Best Book I’ve Read This Year: Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley

If you only read one book this year, hands down it’s got to be Andy Stanley’s newest, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.

My copy is marked up, underlined, starred, and dog-eared.  I laughed out loud (Seriously. And I was on a plane!).  I got choked up several times.  There’s a lot to really love about Deep and Wide.

Let me be quick to say that you don’t have to be in a church that resonates with Andy Stanley and North Point’s vision.  You really don’t.  The book is written in a way that invites you to take a look under the hood and see the thinking behind why they do what they do.  Even better, there are many spots where Stanley references the internal conversation you might be having as you wrestle with their thinking!  So good.

Deep and Wide is written in an extremely conversational style.  It really does have the feel that you’re in a conversation or you’re listening to the story of North Point from before the very beginning and why they do what they do.  Just when you’d expect it to happen–if you were really sitting at a table listening to the story–Andy makes the comment you’re already thinking!

Very, very practical, you’ll find lots of ways to apply the principles of Deep and Wide no matter your specific ministry role.  You don’t have to be the senior pastor to end up with a marked up, starred, underlined and dog-eared copy.  I found so much here that will work its way into discussions with my team, I don’t even know where to begin!

At the same time both propositional (doesn’t this make sense?) and permission-giving (we’re not saying this is the only way to do church, it’s just the way we’ve learned to do it), I know you’ll come across lots of sections you’ll just have to share with the rest of your staff.

I loved this quote from the introduction on the title:

I’m sure that somewhere in the world there is an actual “fountain flowing deep and wide.”  But that has nothing to do with why I chose the title.  By the time you finish the book, I hope you will be as convinced as I am that healthy local churches can be, and should be, both deep and wide.  It’s not either/or.  It’s both/and.  Local churches should be characterized by deep roots and wide reaches (p. 18).

The thinking revealed and detailed in these pages about their plan for spiritual formation, for the way their services are designed, for the way they’ve built their small group ministry, and the way they’ve prioritized the five faith catalysts…well, it’s way more than a great read.  I think you’ll come away from it just like me.  Thinking about the conversations and team meetings that will be influenced by Deep and Wide.  I really loved this book 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.”

Unexamined Expectations about Priorities and Commitments

Warning: What you are about to read is still baking.  In fact, I’m not sure it ever is fully baked.

What ministry opportunities are you going to prioritize?  What commitments will you challenge your members to make?  Have you ever carefully examined expectations about priorities and commitments in your congregation?  How recently?

The way you answer these questions has a lot to do with your ability to build a dynamic small group ministry. This is a very important concept.  May be a review for some, but I believe that unexamined expectations about priorities and commitments are often at the root of the difficulties many churches have in their attempt to launch small groups.

Here’s the scenario:

Unless you serve in a church planted in the last 25 years or so, chances are you have a variety of programs that were standard features of the previous generation.  For example:

  • Sunday school for adults (attended by some percentage of your adults, but not anywhere close to all).  See But We Have Adult Sunday School for more.
  • An on-campus mid-week opportunity that is for the whole family.  It may be a combo platter of Wednesday night prayer meeting (or a believer’s service if influenced by Willow Creek), choir practice, adult electives, children’s programming (like Awana), and activities for students.
  • Sunday evening service.

Sound familiar?  Probably.  In my experience, some version of this scenario is being played out at some level in well over 50% of all churches.

Why is this an issue? Although there are exceptions, the forms of a previous generation can stand in the way of pervasive small group ministry.  Why?  Not because the adult Sunday school, a Sunday evening service or on-campus opportunities are bad in themselves.  Instead, the priorities and commitments of long term participants are a smokescreen that can keep church leadership from taking two very important steps:

First, unearthing the assumptions that are the foundation for the priorities and commitments of long-term participants.  This works with our schedule.  Our children came to know Jesus through this program.  God speaks to me through verse-by-verse teaching.  Anything wrong here?  No.  It just makes a difference to get to the bottom of the priorities and commitments of long-term participants.

Evaluating the likelihood of widespread adoption of those same priorities and commitments.  This is where there can be a deal breaker or two.  How?  Just because attending the worship service and staying for a Sunday school class works for a portion of your attendance doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.  After all, just coming to the worship service is a big move for many unchurched neighbors and friends.  Stay from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.?  Counter cultural when watching a one hour television program in 42 minutes is the norm.

Prescription?
Abandon legacy programs in spite of the priorities and commitments of long-term participants?  Not so fast.  Nothing should be off limits for examination, and there may be good reasons to continue to offer programs and opportunities that benefit some but not all.  At the same time, the priorities and commitments of long-term participants shouldn’t stand in the way of promoting a solution that meets the needs of unconnected people.
Might there be a time when hard choices are made?  Absolutely.  For example, your leadership may conclude that offering Awana allocates valuable volunteer resources or prime time on-campus space to a program that primarily attracts members of other area churches.  Or you may determine that the staff and volunteer efforts to fuel a mid-week believer service or prayer meeting could be better invested in developing small group resources.  In fact, you may conclude that the potential impact of a pervasive small group ministry makes it important to eliminate programs that compete for resources.
“Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”  Carl George
Which reminds me of another great line:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3-4

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

7 Key GroupLife Deal Breakers…and the Workarounds You Need to Know

Deal breakers.  We know them.  Sometimes they’re in the fine print.  Sometimes they come out later.  But we know them.

Pretty much every endeavor has them.  Every occupation.  Every business.  Every relationship.

Deal breakers.

In the land of grouplife there are deal breakers and then there are deal breakers.  Here are what I think are the 7 key deal breakers:

  1. A senior pastor who delegates the champion role.  It may not be a permanent workaround, but making sure that your senior pastor hears the best life-change stories and along with how to use them to support values they hold dear goes a long way.  I’ve “staked out” more than one senior pastor in order to get big stories into their messages.  See Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups
  2. GroupLife as a selection on the buffet.  One of the best workarounds I’ve discovered is to find ways to encourage all ministry leaders to incorporate the same essential ingredients.  See A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups
  3. Unrealistic expectations about priorities and commitment.  How much of your program is based on the availability and attention of another era?  If you have a Sunday evening service or a Wednesday night prayer meeting, you’re using forms that were common 20 years ago and may be trying to add grouplife as an additional expectation in an era when the pace of life will not accomodate one more thing.  A workaround might be to begin to repurpose your Sunday evening or Wednesday night service to include the essential ingredients of life-change and then present them as on-campus options alongside off-campus alternatives.  See Unexamined Expectations about Priorities and Commitments for more.
  4. Leader requirements that exclude ordinary people.  Raising the bar too high makes it unlikely that you’ll find enough leaders to connect everyone.  As a workaround, propose an entry level opportunity like Steve Gladen suggests in Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.  See Leader Requirements: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?
  5. Ineffective leader development.  One of the main environmental factors limiting small group ministries is that groups struggle to become more than a good way to connect people.  Need a workaround?  Build in the right kind of coaching.  See Coaching FAQ: What Is the Role of the Coach?
  6. Matchmaking as an essential ingredient to connect with a group.  If your small group ministry has more than 5 to 10 groups, it will be increasingly difficult to help members find “the right group for them.”  A great workaround is to provide events that connect people and a 24/7 way that unconnected people can find a group that fits without going through a matchmaker.  See What’s the Best Way for People to Sign Up and Commit to a Group and Matchmaking: Making It Easy to Find a Group
  7. GroupLife as an annual emphasis.  If the only time you ever talk about small groups is once a year during the fall, you’re going to have a hard time connecting beyond the usual suspects.  A key workaround is to develop an annual grouplife calendar and create additional easy opportunities that lead to a group.  See 5 Keys to Launching Groups Year Round

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

A New Film Series from Lisa Chan: True Beauty: Be Still

A few months ago I had the chance to preview the first segment of an interesting new film series from Flannel (Nooma, Francis Chan’s Basic, Ed’s Story, etc.).

Featuring Lisa Chan, True Beauty: Be Still ”explores the pressures, perceptions and expectations that women face and inspires viewers to let go of these lies and to enjoy being at the feet of Jesus.”

In what feels something like a kitchen conversation, Chan gently guides the viewer through a life-giving teaching.  Referencing the Mary and Martha story of Luke 10:38-42, the account is interspersed with her  own journey.  The film artfully weaves in the modern day story of Susan, a woman who has known loss and redemption.

At 23 minutes, the film is paced very well.  Delivered in the form made familiar in the Nooma and Ed’s Story films, Be Still is a captivating presentation.  The first of an anticipated series, each of the films is designed to stand alone.

There is a reflection guide included with the DVD.  You’ll also find a downloadable version that can be distributed to group members.  More along the lines of a devotional guide, there aren’t included discussion questions or leader’s helps.  Still, the film will generate some powerful insights and good conversation that a leader can guide with very little forethought.

I like the format and can see how it could provide a number of solutions for women’s ministries or women’s small groups and Bible studies.  Inserted in between longer studies, Be Still could take a group deeper.  Alternatively, the film could introduce the topic of a retreat or emphasis.  It could also be ideal as a next step for studies that begin with an introductory theme.

Be Still is very compelling.  I’m going to find ways to use it and I bet you do 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.”

Looking for a Position? Have a Position to Post?

I hear about small group ministry positions all the time.  Sometimes referred to as a discipleship or spiritual formation role, but I usually know about several.

I also hear from people looking for a new role.  Happens very frequently.

I’ve been thinking about how I can help, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I’ve created an opportunities page here at MarkHowellLive.com and as an experiment I’m going to post available positions that I know about.

If you’re looking for a ministry role, here’s what I know about right now.  If you have a small group, discipleship, or spiritual formation opportunity to post, email me a short description (include the basics along with a contact name and email).

Yielding to What Is Doable and Practical and Popular

Ever find yourself settling for what you’ve always done?  Or settling for what is familiar rather than what might be next?

Most of us play the role we play because we have a burning desire to connect people or make disciples or help people grow in Christ.  We have a bag of tricks that work to a degree, but often only to a degree.

When we are really honest, we know that there are many more unconnected people than there are connected.  There are many more who remain spiritual infants who need milk instead of solid food.

But instead of trying a new thing, recognizing that “our ministries are perfectly designed to produce the results we’re currently getting,” we fall back again to what we’ve done before.

One of my favorite books is Peter Block’s The Answer to How is Yes.  In it, Block calls out our tendency to settle:

“We have yielded too easily to what is doable and practical and popular.  In the process we have sacrificed the pursuit of what is in our hearts.  We find ourselves giving in to our doubts, and settling for what we know how to do, or can soon learn how to do, instead of pursuing what most matters to us and living with the adventure and anxiety that this requires.”

What if we set aside one day a month or a morning a week to zero in on what matters most to us…and then set out in headlong pursuit of what is in our hearts?

What if we pulled together a band of uncompromising dreamers who sworn allegiance was to do what seems beyond doable?

What if we started today?  Who’s in?

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? 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 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.”

Now Taking Applications: My 2013 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network

Looking for an opportunity to grow in your ability to connect beyond usual suspects? I want to invite you to join my 2013 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.

My 2013 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in February and I’ve just opened up applications. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

Mix and Match Leads to Missed Opportunity

Mix and match.  There are things you can mix and match.  You can mix and match fashion.  You can mix and match cuisine.  Nothing better than fusion.  It can be fun to combine things.

The problem?  It doesn’t work every time.  Sometimes it makes for a comical development.  Like when Johnny Cash mixed and matched parts to make a cadillac  one piece at a time.

And sometimes it can be downright disastrous.  Like when Igor handed Dr. Frankenstein the brain from Abby Normal.

In a small group ministry?  Better make sure you’re using a mix and match strategy and expecting exponential results.  Just doesn’t work that way.  And far too often, when you look closely and know what you’re looking for…that’s what you see.  A mix and match strategy.

Need an example?  How about this.  Using North Point’s GroupLink strategy with its closed group philosophy and anticipating that small groups will be the growth engine that is the fully implemented Saddleback model.

It doesn’t work that way.  Does that make one model superior to the other?  Not if you understand what they’ve each clarified as a win.

For example, Andy Stanley makes a series of interesting statements in Deep and Wide:

  • Noting that providential relationships are one of the five most important faith catalysts, the team that launched North Point determined that while you can’t program for that, you can “create environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships (p. 133).”
  • The value placed on providential relationships “drove us to build a model around closed rather than open groups.”
  • “We decided not to leverage adult groups as a growth engine, but rather to do everything in our power to create authentic community (p. 134).”
Fascinating.  Those three statements explain so much.  They’ve built a come and see environment in their Sunday services, relying on their invest and invite strategy for a growth engine.  They’ve designed the small group environment to ooze authentic community.  It all fits together.  They’re not surprised or disappointed by the outcome.
How about you?  When you step back to examine the results you’re getting…are you disappointed?  Are you surprised?  Maybe it’s because you’ve got a mix and match strategy.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? 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 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.”

Review: Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything

Had a chance over the weekend to take a look at a challenging book with an interesting concept.  Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything might be the most counter-cultural idea I’ve seen.  Maybe ever.  It also might be the most needed.  At a minimum…it’s right at the top of the list.

The premise?  In a world that celebrates celebrity and notoriety, Facebook friends and Twitter followers, being somebody…we follow a humble King.   Really, all one has to do is read Philippians 2:5-10 to get the gist of the idea.  The problem is that all of us are almost oblivious to the struggle.

It is a challenging issue.  It is one that might already be part of your notion of a chasm to be crossed for any sincere Christ follower.  But it’s one we rarely dwell on for any length of time.

I like the way that Embracing Obscurity wades bravely into unknown waters.  It’s not a hard read in one sense.  There aren’t philosophical or theological ascents that require Miroslav Volf or Helmut Theilicke.  Everything is right on the lowest shelf from an intellectual standpoint.  The problem comes when you have to own the problem!  Arrgh…that makes it hard!

Every chapter is followed by a challenging set of questions that make it possible for a group to discuss the implications.  Trust me…there are some softballs mixed in with some that are just nasty (in a baseball sense).  Head high.  101 miles an hour.  You’ll want to be wearing a helmet.

No DVD.  No leader’s guide.  Embracing Obscurity isn’t for everyone.  But let me tell you this.  If you’re looking for a challenging read that will reframe normal for the members of your group…don’t miss this one.

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.”

FAQ: How Long Should We Give a Strategy to Work?

How long should we give a strategy to work?  More to the point, when should we conclude that a strategy will never accomplish what we’ve clarified as a win?  Ever wondered that secretly?  Ever blurted it out in a meeting?

It’s a frequently asked question here at MarkHowellLive.  And to be honest, it doesn’t always actually get asked publicly  but it’s embedded in statements all the time.  Like these:

  • Our senior pastor wants us to fully develop our Sunday morning on-campus strategy before we launch a small group campaign.
  • Our elders are very committed to the midweek believer’s service and see that as a discipleship key.
  • We’ve invested a lot of time and energy in developing a 35 week discipleship pathway.

Can you see the embedded questions?  When I see them, I want to ask a whole string of questions back:

  • How’s it working?
  • How many people are being reached with that strategy?
  • How many people is it realistic to think could be reached with that strategy?
  • How many people are being left out currently?
  • What numbers give us the most accurate snapshot of how the strategy is working? (i.e., average weekend adult attendance or Easter adult attendance?)
  • How long will the people we’re not reaching or including wait for us to provide a strategy that includes them?
  • How much effort and energy is being invested in that strategy and is that keeping you from launching an alternative or competing concept?
  • What would have to be true about that strategy for it to be a great solution?
  • Do the results you’re getting indicate that the design is correct?
  • If you knew the master was returning soon, would you stick with your strategy one more year?

I’ve written on this topic a number of times:

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

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