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Do Not Miss “From This Day Forward” by Craig and Amy Groeschel

from this day forwardHad an opportunity this week to spend some time with a great new study from Craig and Amy Groeschel.  From This Day Forward: Five Commitments to Fail-Proof Your Marriage is based on a message series delivered at LifeChurch in 2012 and is a very powerful experience.  The core idea?  “Your key to a joyful, life-giving marriage begins with you completely understanding this one simple phrase: “I, [your name here], take you [your spouse’s name here], to have and to hold, from this day forward.”

Known for his highly practical and application-oriented teaching style, From This Day Forward is packed with takeaways.  The five principles taught in this study are:

  • Seek God
  • Fight Fair
  • Have Fun
  • Stay Pure
  • Never Give Up

DVD-driven, every session is set up with an opening conversation between Craig and Amy Groeschel and then cuts to footage from the message series delivered live at  One of America’s most dynamic communicators, these sessions are action packed and easily capture and hold attention.  Just the right length, the sessions average 16 to 19 minutes.

The study guide is easy to use and will help group members dig into this extremely important topic.  A very thorough video teaching guide is included for every session, making note taking and capturing key points easy.  The video discussion and Bible exploration section is well-written and will help everyone engage.  I really like the combination of questions that prompt discussion about everyday life and questions that practically explore relevant Bible passages.

The study guide also includes between sessions content that encourages a continued pursuit of the topic through the following week.  There is also a reference to the related chapters from Craig and Amy Groeschel’s book by the same title.

Although there isn’t a leader’s guide, this is a simple study with powerful implications.  The study is well-designed and should be easily facilitated by both brand new leaders and leaders with lots of experience.

This is a great study!  Very powerful and practical, it has real potential to be a study that will greatly impact the married and engaged couples in your church.  I really like From This Day Forward 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 may 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.”

FAQ: I Need Some Help with Small Group Strategy!

I get a lot of questions.  A LOT of questions.  And I love it!  Sometimes I can just point to a blog post.  Other times I’ll answer with an email.

Here’s an email from a reader with some questions I thought you might be helped by my answer:

I read several books before starting and adopted the Sermon Based Strategy and also allowed members to sign up for a 12 week period (probably read Sticky Church).

At the beginning, we would break up the small groups after 12 weeks and we did this for a while but I realized that sometimes momentum drops in getting back together afterwards.

Now that we don’t break up, people seem to be tired that we didn’t break up after 12 weeks.And i’ve been asked when we are going to break up.

What is your opinion about breaking up and regrouping after 12 weeks?

There are several great questions!  How would you answer?  Here’s how I would answer:

You’re describing the strategy used by North Coast and described in Sticky Church.  It’s a sermon-based strategy that uses the semester approach.

The semester strategy can work, but it is a lot of work.  It does provide multiple onramps per year.  Advocates of the strategy also like the fact that it provides easier off-ramps for people that don’t like the group they ended up in.  I don’t really see either of those as advantages that are exclusive to the semester strategy.  See also,  An Analysis of the Free Market Strategy.

The sermon-based strategy has its own advantages and disadvantages.  It does enjoy the year-round benefit of one conversation (studying and talking about the weekend sermon).  The strategy also allows a little more certainty about what is being discussed in groups.  I actually think there are disadvantages that need to be considered.  For example, unless the weekend sermon is very attractive to outsiders, it will be extremely difficult to invite neighbors and friends to join the group.  In addition, limiting available study topics also limits who will say “yes” to leading a group or joining a group.  See also, My Analysis of the Sermon Based Strategy.

My preference is to launch groups with an annual church-wide campaign and connecting events that meet weekly and stay together.  In reality they meet 3 times a month on average (often will miss a week here or there for holidays or something).  See also, Church-Wide Campaign-Driven Small Groups and How to Launch Groups with a Small Group Connection.

I’ve found that the average lifespan of a group is about 18 to 24 months.  Also, it’s not uncommon for groups to last longer but be so comfortable with each other that life-change ceases to take place.  See also, Can You Tell If Your Small Group Might Be a Zombie?

For this reason, I like to encourage group leaders to rotate facilitators and meet in more than one home.  I also train them to share the load, asking other group members to bring snacks, manage the prayer list, etc.  See also, Skill Training: Priming the Leadership Pump.
Once a year we do a church-wide campaign (like 40 days of Purpose) and as we prepare for the campaign I ask my pastor to challenge the congregation to consider hosting a small group and invite their own friends to join their group for the study.  When this is done well, it actually causes some group members to leave their existing groups in order to “host” a group of their own.  See also, My Top Three Ninja Ideas for Recruiting Small Group Leaders.
What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Leaders Are Learners: What Are You Learning?

Leaders are learners.  You know this right?  Years ago I heard someone say that you could tell when someone stopped learning by the copyright dates on their bookshelves.  I’m not sure that is the only way you can tell, but it’s close.

What are you learning?

Here are the things on my learning list right now:

What are you learning?  Have something to add?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Could My 2015 Coaching Network Be What You Need?

Albert Einstein famously pointed out that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”  If your small group ministry is stuck and you need to break out of a rut, you ought to ask yourself if my 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network is what you need!

"If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!” Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor,, South Tulsa

Join my 2015 Coaching Network

I want to invite you to join my 2015 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.

Don’t take my word for it!

Here’s what three of my alumni had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor,, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

Ready to join?

My 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in February and I’ve just opened up applications (as of 11/4 I have 8 spots left). You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

construction buildI’ve written about the powerful benefits of a thriving small group ministry and the five easily overlooked secrets to building a thriving small group ministry.  But it turns out I’ve never written a how to guide.

  1. Thoughtfully (and honestly) diagnose the current state of your church.  Ask yourself the questions I ask when evaluating a small group ministry.  Determine your percentage connected and the complexity of your next step menu.  Without an accurate sense of where you are, you should not expect to make correct choices about how to get where you want to go.
  2. Determine what you hope to see happen in the lives of group members.  This, it turns out, is one of the most important questions you can answer.  The answer to this question tells you what you need to do to and for your leaders (the kinds of experiences you need to give them) and that should inform your understanding of the importance of coaching.
  3. Choose an appropriate small group system, model or strategy.  This is a critical decision.  An honest diagnosis of the current state of your church, coupled with clarity about what you hope to produce in the lives of group members, should inform your decision about the small group system that will get you where you want to go.  The most common cause of small group ministry failure to thrive is choosing an inadequate model.
  4. Allocate resources sufficient to the task.  If you thought steps one, two and three were hard…step four is going to make them seem like a piece of cake.  In order to build a thriving small group ministry you must allocate resources sufficient to the task.  That means you are going to need to make changes to the budget.  It probably means you’re going to need to REallocate your existing budget.  After all, most of us are not in a position to add significantly to the existing budget.  Further, you’re going to need to reallocate sufficient high-capacity volunteers.  You’re going to need to reallocate the events and ministries that are promoted in the weekend service.  You’re going to need to reallocate the space on your website.  I like what Carl George said about this very topic.  “Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. Keep one eye on the preferred future and the other on the very next milestone.  Building a thriving small group ministry is not a sprint.  It is a marathon.  It is not something you do in 12 months.  It is something you do in 12 years.  Staying the course; becoming better and better at building next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic; learning the very best way to connect unconnected people into groups that make disciples is an epic adventure.  It is a journey worth taking.  See also, Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.

Ready to get started?  I’ve included enough right here to get you moving in the right direction.  Need more help?  Take a look at Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry (my four session short course).  It may be just the thing to help you on your way to building 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 Thomas Leth-Olsen

Top 10 Posts for October, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts for October, 2014.  I don’t know whether these are lagging or leading indicators, but I had visitors from 101 countries (thanks for coming by!) and my blog was read in 49 languages!  Another interesting factoid is that 8 of the 10 most popular posts were not written in October!

  1. How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  3. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure
  4. New to Small Group Ministry? Start Here
  5. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader
  6. What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
  7. Yesterday’s Big Idea (Literally)
  8. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups
  9. Andy Stanley on “Matters of the Heart”
  10. Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members

New from Priscilla Shirer: Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath

breatheSpent some time with a new study from Priscilla Shirer this week.  Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath is a 5 session DVD-driven study that will help you discover Sabbath margin–“the boundary God enables us to put around things we enjoy so that we never become slaves again.”

This is a timely study and could be very impactful for many women.  This note says it all: “In a jam-packed life, what’s missing is space–space for God to speak, room for you to hear.  It’s time to set aside the activities and busyness that swallows up rest and peace, it’s time for us to breathe and build margin into our lives for God.”

The video sessions were filmed live at the final Deeper Still event at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.  If you’ve never seen Priscilla Shirer live you are in for a great experience.  If you have been to one of her events…you know exactly what to expect.  The daughter of well-known pastor Tony Evans, Shirer is a very popular teacher in her own right.  A dynamic communicator, this is a study that will resonate very well with many Bible study groups.

Breathe can be used as a 5 session group experience or as a weekend retreat.

The video sessions run as long as 35 minutes and as short as 15 minutes in length.  Filmed at a live event, there is the sense that you are at the event.  Each session is introduced and set-up by Priscilla, allowing your members to refocus their attention and prepare for the topic ahead.

The study journal includes a viewer guide, making it easier to take notes and remember the most important aspects of each video session.  Also included is a journal experience to be used between the video sessions.  Each session’s journal experience reads like a book with room to jot down responses and thoughts.  Averaging 20+ pages, each session’s journal experience will take some time to digest what is being processed.

The study journal also includes a helpful leader’s guide with ideas and suggestions for each session as well.  In addition, the leader’s guide offers some very practical set-up ideas for your Bible study or retreat.

The DVD also includes a special message to leaders from Priscilla with important information and tips about the unique nature of Breathe.  Also included is a video trailer that could be used to promote the study or retreat.

This is a powerful study and could be just the topic the women in your study need to take a next step with God.  Priscilla’s message is very captivating and the study journal is written in a way that will bring encouragement for the journey.  I like Breathe 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 may 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.”

Question-Storming: An Incredibly Valuable Tool

I am always looking for great questions.  I’m inspired by Peter Drucker’s line that “the important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.  For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question (The Practice of Management).”

Last week in my hunt for a better question I tripped across a really great webinar by Jeff Dyer, the co-author of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

The webinar provided an overview of the five skills of disruptive innovators (associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting).  Although there were great takeaways and real application from all five skills, questioning really caught my attention.  And within the skill of questioning, a tool called question-storming gripped me.  We will use this idea!


For me, the big idea of the webinar had to do with a skill called question-storming.  Essentially, when you brainstorm you are trying to come up with solutions or ideas; when you question-storm you are coming ups with questions related to the problem (at least 25 questions).

Here are the steps:

  1. Identify a problem you are trying to solve.
  2. Instead of brainstorming solutions, brainstorm ONLY questions to the problem (at least 25 questions).
  3. Write the questions on a white board for everyone to see as they are being generated.
  4. At the end, prioritize the top 3 to 5 questions that should be addressed/answered before brainstorming solutions.

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

The Truth about Building an Effective Coaching Structure

I’m frequently asked how to build a truly effective small group coaching structure.  It’s one of my most frequently asked questions.  And it’s almost always the case that the person asking the question has tried more than once and has already bought the best books on the subject.  Sometimes they’ve even invested in some coaching themselves or travelled across the country to learn how to do it!  See also, 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.

Believe me, I get it!  It’s not easy to build an effective small group coaching structure!  It can be done.  I’ve done it more than once.  I can tell you how to do it.  But it’s not easy!  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.

To build an effective coaching structure you’ve got to recruit the right people.  You’ve also got to recruit the right people to the right role.  Beyond that, you’ve got to keep in mind that whatever you want to happen in the lives of group members must happen first in the lives of your leaders–and as a result makes the role of a coach essential!  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach and 7 Core Ideas about Small Group Coaching.

The truth about small group coaching?

But can I tell you the bottom line truth about small group coaching?  The truth about building an effective coaching structure is that it takes work.  It won’t build itself.  You can’t build it overnight.  And it isn’t easy.  It takes hard work.

And there really is nothing like having a high capacity team of the right people investing their time in doing the right things to and for your small groups leaders.  When you get that (or even begin to get it) it changes everything!  When you can invest your time in caring for and developing leaders of leaders, everything changes.

Need a little help?

Laying Foundation for a Leadership Culture

I’ve been thinking a lot since the re:group conference about the development of a leadership culture.  I’ve written about it.  I’ve wondered if it can be developed inside a groups ministry and then spread to the rest of a church.  It’s been on my mind constantly. See also, My Most Intriguing and Haunting Takeaway from re:group 14.

Yesterday I started to put some of my thoughts together and I think I got off to a reasonably good start.  Essentially, I’ve concluded that whatever I think I can do ultimately, it could start with my own development.

Here are four early links in the chain reaction:

  1. I downloaded The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner.  It was a great read in the early 90s and again around 2002 (when I bought copies of the 20th anniversary edition and took my team of community leaders through it at Fellowship of The Woodlands).  The 25th anniversary edition looks like it will make a huge contribution to this project.
  2. Chapter 2 of The Leadership Challenge takes you through the process of developing your own personal values (according to research “personal values drive commitment. Personal values are the route to motivation and productivity”).
  3. I remembered a note I’d made about writing a “code of ethics” while reading Todd Henry’s Die Empty.  When I looked back at my notes on chapter 6 of Die Empty it turned out to include a great exercise that will help me develop my own code of ethics (which plays right into the development of personal values).
  4. I read a short section of Keith Yamashita’s contribution to the latest addition to 99U’s book series.  A great set of four questions for finding and living your purpose.  Yamashita pointed out that “the first step in living your purpose is distilling it.”  He followed with these great questions:
  • How will the world be better off thanks to you having been on this earth?
  • What are your unique gifts and superpowers?
  • Who have you been when you’ve been at your best?
  • Who must you fearlessly become?

I think I’m off to a great start.

What do you think?  Have something to add?  Have a question?  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 may 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.”

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