Skill Training: 10 Keys to a Great 1st Meeting

Whether you’re a brand new leader or a seasoned veteran starting a new group, it’s natural to feel a little nervous about your first meeting.  Here are 10 keys that I’ve found very helpful as I get ready to launch a new group:

  1. Make it a point to call all of your members the week before your first meeting.  Don’t settle for voicemail.  And don’t just email them.  Be enthusiastic when you call!  Get yourself ready to call.  It’s amazing how even a quick phone call reminder will help your nerves begin to settle.
  2. Enlist someone to help you make the calls!  If you don’t have a co-leader yet, this may be your first step toward recruiting them.  Simply divide the list and split the work.  Pulling in someone to help you will go a long way toward easing your mind about the first meeting.
  3. Ask everyone to bring something (i.e., chips, salsa, cokes, cookies, etc.).  This cements attendance!  They’re much more likely to show if you’re depending on them.
  4. Start your group with an informal “meet and greet” session.  The agenda for the first meeting is all about making members feel comfortable with the new members of the group.
  5. Have nametags and markers ready at the door.  Nametags take the pressure off of remembering names.
  6. Arrange for an uninterrupted session (childcare needs, food prepared in advance, etc.).
  7. Your first meeting provides a great opportunity to get to know each other in a less formal way.  Here are a few questions I like to use:
    • Would you describe yourself as more of an extrovert or an introvert?  Give an example.
    • Would you describe yourself as a structured, “just settle it” kind of person or more of a play it by ear type?
    • Are you a hugger?  Or a non-hugger?
    • What motivated you to sign up for this group?
    • What are you most hopeful you’ll gain as a result of being in the group?
    • What are you most afraid of (in terms of the group)?
  8. This is a great time to talk over the Group Agreement.  No commitments required.  Nobody’s signing anything.  Just a good way to get values and expectations on the table.  Simply read over the values and reconfirm expectations.  See also, Skill Training: How to Use a Small Group Agreement.
  9. Talk about materials for your study.  Make sure everyone has book.  Your church may have a plan to ensure that everyone can have a book even if they can’t afford it.  If not, your group members may want to make it easy for everyone to participate.
  10. Pray to close the meeting.  Make it really simple.  Ask, “Is there anything we can be praying about for you personally?  There may be times when we pray for those who aren’t part of the group, but today, let’s keep prayer requests focused on just group members.”  Write down any prayer requests.  Close with a very simple prayer.  See also, Skill Training: The Simplest Way to Help Your Members Pray Out Loud.

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

New from People of the Second Chance: Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom

freewayFinally had a chance yesterday to dig into the newest resource from the folks at People of the Second Chance.  Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom is a powerful seven session study by Mike Foster and Garry Poole.  Built on God’s amazing grace, honest conversations with friends, and finding freedom from deepest pain and struggles, Freeway is way more than a study.  It’s an experience in the very best sense of the word.

“Freeway is a way to be free.  It’s a guide built upon God’s amazing grace, conversations with friends, and a personal exploration of our pain and loss.  Through the process of awareness, discovery, ownership, forgiveness, acceptance, and freedom, our hearts can be healed (from the introduction).”

Anchored by the workbook, you know you’re in for something really different when you start flipping through the pages.  I review a lot of small group material and I honestly can’t remember another workbook that is even remotely like Freeway.  Put together with real category busting ideas, the workbook is way more than a study guide.  I really wish there was a way you could see it.  I know you’d be hooked like I am.

The DVD segments give the feel that Mike Foster is simply reflecting on the journey; as it he is actually a member of your group.  Pure and unaffected.  I’ve never met Mike, but I came away feeling like we’d had a conversation.

Each of the seven sessions is an engaging combination of 5 components:

  • Prepare: includes a short set of introductions to the big idea of each step.
  • Explore: creative exercises designed to help you begin to process some of your struggles.
  • Share: includes watching a short video and working through a group discussion.
  • Jump in: practical life experiments designed to help you implement and put into practice what you’re learning.
  • Remember: a journal section that allows you to capture your thoughts and observations, helping further focus your thoughts.

I love this study.  If you’re looking for a study that will take people on a journey, a grace-filled journey, toward the life God dreams for them, you’ll love this study too.  Freeway is the kind of study that will cause you to see every other study in a new light.  Great stuff.  I loved it and I think you will too.

Launch Your Church-Wide Campaign with the End in Mind

Launching a church-wide campaign this fall?  You may have your hands full already, but right now is the perfect time to prepare for what’s next!  In fact, what you do right now has a lot to do with whether your campaign is a success…or not. Here are two keys to sustaining your newest groups: First, choose a small group study to recommend to groups that want to continue.  In my experience, two important details determine how many of your new groups continue.  Providing a coach or mentor to walk alongside new leaders is one.  Providing a study to do next that is similar in kind to the launching study is the other.  Let me point out:

  • Don’t let the fact that your new leaders only made a 6 week commitment dissuade you from recommending a follow-up.  Many new group members will begin asking if there is anything after this in about week 3 or 4.
  • Don’t wait until the campaign is over.  Begin talking about what’s next in week 3 or 4 of the launching study.
  • Choose one (1) study for your new groups to use.  They’re not strong enough yet to survive a vote.  You make the choice.
  • It must be similar in kind.  That is, if you launch with a DVD-driven study, give them another study like it.  If it required minimal preparation, give them another study like it.  Switching formats is hard for new leaders.

See also, What’s Next?  When (and how) to Promote the Next Curriculum. Second, take a look at the calendar and pre-plan your holiday approach.  I know it seems early.  It’s only a few days after Labor Day!  But now is the time to think about how you’ll help your newest groups navigate and survive the holidays.

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to help your new groups start a next study before they break for the holidays even if they can’t finish it.  In fact, starting a new study and breaking part way through may actually be an incentive to meet again early in January.
  • Depending on when their first study ends, it should be possible to meet 2 or 3 more times before the week of Thanksgiving.
  • Help them meet at least one more time after Thanksgiving.  They can either do another session of their study or simply meet for a Christmas party.  Either way, an important ingredient of this final meeting of the year is to pull out calendars and set their next meeting date.
  • Helping your new groups find a way to serve together in December is another very helpful ingredient.  Whether they serve as greeters at a Christmas Eve service, help serve a meal at a homeless shelter, or simply go caroling at a local convalescent hospital or retirement home, spending time together will help solidify newly formed connections.

See also, Four Steps That Help Groups Survive the Holidays.

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

It’s Not the Right Time: Connecting the Fifth Dot

Yesterday I wrote that most of us have small group ministry issues we just can’t figure out; that most of us feel like there are just some dots that don’t connect to anything.  Still, my contention is that most of the time, they actually do connect.  We just miss the connection between the way we’re doing things and the results we’re experiencing.

I referenced this line from Andy Stanley:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

And I gave you the first four dots that I think you might not be connecting.

Here’s the fifth dot:

It’s not the right time…is connected to a lack of understanding that there is always a window closing for the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community.

You’re not saying, “It’s not the right time”?  Feel free to substitute any of the following phrases:

  • We need to do a capital campaign this fall, so we’ll delay our church-wide campaign until the spring.
  • We need to lay the foundation for a healthy small group ministry before we add new groups.
  • We need to train new leaders before we even think about starting new groups.
  • We need to build a healthy coaching structure before we add new leaders.

One tough thing away

If you’ve been along for very much of our conversation here, you’ve heard me say many times that “unconnected people are always one tough thing away from not being at your church.  Loss of a job.  Divorce or separation.  A devastating diagnosis.  A child in trouble.”  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

An important corollary

Still, you may have missed what I believe is an important corollary idea: Infrequent attendees, are often one service away, one conversation away, one life event away, from deciding to make attending a more regular event.  It may be strange to think of it that way, but it’s the reason so many refer back to an Easter or Christmas Eve service and say “that’s when I really got it.”  Or they might refer to a message series that pulled them in (“We didn’t miss a week during the 40 Days of Purpose”).  See also, A Road Map to Crowd’s Edge.

What we must keep in mind

Can you see it?  Unconnected people are always close to the one thing that will decide their spiritual destiny.  One tough thing away.  One opportunity to connect.  One.  When we delay connecting opportunities, we must always have this reality in mind.

Solution: Make a commitment to the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community.  Take your Easter adult attendance (an estimate is fine) and subtract the adults who are truly connected.  What remains are the unconnected people in your crowd.  Write that number where you can see it every day.  Figure out the approximate number of unchurched people in your community.  Write that number where you can see it every day.

Become the advocate for the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community.  Take extraordinary steps to see the world from their perspective.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

There is an inflection point in the life of every person.  There is a moment, a tough thing, an life-changing event, that determines so much.  There is a closing window.  Take advantage of every opportunity…

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

Five GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting

Do you have small group ministry issues you just can’t figure out?  Feel like there are just some dots that don’t connect to anything?  I think most of the time, they actually do connect.  We just miss the connection between the way we’re doing things and the results we’re experiencing.

I love this line from Andy Stanley:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

If you don’t like the results you’re currently experiencing, it’s time to start connecting some dots.

Here are four grouplife dots you may not be connecting:

I can’t find enough leaders…is most often connected to the method you’re using to identify and recruit them.  Setting the leader qualifications too high can play a role here too, but leader scarcity is almost always related to inadequate leader identification tactics.  If you’ve settled for announcing your upcoming new leader training course, waiting for volunteers or relying on the apprentice model, you really are set up for disappointment.

Solution: Begin building in easier ways for potential new leaders to put their toes in the water.  The HOST strategy combined with a church-wide campaign is a great way to offer a six week test drive that often results in a long-term commitment.  A small group connection allows potential leaders to be identified by their peers in a very affirming way.  See also, HOST: What Does It Mean and How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.

Coaching doesn’t work here…is connected to the way you’ve designed the coach’s role and who you assign them to.  The primary reason coaching doesn’t work is that the coach’s job description produces accountants who count things instead of developers who shape people.  Right on the heels of this primary reason is that coaches are too often assigned to experienced leaders who no longer need the only thing their coach is trained and releases to do (i.e., teach better technique).

Solution: Re-design the coach’s role to focus on development.  Keep in mind that whatever you want to happen in the lives of group members has to be experienced first by the leaders of your groups.  The role of the coach ought to be about producing the kinds of experiences in the lives of your leaders that you want your leaders to give to the members of their groups.  See also, What is the Role of the Coach? and How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders.

People are too busy to commit to a small group…is connected to two important dots.  First, the way you’ve designed the menu of opportunities and the way you describe grouplife.  These are difficult dots for churches who pride themselves in providing an excellent buffet of opportunities.  The advantage of a limited selection is that it is easier to provide next steps that are easy, obvious, and strategic.  Second, the way grouplife is described is everything.  When grouplife is described as anything less than an essential ingredient for life-change, it becomes a non-essential and optional ingredient in the congregation.

Solution: Intentionally shorten the menu and perfect the way you talk about grouplife (verbally, in print and on the web).  It may have to happen over 24 months, but the sooner you get to the place where next steps are designed to be easy, obvious and strategic, the sooner you will begin to see greater commitment.  Perfecting the way you talk about grouplife clears up confusion about what’s important.  See also, A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups and Create Connecting Steps that Are Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.

Small groups don’t make disciples…is directly connected to the way you’ve defined a disciple and the way you’ve designed the small groups in your system.  If your small group ministry isn’t making disciples, the reason is embedded in the way your ministry is designed.

Solution: If there is ever a time to take seriously Andy Stanley’s statement that your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing…this is the time.  Give adequate thought to what you’re trying to produce.  Carefully describe a new preferred future.  Re-design your system to eliminate any steps that don’t lead to the future that you’ve chosen.  See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples, Choosing What Not to Do, and 5 Non-Negotiables that Define True Small Group Ministry Success.

If you’re counting…that’s four dots.  I just stumbled upon a fifth this week.  Too important to add in with the other four.  The fifth dot is It’s Not the Right Time.  You can read it right here.  Don’t want to miss future dots?  You can sign up for my updates right here.

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

Top 10 Posts of August, 2013

Miss a day?  For the first time in recent memory, 4 of my top 10 posts were from the last month and 6 were from this year!  With over 1100 articles in the archives, that’s no easy thing.

I had visitors from 80 countries.  Thanks for stopping by!

Here are my top 10 posts of August, 2013.

  1. New from David Morlan and D.A. Carson: The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside In (August, 2013)
  2. 6 Communication Mistakes that Limit Ministry Effectiveness (August, 2013)
  3. Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic (November, 2011)
  4. Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind (August, 2013)
  5. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  6. Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures (August, 2013)
  7. New from Beth Moore: The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy (August, 2012)
  8. Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups (November, 2009)
  9. Top 5 Keys for Staring New Groups. Lots of New Groups. (June, 2013)
  10. Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change (March, 2013)

Dilbert on Providing Great High Touch Ministry

Too many voicemails and emails to follow up on? Maybe this is a viable solution!

further assistance

FAQ: How Do You Get Those on the Fringe to Lead Groups?

I get questions…a lot of questions.  And some of them are just too good to pass up.  In response to my post, I Dreamed I Was at the Southern Baptist Convention…, I got this question:

I have always appreciated your thinking on these subjects, however I have some questions for you.  How do you get those on the fringe to lead groups.  We can hardly get them to do anything much less step-out and start a group in their home or anywhere.  What is the divine spark?  Do you use campaigns, ready made dvd lessons they can lead?  What gets those spiritual infants to take step out.

Good questions…don’t you think?  Maybe you’ve even asked them yourself.  Here’s my answer:

There are several keys to understanding how this works.

First, I think you might need a better understanding of what I’m calling crowd’s edge.  Think about the folks that attend less than twice a month.  I like to think “they’re one conversation away, one life event away, from deciding to make attending a more regular event.  It may be strange to think of it that way, but it’s the reason so many refer back to an Easter or Christmas Eve service and say “that’s when I really got it.”  Or they might refer to a message series that pulled them in (“We didn’t miss a week during the 40 Days of Purpose”).”  See also, A Road Map to Crowd’s Edge.

Second, think about who their friends are, who their closest connections are?  Unlike the most connected people in your congregation, their friends have never even been to your church.  Ever.  What if you made it possible for the least connected adults in your church to invite their friends to join them for a small group?  “I know it doesn’t sound like something I’d do…but we’re going to watch this video about figuring out your life’s purpose and talk about it.”  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

Third, think about the kind of topic that would make it easy for the least connected people to invite their friends.  Obviously, the topic you choose determines a lot.  Doing a series on prayer?  Evangelism?  How about 40 Days in the Word?  Trust me…those are the wrong topics if you want your least connected attendees to play.  On the flip side, what about 40 Days of Purpose?  How about Pressure Points?  How about WEiRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer and Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

Full Disclosure: It’s never as easy as I make it sound.  It’s always hard work.  And when you do what I’m truly suggesting, not half way, full on, you will see amazing things happen.  You’ll see the very people I’m suggesting who will pick up a grab and go kit and invite their family and friends.  And their lives will never, ever be the same.  Ever.

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

Here’s Where I’ll Be This Fall

I’m so excited!  I’m doing 4 FREE workshops this fall.

I’m doing two sessions in all four locations:

  1. How to Build a Thriving Small Groups Ministry
  2. How to Maximize a Church-Wide Campaign to Launch and Sustain a Wave of New Groups

Here’s where I’ll be:

  • Houston, Texas, Monday, September 16th from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Copperfield Church, 8350 Highway 6 North
    Houston, Texas 77096.  To register for this FREE event or for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Pat Ford at pat.ford@lifeway.com.
  • Orlando, Florida, Tuesday, September 17th from 9:00 a.m. to noon at First Baptist Orlando.  To register for this free event, and for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Shannon Eads at shannon.eads@lifeway.com.
  • Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday, October 23rd at Cross Pointe Church, 1800 Satellite Boulevard, Duluth, GA 30097 (I’ll be at North Point’s re:group conference.  This is the next day.)  To register for this FREE event or for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Richard Edfeldt at richard.edfeldt@lifeway.com.
  • Dallas, Texas, Tuesday, November 5th from 9:00 a.m. to noon at The Church on Rush Creek, 2350 SW Green Oaks Blvd. Arlington, Tx 76017 (I’ll be at the RightNow Conference.  This is the day before.)  To register for this FREE event or for additional information, please contact LifeWay Church Partner Larry Golden at larry.golden@lifeway.com.

Can’t make these dates?  Stay tuned.  These sound like a good time and I may add more dates.  And I’m always available as a speaker for your own conference or leader training.  You can find out more right here.

I Dreamed I Was at the Southern Baptist Convention…

I dreamed I was at the Southern Baptist Convention…fighting for the rights of the spiritually unborn.

In my dream I was standing near a concession stand and suddenly realized there was a lady with a clipboard and she had just asked if I was Mark Howell.  She was an older lady with her hair in a bun and was wearing one of those dresses that button up the front, like a house dress.

Lady with the clipboard:  Are you Mark Howell?

Me: Yes.  Why?

Lady: You need to present this motion in the next session.

Me: What is it about?

Lady: It is a motion requiring people to be church members before they can host a small group.

————————–

And that’s about when I woke up.  It was kind of a “Noooooooooo!” moment. 

Never forget that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.

It was a crazy dream.  It would never happen.  That’s not the way the Southern Baptist Convention rolls.  They are about evangelism!  (Plus, I was at the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this year and I didn’t see anyone that looked like that!)

And yet, I couldn’t go back to sleep!  I was still wrestling with the idea that someone would try to prevent the people with the strongest connections to the outside from hosting a group and inviting their seeking friends and neighbors to join the group!

And so today, I am announcing my campaign for the rights of the spiritually unborn.  As Mayor of Crowd’s Edge, I am asking you to never forget that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community [click to tweet].

Nervous about what a less connected, less mature host might teach their group?  Use a customized approach to determine who the host will be able to invite.  Just don’t lose sight of the fact that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.  See also, Customized Leader Benefits and Requirements, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret? and 5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry.

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