Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Here’s My Reading List for Christmas 2014

Every year I create a list of books I think you should read.  Sometimes the books I include are very purely about small group ministry, discipleship or spiritual formation.  Other times, the books I include may seem pretty far afield (innovation, design, leadership, or strategy).  You’ll just have to trust me.  I wouldn’t include a book I didn’t think would be added to your toolbox and contribute in a trajectory-altering way.

That said…here is this my 2014 Christmas Reading List:

essentialismEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I’m about halfway through this one and have already begun to apply some of the practices McKeown identifies. If you regularly find yourself trying to figure out how to do everything you’ve committed to do…this is a book you need to begin reading today.

change monsterThe Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change by Jeanie Daniel Duck.  This is not a new book, but it’s one that will help you understand the process of change and provide many of the tools you need when a change process is in order.

creativity incCreativity Inc.: Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.  Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar provides an inside look at the development of an already legendary creative shop.  The principles he provides are transferable and will no doubt find their way into what you do.

power of habitThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.  I’m about 15% into this one and can see many ways it will have an influence on the work we are doing in discipleship.  In addition, some of Duhigg’s ideas will have direct application into the team we are building.

switch on your brainSwitch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking and Health by Dr. Caroline Leaf.  Dr. Leaf delivered a highly rated talk at the Catalyst conference earlier this fall.  Her discussion of thinking patterns, detailed in the book, has some very interesting and potentially productive connections into the change process that accompanies discipleship and spiritual growth.

Quotebook: The Job of a Change Agent

I have often joked that I want my title to be The Disruptor of the Status Quo.  It’s not really a joke, but so far I’ve not succeeded in getting the title officially.

I love this paragraph from a Bill Taylor article on HBR:

The job of the change agent is not just to surface high-minded ideas. It is to summon a sense of urgency inside and outside the organization, and to turn that urgency into action. It’s one thing for leaders to use fresh eyes to devise a new line of sight into the future. It’s quite another to muster the rank-and-file commitment to turn a compelling vision into a game-changing performance. My friend and Fast Company cofounder Alan Webber puts it well. Progress, he likes to say, is a math formula. It only happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change. That’s why the third principle of change is for leaders to encourage a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, to persuade their colleagues that business as usual is the ultimate risk, not a safe harbor from the storms of disruption.

You can read the whole article right here.  It would be a great way to prepare for the changes that must come.

How to Design Next Steps and First Steps

first steps next stepsAt Canyon Ridge we want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.  The essence of the idea is that when you think about the various kinds of people who attend your church, each of the various kinds of people would require their own next step.

The simplest way to think about the various kinds of people would be to think about the differences between the never-miss-a-week type and the Christmas and Easter type.  Can you see that difference?  It’s probably very distinct.

Saddleback’s concentric circles illustrate the various kinds of people in an easy to understand way.  I’ve provided my own definitions and descriptions of their five categories in another post.  Again, the key is in understanding that each of the various category would require their own next step.  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Here’s my prescription for designing next steps for everyone:

First, begin to assemble a set of characteristics for each of the kinds of people who attend your church.  For example, the congregation are “people that attend more regularly.  They may come 2 or 3 times a month.  They may serve occasionally (for instance, when you add greeters for Easter).  They may give when they attend and many of them may give what they happen to have in their wallet.  But mostly, they’re more frequent consumers of what you’re producing.”

Note: Saddleback’s concentric circle diagram is a good place to start but as your understanding becomes more clear you should begin to notice nuances and expressions unique to your church.  For example, I often refer to the fact that those in the outer edge of the congregation are not that different from those in the inner edge of the crowd.  I’ve also found that there’s not much difference between those in the crowd and those in the community.

Second, begin to form a set of assumptions about their interests and needs.  It often helps to think about a few actual people that you know who fit in the demographic category.  As your understanding of each category grows your assumptions about their interests and needs should become more accurate.

Ask: “What could we offer that would appeal to their interests and meet their needs?”

Ask: “Do we already have anything that will appeal to their interests and meet their needs?”

Third, design a next step for each of the kinds of people who attend your church.  Start by designing a next step for the group you think will be the easiest to target (or the most productive to target).  Don’t hold out for perfect.  The sooner you can test the step you’ve designed, the sooner you will know whether you have it right.

Note: In the same way that restaurants and retail stores are designed with a different market niche in mind, next steps must be customized to suit the different groups who attend your church.

Fourth, be sure and evaluate the effectiveness of each step.  Your process should be design, test, evaluate and modify.  Evaluating the steps you design will help your design become better and more accurate.  For example, when we evaluated our first try at a short-term on-campus strategy we realized it would probably help our results if we seated unconnected people together and seated already connected people at a different table.  Once we made that change, our results improved dramatically at the very next opportunity.  See also, Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

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

Image by Seattle Municipal Archives

5 Blind Spots that Affect Small Group Ministries Everywhere

I think we all know what a blind spot is…when it’s in our car.  It’s that spot that you can’t really see when you’re changing lanes or backing up.  If you’ve seen the movie Blind Side you know what it means in football (and you know the role of the left tackle).

What you may not realize is there are a few natural blind spots that affect small group ministries everywhere.

Think you might have a blind spot or two?  Here are 5 of the most common blind spots for small group ministries.

5 Blind Spots that affect small group ministries everywhere:

  1. Unnecessarily high entry standards for leaders.  Listen…we all want leaders who are truly capable of shepherding the members of their groups.  All of us dream of group leaders who will do to and for their members the things that will produce life-change.  All of us want that.  At the same time, entry levels that exclude the very people Jesus chose (Peter, Matthew and James), are Exhibit A of the blind spots that affect small group ministries everywhere.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar.
  2. First steps that require extreme commitment.  First steps that require a 12 months or 18 month commitment are obviously extreme.  What about first steps that are 10 to 13 weeks?  Guess what…they seem an eternity to unconnected people!  Think about when you took a first step into a new habit.  Did you commit to a year?  Or a year and a half?  Unconnected people will only take a first step that is easy.  A one hour commitment?  Done.  A 4 to 6 week commitment?  Maybe.  A one year commitment?  Not a chance.  If you’re not offering a one time test-drive or a 6 week toe-in-the-water experience…you have a blind spot you don’t even know about.  See also, Creating Connecting Steps that Are Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.
  3. First steps that require near psychic intuition.  How easy is it to figure out what to do first?  Must I be psychic?  Do I have to do the hard work of figuring out who to call or where to click?  Remember, I’m barely interested.  And my husband (or my wife) will have to be bribed!  Whatever you want me to do first will have to be so easy even a caveman can do it.  It won’t require 3 clicks to find on the website and your receptionist will have to know the answer.  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?
  4. Interpretation for the unconnected.  You have an interpreter for the hearing impaired?  The unconnected people in your auditorium do not read lips and are not able to read between the lines.  If you want to connect unconnected people, your weekend teacher and every announcement and communication must provide explicit instructions that cannot be misinterpreted.  Offering “several ways that you can get connected here at First Community” only insures that unconnected people will hesitate and wait for clarity.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: a Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  5. A menu that pacifies the status quo.  Do you have menu items that only interest the already connected?  You know what I’m referring to.  Whether you want to connect unconnected people or provide legitimate next steps for the already connected and under-committed, you must de-clutter your menu and only feature legitimate next steps.  Including “steps” that only collect attendees and don’t actually lead anywhere are sideways energy and must be eliminated or retooled.  See also, Which Customer Is Your Ministry Designed to Connect?

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

The Best Yes: Lysa TerKeurst’s Newest DVD-Driven Study

the best yesSpent some time this week with the newest study by Lysa TerKeurst: The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.  TerKeurst is New York Times bestselling author and speaker who helps everyday women live an adventure of faith through following Jesus Christ. As president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa has led thousands to make their walk with God an invigorating journey.

In this six-session video-based Bible study Lysa TerKeurst shares how to make better use of the two most powerful words, yes and no.  Using Biblical teaching and practical insights this study will help you be more equipped to discern the best yes answers for your life.

The six topics covered in the study include:

  • Set Your Heart to Wisdom examines the beginning of wisdom.
  • Establish a Pattern of Wisdom studies a woman that established a pattern of wisdom that saved her city.
  • Practice Wisdom covers how wisdom must be practiced in daily life.
  • Predetermine Your Best Yes teaches the power of the small “no”.
  • Avoid the Traps of People Pleasing studies how we must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please.
  • Build a Best Yes Legacy teaches how to become more confident in making good decisions.

DVD-driven, The Best Yes is a six session study based on TerKeurst’s book by the same title.  A dynamic speaker, the sessions are just the right length.  At an average length of 13 to 18 minutes, they capture and hold attention as well as set up discussion very well.  Filmed on location in England, each session is set in a visually interesting location.

The study guide is very creatively designed.  With additional instructions for groups that meet for two hours, the study can be completed in 60 minutes.  Each session includes a video viewing guide and a simple set of discussion questions.  The sessions also include elements that engage every participant.  Providing a daily experience, each session also includes a Between Sessions Personal Bible Study.  Keeping today’s busy schedules in mind, these personal studies can be completed with a commitment of about 8 to 10 minutes a day.  The study guide also includes a optional plan to read through the Book of Proverbs during the six session study.

I am always looking for studies that will interest a broad cross section of adults.  When I can find a topic that appeals to new Christians and seasoned veterans, and will even appeal to friends and neighbors, I know I’ve found a winner; what I call a cross-cultural study.  The Best Yes is that kind of study!   If you’re looking for a study that will capture the attention of the women in your church (and their friends), you need to take a look at The Best Yes.  I loved it 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 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.”


Thankful for So Much


Sunrise Pink

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

We have so much for which to be thankful.

That’s one way to say it.  I’m not much of a grammarian.

We have so much to be thankful for.

That’s better.

We really do have so much to be thankful for.  Even in a year marked by tragedy and sadness.  Maybe even especially in a year where our lives were irrevocably changed.

We are thankful for each other.  Debbie and I have been married 26 years (in just a couple weeks) and thank God every day for each other.

We are thankful for certainty.  We know where our son is.  We know that he is safe.  And we know we will see him again.

We are thankful for our family and friends who remind us every day that we are loved.

We are thankful for community.  We are thankful for our community where we are known and loved.

We are thankful for a God who loves us deeply and longs for us to know Him completely.

We are thankful for a God who watches over us every day and every night and whose mercies are new every morning.

4 Keys to Choosing the Next Study for New Groups

I’ve pointed out that the time to think about what’s next for new groups is before you even begin.  Whether you’re starting new groups with a church-wide campaign, a small group connection, or an on-campus strategy with a built-in next step that launches off-campus groups, it is essential to choose the follow-up study before you even begin.  See also, Now Is the Time to Think about What’s Next.

What we need to talk about now is how to choose the best next study for your new groups.  While there are plenty of studies that might get the job done, with a little attention to detail you can choose the best next study.  Here are a few things to think about:

  • Whenever possible, choose a follow-up study that is similar-in-kind to the launching study.  If you recruited new HOSTs with the promise that “this study almost leads itself,” be sure and choose a follow-up study that is also easy to use.  If your launching study was a “show up” study (as opposed to preparation or homework), choose a show-up study as follow-up.  DVD-driven?  You get the idea.
  • Choose a follow-up study that will have broad appeal.  Stay away from studies that will exclude some groups or some members (i.e., marriage, parenting, etc.).
  • Pay attention to seasonal realities or issues.  Certain themes lend themselves to certain seasons.  For example, January is an opportunity for a study about fresh starts or new foundations.  Late fall is often an opportunity to focus on the true meaning of Christmas or making a difference in the community.
  • Consider the cost of participating and factor it into your choice.  Some studies on require the DVD or the leader’s guide.  Others require the study guide and a devotional book.

Although there are no truly one-size-fits-all studies, making a good selection will encourage more of your newest groups to continue.  Next to providing a coach, choosing a follow-up study that is similar-in-kind and beginning to promote it as early as week 3 or 4 of the launching study one of the most important keys to sustaining new groups.  See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.

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

Have You Determined Your “Essential Intent”?

Have you clarified the win for your small group ministry?  Have you figured out what you’re going to call success?

I’m working my way through Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and in today’s reading I came across an idea that I know is going to help me and I’m pretty sure is going to help you.

Author Greg McKeown references a study in which he “gathered data from more than 500 people about their experience on more than one thousand teams” and “found a consistent reality: When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress, and frustration.  When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive (p. 121).”

Question: How clear is your team on what their goals and roles are?

McKeown goes on to point out that one way “we achieve clarity of purpose is [when we] decide on an essential intent.”

What is an essential intent?  “An essential intent is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable.  Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settle one thousand later decisions (p. 125).”

“To get everyone in the U.K. online by the end of 2012”

The example cited by McKeown is when Martha Lane Fox was asked to become the U.K.’s first “digital champion.”  “Martha and her team came up with this essential intent: ‘To get everyone in the U.K. online by the end of 2012.'”

“An essential intent is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable.”

What is your essential intent?  I was thinking about this today and plan to declare that our essential intent is “to connect 150% of our weekend adult attendance in groups by 2022.”  We’ll never drift to 150%.  It will require grit and determination to get to 150%.  It will require a steadfast focus.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter

Connecting 150% of our weekend adult attendance in groups will also require a willingness to choose what not to do.  Anything and everything that doesn’t lead to our essential intent becomes a non-essential.

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

Rethinking the Role of the Small Group Pastor

Do you have a job description for a small group pastor?  What should we be looking for in a small group pastor?  Can you help us find the right small group pastor?  See also, Do You Have a Job Description for a Small Group Director?

These are just a few of the questions I get asked on a regular basis.

Want to know what I tell them?  The first thing I ask them is, “What do you want your small group pastor to do?”

This is an important question because it often reveals a set of bad ideas about what a small group pastor ought to be doing.

Bad ideas about the role of the small group pastor

  • Champion small group ministry (that role belongs to the senior pastor)
  • Recruit small group leaders (hand-to-hand combat will only get this job done in the smallest churches or in the very beginning of launching a small group ministry)
  • Train small group leaders (again, only in the smallest churches or in the very beginning)
  • Connect unconnected people (matchmaking is rarely, if ever, a strategic use of your small group pastor’s time).

What should be the role of the small group pastor?

If you’re going to build a thriving small group ministry, your senior pastor must be the small group champion.  That begs the question, “What is the role of the small group pastor?”  There are four main components:

  1. A behind the scenes instigator who sets in motion an annual strategy to connect people.  There are two key elements to this role.  First, the small group pastors with thriving small group ministries are almost always operate behind the scenes and are unknown by the congregation.  Second, they’re thinking year round about opportunities to connect unconnected people and designing strategies around those opportunities.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups Year Round.
  2. A role model, doing to and for your leaders (or coaches as your ministry grows) what you want them to do to and for the members of their groups.  Since adults learn on a need to know basis, developing leaders is a customized and just-in-time practice.  When this role is played effectively, leaders learn to do what you want them to do to and for their group members.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of the Small Group Pastor.
  3. A talent scout always identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity people, managing a reasonable span of care.  The key here is that building a thriving small group ministry is a team effort and every congregation has high capacity people who will only be fruitful and fulfilled when they play a high-impact role.  5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4.  A Joshua to Moses or Timothy to Paul, looking for ways to help your senior pastor be the small group champion.  Never underestimate this aspect of the role of the small group pastor.  Thriving small group ministries aren’t built when the senior pastor delegates the role of small group champion, See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

Need more help?  You’ll find these two articles helpful: What Some Small Group Pastors Know…that Others Don’t and 7 Biggest Problems Facing Small Group Pastors

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

New from Bill Hybels and John Ortberg: Life Lessons from Jesus

life lessons from JesusI spent some time this week with a new collection of Bible studies you’re going to want to know about.  Life Lessons from Jesus is actually a collection of 5 studies (with a total of 36 lessons), all of which will appeal to your small group leaders and members.

While Life Lessons from Jesus is not a DVD-driven study and it doesn’t include a leader’s guide, it’s written in a way that will be relatively easy for all but the least experienced leaders to facilitate.

Originally published as 5 individual studies in a series called New Community Bible Studies, this is a great collection of the studies that feature the teaching of Jesus.  The 5 studies that are included in the collection are:

  • The Sermon on the Mount by Bill Hybels (12 sessions)
  • The Lord’s Prayer by John Ortberg (6 sessions)
  • The Parables by John Ortberg (6 sessions)
  • The Passion by Bill Hybels (6 sessions)
  • Luke by Bill Hybels (6 sessions)

Life Lessons from Jesus is designed to expose group members to Jesus, the Great Teacher.  Every session includes a well-written ice-breaker question or two that will pull members into the truth of the lesson.  A thought-provoking set of discussion questions will help explore the truths taught by Jesus the Rabbi.  Each session also includes an emphasis on reflection and application.  Far more than a study that will help members learn about Jesus, these sessions are designed to help members become like Jesus.

This is a very good collection of studies.  If your group is looking for a study that digs deeply into the teachings of Jesus, you’re going to want to take a look at Life Lessons from Jesus.  I like this study 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.”

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