Update: Even More to Choose from at RightNow Media

Looking for a new study for your small group or Bible study?  Need it tonight?  Want to check out a larger selection than you can find at your local bookstore?  Want to actually preview the study?  Want to make this service available to every staff person, every youth teacher, every  small group leader and Bible study teacher, all of your women’s study leaders, all of your men’s study leaders in your congregation?

You need to take a look at RightNow Media.  Now with over 2000 video studies, it’s even more like Netflix.  You can stream the video content right to any of your devices (computer, iPad, iPhone, or Android).  You can download a pdf copy of the curriculum or order it online (in most cases for purchase).

I bought an inexpensive HDMI cable and an adapter for my iPhone and was watching a study on my 42″ flatscreen in minutes.  This weekend I bought an Apple TV ($99 at BestBuy.com) and was streaming directly in minutes.  Very cool!

Depending on the size of your congregation, the current* monthly pricing ranges from $49.99 (for churches under 100) to $299.99 (for churches over 3000).

Want to take a test drive?  You can sign up for a free 30 day trial right here.

I took a look at RightNow Media in August, 2012 and was very impressed by the service.  You can read my original review right here.

*This is a special price.  The regular pricing ranges from $69.99 to $399.99 per month.

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, RightNow.org is a regular sponsor of 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.”

4 Key Traits Shared by the Most Effective Small Group Ministries

I’ve been a student of small group ministry and ministries for almost 25 years.  I’ve read everything I could find.  Found ways to ask a lot of questions.  Even cultivated my own set of confidential informants (okay, that’s not really what they were, but you get the idea).

Let’s just say I have been a student and I’m still learning.

Along the way I’ve carefully noted the distinctives of the various strategies and models.  Come to conclusions about their advantages and disadvantages.

I’ve also noticed that the most effective small group ministries share four key traits.

  1. They are championed by the senior pastor.  It’s interesting to note that Steve Gladen and Bill Willits have played key roles in building the two largest small group ministries in the country but are rarely, if ever, seen in the weekend services at Saddleback and North Point.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Small groups are offered as the way you get connected and the way you grow spiritually.  They’re not promoted or described as one of several options.  See also A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups and 7 GroupLife Deal-Breakers…and the Workarounds You Need to Know.
  3. Carefully designed on-ramps make it easy for unconnected people to join new groups.  Saddleback’s annual church-wide campaign complemented by periodic small group connections identifies new leaders and connects a growing number every year.  North Point’s Group Link strategy coupled with their Access Group concept provide 4 to 5 opportunities every year to join a new group.  See also  Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.
  4. Leaders are mentored and cared for through a customized approach.  Neither organization offers a one-size-fits-all coaching concept.  Both provide the level of care needed by an ever expanding network of small group leaders.  See also Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy and When Coaching Philosophies Collide: How Can Both Be Right?

By the way, Saddleback and North Point are the two ministries I’ve referenced, but Willow Creek was a great example of these same four traits in the ’90s when they were the premier example of an effective small group ministry.  Think that’s a coincidence?

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

New from Jen Hatmaker: The 7 Experiment: Staging Your Own Mutiny Against Excess

Spent some time with a new study from LifeWay today.  Based on her 2011 book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess,  The 7 Experiment by Jen Hatmaker is a 9 session DVD-driven study that posits a counter-cultural message: It’s not about what you own…it’s about what owns you.

Wrestling with a challenging set of topics, this is a study that will be right up the alley of groups that need to be called to a new level of activism.  Not in any way an intellectual project, The 7 Experiment is all about introspection and thoughtful self-awareness with a major twist of application.

Along with an introduction and a wrap-up session, the 7 topics are:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Possessions
  • Media
  • Waste
  • Spending
  • Stress

Hatmaker, along with her husband Brandon, is a co-founder of Austin New Church and a popular speaker and author.  The DVD sessions feature Jen Hatmaker along with personal stories from many of the non-profit partners of Austin New Church.  At 11 t0 16 minutes the DVD segments are pitched just right.  Short enough to grab and hold your attention; Long enough to flesh out the concept.

At 189 pages the workbook is content rich.  Designed with a Threads feel, the reading commitment will challenge group members that are looking for a show-up unprepared Bible study.  Instead, each session in the The 7 Experiment includes 15 to 20 pages of reading with the discussion questions interspersed throughout.  Can a member participate without reading the section?  Yes, but many of the questions are built on an understanding of the session content.

The upside of The 7 Experiment is that it is one of a very small number of studies that even begin to help groups wrestle with this set of topics.  The downside?  I think if there is a downside it is that there is a lot of reading.  The content is very, very good.  It flows well.  It has a very personal feel.  It guides into a much needed discussion.  There’s just a lot to read.

This is a study that will absolutely grab the imagination of certain groups.  For others, it will be a challenge for a variety of reasons.  Still, if you’re looking for a study that will help your members grapple with the stranglehold of excess, you need to take a look at The 7 Experiment.  The payoff is more than worth the investment.

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, I am 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.”

What to Do When Precedent and the Status Quo Stand in the Way

Pardon the interruption.  This post may not seem to about launching, building or sustaining a small group ministry, but trust me, it has everything to do with it.  Bear with me and I think you’ll come away with what you need for the day.

One of the books that has influenced me the most over the last several years is Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen.  I wasn’t alone.  When it came out in mid 2010 it was on lots of recommended lists.  If you haven’t caught on yet, it would be a great addition to your current stack.

Scott Belsky is the founder of an interesting company called Behance and blogs at 99u (one of the touchstone ideas in Belsky’s work is the Thomas Edison quote that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”)

In a recent blog post on strategy he pointed out that most successful organizations become efficient at the business of usual and “the more efficient we are, the more difficult it is to change the steps we take every day.”  And I think for many of us, this is what is actually happening.  Our organizations have policies and budgets and a calendar and the procedures for getting new programs added to the calendar.

With me?

Belsky went on to point out that “it is hard to take new steps because each one defies some rule or precedent for how we make day-to-day decisions.”  Uh oh.  He’s been to our organizations!

What I loved in the article was his prescription for what to do when precedent and the status quo stands in the way:

  • Eliminate the bias towards “precedent” when you’re building something new. New strategy warrants unprecedented action.”  That’s a helpful line to have in mind as you’re working with your leadership team.  Don’t you think?
  • Don’t let the new steps you must take be overridden by legal, branding, impatience, or other logistics. While it may seem easy to give in on the little details, any little turn off the road points you in a new direction. Only thing that should override strategy is better strategy.”  Again…oh my.  Most of us face death by a thousand little cuts.
  • Keep reiterating “why” you’re pursuing change, and the consequences for not changing. Sometimes, especially in established businesses, the consequences of not changing are more motivating than the goals.”  This is right at the heart at where many of our ministries are right now.  Don’t stop.  Be kind and gentle and don’t stop.  Reiterate the why.

We now return you to your previously scheduled programming.

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

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, I am 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.”

FAQ: How Can We Help Groups that Are Struggling to Add Members?

I had a series of great questions yesterday from a new reader.  Not only were all three questions very good but I could sense the genuine desire to get the answers that would free up his small group ministry from a troubling logjam.

The last question he asked was, “How can you grow groups in an open, free market system where most of the groups aren’t filling up?”

Great question.  As you can see from the title of this article, I’ve reframed his question slightly to answer the root question, “How can we help groups that are struggling to add members?”

Here are several keys:

First, keep in mind that as groups form and move through the first several months they begin to form an almost impenetrable membrane.  Once a group has been together longer than 3 or 4 months, it becomes increasingly difficult for a new member to truly connect.  It’s not impossible, but generally speaking only the most aggressively extroverted newcomers can find their way in.  The exception might be new members that are sponsored in a sense by trusted original members of the group.

That’s an important understanding; don’t you think?  See also, Great Question: How Do I Train Leaders to Add New Members?

Second, it’s important to acknowledge that new groups offer the best opportunity for new members to truly connect.  This is really not even open for debate.  Counter examples are only exceptions to the rule.  It’s easiest to connect when everyone is new and on equal footing.

Can you see where this is going?  See also, Top 5 Advantages of New Small Groups.

Third, if it is true that new groups offer the best opportunities for new members to connect, we should focus on starting new groups.

Granted, the conclusion that we should focus on starting new groups raises a whole new set of questions.

In my opinion, none of these questions negate the reality that the best way to connect the largest number of unconnected people is to start new groups.   Remember, there is no problem-free solution.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups.

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

Right Attitudes toward the Inhabitants of the Status Quo

Testing new ideas can be very productive.  New ideas can also be a bust.  Still, if you keep doing what you’ve always done you’ll connect the people that you’ve always connected. [click to tweet]  With me?

In our most recent effort to try a new idea in connecting unconnected women we offered a Monday night on-campus Bible study featuring a DVD-driven curriculum called Missing Pieces: Real Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.  Great title.  Just the thing if you want to appeal to the state-of-mind of an unconnected woman.  We had just over 50 women sign up to attend.

So far, so good.

Only one problem.  The size of the response displaced two small groups of women from another on-campus Bible study and forced each of them to adjust and double up with another group in another room.

How did they respond?  One leader was very gracious and genuinely excited about the newly connected women.  The other?  Her response to my email thanking her for her willingness to be inconvenienced for the sake of connecting new women was that “our new program” didn’t take into account their “long standing use of these rooms on this night.”

Can you hear it?  The farthest things from her mind are the needs of the unconnected women.  She could only think about her group’s interests.

What did I do?  I prayed about it.  I wrestled with a response.  I didn’t do what I wanted to do.  But I did thank her again for her service and commitment…and then reminded her that although we have over 2000 adults connected to groups we still have another 8000 whose only connection is to our weekend service*.

I’m convinced that we must actively look for opportunities to help unconnected people make a move.  And I’m willing to require the inhabitants of the status quo to adjust.  I want to do it in the right way with the right attitude.  But I’m desperately influenced by the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 2:4: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

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

*See What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected?

Easy Win: Resource Your Small Group Leaders

Some things you do require lots of time and preparation.  Some things can make a difference in just a few minutes.  Resourcing your small group leaders can be an easy win you build into your week.

Here’s the idea:

A very small percentage of small group leaders come up with creative ideas for group meetings on their own.  Most need a little inspiration.

Why not email your small group leaders a quick idea for a better meeting?

Maybe it’s a thought-provoking ice-breaker question or a new way to help small group members learn to pray together, but it would take you less than 15 minutes a week to find an idea, put it into an email and send it out.

The best part?  You don’t even have to be creative yourself.  You just need to know where to find the resources your leaders need.

Here are two ideas:

First, there are several blogs that regularly have small group leader ideas.  It would be an easy win to write a sentence or two about the need for the idea and simply add the link to the blog post for more info.  For example:

“Looking for a creative way to help your group members pray together?  Take a look at Mark Howell’s Top 10 Ways to Learn to Pray Together:  http://www.markhowelllive.com/skill-training-top-10-ways-to-learn-to-pray-together/

“Small group feeling a little stale?  Take a look at Rick Howerton’s 10 Tips for a Small Group Makeover: http://blogs.navpress.com/rickhowerton/My-Blog/May-2011/10-Tips-for-a-Small-Group-Makeover

“Trying to find a co-leader?  Take a few minutes and look over Allen White’s article for ideas: http://allenwhite.org/2011/04/06/how-do-i-find-a-co-leader/

“Hoping to include some of your less vocal members in the discussion?  Take a look at Ben Reed’s article on 9 Ways to Respond to the Quiet Guy: http://www.benreed.net/index.php/2012/11/15/small-groups-my-insecurities-9-ways-to-respond-to-the-quiet-guy/

Second, there are several great books that are packed with ideas that can be passed on to your leaders.  They ought to be in your library!

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

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, I am 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.”

Top 10 Posts of January, 2013

Miss a day or two?  Here are my top 10 posts of January, 2013.  Cool to see that I had visitors from 75 countries!  Thanks for coming along!

  1. New from Beth Moore | The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy (August, 2012)
  2. 101 Great Ideas to Create a Caring Group: A Classic Resource (October, 2011)
  3. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills (June, 2010)
  4. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  5. Skill Training: Using a Small Group Agreement (November, 2009)
  6. 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Small Group Experience (January, 2013)
  7. Required Reading for the Small Group Pastor: Systems (December, 2012)
  8. Dilbert on What Not to Say to Your Senior Pastor (January, 2013)
  9. Review: Gospel Revolution: A New DVD-Driven Study from J.D. Greear (October, 2011)
  10. Essential Ingredients for Life-Change (September, 2009)

 

Don’t Miss the Latest from John Burke: Mud and the Masterpiece

Spent some time with Mud and the Masterpiece this week.  John Burke’s latest, it is a masterpiece itself and immediately joins the required reading list for anyone who wants to reach people at crowd’s edge.

(Be sure and see the special offer at the end of my review!)

Burke, the founding pastor of Austin’s Gateway Church, is the author of two previous books; No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-as-You-Are Culture in the Church and  Soul Revolution: How Imperfect People Become All God Intended.  If you’re sensing a trend, your eyes don’t deceive you.  With 16 years as the lead pastor of one of the very best examples of how to reach people in a post-modern, post-Christian culture, Burke is both passionate about the mission and a very compelling story-teller.

Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself Through the Eyes of Jesus is a rare book.  Both inspiring and convicting, I found myself thinking that’s how it should be and why don’t I live that way again and again.  Packed with stories of real-life heartbreak, brokenness and transformation, it’s thickly laced with Jesus’ own interactions with people in the Gospels.

In chapter one, Burke references the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 about the return of the prodigal son and the way the father in the story treats his son.  Comparing it to the story of the discovery of a rare Rembrandt masterpiece, torn and muddied in a dumpster, he asks, “How would you treat this painting?  Would you treat it like trash?  It’s covered in mud, stained and torn–is it worthless?  Do you treat it like it’s worthless?  Or do you treat it like it’s a million-dollar masterpiece that needs to be handled with care and restored?”

And that’s the question that drives the book.  Can you “see past the mud and even the damage to recognize the immense value of this one-of-a-kind work of art?”  Taking his cue from “the life and interactions of Jesus with sin-stained and muddied people,” Burke challenges all of us to a transformational perspective.  What if we saw people through the eyes of Jesus?

Along with a careful examination of Jesus’ interactions with people is the reminder that the Pharisees focused on the mud and not the masterpiece.  Burke makes a very compelling case that the reason people are drawn to Jesus but not His followers is that “many Christians are NOT like Jesus–we don’t really see what Jesus sees in other people.  We don’t really feel the way Jesus felt toward people straying far from God, living messy lives.”

More than a look at how Jesus interacted with people, Mud and the Masterpiece is a look at how we can go on mission with Jesus.  Part two of the book looks at the actions of Jesus and illustrates very well how “we can be part of something that impacts the world around us.”  Further, every chapter ends with a question for reflection and an action step to try.  Perfect for individual or group use.

I love this book!  Along with No Perfect People Allowed, Mud and the Masterpiece immediately takes its place on my recommended list for anyone trying to live a life or build a ministry that reaches people far from God at crowd’s edge.  I highly recommend it!

Take advantage of this offer and help a special project

Purchase the book during launch week (February 1 – 8) and you’ll receive a number of bonuses while helping a great cause.

Here’s how to receive $55 worth of bonuses for purchasing.

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, I am 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.”

FAQ: What Should I Count in My Small Group Ministry?

One of my most frequently asked questions is “what should I count in my small group ministry?”  Here are the seven  numbers I’m looking for:

  1. Average adult worship attendance: This gives you a baseline attendance number that provides one of the numbers you need to determine percentage connected.
  2. Most recent holiday adult worship attendance: Whether Christmas Eve or Easter, this provides a baseline attendance number that reflects the real percentage connected.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected?
  3. Number of small groups: Depending on your group philosophy, this can reflect just off-campus groups or the number of groups where certain factors exist (i.e., the ingredients of life-change) and might include both off-campus and on-campus.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.
  4. Number of new groups started: This is often an annual count and helps determine whether your strategy is keeping pace with the need.
  5. Number of facilitators: This annual count can help determine both the status of leadership incubation and the sustainability of your groups.  See also, Skill Training: How to Develop More Leaders.
  6. Number of groups that meet at more than one location: Along with #5, this number is a predictor of the sustainability of your groups.  See also, Skill Training: Rotating Host Homes.
  7. Number of open groups: Depending on your small group ministry philosophy, this number reflects inclusiveness.

How often should you be taking a census?  At least annually and definitely at a regular time of the year.  For example, North Coast takes a census in October that provides a snapshot of their percentage connected.  Saddleback waits for the dust to clear on their annual fall campaign and then takes their count.

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