What Some Small Group Pastors Know…that Others Don’t

There are a few things that all of us need to know.  Some of them are obvious (i.e., how to identify and recruit small group leaders, how to train leaders, etc.).  And some of what we need to know is just not obvious.  In fact, I think it’s very possible to function in the role of small group pastor for many years without ever catching the significance

All of us need to know these things:

  1. My primary customer is not the members or the leaders of existing groups.  If I want to connect beyond the usual suspects I have to look for ways to connect people no one else is connecting.  The loudest voices in my congregation will almost always be insiders (who are already connected).  Unconnected people have no one listening to them.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People and Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed.
  2. The window is always closing on certain unconnected people.  It may seem like next year will be a better time for starting new groups, but for certain unconnected people, right now is their best opportunity.  Next year will be too late.  This ought to influence my choice of small group model, who can be a leader, and how to determine which programs or strategies ought to be prioritized.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
  3. The most effective small group champion is not me.  I may be the most passionate about small groups.  I may have the most personal experience with small groups.  But I am not the most effective small group champion.  My senior pastor is.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  4. I can’t take care of more than about 10 people.  Jethro’s point to Moses was that everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one can take care of more than (about) 10 people.  That’s why there need to be leaders of 10, leaders of 50, leaders of 100, and leaders of 1000 (Exodus 18).  If I want to build a thriving small group ministry where life-change happens at the member level, I need to invest in leaders of leaders (and sometimes in leaders of leaders of leaders).  And, whatever I want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.  See also, Span of Care and Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.
  5. Some of the highest capacity leaders in my congregation won’t hear “well done” unless I invite them into the right role.  Helping high capacity leaders find the right seat on the bus might be one of my most important contributions.  When I read between the lines in the Parable of the Talents it is painfully clear that we each have been given an amount to invest and the amount is determined “according to ability.”  Isn’t it obvious that when someone is given certain capacity according to their ability there will be an accounting?  Could it be that some of the highest capacity people in our congregations are actually serving in a role where they cannot possibly hear “well done?”  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail.
  6. There are unidentified leaders in the crowd that no one on my staff knows.  Once my church grows beyond about 250 it will become more and more difficult for my senior pastor and the other staff members to actually know everyone.  It will also become more and more likely that some of the very best potential leaders are sitting unidentified and their gifts unused every week.  If my strategy for finding and recruiting new leaders relies on tapping the shoulders of those I already know (or those who are already in a small group), I will probably miss out on many of the most capable leaders.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System.
  7. The least connected people on the inside are the most connected on the outside.  This is a game-changing understanding that only certain small group pastors know.  When I am deeply connected with the members of my small group or serving team, I don’t have time to hang out with my neighbors (obviously, there are exceptions).  When I’m a face in the crowd in the auditorium and I slip in and out without anyone even knowing my name, I am much more likely to spend time with my neighbors, co-workers, and friends.  Want to reach your community?  Think about who you’re recruiting to lead groups.  See also, Do You Know This Game Changing Connection Secret?

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

Be the Message: A New Church-Wide Campaign from Kerry Shook

be the messageSpent some time this week reviewing a new church-wide campaign that I think you’re going to want to hear about.  Be the Message is the newest campaign from Kerry and Chris Shook, founders of Woodlands Church, a multi-campus church with attendance of over 18,000 outside of Houston, Texas.  No strangers to the development of church-wide campaigns, their previous campaigns (One Month to Live, Love at Last Sight, and Stolen) have been very popular.

Be the Message is a 5 session study based on a very simple idea: “the gospel is not about what you say.  It is about who you are and what you do–and how you can be God’s hands and feet in the world.”

Truly a church-wide campaign, the Be the Message Challenge Kit includes everything you need to do this campaign at your church (weekly sermon outlines, promotional artwork, outreach ideas, and much more).  Free downloadable children’s curriculum on the website makes it possible for everyone to have the same conversation.

The DVD features 5 video messages featuring Kerry and Chris Shook.  Averaging 8 to 13 minutes, these segments are short and at just the right length that will easily hold the attention of your members.  Well produced, there is a great look and feel that will help your members feel like they are in a conversation with Kerry and Chris.

The small group interactive guide is very simple to use.  The video teaching will set up a good discussion and the included set of well written discussion questions will guide your group through the study.  Each session also includes a love the one in front of you assignment that will help your members apply the powerful truths they will be learning.  A personal application section provides several questions for reflection in the days in between group meetings.

In addition to participating in a small group using the interactive guide, the full experience also includes a short reading assignment from the companion book, Be the Message.  Along with the reading assignment, members are challenged to read one chapter a day from the Book of John.

Be the Message will expose your congregation to a a lifestyle that is at the same time simple and very profound.  If you’re looking for a study that will help your members live the gospel, you need to take a look at this church-wide campaign.  This simple idea and practical next steps will help your members be the message.

My Most Intriguing and Haunting Takeaway from re:group

I don’t know about you, but I usually come away from a conference with lists of ideas to definitely try, statements to ponder and strategies to learn more about.  This year’s re:group conference was no exception.  I’ve got a notebook packed with underlined, starred and scratched out/rewritten takeaways.

I’ve already written about Yesterday’s Big Idea and Andy Stanley on “Matters of the Heart.”

My most intriguing and haunting takeaway:

Can I tell you what my most intriguing and haunting takeaway from re:group?  Here it is: The impact and growth of North Point’s small group ministry is the result of their development of a leadership culture.

I don’t actually have a note that I can find about it.  It’s more like a stream of consciousness recollection of hints caught here and there in both the main sessions and the breakouts I attended.

The impact and growth of North Point’s small group ministry is the result of their development of a leadership culture.

It’s intriguing to think that this is a not so secret ingredient that could be the missing ingredient for many of us.  It’s haunting to conclude that the absence of the development of a leadership culture could explain why so many small group ministries struggle with failure to thrive.

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

Yesterday’s Big Idea (Literally)

I think this is a big idea.  You might already be on to it, but it was big to me.

Usually, when I tell you about the latest and greatest idea it’s pretty well baked.  That is, we’ve already tested it or we’re about to tweak a strategy that we think you might like to know about.  Yesterday at Day 2 of re:group I heard something that I think connects a pretty important dot.  And I want to bring you along on the idea as it unfolds.

Here’s the scoop:

On Day 1 of re:group, in a breakout called “Clearing the Path for Community” by Chris Kim, we caught the idea of shaping the training that we do to center on the three stages of a small group leader:

  1. Relational leadership… think HOST and help create a safe place for people to start trusting.
  2. Developmental leadership… think CRUISE DIRECTOR and plan ahead with ideas to build ownership.
  3. Visionary leadership… think MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER and help group members want to multiply into more groups.

It was a comment that seemed to come out of nowhere and wasn’t in the notes, but we immediately thought, “What a concept!”

On Day 2 of re:group, in a breakout called, “Developing Leaders Who Lead Well” by Justin Elam, I caught a reference to 8 tactical essentials (think things you’d want a leader to know at certain stages along their journey).  Here’s what I wrote down:

Stage One:  Cultivate Relationships and Promote Participation.

Stage Two: Stay Connected, Provide Care, Serve Together, and Celebrate Change.

Stage Three: Replace Yourself and End Well.

Remember, adults learn on a need to know basis.  Don’t these tactical essentials feel like things adults will want to know when they’re at these stages?

*Chris Kim probably had another term for a beginner leader, but I missed it.

Andy Stanley on “Matters of the Heart”

I am at re:group today.  Yesterday’s main session was so good and so important I thought I’d better let you in on one of my most important takeaways.

In Andy Stanley’s main session to start the conference, he used a series of statements to make a point that all of us–every single one of us–need to know.  Not only do we all need to know this, we all need to figure out more and better ways to use this knowledge to persuade everyone to get connected.

"Community is not optional. It is critical. What you do is not optional. It is critical." Andy Stanley

Andy built the premise for the talk with a set of 5 statements and then told the story of David and Bathsheba to illustrate the idea.

Here are the statements:

A small group is a voluntary structured relationship designed to address matters of the heart.

We avoid matters of the heart in spite of the fact that heart matters matter most.

Matters of the heart determine our relational satisfaction quotient.

Matters of the heart only get dealt with in trusted relationships (or with a professional counselor who costs a lot of money).

We resist most what we need most for the relationships that matter most.

Here is the essence of the story:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army” (2 Samuel 11).

Andy told the story with another series of statements.  Here are two of the most important.

David permanently undermined his credibility and moral authority with his adult children.

David got into trouble when he isolated himself from the community of men to whom he was most accountable.


We, who are working hard to build a culture of small groups in our churches, have a mission that is critical.  We must keep working to help connect unconnected people who are one tough thing away from never being at our churches again.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People.

I loved Andy’s closing words.  Speaking to a room full of small group pastors and leaders, he said, “Community is not optional.  It is critical.  What you do is not optional.  It is critical.”

5 Main Causes of “Failure to Thrive” in Small Group Ministry

Failure to thrive is a term used primarily in pediatric medicine “to indicate insufficient weight gain or inappropriate weight loss.”

Because I write so often about building a thriving small group ministry, failure to thrive seemed like a good term for a small group ministry that struggles or where growth is stunted or blocked.  There is a short list of primary causes for a small group ministry that has a failure to thrive.

Here are the 5 main causes I’ve identified for failure to thrive:

  1. An inadequate model: This underlying cause of failure to thrive is rarely diagnosed.  If one of the marks of a thriving small group ministry is an increasing percentage connected, certain small group ministry models struggle with the catch a moving train syndrome and simply cannot keep up with demand.  One of the main symptoms of an inadequate model is a constant inability to find enough leaders.  Another symptom is an inability to develop leaders who are more than hosts.  See also, How to Choose the Right Small Group System or Strategy and You Know You Have the Right Small Group System When…
  2. The wrong person in the role of small group champion: This is very commonly the cause of failure to thrive but is often misdiagnosed.  Read incorrectly the symptoms may indicate the small group pastor is not up to the task when in reality, small group ministry struggles are due to the senior pastor’s resistance to accepting the role of small group champion.  The role of small group champion cannot be delegated away from the senior pastor.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  3. A poorly designed and/or defined next step pathway: For a small group ministry to thrive, it must be an easy and attractive next step for unconnected people.  Along with being easy and attractive it must be an obvious step.  When there is no defined next step pathway (when it is not clear what to do next), indecision will be the most common response.   step pathway is poorly designed, there will be a lack of interest on the part of unconnected people.  When the nextSee also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #3: Indecision about the Best Next Step.
  4. Small group participation is seen as a helpful elective: A very common cause of failure to thrive in a small group ministry is hesitation about declaring group participation as an essential ingredient.  When attending the worship service is seen as the main thing and participating in a small group is seen as a nice extra thing, you should expect failure to thrive.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, group participation must be consistently declared an essential ingredient (i.e., consistently in the worship service by the senior pastor, on the website, in the bulletin, etc.).  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  5. Small group model fatigue: Building a thriving small group ministry takes time and a long commitment to a strategy.  Once you’ve chosen an adequate model (see cause #1) you must stay the course over a number of years.  When a new model is proposed after every conference attended or book read, small group model fatigue sets in.  Churches with thriving small group ministries are examples of churches with long term commitment to a single small group model or strategy. See also, 5 Easily Overlooked Secrets to Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

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

Growth’s Conterintuitive First Step

What do you do when you’re trying to grow your ministry?  Read a book?  Go to a conference?  Hire a consultant?  Brainstorm?

According to Peter Drucker, “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow.  It is to decide what to abandon (Inside Drucker’s Brain, p. 101).”

Peter Drucker had a lot to say about purposeful abandonment.  In my view, it was one of his most important ideas.  The essence of the idea is 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).”  See also, Purposeful Abandonment: Prerequisite to Innovation.

Do you see where purposeful abandonment fits in a growth initiative?  Drucker would say that before you plan a new thing, a new strategy, you should be thinking about what should be eliminated.

Is that what happens in your world?  Does anything ever get eliminated?  Or do you just add the new program or strategy to the old list?  See also, Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Remember.  “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow.  It is to decide what to abandon.”

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

Quotebook: Steve Jobs on Change

I love this line from the 2005 Stanford commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs:

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Only an enduring small group pastor makes it to the finish line.  And only the constant learner can look in the mirror and know when a change is in the wind.

6 Understandings that Changed the Game for Me

Have you ever suddenly noticed something and never looked at it the same way again?  You know how sometimes you can get so used to the cracked mirror that you stand in front of it and never notice it…every morning?  This is the opposite experience.  This is that thing that you’ve seen a million times but once you see it, once you notice it, you can never miss it again.

Once you’ve noticed certain things…they change the game forever.

Here are a 6 things that have changed the game for me:

  1. Connecting people is a first step.  Making disciples is a second step.  Belonging is a higher motivation than becoming.  Period.  End of story.  If you want to make more disciples, focus on making it easy to connect into an environment where most barriers to following Jesus have been removed.  See also, 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Ministry at the Corner of “Belonging” and “Becoming”.
  2. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  One tough thing.  A marriage problem.  An illness.  Loss of  a job.  A teen who goes south.  One tough thing.  And it could happen at any time.  For some of the unconnected people in your congregation it will happen this year.  For others it will happen this week.  If you want the opportunity to help them…you need to act sooner than later.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?
  3. The pursuit of problem-free delays more ministry than anything else.  There are no problem-free models, systems or strategies.  Zero.  Every model, every system, and every strategy comes with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simple choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.
  4. You don’t have to be a leader to lead a small group.  The old school understanding was that you needed to be a leader to lead a small group.  Somewhere along the line I realized that the s.h.a.p.e., or the wiring, of the leader just determines the way the leader leads.  Have the gift of encouragement or mercy?  Your group will look different than the group of a leader with a hospitality gift or shepherding gift.  See also, Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?
  5. “Coaching” small group leaders has almost nothing to do with coaching.  The best coaches understand that it’s really about doing “to and for” the leader whatever you want the leader to do “to and for” their members.  This is why I say, “Whatever you want to happen in the life of a member must happen in the life of the leader first.”  6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach and Four Small Group Coaching Insights that Might Be Eye-Opening.
  6. Your senior pastor must be the small group champion.  This role cannot be delegated.  If your senior pastor is not fully in the game, you cannot build a thriving small group ministry.  Period.  End of story.  It doesn’t matter how passionate or committed or knowledgeable or experienced your small group pastor is.  Without the senior pastor…it just can’t happen.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful or Conflicted Senior Pastor.

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

10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Want to build a thriving small group ministry in your church?  It won’t be easy.  It will require a commitment to the long haul, major determination, a willingness to commit resources, disappoint the guardians of the status quo, and much, much more.

But…if you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, if you want to connect far beyond the usual suspects (and even beyond your average weekend adult worship attendance)…there is no alternative.  A commitment to building a thriving small group ministry is a non-negotiable.

10 principles that will guide the work that is ahead.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  Describing in vivid detail a picture of the preferred future is essential.  Make no compromise and take no shortcut.  As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
  2. Diagnose the present with uncompromising honesty.  If you begin with the end in mind, brutal honesty about the here and now is another essential.  See also, Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  3. Clarify what you will call a win.  According to Peter Drucker, very few things are as important as determining what you will call success.  See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry.
  4. Think steps, not programs.  Design easy, obvious and strategic steps that lead to the preferred future and only to the preferred future.  See also, Think Steps, Not Programs.
  5. Narrow the focus (to eliminate all but the best steps).  There is no room for turning a blind eye to the inadequacies of yesterday’s solutions.  See also, Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  6. Allocate resources to the critical growth path.  Choosing a preferred future is one thing.  Allocating finite resources to get to the preferred future is what demonstrates conviction.  Budget, key staff and volunteers, space, promotional bandwidth, and senior pastor attention are just a few of the most important resources.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  7. Commit to the long haul.  The journey to build a thriving small group ministry is not a short sprint.  It is a marathon.  If you want to arrive at the finish line, you must commit to the long haul.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  8. Keep one eye on the preferred future.  Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable.  It will be tempting along the way to settle for something less than a thriving small group ministry.  Only by rehearsing again and again what it will be like will the steadfast pursuit continue.
  9. Keep the other eye on the very next milestone.  Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.  Milestones could be quantitative (a number of groups or a percentage connected statistic).  Milestones can also be qualitative with a little effort (capturing life-change stories or monitoring feedback cards).  The objectives that must be accomplished to reach the next milestone are the kind of things that keep teams focused.  See also, Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.
  10. Celebration is expected.  A culture of celebration is a must have.  Celebrate milestones reached and wins experienced.

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

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