Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril

I know there are some who object to references to customers and products and marketing…but some things are made so clear by shifting the vocabulary from church to business.

Alan Kay, the computer scientist, said “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”  His famous quote is also recorded as “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Either way, he’s pointing out that acquiring a different perspective or point of view can make us a lot smarter.

For example, here are 4 realities that Peter Drucker identified in Managing for Results.  See if these add up for you and actually provide a helpful new perspective about the design of connecting strategies for unconnected people:

  1. “What the people in the business think they know about customer and market is more likely to be wrong than right.”  Can you see the truth in Drucker’s thinking?  Can you see how it might apply to our work in designing strategies to connect unconnected people and make disciples?  See also, Design Your Connecting Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  2. “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  The obvious question is, what do we think we are providing for unconnected people and are we providing what they actually value?  See also, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps.
  3. “An important corollary is that what the producer or supplier thinks the most important feature of a product to be may well be relatively unimportant to the customer.”  Again, what if an active conversation with unconnected people revealed that they don’t actually value what we think is something they ought to value?  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. “The customers have to be assumed to be rational.  But their rationality is not necessarily that of the manufacturer; it is their own rationality.”  How many times have we said, “If people just knew what was good for them they’d sign up for a small group!”  What if we simply embraced the idea that our customers have their own rationality and the sooner we learn what it is the sooner we’ll begin to design connecting strategies that appeal to unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Small Group Ministry for Results.

See also, Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.

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

6 Things Not to Say about Small Group Ministry

Have you learned there are certain things that you should never say about small group ministry?  Sometimes I cringe when I hear them.  There’s definitely a list of things not to say that approach stupid.  And sometimes I have the urge to say “ixnay on the oopid stay.”

There are a few things not to say:

  1. “This is the way we’re going to do small group ministry from now on.”  Trust me, this is a terrible one-liner and the cause of much unnecessary frustration and confusion.  Fed up with the flaws of your current system?  Far better to learn to say, “This new strategy will help us take the next step in connecting people…”  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  2. If you’re ready to lead a small group, sign up today.  This is a recipe for disappointment.  With a near guarantee that more than half of your sign-ups to lead groups will have below-the-waterline issues, it is almost never a good idea.  Far better to rely on the HOST method to recruit volunteers (who will fill their own group ) or a small group connection (where the members choose a leader from amongst themselves).
  3. If you’re ready to step up and be a small group coach, sign up today.  This is a terrible idea!  Settling for anything less than a high capacity candidate is never a good idea.  Taking volunteers for coaches is guaranteed to stack your coaching team with people who will be fulfilled in having the title but ineffective at the job itself.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.
  4. We’ve asked each our elders to be a coach.  Oh my…if I had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve heard this proposed as a viable way to build a coaching structure, I’d have a lot of money!  Just because someone is qualified to serve as an elder (or any other leadership position) doesn’t mean they have what it takes to serve as a coach.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.
  5. We’ve hired a small group pastor to be the small group champion. Some senior pastors have a great challenge resisting this statement.  If that’s you…resist!  If that’s your senior pastor, don’t let them go there.  The senior pastor is the most influential person in nearly 100% of churches.  The role of small group champion cannot be delegated.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  6. There are 3 great ways to get connected here at Community Church: Small groups, Sunday school classes and discipleship groups.  Unless you are confident that all of your options include the same essential ingredients, you need to be very careful to resist the temptation to talk about the different options as if they are the same.  See also, 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples and What Have You Designed Your Groups to Make.

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

5 People Every Small Group Pastor Needs in Their Circle

You may feel like the lone inventor, a prophet in your own town, or a sole proprietor desperately trying to keep the business afloat…

…but whatever you feel like there are a few people every small group pastor needs in their circle.  Every small group pastor.  That’s me.  That’s you.  There are no good exceptions to this one.

There are 5 people every small group pastor needs in their circle:

  1. Peers.  You need at least one (and preferably a network) of peers who are working to build thriving small group ministries.  I have always been a networker and over the years I’ve come to really appreciate the value of a extended circle of peers who are nostril deep in the same struggle.  Don’t really have anyone that fits the bill?  A great way to get started building this resource is by connecting with the small group network in your area.
  2. Mentor(s).  Whether you build this connection vicariously (by reading books, blogs or other resources), find a coach or join a coaching network, or simply make a connection at a conference, mentors provide invaluable thinking about what could be next.  I’ve been following in the footsteps of a few mentors for many years now.  I’ve met a few of them, but I’ve still learned a ton by reading their books and listening to them at conferences.  See also, Required Reading for Small Group Pastors: Systems.
  3. Comrades.  As you build a thriving small group ministry you’ll probably begin to notice leaders and coaches who share your passion.  There are few things more rewarding than building a team of fellow soldiers, fully engaged in the mission.  The sooner you reach this point in your ministry, the more fun you’ll have.
  4. Mentee(s).  I am convinced that one of the greatest benefits of the Small Group Network is that it makes it possible to learn from those who are ahead of us and teach those who are behind us.  Trust me, if you’ve been in this journey any length of time, there are people who could learn from you.
  5. Outsider(s) (with fresh eyes).  This may be an unanticipated ingredient/participant in your circle, but be sure and listen.  The greatest advances, the biggest “breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.”  And the presence or engagement of a strategic outsider almost always plays a key role (thanks to Will Mancini for the fantastic term!).

So here’s my question today: How many of the 5 do you have?  I sincerely believe that a quick assessment would reveal a high correlation between high impact and the presence of 4 of the 5 kinds of people and low impact and the absence of 4 of 5 kinds of people.

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

Top 10 Posts of June, 2014

Miss a day?  Here are my top 10 posts of June, 2014.

  1. New to Small Group Ministry? Start Here. 
  2. How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure
  3. Six Ways to Help Your Senior Pastor Make the Small Group Ask
  4. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection
  5. 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader
  6. Do You Have an Acts 2 Small Group Ministry in an Acts 17 Culture?
  7. What’s the Difference Between a Sunday School Class and a Small Group?
  8. Here’s My 2014 Summer Reading List
  9. Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups
  10. HOST: What Does It Mean?

By the way, thanks for stoping by!  I had readers from 88 countries in June (and 40 languages!).

Win 10 “Life As We Know It” Community Kits from Spread Truth

This Contest Is Over! Check back for other opportunities to win.
HostBox_WhiteBGLife As We Know It is one of the most interesting studies I’ve reviewed in the last several years.  Produced by Spread Truth, Life As We Know It is truly a cross-cultural experience and an enormously timely idea.

The powerful idea that makes this study so interesting is that everybody has a story.  Further, “sharing stories is foundational to community and the meaningful relationships we all long for.”

Because Life As We Know It is not a Bible study, it is well-suited for use with neighbors, friends and co-workers as well as small groups and ministry teams.  In my mind, the fact that it is designed to “facilitate gatherings where the art of storytelling is practiced and deeper relationships are forged” is one of the genius elements of the experience.

You can read my review right here.

Looking for a really great way to begin infiltrating your community?  Take advantage of the power of story!  Better yet, win 10 Community Kits that will help you connect over a hundred people!

Win 10 Community Kits that will help you connect over a hundred people!

To support the contest Spread Truth is including 10 Community Kits!

That’s a $700 value!

You must do TWO (2) things.  And you have to do both to win.

  1. Use the comment section to tell me why you’d like to win.  You can comment right here.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the following line: “RT @MarkCHowell: Win 10 “Life As We Know It” Community Kits, a $700 value  http://bit.ly/1xlDpxw”

The contest ends on Tuesday, July 7th at noon (PT).  Thanks for playing!

Ready for What’s Next? Join My Fall 2014 Coaching Network

Looking for an opportunity to grow in your ability to connect beyond usual suspects? I want to invite you to join my Fall 2014 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.

Here’s what three of my alumni had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor, LifeChurch.tv, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

My Fall 2014 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in September (with a bonus call in August) and I’ve just opened up applications. You can find out all about it right here. I’m hoping you’ll come along!

Dilbert on Authentic Leadership

Sometimes you just need to laugh…and sometimes it hurts to laugh.

who is up for some leadership

5 Things Every New Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1

New to the role or new to the church, there are a few basic things that a new small group pastor needs to know from day one.  How will a new small group pastor know them?  Some senior pastors will need to clearly communicate them during the interview phase.  Some savvy small group pastors will arrive with this knowledge.  Sometimes clarity will end up being achieved only after an intense struggle.

However it happens, the answers to these 5 questions are prerequisite to building a thriving small group ministry.

Here are the 5 things a new small group pastor needs to know:

What is your role?  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 your role?”  There are four main components:

  1. You are the behind the scenes instigator who sets in motion an annual strategy to connect people.  See also, 5 Keys to Launching New Groups Year Round.
  2. You are 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.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Coach.
  3. You are a talent scout always identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity people, managing a reasonable span of care.  5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  4.  You are Joshua to Moses or Timothy to Paul, looking for ways to help your senior pastor be the small group champion.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

What business are you in?  Every church has to settle this for themselves.  Stock answers will not do.  You may be uncomfortable thinking about small group ministry (or any ministry) in terms of a business, but this Peter Drucker question drives to an essential understanding.   See also, If I Was Starting Today and The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.

Who is your customer?  The wrong answer is everyone.  Again, every church settles this question for themselves, but there should be a definite answer.  Sometimes it helps to rephrase the question as “who is my primary customer?”  Can you see the difference between the following?  My primary customers are (a) unconnected people, (b) group members, (c) group leaders, or (d) coaches.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 2.

What will you call success?  Will success to 50% of your average adult attendance connected in groups?  80%?  150%?  Will success be something beyond connecting adults in groups (for example, “connected in groups that make disciples”).  Andy Stanley refers to this concept as clarifying the win in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.  Clarity on this question focuses your attention on what’s most important.  See also, If I Was Starting Today, Part 3 and The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

Who will you make heroes of?  Will you make heroes of pastors?  Elders?  Small group leaders?  People who respond to your pastor’s invitation to host a new small group?  Who you make heroes of determines so much about the way people respond.  Don’t miss this very important key to building a thriving small group ministry.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups.

Note: Don’t know the answers to one or more of these questions?  Now is the time to get busy and get answers.  Without answers to these 5 questions, you’ll be wandering in the wilderness far longer than you should.

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

New from Bill Hybels: Wiser Together Is a Very Good Addition

wiser togetherWorked my way through a new study from Bill Hybels.  Wiser Together: Learning to Live the Right Way “challenges you and your small group to make doing life together a priority, exploring from the book of Proverbs the inseparable connection between experiencing community and growing in wisdom.”

DVD-driven, Wiser Together is a short study, just 5 sessions.  Featuring teaching by Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the sessions are classic examples of his style.  Each segment is a manageable length, the average time is 13 to 18 minutes.

The study guide includes all of the elements needed for a very good time together.  Along with a video viewing guide, each session includes a warm-up question or two designed to get your group engaged and talking.  A good set of discussion questions pulls members into a better understanding of the wisdom of scripture and a deeper study section provides another question or two if you have time to go further.

The study guide also includes a personal journal section designed to provide a daily experience.  Each day offers the opportunity to reflect, respond and record your thoughts as you study the proverbs.  It’s a short assignment, but will definitely help those new to group life to dig in and get the hang of spending time in the Bible.

In addition, the study guide includes a great set of leader and group resources.  Tips for HOSTs, a group agreement, ideas for inviting friends, a group calendar and a group roster.  While there isn’t a leader’s guide, these resources will certainly help less experienced leaders put together a very good experience.

Wiser Together is a very good addition to the recommended list.  I can definitely see this study becoming a “go to” resource for new groups looking for a good starter study.  I can also see it working very well to establish (or re-establish) a healthy group culture.

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.”

5 Things To Do in July to Maximize Small Group Ministry This Fall

Last month I gave you a list of 5 things to do in June to maximize small group ministry this fall.  Assuming you’re on target with last month’s five…here’s what’s next:

(Miss the June List?  Click here to see what you missed)

5 things to do in July to maximize small group ministry this fall:

  1. Plan the HOST orientation(s) that will happen in mid to late August.  Whether you’re recruiting HOSTs for a church-wide campaign or you’re launching some new groups this fall, your newest leaders will be ahead of the game if you give them the training they need to get started.  Keep in mind that adults learn on a need to know basis.  They don’t need to know everything, but there is a short list of things that will help them prepare.  See also, HOST Orientations That Work, HOST Orientations That Launch Groups, and Breaking: Add This HOST Orientation To Your Bag of Tricks.
  2. Provide the training your newly recruited coaches will need in order to come alongside your new group leaders this fall.  One of the most helpful things you can do is introduce your new leaders to their coach at the HOST orientation.  A face to face introduction will go a long way toward helping make the connection solid.  Especially after appropriately recognizing your coaches as experienced and knowledgable game-changers, your new leaders will be much more likely to return phone calls and actually look forward to connecting with their coach.  See also, Skill Training: Four Questions Every Coach Should Be Asking 
  3. Plan a HOST Rally that will take place in late August or early September.  A rally or gathering allows your senior pastor a great opportunity to cast vision about the fall from a leader’s perspective.  A rally provides a fun and inspirational boost as your groups make ready for the fall group launch.  See also, Steve Gladen on the Power of HOST Gatherings.
  4. Plan a series of email communications that will begin in August.  You’re going to need to need to communicate with existing small group leaders and new small group HOSTs as well as the whole church about what is coming.  If your church is like mine, those emails are much more likely to go out when you need them to go out if you’ve coordinated them with your database manager.  See also, 5 Keys to Getting Everyone Involved in Your Church-Wide Campaign.
  5. Plan your curriculum distribution process.  Whether you’re planning a church-wide campaign or are simply launching a wave of new groups with your fall “semester”, you’ll need to have a plan for distributing curriculum.  Many churches do the bulk of curriculum distribution in their HOST orientation.  Others set up distribution points in their bookstore or lobby.  Thinking through that process in July will allow you to recruit the number of volunteers you’ll need, coordinate delivery, as well as arranging for payment.

(Miss the June List?  Click here to see what you missed)

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

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