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5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Due for a Tune Up

tune upMost of us quickly recognize the signs that there is something wrong with the way our car’s engine sounds or feels. When our car dies at the stop light or backfires as we drop off our teenage daughter at school…we get it. There’s something wrong with the engine. We may not know what it is but we know it’s time for a tune up.

But do you know the signs your small group ministry is due for a tune up?

5 signs your small group ministry is due for a tune up:

  1. You never need to start new groups because there’s always room in your existing groups. This is a serious sign that your small group ministry needs a tune up. It’s a problem for two reasons. First, the hardest place for a new member to connect is in an existing group where relationships are already established. The easiest place for a new member to connect is in a group where everyone is new. Second, small group leaders (and members) of existing groups need to learn to “fish” for new members. See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups and Great Question: How Do I Train Leaders to Add New Members?
  2. You’ve given up on build a coaching structure because none of your leaders want a coach anyway. While it’s true that established small group leaders will almost always reject the retroactive assignment of a coach, new and inexperienced small group leaders will almost always gladly accept a coach. Still, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the assignment of a coach is one of the most important steps to sustaining the new groups you launch. Second, while experienced small group leaders may not feel the need for “coaching” from a technique standpoint, we need to remember that whatever we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups, must happen in the lives of the leaders first. If that is true, then finding a way to connect experienced leaders with a spiritual mentor is essential. See also, 5 Steps to Sustaining the New Groups You Launch and How to Implement Coaching for Existing Group Leaders.
  3. Your senior pastor mentions the importance of belonging in a small group once a year (on the same Sunday he promotes the other 132 ministries). If you hope to build a thriving small group ministry, you must have a senior pastor willing to be the champion. One of the most important duties of the champion is the constant reference to the importance of being in a small group. Preferring one ministry over another is not easy for many senior pastors. As long as your senior pastor promotes every ministry equally, it will be difficult for your connection and discipleship engine to run smoothly. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  4. You’re spending way too much time selecting the perfect group for the 23 people who signed up to join a group. If you’re spending any significant time as matchmaker (or you’re asking another valuable member of your team to do it), your system desperately needs a tune up. First, even the best matchmaking attempts still add new members into already established relationships (where only the most extroverted fit in). Second, when the small group leader you’ve given the name to calls to invite the new members, they will almost always end up speaking to the spouse who didn’t sign up. Few strategies have results more discouraging than matchmaking. Far more effective to focus on launching new groups for new members. See also, 3 Strategies that Launch a Wave of New Groups and Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups.
  5. You have trouble explaining the advantages of joining a small group (without hurting the feelings of Sunday school teachers, Paul/Timothy discipleship leaders, Precepts teachers, etc.). If your small group ministry is struggling with this issue, you’re not alone. This is a serious and a very common sign of trouble. Identifying the best way to help unconnected people take a step that leads to getting connected is the first step. Becoming comfortable with only promoting the best way is the second step. Both steps are essential. See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations vs Sequential and Tailored Next Steps.

Image by Sherry Wiesmann

Dilbert on Leadership Development

Thinking Thursday: Keith Yamashita: The 3 Habits of Great Creative Teams

keith yamashitaWhen the your team is faced with adversity does it stand strong and act boldly or does it crumble under pressure? Based on his work with over 1000 teams, Keith Yamashita shares his insights about great collaborative environments including: have an awareness beyond your day-to-day, respect the unique talents of your team members, and actively cultivate meaningful one-on-one relationships.

One of the resources mentioned in the video is an iPad app called Unstuck, based on one of my favorite books, Unstuck: A Tool for Yourself, Your Team and Your World.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

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Skill Training: How to Recruit a Potential Small Group Coach

recruitingYesterday I wrote about how to identify a potential small group coach. Today I want to point out the four steps that I use to invite them to take a test-drive. Pay close attention to the sequence of the steps and the language I use. You’ll want to develop your own language, but the closer you come to the spirit of this pattern the more successful you’ll be. See also, Skill Training: How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach.

How to recruit a potential small group coach:

Step One

Once I’ve identified a hundred-fold candidate (or a sixty-fold), I set up an opportunity to talk with them about an upcoming (or current need) in our small group ministry.  We’re always starting new groups or planning a small group launch of some kind and it’s easy to anticipate the need for additional coaches.

My invitation to talk is very general.  “David, I was thinking about something we’re about to do in our small group ministry and I thought about you.  Could we grab a cup of coffee this week?  When would be a good time for you?”

Note that I didn’t say anything specific, just that we’re about to do something and I thought about him.  Sometimes the candidate will ask for specifics.  When they do I’ll just share that we’re about to launch some new groups and there’s a way he could help us.

Step Two

When we meet for coffee, I’ll tell the candidate about the new groups we anticipate launching (or the ones we just launched).  “We’re holding a small group connection in mid-February and we’re expecting to launch around 20 to 30 new groups.”

Since the best candidates are usually small group leaders themselves, they will almost always remember how their group started and be interested in what you’re planning.

Step Three

Once I’ve shared a little about the upcoming small group launch I tell the candidate why I thought of them.

“One of the things we know about starting new small groups is that we sustain a much higher percentage of new groups when we’re able to give each new leader someone to walk alongside them for the first few weeks.  Someone who knows what they’re doing and has done it themselves.”

Note: All I’m talking about is the “first few weeks.”  This is very important.

I continue by saying, “We’ve seen you in action.  You do a great job leading your small group.  It’s obvious that you know what you’re doing.”

“Would you be willing to come alongside a couple new small group leaders and help them get started?  It would be about a 10 week commitment.  A couple weeks on the front end (before they actually begin), the six weeks of their first study, and a couple weeks on the back end to make sure their new group lands.”

Note: I’ve specified a 10 week commitment.

“It would probably take about an hour a week.  You won’t be going to their group.  Instead, I want you to connect with each new leader every week by phone or in person.  We’ll train you, there are four questions we’ll want you to ask that will steer your weekly contact.  Mostly, it’s just being available to check-in with each new leader once a week as they begin their new group.”

Note: I’ve specified the time commitment.  I’ve clarified a little of what I need them to do and also what it’s not about.

At this point I share a simple job description with them.

Step Four

I make the ask.  “How does that sound?  Are you interested in helping us start a couple new groups?”

The candidate will almost always have a few questions or want clarification.  They will usually want to pray about it or talk with a spouse.  Sometimes they’ll immediately say, “I’m in!  Thanks for thinking about me!”

I usually suggest that they take a day and pray about it or talk with their spouse.  And then make a commitment to call them the next day to confirm their interest.

Important Takeaways

There are a few important things to note about my approach.

  • I actually try to steer away from using the term “coach.”  I use the phrase “come alongside” very often.
  • I emphasize the short-term commitment.  Sometimes they will ask, “What happens after the 10 weeks?”  When they ask, I will usually say, “Sometimes it’s such a good match or a good experience that it leads to a longer term commitment.”
  • I emphasize the limited responsibilities each week.
  • I emphasize that there will be little bit of training.

An important thing to note is that I don’t really talk about what happens at the end of 10 weeks.  I’ll cover what happens then in a separate blog post.

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

Image by Peter Morgan

Skill Training: How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach

identifyI’m frequently asked how to find potential small group coaches. It happens all the time but often right after I’ve spoken or written about the fact that without coaching in place it will be next to impossible to build a thriving small group ministry. And unless you have so few groups that your small group pastor can personally disciple and develop your small group leaders…well, you get my point.

If I were hiring a small group pastor, I’d look for the habit of identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity leaders of leaders. See also 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.

So, how do I identify a potential small group coach?  Here’s how I do it:

How to identify a potential small group coach

First, I begin my search for potential coaches within my group of existing small group leaders. Why? Because brand new small group leaders often need access to someone who knows how to lead a group. The promise of a weekly check-in with someone who knows the ropes is very reassuring. When you introduce the coach to the new leader it is a tremendous advantage to be able to say, “Bill has been leading groups for a long time and really knows what he is doing.”

With me so far? That’s the first filter.

Second, I run my existing small group leaders through a capacity filter. I got the idea from something Bill Hybels said years ago as he spoke about Jesus’ line about the relative capacity of a seed (30, 60 or 100 fold) from Mark 4:1-20. Jesus isn’t talking about the maturity of a seed.  He isn’t challenging 30-folds to become 100-folds.  He is simply observing that there are seeds that have a higher capacity.

When I’m on the hunt for coaches I begin with my existing leaders and run them through the capacity filter. I ask myself, “Which of them are just head and shoulders above all the others in terms of their capacity?” Sometimes I imagine locking all of my leaders in a large room over a weekend and speculate who would emerge as leaders of leaders. Those are the hundred-fold leaders. That is what you’re looking for.

Now, if you really worked the exercise this way, once you pulled out your hundred-fold leaders, you’d begin to notice that there is another group of leaders who have more capacity than the average leader (thirty-fold) but less than the hundred-folds. They’re a sixty-fold leader and they also can make a good coach.

See where I’m going? That’s the second filter. See also, 6 Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.

Third, I run my list of hundred-fold and sixty-fold candidates through a spiritual maturity filter. This is an essential step. Knowledge about how to lead a group is most important in the very beginning of the relationship between a coach and a new small group leader. Once a new leader makes it through the first few months, the need for coaching on technique is rarely important. What endures is the coach’s relationship with the leader. When the coach can say, “follow me while I follow Christ” you have the essence of a powerful mentoring and discipling relationship.

This is an important filter. I believe whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first. In most cases this is about what the coach is doing to and for the leader. The coach’s spiritual maturity makes this possible. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level, Model What You Want to Happen at the Member-Level, and Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciples Leaders.

Still with me? That’s the third filter.

Finally, I run my candidates through an availability filter. The right people are almost always busy people. They are rarely sitting at home watching television. They often are already committed to several ministries. For a high capacity leader with the right level of spiritual maturity to be a legitimate coaching candidate, they will have to make room for a 10 to 13 week commitment (I’ve learned that the best way to recruit a potential coach is with a test-drive, and I explain that in part two of this series).


If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you need to know how to identify, recruit and develop high capacity leaders of leaders. This is how I identify potential coaches. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I recruit them.

Image by Kevin Dooley

5 Steps to Sustaining the New Small Groups You Launch

space launch

“We’ve launched 25 new groups!  How can we help them continue to meet?”

With the development of strategies like the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy it is not hard to launch a wave of new small groups. In fact, it is very easy to do. But like I always say, “There’s an upside and a downside to everything.”  What’s the upside? They’re easy to start. The downside is that they come with a life expectancy of about six weeks. See also, 3 Strategies that Launch a Wave of New Groups.

Six weeks? That’s all? Isn’t there anything that can be done? I’m glad you asked!  And the answer is “Yes!”

The step before the first step:

I think there are five steps to sustaining new groups, but there is a very important step that happens before your new groups even begin.  What is it?

Choose the right launching study.

Choose the right launching study. This is an important key because if you don’t choose the right launching study, the groups that do launch will struggle immediately. How can you choose the right launching study? It will be on the right topic and easy to use. This should be self-evident, but sometimes a little explanation is helpful. The study you choose will determine both who will say yes to hosting a group and who will say yes to joining a group (or attending a connection). If you want your hosts to fill their own group you’ll need to find a topic that is very invitation friendly. I’ve written about what I call the Easy/Hard Continuum. If you want to connect the largest number of unconnected people you will need to choose a study that has broad appeal. There are a growing number of great studies to choose from.  I’ve written about some of them right here. See also, 5 Best Church-Wide Campaigns for 2015.

Here are the 5 steps to sustaining the new groups you launch:

  1. Encourage every new group to begin with a co-leader. Regardless of how your new groups begin, make it a priority for every new leader to identify a co-leader (who is not a spouse) as their first step.
  2. Give them a coach on the front end, before they even begin, who will connect on a weekly basis, walk alongside them and help them get started.  This is important.  We’ve talked about this before. New hosts are usually very receptive to this idea in the beginning than they ever will be again.  Caution: It is important to recruit coaches based on who’s right for the job, not who’s available.  The best candidates are almost always already serving.  Freeing them up to move to the right seat on the bus separates fruitfulness from “in-name-only.”  Don’t give in to the temptation to fill an org chart with available bodies.  If you want to sustain groups, you’ll need the right people. See also, How to Recruit Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  3. Choose a study to do next that is similar in kind (before you even begin) and give it to your new groups by week 4 or 5.  There are two important parts to this step. First, what you give them to do next must be similar to the study they start with.  DVD driven?  Give them a DVD study to do next. 6 weeks? Give them another 6 week study to do next. Easy to prepare? You get the idea. Keeping them in a similar format ensures that your new hosts will not be intimidated. Second, telling them what’s next by week 4 or 5 catches them while they’re beginning to develop a rhythm of getting together.  Caution: Allowing each group to come up with their own follow up study almost always leads to the selection of a study that is too hard or too long. See also, 5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  4. Encourage your new groups to take turns facilitating.  Session one ought to end with a brief look at the calendar and the invitation for group members to share responsibility for the group by taking a turn bringing refreshments, coordinating the prayer list, or even facilitating a session!  Recruiting one member in advance to take a turn is often all you need to prime the pump.  Groups that rotate facilitators are much more likely to continue meeting.  Caution: Do this in a way that is not forced.  “Everybody needs to take a turn” is not the idea.
  5. Encourage your new hosts to find at least one other member who is willing to open their home for a meeting.  Groups that can meet even when the host is out of town are much more likely to continue.  Caution: It should be nearby. Moving week four’s meeting to a home 15 miles away is not a good idea.

Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

You might find these articles helpful:

Review: Discussing Mere Christianity

discussing mere christianitySpent some time this week with a new resource from Zondervan. Discussing Mere Christianity is an 8 session study of C.S. Lewis’s greatest book. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is one of the most read and beloved Christian books of all time. But seventy years later from when it was first delivered on radio, what relevance does it have to our world today? Host Eric Metaxas and a variety of Christian leaders help us understand the timeless message of C.S. Lewis in fresh ways for a new generation.

Hosted by Eric Metaxas, this is far more than a literary exploration and will generate something far beyond a discussion. Metaxas is the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller and ECPA “Book of the Year,” Bonhoeffer, the bestseller Amazing Grace and more than thirty other books. He lends the perfect tone for the study.

The 8 topics covered in the study include:

  • Our Sense of Right and Wrong
  • What’s Behind Our Sense of Right and Wrong
  • The Rival Conception of God
  • Free Will and the Shocking Alternatives
  • Christian Behavior and the Great Sin of Pride
  • The Christian Virtue of Hope
  • God in Three Persons
  • Counting the Cost

DVD-driven, the 8 sessions range in length from 19 to 25 minutes and “features teaching from a variety of well-known Lewis scholars and readers, well as comments from two people who met Lewis when he was alive: Walter Hooper, who was Lewis’s secretary and then became the literary executor of the C.S. Lewis estate, and Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson.” Each session is a combination of insightful commentary on the topic and historical footage from the era.

The study guide is not meant to replace reading Mere Christianity, but rather to provide a better understanding of Lewis’s classic work. Each of the 8 sessions includes a reading assignment as well as commentary and group discussion questions that will assist you in your study of the book. A section for personal study is included at the end of each session.

While Discussing Mere Christianity will not be a study that appeals to every group, there will be groups for which it is an excellent addition to your recommended list. Mere Christianity is often mentioned as a must read or a book that has profoundly impacted the lives of many. Discussing Mere Christianity provides a helpful guide to a classic book by C.S. Lewis, considered by many the most important writer of the 20th century.

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. I am also 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.”

Thinking Thursday: Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is … noticing

tony fadellAs human beings, we get used to “the way things are” really fast. But for designers, the way things are is an opportunity … Could things be better? How? In this funny, breezy talk, the man behind the iPod and the Nest thermostat shares some of his tips for noticing — and driving — change.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

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Quotebook: Self-Control

self controlI know (and you know) that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” We know this. It is not a mystery or some kind of secret code. I know (and you know) that what happens at the member level is ultimately influenced by what happens in our lives. This also is not a mystery or secret code. It is self-evident.

And I much as I write about the habits I’d look for if I was hiring a small group pastor and the 8 habits of a life-changing small group leader, I know intuitively (and so do you), that we are fools to expect anything more than what we are living at the member level. See also, 5 Habits I’d look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.

And this is why it has become my preoccupation for the next season to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

To that end, here are two lines that I’ve written out on post-its so they’ll become part of my daily routine:

“Self-control begins when you begin to take your thoughts captive.” Clay Scroggins, Wish You Were Here, Control Yourself

“You only have control over three things in your life: the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” Jack Canfield, Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward

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What Do You Need to Abandon?

abandonedThis program has meant so much for so long to all these people! How can you even think of getting rid of the program that helped all of us start following Jesus? Old Mrs. Jones would roll over in her grave if she knew that the class named after her was being cancelled!

Who hasn’t had this “discussion” (read argument)?

The prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising

Peter Drucker wrote that “planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising.  Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation—both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old (Managing for Results, p. 143).”

Of course, Peter Drucker wasn’t writing about a church. He was writing about business, right? Actually, Drucker often focused his attention on non-profits and personally mentored both Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.

Corporations, both for-profit and non-profits, struggle with the difficult task of putting an end to programs that were successful in the past; with things that were once the bread-winner and now are mostly a resource drain.

Still, the truth is most businesses, most non-profits struggle to do what they know they should do…and a few make hard but necessary decisions and then reap the benefit.

INTEL actually provides one of the most dramatic examples of a company that abandoned a successful product in order to make resources available for the product that would carry them into the future. Beginning to see the handwriting on the wall of the memory chip business, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore knew they must move to microprocessors. Finally, they reasoned, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  Andy Grove, Former CEO, INTEL

The question today is, “What do you need to abandon?” See also, Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership.

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