Quotebook: Change and Irrelevance

“If you don’t like change you’ll like irrelevance even less.” General Eric Shinseki, former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

Great line, isn’t it?  Although it is a line that comes to my mind quite often, I’ve learned not to use it on the people who bring it to mind.  There is great wisdom in having restraint and being slow to speak.

DiscipleShift: An Important New Resource for Churches that Want to Make Disciples

discipleshiftPicked up a copy of a new book from Jim Putman last week.  DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples.  Trust me…this is one you’re going to want to carefully work your way through.  There are some very important ideas in this book.

Putman, founding pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, is also the author of Real Life Discipleship and the Real Life Discipleship Training Manual (with Avery Willis, Brandon Guindon, and Bill Krause).  Known for one of the strongest disciple making models in America, DiscipleShift (with Bobby Harrington and Robert Coleman) is a great addition to the collection.

I picked up a number of great ideas, actionable concepts, that will help us make disciples who make disciples.  And this is the kind of book that’s going to get worn out.  My copy is pretty marked up after just one pass.  It’s also one of those books that call for a re-read to catch everything that’s in here.

I found several aspects very helpful.  First, Putman has assembled a model that begs to be implemented.  It’s easy to see why so many have attended the Real Life Immersion event (a two day training experience).  The clear, well organized concepts presented in DiscipleShift make a lot of sense and are illustrated very well.

Second, I really like Putman’s Five Stages of Discipleship.  With some overlap to the concepts developed in Willow Creek’s Reveal study, this is a very portable concept.  In fact, I can see it playing an important role in churches trying to implement an intentional and relational discipleship strategy.

Third, DisipleShift is packed with stories.  You are constantly reminded that this is not theory, but supported by solid implementation.  In addition to stories from Real Life, there are a number of other churches represented who’ve purposefully moved in the direction of a relational discipleship model.

Finally, the short segments that feature Robert Coleman’s contribution are a great addition.  Great wisdom captured in a collection of powerful examples.

I’ve been carrying this book around for about 10 days.  Can’t tell you how often I’ve found myself thinking about adding this concept or that practice to the model we’re using.  This is great, great stuff.  If you’re looking for a way to integrate honest-to-goodness disciple-making into your ministry…you’re going to want to thoroughly digest DiscipleShift.

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.”

Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes

Warning: Do not miss this important concept.  The topic you choose for your church-wide campaign absolutely determines two very important outcomes:

  • The topic determines who you are able to connect.
  • The topic also determines who will say yes to hosting a group.

Here’s what I mean: 

First, the topic you choose for your church-wide campaign has everything to do with who will even be interested!

  • If you choose a campaign that focuses on a spiritually challenging topic (discipleship, evangelism, prayer, etc.), you should not be surprised when the majority of those who connect to a group are from the core, committed and inside edge of your congregation (to use the Saddleback concentric circles concept).  See also, Connecting the Gap Between Community and Congregation.
  • On the flip side, if you choose a topic that focuses on a more crowd-friendly topic (pressures of life, relationships, purpose, etc.), you can expect to connect the outer edge of the congregation and into the crowd.  Depending on the topic, you may even see connection into the community (those who have never been to your church).  See also, 5 Cross-Cultural Church-Wide Campaigns That Ought To Be On Your Radar.

Who you are able to connect is directly related to the topic.  There’s an upside and a downside to both outcomes.  Which group you’d like to connect ought to determine the topic you choose.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer and How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign.

Second, the topic you choose for your church-wide campaign also determines who will say yes to hosting a group.

  • If you choose a campaign that focuses on a spiritually challenging topic, don’t miss the fact that potential hosts may size up the challenge of inviting neighbors, friends, co-workers and family and decide not to sign up to host a group.  See also, The Easy-Hard Continuum.
  • On the flip side, if you choose a campaign that focuses on a more crowd-friendly topic you can expect a different outcome.  When considering whether to invite neighbors, friends, co-workers and family, the right topic makes the invite easier.

The topic you choose for your church-wide campaign determines who will say yes to hosting.  Does that mean certain topics are better?  No…definitely no.  What it means is that the topic you choose determines who will say yes to hosting.  See also, HOST: What Does It Mean?


  1. Choose the topic for your church-wide campaign based on the needs of your church.  If you need to train your congregation as evangelists, choose a study that provides that training.  If you want to connect neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family…choose a topic that they’ll be interested in.
  2. Don’t be taken in by wishful thinking.  If you can’t imagine inviting your neighbor or your friend, there’s a pretty good chance that the topic isn’t the right topic.
  3. Be wise in terms of the calendar and when you schedule an outwardly focused campaign versus an inwardly focused campaign.  Certain seasons just lend themselves to outreach (late September and early October).  Other seasons are much better for evangelism and discipleship efforts (leading up to Easter).

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

Top 10 Posts of May, 2013

Miss a day?  Here are my ten most popular posts in May, 2013.  A great month, there were visitors from 68 countries around the world (they used Google’s translation feature to read my blog in 35 languages!).

You’ll notice that only two of this month’s top 10 were actually written in May.  The other 8 are from other months!  Some of that is because I have about 1100 articles here at MarkHowellLive.com and many of them refer to other related posts.  Another reason there are so many in my top 10 is that I tweet 4 posts from my archives everyday.  If you don’t want to miss that, you need to follow me on Twitter!

  1. 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People (May, 2013)
  2. How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear (April, 2012)
  3. Top 10 Things I Need to Know about Discipleship (September, 2012)
  4. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  5. New from Beth Moore | The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy (August, 2012)
  6. Skill Training: Using a Small Group Agreement (November, 2009)
  7. Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change (March, 2013)
  8. Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members (March, 2010)
  9. How to Choose Curriculum That Launches Groups (March, 2010)
  10. Dallas Willard on the Neighborhood Initiative (May, 2013)

Dilbert on Building Trust

Here’s an exercise for your team:

trust fall

Recruiting Like Jesus

If you are at all like me…you’re always on the lookout for leaders and leaders of leaders (whether you call them coaches, mentors, community leaders, etc.).  Isn’t that our reality?

In the last few weeks I’ve been studying the gospels, examining them to try and understand the sequence of Jesus’ invitations to the disciples.  Here are three of the things I’ve discovered and three questions that remain:

First Invitation: Many scholars believe that the first recorded encounter that Jesus had with any of the disciples is found in John 1:35-42.  You know the story.  Two of John the Baptists’ disciples, Andrew and Simon, hear him call Jesus “the lamb of God” and follow Jesus.  He turns around and sees them and asks, “What do you want?”  They ask “where are you staying?”  And Jesus says, “Come and see.”

My first question: If you had asked Andrew and Peter what they were doing when they accepted Jesus’ invitation to “come and see,” what would they have said?

Second Invitation: The next invitation seems to happen about a year later.  Found in three of the gospels (Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22, and Luke 5:1-11, this is Jesus’ invitation to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to fish for men.  In the Luke version of the incident, Jesus uses Peter and Andrew’s boat as a teaching platform and when He finishes teaching the crowd, tells Simon Peter to “put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

You know the story.  They’ve already fished all night and caught nothing.  Peter reluctantly does what Jesus said to do (“because You said so”) and catches such a large catch that the nets begin to break.  They signal their partners (James and John) to come out and help them.  They are all astonished, Peter falls to his knees, and Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will fish for people.”

They pulled their boats ashore, left everything, and followed Jesus.

My second question: If you had asked Peter and Andrew, James and John what they were leaving their nets to do?” what would they have said?

Third Invitation: After the feeding of the 5000 there is a conversation recorded in Luke 9:18-27 that happens privately among the twelve.  This is probably another 6 to 12 months after being invited to fish for men.  Here He tells the twelve, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Now, perhaps 18 to 24 months into their journey, they hear “come and die.”

My third question: What did they hear that and fully understand?  As you read the rest of the gospels, Jesus reminds them several more times that they are following someone who is about to suffer and be killed.  Peter tells Jesus to quit saying that.  Jesus rebukes Peter.  The disciples do not seem to have clarity on what is coming.

Conclusions:  Jesus made a progressively more challenging “ask.”  The disciples’ first response was to “come and see.”  Their second response was to “fish for men.”  Their third response was to “come and die.”  They followed and ultimately died for their cause.

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

Quotebook: Dallas Willard on the Greatest Issue Facing the World Today

Here is something for all of us to chew on today:

“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teaching on Discipleship

5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry

I am a natural born analyst.  Not a day goes by that I’m not analyzing what I’m reading, what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing.

As I analyze any small group system or aspect of a strategy, I always add a few important understandings and questions.  First, I am sure there are no problem-free solutions.  Second, I’m quick to add the great Roger Martin question, “What would have to be true for that approach to work?  Third, I asks the four questions that evaluate small group model effectiveness.  Finally, I do everything I can to cultivate an openness to new ideas.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions and An Openness to New Ideas.

The result of most of my small group ministry analysis is the conclusion that lots of what is being touted as the best system, the most biblical strategy, the answer to all of our problems…is really good thinking mixed with neatly packaged sets of false dichotomies, overstatements, and sometimes includes a twist of smoke and mirrors.

Here are 5 of my honest conclusions right now:

  1. Pinning hopes of reaching unchurched people on the missional community strategy is very likely missing the point.  Granted, the missional community strategy does have answers for some situations (particularly for churches where the core, committed and congregation segments are large and there are high concentrations of Christians who associate almost entirely with other Christians).   Still, the strategy might actually be a counter-productive step in churches where the crowd segment is large (relative to the core and committed).  See also, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret?
  2. Pitting the desire to belong and the upside of connecting (come and see) against real discipleship (come and die) is a false dichotomy.  The assumption that a core-to-crowd approach was Jesus’ model or somehow more biblical simply doesn’t line up with the gospels.  Instead, Jesus’ standard approach was crowd-to-core; making it easy to begin following and progressively more challenging to continue.  See also, The 12 Were Not Chosen from the Core and Even a Lizard Can Respond to Come and See.
  3. Maintaining a high bar of leadership without acknowledging a low percentage of adults connected underestimates the jeopardy that unconnected adults face.  It is often the case that small group ministries that maintain very high standards (advance training, prerequisite participation as an apprentice, etc.) associate an inadequate supply of leader candidates with inability to connect unconnected people to groups.  Far better to acknowledge that ministry design determines results.  See also, What Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected? and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
  4. Lowering the leadership bar without implementing a leader development process is an inadequate strategy.  It is one thing to revel in the ability to identify an unlimited supply of leaders.  It is equally important to recognize the connection between the spiritual growth of the leader with spiritual growth of the member. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.
  5. The assertion that coaching doesn’t work almost always means, “We haven’t invested the time and energy needed to make it work.”  It is true that building a coaching structure doesn’t work in the sense that a coaching structure bulging with high capacity personnel who are both fruitful and fulfilled will spontaneously generate.  But it is absolutely possible to build an effective coaching structure.  It just takes lots of work, patience, and a careful eye for the right people.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

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

GroupLife Philosophy for the 21st Century

Disclosure: Depending on your own bias or bent, you might read this rant as either heresy, confirmation that I’ve lost it, or maybe something worth sharing with your team.

To start with, at some level I believe the missional community strategy and the current discipleship emphasis are both needed and smokescreens at the same time (I’ve wrestled quite a bit over this sentence).

Why?  Just give me a few minutes.  Trust me…I’m sure we’ll have a lot to argue about.

First, I am more and more convinced that as we move deeper into the 21st century, it will become more and more likely that the front door of the Church in America will shift from the auditorium to the home.

Every indicator is screaming that we are rapidly moving in this direction.  From Gabe Lyon’s The Next Christiansthe widening 60% that are unreachable with the attractional model, and Barna’s recent study on the arrival of post-Christianity…let’s just say, we are not in Kansas anymore (even if you are in Kansas…you are probably already seeing the signs too).

Second, I am coming to believe the missional community strategy is mostly needed in churches whose weekend services are primarily designed for believers.  Even excluding fortress churches (where Christians huddle, isolating themselves from the evils of the world, sending their children to their church’s Christian school, etc.), it’s my belief that a high percentage of the members of believer focused churches don’t know their neighbors and don’t have friends at work (perhaps acquaintances, but not friends).

In that kind of environment, missional communities make a lot of sense.

On the flip side, in most of the churches I’ve served, where the weekend service is designed to be an inviting experience for friends and neighbors (attractional), it is very common for members to both know their neighbors and have friends at work.  See also, Do You Know about This Game-Changing Connection Secret.

Third, the discipleship emphasis is needed but should never be seen as an invitation to a more intensive program.  Rather, a small group is only the optimum environment for life-change if it is about becoming like Christ.  When I look back at my own grouplife journey, my understanding is very much formed by Willow Creek’s small group ministry mission statement (circa early 90s):

“To connect people relationally in groups of 6 to 10, where they can grow in Christ, love one another, and further the work of the Kingdom.” (I might be off by a word or two, but you get the idea)

Discipleship is an expectation.  “Where they can grow in Christ.”  It isn’t an add-on or an elective.

Finally, here are the assumptions that underpin my grouplife philosophy:

  1. The small group is the optimum environment for life-change.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level.
  2. Groups that are welcoming to neighbors and friends will increasingly become the front door to the Church in the 21st century.  See also, Open Groups, Closed Groups, and Specialized Groups.
  3. Whatever you want group members to experience has to happen in the life of the leader first.  See also, What Is the Role of the Coach?

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

Skill Training: Learn to Celebrate What God is Doing in Your Group

Whether you’re finishing a challenging study, coming to the end of a semester, or completing an outreach or mission project…celebration ought to be part of the culture of your group.

It’s important to build a culture of celebration for at least three reasons:

First, if the journey your group is on on is about life-change…you’re definitely going to want to acknowledge the spiritual steps your members are taking.  Second, discipleship really is a team sport.  When group members take important steps, it’s very common for several members to have played key roles in praying for, encouraging and challenging.  Finally, what gets celebrated gets repeated.

What are some ways you can incorporate celebration into your group?  Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Set aside a group meeting just to revel in completing a season together.  Include a meal together.  Instead of finishing a study and immediately beginning another, take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and how you’ve been challenged.  Most importantly, take the time to recognize steps that your members have taken.
  2. Get everyone involved.  Celebrating is infectious.  Don’t forget to get as many of your members involved in the celebration as possible.  Give them an opportunity to prepare.  Ask everyone to bring a note or card.
  3. Celebration is an opportunity for a little extravagance.  If there’s a moment when it makes sense to go all out…it’s when you’ve got something to celebrate!  How can you make the celebration a memorable moment?  What memento can you include that will become a cherished keepsake?
  4. Affirmation is an important ingredient for every group.  Asking group members to acknowledge each other’s growth is a powerful ingredient to group experience.  Simply saying, “Let’s take a moment and share with Bob one thing that you see God doing in his life.”
  5. Never miss the chance to celebrate any spiritual step.  Commitment to Christ.  Baptism.  Returning from a mission trip.  These are just a few opportunities to celebrate.  Take pictures and frame them.  Buy cards and have everyone write a note.  Pitch in and buy a Bible for certain steps.  Write notes affirming members who make commitments.

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