come with me to church” and increasingly easier to say “meet me at Starbucks (or the pub).”  There are places in the world where this is already true and there are definitely cities in the U.S. where this is already true.  The time may not have arrived in your community where it is true…but it will.  We need to begin building a “meet me” philosophy of ministry.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  2. Every biblical reference or allusion is obscure to almost everyone.  As messages and small group curriculum is developed, it must be understood that most of the people in the auditorium and most of the people in the living room have never heard the story we are telling.  When we reference biblical concepts like communion or Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we must never forget that what we take for granted is a complete mystery to many of the people in the room.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture.
  3. Leader training will be accessed on a “need-to-know” basis and distributed on a “just-in-time” basis.  Gone are the days of advance training in preparation for an assignment.  Now arriving are the days of leader training that takes advantage of 24/7 delivery made possible by the internet, and streaming content.
  4. Leader development and encouragement will be decentralized.  Churches everywhere are discovering that the pace of life is making centralized gatherings more difficult to demand and less productive to implement.  Far easier to instill and more productive are decentralized gatherings at the local coffee shop or for that matter, in the living room or kitchen.  See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.
  5. The speed of change is accelerating.  Gone are the days of change as something that will happen someday.  Gone are the days when a change is followed by a decade or multiple decades of the status quo.  Still, more often than not the pace of change on the outside is greater than the pace of change on the inside.  And that leads to a perilous disconnect.  See also, The Perils of the Inside-Outside Disconnect.

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

Image by Pete Ashton

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