Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Quotebook: When Does Discipleship Happen?

“Discipleship occurs when a transformed person radiates Christ to those around her. It happens when people so deeply experience God’s love that they can do nothing other than affect those around them.” Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ.

Image by Adam Cohn

Thinking Thursday: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”

joi ito“Remember before the internet?” asks Joi Ito. “Remember when people used to try to predict the future?” In this engaging talk, the head of the MIT Media Lab skips the future predictions and instead shares a new approach to creating in the moment: building quickly and improving constantly, without waiting for permission or for proof that you have the right idea. This kind of bottom-up innovation is seen in the most fascinating, futuristic projects emerging today, and it starts, he says, with being open and alert to what’s going on around you right now. Don’t be a futurist, he suggests: be a now-ist.

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

5 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Coaching Strategy

5 assumptionsQuick! What goes through your mind when I say “small group coaching”?

Were you thinking, “Small group coaching doesn’t work”? Or maybe, “I tried that before and it doesn’t work here?” Or how about, “It may work for some churches but we just don’t have those kind of people here!”

Regardless of what you were thinking, in order to understand the need for small group coaching and some important characteristics of my strategy, I need to give you some of the assumptions that shape why I do what I do. See also, Is It Time for a Fresh Look at Your Assumptions?

5 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Coaching Strategy

First, I believe that whatever you want to happen at the member level, must happen to the leader first. I actually think this is fairly self-evident, don’t you? Doesn’t it make sense that we can hardly expect the leader of a small group to be able to give away something he or she has never experienced?

I often point out that if I want the members of a group to know what it’s like for a leader to pray for them, the leader will have to know what it’s like. Or, if I want the members of the group to experience a sense of family, the leader will have to have had that experience first. Doesn’t this simple truth explain the role of a coach? See also, The Big Misunderstanding that Dooms Most Coaching Structures.

Second, I believe everyone needs to be cared for by someone but nobody can take care of more than (about) 10 people. Carl George made this point many years ago and pointed to Jethro’s instructions to Moses in Exodus 18 as the basis for this foundational principle. Recognizing that Jethro was referring to an appropriate span of care, we can now assume that a small group pastor might be able to care for up to 10 small group leaders. We should also see that, just like Moses, to attempt to personally care for more than 10 is foolish. Can you see how this principle demonstrates the need for additional layers of leaders of leaders? See also, Take a Look at Your Coaching Structure through 3 Lenses.

Third, I believe everyone has an innate shape (s.h.a.p.e.) and that some have been prewired for influence. One of the lessons of the Parable of the Talents is that we are all given something to invest according to our ability. In other words, there was a reason that one servant was given five talents to invest, another servant was given two talents to invest, and the third was given only one talent to invest. The best candidates for the role of a small group coach are small group leaders who are high capacity leaders.

In Mark 4 Jesus shared a story about a farmer who sowed seed and the seeds returned a harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundred times what was sown. Jesus wasn’t talking about spiritual maturity. He wasn’t suggesting that a thirty fold seed might one day become a sixty or hundred fold seed. Instead, He was talking about the relative capacity of a seed.

It may be an appealing thought to believe that small group leaders should respond to a coach whether he is a thirty fold leader or a hundred fold leader. But the truth is, human nature is organized differently. When you’re recruiting coaches it is important to recruit high capacity men and women. See also, How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach.

Fourth, I believe those prewired for influence will be fruitful and fulfilled when they are in the right role. It should be understood that a high capacity leader of leaders might be very effective but unfulfilled. In other words, they can get the job done even though they really don’t enjoy it. They are fruitful but unfulfilled.

At the same time, it should be obvious that there are people with less capacity who are quite fulfilled by attending meetings and being recognized as a coach, but never get anything done. They are fulfilled but aren’t fruitful.

One of the secrets to build an effective coaching structure is to strive to recruit high capacity men and women who will be both fruitful and fulfilled in the role. See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.

Finally, I believe the best way to determine if a man or woman will be both fruitful and fulfilled as a small group coach is by inviting them to test-drive the role. This may not be as obvious, but my growing conviction is that the best beginning for a potential coach is one in which they have only made a short term commitment.

Inviting the right candidates to help two or three new small group leaders get off to a great start is a compelling invitation. Framing the invitation as a 10 week commitment sweetens the deal. Inviting only those who are both fruitful and fulfilled to continue beyond the initial 10 week commitment makes it much more likely that you are building an effective small group coaching structure. See also, How to Recruit a Potential Small Group Coach.

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6 Great Studies for Outreach

finding your wayLooking for a study that will appeal to your friends and neighbors? As you know, it takes a special topic to spark an interest in unchurched friends and neighbors. Not just any topic will do. See also, Your Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes and Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, I’ve put together a short list of what I think are some of the best outreach oriented studies. And by outreach, I don’t mean purely evangelistic. In some cases the real potential of these studies is simply to start a conversation.

Here are 6 studies that will make invitation easy and the conversation lively:


Freeway: A Not So Perfect Guide to Freedom is a powerful seven session study by Mike Foster and Garry Poole.  Built on God’s amazing grace, honest conversations with friends, and finding freedom from deepest pain and struggles, Freeway is way more than a study.  It’s an experience in the very best sense of the word.

I love this study.  If you’re looking for a study that will take people on a journey, a grace-filled journey, toward the life God dreams for them, you’ll love this study too.  Freeway is the kind of study that will cause you to see every other study in a new light.  Great stuff.  I loved it and I think you will too.

You can read my full review right here.

finding your way

Finding Your Way Back to God: Five Awakenings to Your New Life has the most powerful  outreach potential I’ve come across in a long time. If you’ve not had a chance to spend some time with the book yet, you need to make time!  This book is a game-changer!

I love the potential of this study.  Whether you do the study with a couple friends or use it in your small group, there is real potential for many, many people to find their way back to God.  I highly recommend that you take a look at Finding Your Way Back to God.

As the subtitle indicates, there are five awakenings “that almost always occur in a person’s journey back to God.”  I like the way the authors describe the awakenings: “Where people start and what motivates them to begin this journey are often different, but the stages they go through are remarkably similar.”  The book explores five different “God, if you are real” prayers that are intended to arouse the five awakenings.

You can read my full review of the book right here.

Craig Groeschel’s WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working is based on the central idea that the “broad road leads to destruction” (normal) and the “narrow road” leads to life (weird). Inspired by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:13-14, the study takes a look at a set of topics that will make sense to Christians and non-Christians alike.

The DVD sessions are a combination of key portions of Groeschel’s LifeChurch.TV weekend message series and special segments that introduce, enhance or summarize the topic.  One of the Church’s most dynamic and creative communicators, Craig Groeschel’s practice of looking right at the camera while preaching (making it easy for participants in one of 15 campuses and a  growing number of LifeChurch.TV Network churches around the world who use the teaching video).  The DVD is very compelling. You can read my full review right here.

Based on a 2013 message series by Andy Stanley, Follow is an 8 session DVD-driven study that will take your group “on a journey through the Gospels, tracing Jesus’ teaching on what it means to follow.” I found it particularly intriguing that Stanley pointed out numerous times that Jesus’ first followers were not yet believers.

Back when this series was being given at North Point, I downloaded these messages and listened to them multiple times.  Andy Stanley’s way of explaining what it means to follow Jesus is very easily understood and I shared it with many of my friends.  It might be my favorite Andy Stanley message series.

DVD-driven, each of the sessions is a 17 to 22 minute clip from an Andy Stanley message.  One of the most compelling communicators in America, this is must see TV.  Never flashy or fancy, Stanley is known for his ability to draw out life-changing truth and deliver it in a way that is both inspiring and very memorable.  Follow is an excellent example of his pattern of taking difficult or challenging ideas and presenting them in a way that leads to application.

You can read my full review right here.

what on earth am i here forWhat On Earth Am I Here For?, the 2013 revision of 40 Days of Purpose, definitely remains on my list. Everyone wonders if there is a reason or a purpose to life; if there’s more to it than we make of it. This study addresses questions that everyone has. An easy invite for neighbors and friends, this is a truly cross-cultural topic. In addition, Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life are both very familiar to many unchurched people.

I should note that this is a completely updated study.  Every component, even the Purpose Driven Life itself, has been completely retooled and updated to respond to today’s challenges.  For example, The Purpose Driven Life now includes video introductions and an online audio lesson at the end of each chapter as well as two new bonus chapters on the most common barriers to living the purpose driven life and access to an online community for feedback and support.

Need more information? You can find out more in my full review.

Life-as-We-Know-It-300x300I have to say Life As We Know It is easily one of the most intriguing new small group experiencesI’ve seen in several years.  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 full review right here.

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

Sometimes you just need to laugh. persistence and knowing when to quit

Need a few more laughs?

Dilbert on Resistance to Change

Dilbert on Clarifying the Win

Dilbert on Identifying Hundred-Fold Coaching Candidates


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

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