5 Secret Ingredients that Supercharge Saddleback’s Church-Wide Campaigns

You probably know the basics and can easily spot the essential aspects of a garden variety church-wide campaign.  Choose a message series that has a small group curriculum that goes along with it.  Spend several weeks recruiting hosts, promoting the series, challenging members to join groups.

You know all that.

But have you ever stopped to think about these important details?  I think these 5 secret ingredients help supercharge Saddleback’s own church-wide campaigns:

  1. Recruit HOSTs early…and often:  How early do you begin asking for group hosts?  And how often?  Did you know that it’s not unusual for Saddleback to begin referring to their upcoming fall spiritual growth emphasis in late spring or early summer?  Not elaborately or with lots of fanfare.  Often a simple reference to what’s ahead and pointing out how to sign up now.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask: the 2012 Version and Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row.
  2. Anyone can pick up a HOST Kit:  Who can pick up group materials for your campaign?  Do they need to a member?  A member with certain credentials?  Is picking up materials really more of an invitation only concept at your church?  In the original version of Saddleback’s 40 Days of Purpose in 2002 anyone could sign up to be a host but non-members were informed that attending CLASS 101 and being baptized by immersion were prerequisites.  Over the last 10 years it has become progressively easier to pick up materials and host a group in your home (and invite your own friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family).  Imagine the difference that change has made in terms of the thousands who have participated?  See also, Leader Qualifications: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar.
  3. Convenient HOST training: Everything a new Saddleback host needs to get their group started is in the kit or available online.  What began as an hour-long orientation has steadily migrated to a simpler and simpler delivery system that most recently landed online.  Stop and think about how many more hosts you might have if you offered training that could be accessed anytime and anywhere?  See also, Breaking: Add This HOST Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks.
  4. No charge for campaign materials: When a host picks up their materials at Saddleback no money changes hands.  Think about that.  Think about the significance of removing the financial aspect of inviting a neighbor to join your 40 Days of Purpose small group!  If you’ve ever experienced the awkward moment of letting your friend know that it’s $15 per person…you can see right away what a strategic advantage it would be to remove the payment issue.  See also, FAQ: Who Typically Pays for Materials in a Church-Wide Campaign?
  5. Honoring HOSTs and celebrating their faithfulness: Last fall’s campaign at Saddleback concluded with a host gathering featuring senior pastor Rick Warren.  In order to include the over 6000 hosts it was held at two different times.  Ever heard Rick Warren talk about the importance of small groups and the impact that each host has?  Just think about the message he sent in that gathering!  See also, Three Outcomes that Must Be Designed into Every Church-Wide Campaign.

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

Top 5 Things to Do in July to Prepare for a Church-Wide Campaign

Planning to launch a church-wide campaign this fall?  If so, you’re at about T-80 days to launch (assuming you’re reading this in early July and you’ve chosen your launch date wisely).  For the purpose of this top 5 list, I’m assuming you’ve already chosen your church-wide campaign (If you haven’t, see below for some great suggestions).  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign.

Here are the top things to do in July to prepare for a church-wide campaign:

  1. Meet with your senior pastor asap to plan your host recruitment strategy for August.  Remember, if you want to maximize the number of new groups launched in September, what your senior pastor does in August is a critical factor and one of the 5 keys to avoiding a church-wide campaign disaster.  In order to take full advantage of the exponential power of a campaign, you’ll need to leverage the influence of the most influential person in most congregations.  See also, How to Make the HOST Ask – the 2012 Version and Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row.
  2. Set any meetings that will generate supporting sign-up forms, inserts, web and bulletin info, and FAQs that will be needed.  Here’s an example of a HOST FAQ.  At this same time, you should set any meetings that will be needed to discuss changes in the order of your service (for example, if you’re going to collect the HOST sign-up forms in the offering basket, the offering will need to follow the message).
  3. Now is the time to step up your efforts to recruit a group of launch-phase coaches (if you haven’t already done this, there is still time).  One of the most important predictors of groups that begin with a church-wide campaign and then continue is the presence of a knowledgeable veteran walking alongside.  If you take the time right now to recruit some veterans to help the newbies…you’ll sustain a much higher percentage of the new groups you launch.  See also, Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  4. Calendar and plan a set of identical HOST orientations that will help your new hosts get off to a great start.  See also, Host Orientations that Work  and Add This HOST Orientation Idea to Your Bag of Tricks.
  5. Fine tune arrangements for all materials needed for your church-wide campaign.  You’ll want to begin distributing host packets and supplies (study guides, books, DVDs, invitations, etc.) no later than two weeks prior to the launch date.  This gives your hosts an easy way to invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family.  See also, FAQ: Who Typically Pays for Materials in a Church-Wide Campaign?

Still looking for a church-wide campaign to do this fall?  See also, Add “Pressure Points” to Your Church-Wide Campaign Short List and 5 Cross-Cultural Campaigns that Ought to Be on Your Radar,

Don’t Miss This Important Public Service Announcement

How’d you get to MarkHowellLive.com today?

  1. Did you get here by email?
  2. Do you use an RSS reader?
  3. Do you follow me on Twitter or Facebook?
  4. Do you have it bookmarked?
  5. Or just search for something?

You know…it might be time to make it easy on yourself!  You can sign up and get my updates automatically (if you’re not already).  There are three ways to get my latest strategies, ideas, tips and reviews.

Daily Email Updates

Monday through Friday we send out an email update to hundreds of readers.  You can unsubscribe from this service at any time.

This free service is provided by a third party (FeedBlitz).

Just click here to get started!  Be sure and confirm your subscription when you get an email asking you to do so.


For those of you familiar with RSS and News Aggregators you can follow Mark’s Blog via our RSS Feed.  If you’re one of the massive number who used to get their content via Google Reader, you might want to consider re-subscribing to my content through a reader like Feedly.  It organizes the content you follow from blogs, news sites and podcasts all in one place.

Here’s what you need to do: Download and install Feedly for Chrome, iOS or Android.  Subscribe to my feed in the Feedly app.  Use another feed reader?  You can follow the MarkHowellLive.com RSS feed in any active feed reader.

Twice Monthly Email Newsletter Summary

For those wanting a twice monthly summary of what happens on this site this free email newsletter is probably your best option. It includes a summary of the tips posted to the site each month. Come join the community!

To subscribe to this newsletter simply add your email address to the following field and then follow the confirmation prompts. You will be able to unsubscribe at any time.


We respect your email privacy

Email Marketing by AWeber

Please note – your privacy is assured with any of the above options. I do not use your details for any other purposes than what you sign up for and details are kept private.

Dilbert on Strategic Decision Making

How’s this for strategic decision making?

eliminate the choices idiots make

5 Keys to Clarifying the Win for Your Church-Wide Campaign

brotherjuniperstrikesagainPreparing for your next church-wide campaign?  What will you call a win?  Will you declare what a win will look like in advance…and then aim for that?  Or like the well-known Brother Juniper cartoon, will you just shoot an arrow into the fence and draw the bullseye afterward?

Clarifying the win, being clear about what you will call success, before you begin is an important step in launching a truly successful church-wide campaign.  Without this step all of your effort really could be in vain.  And no one wants that!

5 keys to clarifying the win for a successful campaign:

Determine in advance who you will connect.  Don’t just say “as many as possible.”  That really is a cop out and misses the main chance for impact.  Declaring in advance who you are trying to connect forces you to choose a topic and design a strategy that will connect that kind of person.  See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign Topic.

Determine how many new small groups you will launch.  Don’t just say “as many as possible.”  Be aware that determining who you will connect and choosing a topic with them in mind will also determine who who will say “yes” to hosting a new small group.  Determining how many you will launch plays a role in how you will recruit hosts and who can lead a group.  When you make this declaration you put cards on the table that determine the seriousness of your intent.  See also, Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes, Small Group Leaders: Qualifications, Hoops and Lowering the Bar, and Crowd-Friendly Leader Qualification.

Determine the percentage of your new groups you expect to sustain.  It’s one thing to have many respond to the HOST ask.  It’s one thing to have many potential hosts attend an orientation.  It’s one thing to launch new groups.  It’s a completely different thing to sustain new groups into their second or third curriculum.  Determining in advance what percentage you will sustain should influence how you will support and resource your newest leaders.  See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Small Groups and Skill Training: 6 Keys to Keeping Your New Group Going.

Determine what action steps will indicate movement in the right direction.  This is an important key to a successful church-wide campaign.  Hopefully you want to do more than simply connect people in groups.  Hopefully your aim is to help everyone you connect take a step or two in following Jesus.  What would be the action steps you could build in and measure that would make it easy to spot a win?

  • Baptism
  • Attending a service as a group in week 6
  • Serving together
  • Volunteering for a ministry test-drive
  • Sustaining into the follow up curriculum
  • Etc.

You can make your own list of action steps that will indicate movement.  Doing that before you begin will force your team to choose the right curriculum, to write messages with great takeaways, etc.  See also, Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends.

Determine how this campaign will be remembered.  Determining how this campaign will be remembered might seem the most vague and foggy.  It might be the most important.  Wrestling with how your campaign will be remembered forces you to build in elements that are memorable.

I often tell senior pastors that if you want everyone to participate, you need to be able to say, “You don’t want to get into November and say, ‘I wish I had joined a small group.’”  I also tell pastors to tell their congregation, “We’re coming into a season as a church that we’ll still be talking about 1o years from now.”

The church-wide campaigns that change the trajectories of churches don’t happen every day.  And they don’t just happen!  Acting on these 5 keys will help your church have the kind of campaign you’d like to have.

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

An Analysis of the Sermon Based Small Group Strategy

I am regularly asked about the wisdom or effectiveness of a sermon-based strategy.  Underlying the question many times is the sense that providing a study to be used will keep groups from straying from the well trodden pathway.  And I have to admit that at some level there is  wisdom behind what they are asking.  See also, Sermon Based Small Groups.

There is wisdom behind what they are asking…but there is also a set of assumptions that need to be unearthed and evaluated.  Only after evaluating will it make sense to embrace, discard or modify.

Common assumptions that accompany a sermon-based group strategy:

  • A sermon-based group curriculum allows members to ask questions and discuss the weekend message (hard to argue with that)
  • A sermon-based strategy encourages one conversation among the congregation’s adult participants (again, hard to argue with the benefit, at least periodically, of this idea)
  • A sermon-based curriculum can be produced in-house, ensuring theological orthodoxy while keeping the cost down (perhaps the cost of curriculum can be minimized, but ensuring theological orthodoxy has more to do with the leader)
  • Sermon-based curriculum makes it possible to intentionally target particular aspects of spiritual growth

Observations about sermon-based strategies:

  • The invitation to join our group as we dig in deeper to our pastor’s message is often less appealing to friends, neighbors, co-workers and family than an intentionally selected cross-cultural topic.  
  • Small group studies based on expository sermons, especially lengthy verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, are a often a tougher invite for unconnected people.
  • Variety is present in virtually every other arena (restaurants, television programming, neighborhoods, etc.) and the entire customer base is targeted and served by anticipating individual tastes.

My Takeaways:

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

A Potentially Game-Changing Mashup We’ll Be Testing in September

I’ve written a lot about how to use the HOST strategy combined with a church-wide campaign.  In my mind those two strategies represent two of the most powerful ideas in small group ministry.  If you’re looking for a way to jump start lots of groups and connect way beyond the usual suspects…I’ve not found anything else that can come close to a well designed church-wide campaign with the HOST strategy in place.

I’ve not found anything that can top it…until now.  Keep reading…

The church-wide campaign strategy plus HOST comes with several problems, but since there is no problem-free solution or strategy, I use it and coach many other churches to use it because I’d rather have these problems than the problems of any other strategy for starting groups and connecting people.

The one thing the strategy doesn’t do very well is make it easy for unconnected people who don’t know a host to find a group.  We’ve tried a number of ways to get around that issue:

  • trained new hosts to fill their group by taking advantage of top 10 ways to find new group members
  • taken sign-ups to be in a group (once you’re beyond a certain size the match-making idea just doesn’t work)
  • implemented an online group-finder tool that allowed unconnected people to find a group near them (requires unconnected people to overcome their second greatest fear)
  • outfitted hosts with special t-shirts that identified them as hosts and had them stand up in the service

We’ve tried a lot of ways to help connect as many people as possible.  I bet you have too.

Here’s what we’re trying this September (I got this idea from Tracey Smith, a grouplife veteran at Central Christian here in Las Vegas):

  1. We’ll run the host recruiting strategy in August (three weeks in a row with an embedded ask in our senior pastor’s message).  See also, HOST Recruitment and the Launch Sequence.
  2. Host sign-ups will be invited to one of several identical orientations.
  3. The invite to the orientation will have a simple questionnaire attached and the instructions to bring the completed form to the orientation (you can download a copy of a recent questionnaire right here).
  4. At the orientation (and maybe on the invitation) they’ll learn that completing a couple steps will qualify them to promote their group in two ways: (1) at on-campus connecting events* the two weekends before the launch and (2) on the online group-finder.
  5. At a minimum, the required steps will include completing the questionnaire and connecting with a coach.
  6. On the weekends of the on-campus connecting events our services will be shortened to allow our attendees to walk a few steps out of the auditorium and choose a group to attend based on the area, day of week, and life-stage.  The key is that they’ll be able to meet the host face-to-face.
  7. Hosts leave the connecting events with potential members they’ve met face-to-face and contact information.

As you can see there’s a lot of detail missing.  If you’re a grouplife veteran you can probably see traces of the small group fair idea and also North Point’s GroupLink strategy.  See also, Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events.

What we’re looking for is the most effective way to connect unconnected people who already attend our church.  The right church-wide campaign plus the HOST strategy does an amazing job of connecting friends, neighbors, co-workers and family.  Add this wrinkle…and we think it will connect even more people.

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

Add “Pressure Points” to Your Church-Wide Campaign Short List

pressure pointsLooking for your next church-wide campaign?  Don’t miss an exciting new development at LifeWay.  This fall’s launch of the Bible Studies for Life curriculum series needs to be on your radar.

Pressure Points, a six session study based on the book of James, is the first study in the series.  Everyone faces the challenges of pressure.  Pressure knows no boundaries.  Men and women.  Young and old.  Christians and non-Christians.  Pressure is a truly cross-cultural topic.

We all deal with it.  And everyone will see the wisdom found in James.

The study guide was written by Chip Henderson, senior pastor of Pinelake Church, a multi-site church in Brandon, Mississippi, which has grown from 700 to more than 9000 people on five campuses.  The DVD features Henderson presenting a short introduction for each session.

With curriculum available for adults, students, and children…this is a campaign that will produce one conversation in your church.

Several delivery formats make the Bible Studies for Life series a 21st century solution.  In addition to the print version of the study guide, it is also available as a digital download or via an iPhone app.

Special Resources in the Leader Kit:

  • Promotional video, presentation slides, banner ads, and posters
  • DVD segment for each session featuring the author providing biblical insight
  • Leader guide: Expands on the commentary you get in the Group Member Book
  • PLUS- Free online sermon outlines: Two sets for each session. One uses the same Scripture passage as the session. The other expands on the theme but uses different Scripture passages.

If you’re looking for a church-wide campaign that will help your congregation wrestle with a real-life issue, don’t miss Pressure Points.  An easy invite…I think this study ought to be on your list!

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.”

Be Aware of the Self Serving Bias When Diagnosing Your Ministry

cone_slide8One of the greatest challenges in diagnosing your own ministry is successfully overcoming the self serving bias.  You know this term, right?  A self serving bias is “the tendency of people to attribute success to their personalities and failure to external factors.”

For example, while diagnosing the previous ministry year one might determine that Event A succeeded due to great personal leadership and Event B failed due to the disinterested customer’s lack of spiritual maturity.

One of the discussions that I begin consultations with is based on the Andy Stanley line that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results your currently experiencing.”

When diagnosing my own ministry outcomes, I’m learning to ask myself, “Is my rationale for the success or failure of this strategy affected by a self serving bias?”

I’m learning to add this same step into my consultation work.  See also, Brutal Honesty about Your Present and Innovation Step One: Acknowledge What’s Not Working.

By the way, one of the reasons that fresh eyes are so important is their immunity to the self serving bias.  Whether you take advantage of a one hour coaching call with me or have coffee with a ministry practitioner from another church in your area, you can counteract the dangers of the self serving bias.

2013 Summer Reading List

Have your reading planned for the summer?  I think there are a few books that you need to be reading to be up on the grouplife conversation.

discipleshiftFor starters…I think you need to be reading DiscipleShift: Five Steps that Can Help Your Church 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.

Read my full review right here.

church in an age of crisisNext up?  I think you need to add The Church in an Age of Crisis.  The newest book from James Emery White, founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, White is the former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the blogger behind the Church & Culture blog (a must-read for anyone interested in life at crowd’s edge).

The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity is a fascinating, gut-wrenching, and terrifying read.  Anything but a page-turner…but only because every other paragraph contains a wait…what?  Can that be true? moment.  Definitely in the category of The Next Christians as essential reading for anyone attempting ministry in the 21st century.

Read my full review right here.

mud and the masterpieceJohn Burke’s Mud and the Masterpiece is a masterpiece itself and immediately joins the required reading list for anyone who wants to reach people at crowd’s edge.

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.

Read my full review right here.

great omissionI’ve read pretty much everything Dallas Willard ever wrote.  The Divine Conspiracy might be one of my most marked up, starred, underlined, dog-eared books.  Renovation of the Heart and The Spirit of the Disciplines are right on its heels.  I’ve bookmarked websites.  I’ve printed reams of articles…and they’re just as marked up as any of the books.

Last week I finally picked up a copy of The Great Omission.  Containing “several previously published articles and addresses on discipleship, spiritual growth and formation,” I can tell you that my copy is now no different than anything else I’ve ever worked my way through of Willard’s.  Lots of notations, underlined passages, and dog-eared pages!

Read my full review right here.

playing to win largeOne of the most important reads I’ve worked through lately is Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin.  If you can base the value of a book by the amount of underlining, starring, and dog-eared pages…this is a veryvaluable book!

I first discovered Roger Martin a few years ago when I tripped across The Design of Business.  Easily one of my top 5 reads in the area of design-thinking, it included several key questions and concepts that I use almost daily.  Very, very good stuff.  So, when I saw the announcement for the upcoming release of Playing to Win…I had to have it.  And I was not disappointed.  Playing to Win is literally jam-packed with great content and is very transferable to what all of us do!

Read my full review right here.

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.”