New Must-Read from Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer: Transformational Groups

transformational groupsI’ve been working my way through an important new book from Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer this week.  Transformational Groups: Creating a New Scorecard for Groups is the latest project in the transformational series (Transformational Church and Transformational Discipleship).  All three have been researched based and packed with insights that ought to be on your radar.

Whether you’re new to groups ministry or you’re a seasoned veteran, you’re going to want to digest the information and ideas in Transformational Groups.  And regardless of the system you use or whether your groups are off-campus or on-campus, I think you’ll find the content very helpful as you think about both the need for groups and also the obstacles that might be preventing your church from both connecting unconnected people and genuinely making disciples.

I was captured by several insights just in the first couple chapters; things I had wondered about and dismissed as outside of what I could know for sure.  The research that went into the development of this project definitely helped me come to a couple important new convictions.

My copy is pretty marked up after just one pass through the content.  In addition to many spot on research insights, I came across a number of ideas that will make it into my thinking for upcoming discussions on our groups team.  One idea in particular that I grabbed in the first few pages is that “the study what you want approach is irresponsible unless there is clear training that equips leaders for wise choices (p. 8).”  I’ve developed many “recommended study lists” but I’ve never taken the time to develop either intentional training for leaders on wisely choosing what’s next or an intentional menu that guides new groups through a core curriculum.  Great insight.  I’ll be moving on this one quickly.

There are several things to love about Transformational Groups.  First, it is research based; the result of multiple research projects over several years.  That’s important because the contribution Geiger and Stetzer make is not based on opinion or theory.

Second, I love the fact that while neither of the authors are currently in full-time local church ministry, they are grouplife advocates.  They are both “intimately involved in small group-life because we know that groups matter.”  And that’s important because they’re looking at the research through the lens of a practitioner, not theorists.

Third, Transformational Groups is much more than statistics and numbers.  Geiger and Stetzer do a very good job of unpacking their findings, making many important understandings very accessible.  Like me, I bet you’ll come away with many new insights that will begin to shape a number of important ahas about why things are the way they are.

This is an important book.  If you are looking for practical help and powerful insights that will help you and your team advance the cause of connecting unconnected people and making disciples, you won’t want to miss Transformational Groups.  I highly recommend it.

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.”

5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry

I hear from pastors all the time who are desperate to crack the small group ministry code.  Many have tried multiple systems and strategies, only to be disappointed and discouraged.

It’s not hard to get in touch with their desperation.  Often, it comes across as a mix of question and exclamation:

What does it take to build a thriving small group ministry?!?!

Here are 5 easily overlooked secrets:

  1. It takes time to build a thriving small group ministry.  Nothing of significance is built overnight.  Anything truly worth doing is worth committing to for the long haul.  Yes, Saddleback has a thriving small group ministry.  They’ve committed the last 15 to 20 years building it.  Year in.  Year out.  Yes, North Point has a thriving small group ministry.  They’ve committed the last 17 years to building it.  Year in.  Year out.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat…and the Long Run.
  2. It takes commitment to a strategy to build a thriving small group ministry.  Switching to a new strategy every year (or every time you read a new book or attend a new conference) is a recipe for failure.  Can you adjust to take advantage of new opportunities?  Absolutely.  In fact, you need to make strategic shifts when ministry windows end.  But switching on what seems like a whim to your key leaders leads to idea fatigue.  See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula.
  3. It takes personal commitment to authentic community to build a thriving small group ministry.  If you truly want to build a thriving small group ministry it requires the personal commitment of your senior pastor.  It requires the personal commitment of your staff and key leaders in your congregation.  See also, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You and 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4. It takes a healthy budget to build a thriving small group ministry.  Your budget reflects your true priorities.  If you really want a thriving small group ministry, even your auditor will be able to figure it out.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  5. It takes willingness to shorten the discipleship menu to build a thriving small group ministry.  You may think a buffet provides more entrees and more entrees leads to more diners, but what a buffet really does is make it hard to choose.  And if you want to build a thriving small group ministry you need to make it easy to choose.  See also, A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups and 5 Compromises That Derail Small Group Ministry.

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

Image by Marco Monetti

Can You Imagine GroupLife in the First Century?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few days.  What was grouplife in the first century really like?  We can learn some things and draw some conclusions from the New Testament.  Although the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters are packed with references to what was happening in houses everywhere, the key passage might be Acts 2:42-47:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  

How’s that compare with your small group?  I’m increasingly absolutely certain that grouplife in the first century was substantially different than most of us ever experience in the 21st century.  Here are just four ways:

  • The ratio of ordinary life conversations to spiritual conversations was probably reversed.  They were people, so they still talked about the stuff of ordinary life (i.e., who won the chariot race, the emperor’s new clothes, global warming, etc.), but their proximity to the power of God coupled with brevity of life had to have an impact on their conversations.
  • The sense that they were in it together and dependent on each other had to be always present.  They shared what they had, for the most part without holding back.  Acts 4:32-37 and Acts 5:1-11.
  • There had to be an eager and near desperate interest in including a neighbor, friend, or family member.
  • No DVDs or study guides, rarely a scroll or a copy of a letter, they listened intently to “the apostles teaching” and then had long discussions (sometimes all night) about what it all meant.  Acts 20:7-12

Sound like your group?  Or not?  It may be a good time to wonder whether your group might be a zombie.  It might also be time to actually design your group meeting for life-change.  See also, Can You Tell If Your Group Might Be a Zombie and Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

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

Can You Tell If Your Small Group Might Be a Zombie?

Can you tell the difference between a small group that’s fully alive and a zombie group?  You’ve probably seen and heard all the buzz about zombies.  You might have the general idea about what makes a person a zombie (as opposed to being alive).  But have you ever thought about what might make a small group a zombie?  And have you ever tried to figure out whether your group is a zombie?  Or how many of your groups are actually zombie groups?

Here’s a test:

  1. Your small group meets on a regular basis and everyone in your group is “doing great” every time you meet.  No one ever talks about their struggles.  They learned a long time ago that what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in your group is quickly public knowledge.  See also, Skill Training: The Power of a Small Group Agreement.
  2. The most common prayer request is for “a friend of your uncle’s who lives in another country and is pretty sure their ex-wife’s gardner has a rare form of cancer.”  See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Learn to Pray Together, The Simplest Way to Help Your Members Pray Out Loud, and Skill Training: Sub-Grouping for Deeper Connection.
  3. Your group is studying James but no one can come up with a personal application.  See also, Skill Training: Learn How to Apply Scripture as a Group.
  4. The first hour of every meeting is spent bemoaning the outcome of the Super Bowl (or the election, the boring weekend service, the senior pastor’s outfit from Buckle, etc.).
  5. Every time your group meets…everyone has to reintroduce themselves.  Might be because you only meet during the annual church-wide campaign.  Might be because you think everyone has to be there in order to convene.
  6. A lifeless mood inhabits your meetings.  The last time anyone laughed or cried was on November 8, 2008.
  7. The last suggestion that anyone needed to take a next spiritual step was met with denial…in 2012.  See also, Skill Training: Equip Leaders to Help Members Plan to Grow.
  8. 90 minutes twice a month is the absolute limit to any sense of connection.  Any chance meeting in between meetings is just that.  Chance and nothing more.
  9. Serving anyone without calculated ROI (return on investment) is rare or nonexistent.  See also, Skill Training: 5 Keys to Becoming a More Caring Group.
  10. Your group has been meeting for 3 years (or 32 years) but no one ever changes.  “You know me…I am what I am.”  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and

You can (with effort) combat this natural trend.  What you ask your small group leaders to commit to do, as well as the habits of your small group leaders both play a significant role in whether your groups have life and life-change…or are zombies.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders.

I’ve written a post or two that have tackled a similar topic in the past.  See also, I See Dead Groups and Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.

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

Top 10 Posts of January, 2014

Miss a day or two?  Here are my top 10 posts of January, 2014.  Actually, I included an 11th post this month because it was such a close race and #11 was very popular too.

By the way, I had visitors for 91 countries in January.  I think that might be a record!  Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Diagnosing a Small Group Ministry (February, 2010)
  2. Reboot Your Small Group Ministry with My 5 Step Prescription (January, 2014)
  3.  The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group (July, 2013)
  4. How to Launch Small Groups Using a Small Group Connection (May, 2008)
  5. Here are My Small Group Ministry Resolutions for 2014 (January, 2014) 
  6. 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches (December, 2013)
  7. How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar (April, 2010)
  8. Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System (February, 2010)
  9. 6 Essential Components of a Small Group Launch (March, 2012)
  10. Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway (January, 2011)
  11. Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My Signature 10 Point Checklist (December, 2013)

What’s Better? Rows or Circles?

rowsTurns out I can’t get enough of the idea that circles are better than rows…for most things.  It’s that important.  At least to me.

If you’ve been along for much of this journey, you’ve probably read many of these.  If you’re a newer member or infrequent attendee, you might just want to dive in and get the full treatment today!

Here are my top 10 posts on the idea that circles are better than rows:

  1. Disciples are rarely made in rows.
  2. Quotebook: Life-Change, Circles and Rows.
  3. Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles.
  4. The Primary Activity of the Early Church.
  5. Top 10 Signs Your Ministry Might Be Schizophrenic.
  6. An Inadequate Explanation for the 1st Century
  7. 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry
  8. 3 Prerequisite Convictions of Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community
  9. How Do You Best Utilize Gifted Teachers in a Church OF Small Group?
  10. Top 10 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Needs a Reboot

Image by Steve Chilton

Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect

We’ve been taking a detailed look at what I believe are the top 5 small group ministry roadblocks; the things that stand in the way of a truly thriving small group ministry.  See also, 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Today I want to spend some time on a very serious issue: a leadership development disconnect.

Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect

There are several threads to this roadblock:

  • No leadership development plan
  • High capacity leaders aren’t identified
  • A lack of awareness of span of care issues

Issue #1: No leadership development plan: Whether your small group ministry system is designed to make it easy to step into leadership (like the HOST strategy) or you have a high bar of leadership that has front end hoops and training, without a leadership development plan, you’ll suffer a similar fate.  More than anything…the members of your groups won’t experience what you hope they will.

Solution: One of the most important ingredients in any small group ministry strategy is leadership development.  Ignoring the need for a leadership development pathway always sets up a bad outcome.  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway and Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar?

Issue #2: High capacity leaders aren’t identified: Whether you acknowledge it or not, we’re not all created equally.  Instead, we really are created uniquely.  And one of the lessons of the Parable of the Talents is that there should be a connection between what we’re given to work with and our ability.  When there is a leadership development disconnect…high capacity leaders can’t really play a part according to their ability.

Solution: Recognize the uniquenesses of your leaders and recruit wisely.  Utilizing everyone according to their ability engages the highest capacity leaders in your congregation and produces fruitfulness and fulfillment systemwide.  See also, 5 Assumptions That Set Small Group Coaching Up to #FAIL and Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.

Issue #3: A lack of awareness of span of care issues: Carl George said it well: “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone, but nobody can really care for more than about 10 people.”  Derived from what Jethro taught Moses in Exodus 18, both care and leadership development suffer when this principle is violated.

Solution: The appropriate and skillful application of a coaching structure allows for sufficient care while engaging the abilities of higher capacity leaders.  A good coaching structure also enables the small group pastor to focus on identifying, recruiting and developing coaches.  See also, Span of Care and Building an Effective Coaching Structure.

Miss the beginning of the series?  You can read Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor right here.

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

New from IVP: Living in Christ’s Presence featuring Dallas Willard and John Ortberg

living in christs presenceHad an opportunity today to review a powerful new resource from IVP and the Dallas Willard Center for Christian Spiritual Formation.  Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God, a 7 session DVD filmed at a February, 2013 conference in Santa Barbara featuring Dallas Willard and John Ortberg, is a new must-have in my view.  Willard, visibly wrestling with the cancer that would ultimately take his life three months later, is mentally sharp and delivers some of the most powerful insights I’ve ever heard.

Each session is over an hour in length and along with the talks include a conversation between Willard and Ortberg.  The primary passion for the conference “was to provide an overview of Dallas’s writings and ministry–his most impassioned ideas.  The conference was build around the theme “Knowing Christ Today” and as a way to present the golden thread that runs through all of his primary

Along with the release of the DVD, a companion hardback with the same title was “created from the transcript” of the conference and includes the conversations between Willard and Ortberg.  During the third session I realized that I could follow along in the book making it much easier to note the sections that begged an underline or a note.

Living in Christ’s Presence is an amazing gift to the spiritual formation community.  Regardless of the role you play, this is a resource you’re going to want to have.  I know I’ll be watching the DVD multiple times, listening carefully for things I missed on the previous pass.  I loved it and I’m sure 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.”

Four Countercultural Characteristics of Authentic Community

How do you know when something is authentic?  In the case of currency, the way a secret service agent is trained to detect counterfeit money is to spend a lot of time with the real thing.  Want to make sure you’re buying an authentic Rolex watch or designer handbag?  If the price is too good to be true (or you’re haggling with a road-side vendor), you’re probably about to purchase a knock-off.

Authentic hundred dollar bills, Rolex watches, and Michael Kors handbags have characteristics that make it easy to distinguish between the real thing and a counterfeit.

What about authentic community?  I like the four characteristics Bill Hybels shared years ago in a message at Willow Creek.  He said that the characteristics of authentic community are:

  • To know and be known: Way more than casual acquaintances or Facebook friends.  Deeper than the surface level, mask-wearing, master of disguise forms so common today.  To truly know and be truly known is to share life.  Can you imagine Peter’s desperate desire to be known when Jesus asked him a third time if he loved him?  “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you (John 21:17).”  Is anything more countercultural than to drop our mask and let our friends see who we really are?
  • To love and be loved: Beyond being liked or likable, to love and be loved is about following Jesus’ example.  Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).”  He went on to say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).”  If it’s hard for many to allow anyone to truly love us, it seems near impossible for most of us to show love first.  If there has ever been a more countercultural action I don’t know what it is.
  • To serve and be served: To expect to be served is ordinary.  When we experience substandard service at a restaurant, we feel justified in leaving a smaller tip (or even omitting a tip!).  To adopt the posture of a servant?  Not easily done.  Jesus demonstrated this countercultural characteristic when He set aside what was truly His and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8).  When He washed the disciples feet he said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:14-15).”
  • To celebrate and be celebrated:  How rare to be genuinely celebrated!  How uncharacteristic of the 21st century to celebrate the accomplishments of anyone else.  The apostle Paul instructed us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15.”  Who can truly do either?  Countercultural and yet at the heart of authentic community.

Four characteristics of authentic community.  Four countercultural characteristics.  Are you there?  Can you go there?  Wouldn’t it be sad if the tribe leading the way had never really experienced the life in authentic community that God designed for us?  See also, 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor and Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.

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

5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor

habits small group pastorI’ve been asked many times for a small group pastor job description, and that is certainly one way to look at the situation.  If I was a senior pastor though, I’d look at it from another angle.  I’d try to figure out the habits and patterns that make for the ideal candidate.

Here are the 5 habits I’d be looking for:

  • A long-term pattern of doing life in authentic community.  Remember, we can only expect the members of our groups to experience what their leaders have already experienced.  Doesn’t it follow that it’s crazy to expect members to experience things that aren’t modeled by the small group pastor?  When you find the right candidate they’ll have stories about previous groups, deep friendships in every port, and a desperate need for connection.  See also, 3 Prerequisite Convictions for Senior Pastors Who Experience Authentic Community.
  • A habit of identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity leaders of leaders.  Don’t miss this one!  Building a thriving small group ministry absolutely depends on the implementation and cultivation of a reasonable “span of care” and it’s ludicrous to expect to build a significant ministry without high capacity leaders of leaders.  The right candidate will be on the lookout for killers and fearlessly look for opportunities to ask them to join the life-change movement.  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #FAIL.
  • A pattern of making heroes of others.  A clear indication of the right candidate is someone who regularly brags on the amazing stories of small group leaders who go above and beyond what is expected.  A collector of stories, a great story-teller, quick to speak with pride about the life-changing accomplishments of others…is an essential attribute.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of Groups.
  • A habit of focusing on the end in mind and commitment to stay the course.  A thriving small group ministry, a true church of groups, is built over the long haul.  It is the result of persistent determination and steadfast resolve.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run and 10 Powerful Benefits of Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  • A pattern of working well in the background, giving the senior pastor confidence in promoting grouplife.  This is an absolute essential.  The best candidates are nearly anonymous…except to group leaders, coaches and community leaders.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

The bottom line?  The role of a small group pastor is not about being a figurehead or the face of small group ministry.  It’s not primarily about being an administrator or an organizer.  And the role of a small group pastor is definitely not about being a personal trainer for small group leaders.  What is it about?  The role of a small group pastor is about commitment to building an army of ordinary men and women committed to life-on-life ministry; and that is the commitment that transforms whole communities…one life at a time.

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

Image by Mustafa Khayat