Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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This vs That: 5 Critical Choices That Have Massive Impact

this vs that two roads

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Robert Frost

This vs That: 5 Critical Choices That Have Massive Impact

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”

Robert Frost’s epic line is never more important than when making 5 critical choices that have massive impact…in small group ministry.

Have you ever thought about the way some of the tiniest, seemingly insignificant choices can make the biggest differences in outcomes?

Here are a 5 critical choices that have massive impact:

Hand selected, prequalified leader candidates (chosen from the usual suspects) vs qualified on-the-spot and chosen by peers.

Many choices are counterintuitive. Doesn’t it just make sense that you would want to know more about your leader candidates before allowing them to lead? Wouldn’t prequalifying your leaders lead to fewer really bad mistakes?

It actually turns out that the route to exponential growth (in terms of the number of groups) takes you directly through the neighborhood of lowering the leader bar and relying on group members (the wisdom of crowds)  to make this important selection.


A couple important phenomena make this true.

First, as your church grows it becomes more and more likely that the best potential leaders are actually people who you don’t know and who are not yet in a group. A bold statement? Perhaps, but I’ve confirmed this everywhere in churches that have outgrown the staff’s capacity to know who is attending. A very large leader pool exists outside the usual suspects. Figuring out who they are is near impossible with old school methodologies (like relying on the next wave of new leaders coming from inside existing groups).

Second, it turns out we are amazingly prewired to make intelligent choices about who the best leader candidate is (relative to the other adults in a circle) after even a few minutes conversation. Malcolm Gladwell described this phenomena in his best-selling book  Blink . See also, 7 Assumptions that Shape My Small Group Strategy.

Small group pastor as small group champion vs senior pastor as small group champion.

Again, this choice is absolutely counterintuitive. After all, it does make sense that you’ve hired the small group pastor to build the small group ministry. Why shouldn’t you rely on the small group pastor to cast vision for groups and encourage everyone to join one?

Unfortunately, the counterintuitive choice of placing the mantle of small group champion squarely on the shoulders of your senior pastor is what leads to a church OF groups and a thriving small group ministry. See also, 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.

Signing up for a semester vs signing up for a 6 week test-drive.

Unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders. They are also creatures of habit who have their pattern down when they do attend. They know where they prefer to park their car. Where to drop off their children. They know which door to come in. And where to sit.

Their experience is predictable and predictability is preferable to surprise or disappointment.

The best way to offer a next step to unconnected adults is to make the next step easy, obvious, and strategic. Easy steps are imaginable. Easy steps don’t seem like a major ordeal. Easy steps are low commitment. Ordinary people can take easy steps.

When the first step to getting connected requires a 10 to 13 week commitment, fewer unconnected people will take them. 6 week test-drives are preferable because they seem less invasive. Who can’t do something new for 6 weeks? See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?

Choosing small group studies based on what already connected people are interested in vs choosing studies unconnected people are interested in.

Shouldn’t you base the selection of your next small group study on what your satisfied customers tell you they want?

Think about it. You want to keep your satisfied customers happy. Doesn’t it stand to reason that it’s easier to keep a satisfied customer than get a new customer?

One key to this choice has to do with the percentage of your congregation (and crowd) who are unconnected. If you’ve already connected a very large percentage of your congregation it may be tempting to allow them to choose the next church-wide study. But the reality for most churches is that their true percentage connected (based on the number connected divided by their Easter adult attendance) is disturbingly low.

That said, if you want to connected the unconnected congregation (and crowd) you need to pay attention to what they are interested in and to what their perceived needs are. See also, 5 Things Every New Small Group Pastor Needs to Know on Day 1.

Releasing new groups to decide on their next study vs preselecting the next study new groups will use.

Again, a counterintuitive choice. New groups ought to be allowed to choose what study to do next. Right? Wrong.

It turns out, new groups don’t yet have the connective tissue to survive the trauma of a debate or disagreement about what study to do next. They will develop that strength of connection. But at the end of their first 6 weeks they don’t yet have it.

When you preselect a fitting next study for your newest groups you give them the best chance to survive into their third curriculum (which is often a predictor of long-term connection).

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

Image by Ann Fisher

Ooops! Today’s Important Message Didn’t Include the Link!


Hi friends! My blog post this morning went out on time but without a way you could respond! Dohhh! (you can respond right here).

This has happened before, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever immediately emailed you to make sure you got everything I intended.

GroupLife Insider

I really wanted to give you a heads up about GroupLife Insider, a new service I’m getting ready to launch. If you read today’s post, you know what’s coming.

But the email service I use didn’t include the link to sign up for important news about GroupLife Insider.

Sign up for the updates!

If you want to make sure you don’t miss the updates (and upcoming discounts), you can click here to sign up!

I hope you’ll sign up, and I’m also thankful for the opportunity to play a part in your small group ministry!



Coming Soon: GroupLife Insider

GroupLife Insider bannerIf you’ve ever wished for a coach, someone who could walk you through how to build a thriving small group ministry that really makes disciples…GroupLife Insider might be for you.

If you’ve ever wished you could take advantage of the fresh eyes of a strategic outsider…GroupLife Insider might be for you.

If you’ve ever wished for a mentor, someone who could challenge you and encourage you on a regular basis…GroupLife Insider might be for you.

Over a decade of coaching and consulting…

I’ve been coaching small group pastors and consulting with churches for 13 years. I have a very long list of churches that have engaged me to help them launch (or re-launch) their small group ministry. I’ve also helped a growing number of churches exceed their goals in planning and executing church-wide campaigns. I have a lot of happy clients.

In the last 18 months I’ve developed and produced 5 new mini-courses, designed to provide affordable and comprehensive coaching on how to do some of the most strategic and core components of small group ministry.

I’ve been leading exclusive small group ministry coaching networks (limited to 12 participants a year) since 2008.

For the last several years I’ve been experimenting with ways to help a larger number of churches launch, build and sustain thriving small group ministries.

I’ve tried a number of experiments:

  • Conference calls
  • Webinars
  • Coaching Networks
  • Mini-Courses

Coming Soon…GroupLife Insider

In the next few weeks I’ll be launching a new service that I believe will help a lot of churches.

GroupLife Insider, a new member site, will allow me to focus more of my time helping a select group of small group ministry point people. Membership rates will be very affordable and available with a monthly or discounted annual subscription.

GroupLife Insider Membership will offer a number of important benefits:

  1. Access to detailed instructions and step by step tutorials on many of small group ministry’s most important components (i.e., building an effective coaching structure, developing and discipling small group leaders, connecting unconnected people, working with your senior pastor, etc.).
  2. Free or discounted access to 4 to 6 new mini-courses every 12 months.
  3. Exclusive access to “video conference office hours” just for GLI members.
  4. GLI discounts on coaching call and consulting packages.
  5. GLI discounted rate for GroupLife Southwest (a new 2 day small group ministry conference launching in March, 2017).
  6. Participation in regular networking opportunities with other GLI members.


I’ll be announcing the launch of GroupLife Insider in the next few weeks. I anticipate offering a discounted rate for the first 100 members.

Want to be sure you get in at the beginning?

Sign up right here and I’ll keep you posted as we move toward the launch!


Review: Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

smarter faster betterI’ve been working my way through Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive In Life and Business, the newest book from Charles Duhigg. In 2012, If his name sounds familiar, Duhigg’s The Power of Habit spent 60 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list. He’s also had a couple of interviews I’ve passed on to you on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast and also the Catalyst Podcast.

Like The Power of Habit, Smarter Faster Better, is a very fascinating and engaging read. Duhigg’s style and format has a Malcolm Gladwell feel; his ideas are drawn from the latest discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics—as well as “the experiences of CEOs, educational reformers, four-star generals, FBI agents, airplane pilots, and Broadway songwriters—this painstakingly researched book explains that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently.”

The structure of the book hinges on eight key productivity concepts that explain why some people and companies get so much done:

  • Motivation
  • Teams
  • Focus
  • Goal Setting
  • Managing Others
  • Decision Making
  • Innovation
  • Absorbing Data

Packed with true stories and “scientific discoveries that explain that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently. They view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways.”

Smarter Faster Better is both a page turner and a book that will frequently cause you to turn down page corners to be read again later. My copy is very marked up and dog-eared, starred and underlined, pages littered with notes in the margins.

If you’re looking for a book to throw into your summer reading stack, don’t miss Smarter Faster Better. If your job is like mine, if you never seem to be finished with a project or a process at the end of a cay, the takeaways can easily be applied to build productivity.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Need Help? Here’s How I Can Help You…

Coaching and Consulting (1)

Need help? Here’s how I can help you…

With 13 years experience consulting and coaching a wide variety of church clients around the country, my exposure to a wide variety of styles and philosophies (ranging from cutting-edge contemporary to very traditional), in addition to serving on the staff at a number of well-known churches (Woodlands Church, Lake Avenue Church, Parkview Christian Church, and Canyon Ridge Christian Church), I can help you with:

Coaching Calls

Whether you need clarity on the best next step for your small group ministry or guidance on a complete overhaul, a single 60 minute coaching call may be the place to begin. My coaching clients regularly tell me how valuable a 60 minute call is.

Click here to find out more or schedule a Coaching Call

Online Mini-Courses

To provide greater accessibility I’ve created online and downloadable versions of some my most requested workshops:

(Note: I am adding new mini-courses on a regular basis)

  • How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure
  • Basic Training for New Small Group Coaches
  • How to Maximize YOUR Church-Wide Campaign
  • Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry
  • Supercharge Your Fall Ministry Season

Click here to find out more about available Online Mini-Courses

Small Group Ministry Coaching Networks

I’ve been leading a cohort of small group pastors and directors through a six month experience every year since 2008. My 2017  coaching network will begin forming soon.

Click here to find out about my next Small Group Ministry Coaching Network

Launching or Re-Launching Your Small Group Ministry

I have helped many churches launch or re-launch their small group ministries. Whether you are introducing small groups to your congregation for the first time, or you need to regroup and launch again, I have been helping churches with this challenge since 1999.

Click here to find out more about launching or re-launching a small group ministry

Maximize Your Next Church-Wide Campaign (Planning and Implementation)

I have been leading churches through this process since 2001. I can help your congregation maximize the number of new groups launched and unconnected people connected. I can also help you plan the campaign that not only launches more new groups than ever before, but sustains a high percentage of the new groups you launch.

Click here to find out about designing a church-wide campaign that will re-energize your congregation.

Speaking and Training

I’m available for retreats and conferences as well as staff and volunteer development. Every year I speak at a limited number of small group leader training events.

Click here to find out more about engaging me for your next speaking or training need.


Every year I take on a limited number of consulting relationships; providing a combination of periodic on-site visits and regular coaching calls. While many churches benefit from a series of coaching calls, some congregations require and greatly benefit from the engagement of a strategic outsider.

Contact me about a consulting relationship with you or your church.

Previous and Current Clients

I have a long list of previous and current clients. It’s very possible that you know some of them.

Click here to see my list of previous and current clients


Click here to see what my clients are saying.


Have a question or a specific need? Email me for information.

Are You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

future red skies at dawnAre You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

As I wrote Monday’s post, I tried very hard to imagine the days ahead. I read the reports Barna is producing (you can sign up for their updates right here).  I’m always reading the latest book by David Kinnaman, Gabe Lyons, or James Emery White (see below for some recommendations).

I want to be a learner; a student. And I want to be a wise steward of what God has given me.

I’ve also had the strong sense (for many years) that while Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27) can be applied to everyone, they have sobering applications for leaders. And for leaders of leaders? Oh my.

Since we are stewarding people, I believe we must understand the times and we must be looking ahead.

I’m more than a little concerned by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

And I don’t want to keep it to myself because at some level I think I’m responsible to pass on what I’m learning. As Andy Stanley has said, “As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.”

Here are four keys to preparing for the future of small group ministry:

Four Keys to Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry

  1. Actively train your coaches and leaders to skillfully communicate biblical truth in a language the culture can understand. This is a non-negotiable. As the culture races to biblical illiteracy we must actively train leaders to speak the lingua franca. Just like the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill, we need to be able to communicate in a way that makes sense in a post-Christian culture.
  2. Make being others centered and loving your neighbor as yourself the centerpiece of your ministry. If we want our ministries to be anything other than a warm and cozy fortress for the already convinced, we must be ever on the lookout for natural opportunities to prioritize the needs and interests of the community.
  3. Focus your effort on doing TO and FOR your leaders what you want them to do TO and FOR their members. This should always be front-of-mind. Making disciples is an organic process that is contagious and communicable. If we are not doing the right things TO and FOR our leaders, we can hardly expect leaders to do the right things TO and FOR their members.
  4. Begin decentralizing the majority of your leader development and encouragement. If you haven’t already begun, now is the time to make the change from centralized to decentralized leadership development and encouragement. Develop and encourage your coaches in huddles where they live or work. Equip your coaches to do the same thing with the leaders they shepherd.

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

Further Reading:

Image by Michael Levine-Clark

Quotebook: Andy Stanley on Emptying Your Leadership Cup

empty cup“As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.” Andy Stanley

This clip from Leadercast 2014 is very helpful in understanding this concept.

Image by Melissa Youngern

The Future of Small Group Ministry (and how to prepare for it)

future weather vaneThe Future of Small Group Ministry (and how to prepare for it)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve long been intrigued by a somewhat obscure Old Testament reference to the men of Issachar. Tucked away into a long list of those who joined David when he was banished by King Saul, we’re told about the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chronicles 12:32 NIV).”

Do you understand the times? Do you know what we should be doing? Can you see where things are going? Have you taken the time yet to stop and think about what where things are going means for small group ministry?

When you read the reports coming out of the Barna organization, when you read what Gabe Lyons, David Kinnaman and James Emery White are writing, for that matter when you simply listen to the news and read the headlines, it’s not hard to feel a change in the wind. The truth is, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed (William Gibson).”

As I think about what is coming, here’s what I think is the future of small group ministry…and how to prepare for it.

The future of small group ministry (and how to prepare for it):

“Meet me at Starbucks” will be a much more common invite than “meet me at my church.”

As even the most attractional churches become less appealing to post-Christian America, it will become much easier to invite someone to “meet me at Starbucks (or the pub.” As a first step for unchurched (or dechurched) friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members, “Come to my church” will just seem so 20th century. On the flip side, the next Christians will see their home for what it really is: the 21st century equivalent of an excellent host in the 1st century.

“Tonight we’re studying John chapter 15” will require a lot of explanation.

You do realize that the further we go into the 21st century, the less biblically literate the culture becomes. Every study demonstrates this conclusively. This means you need to anticipate that even references that were assumed all your life (who Joseph was or that the Gospel of John was written by one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers) are now obscure and remote, Culturally savvy group leaders will approach teaching opportunities like Paul did in Acts 17 and assume unfamiliarity while deftly connecting spiritual truth with what is familiar.

Connecting strategies will be tilted toward strong ties.

Face it. The most connected people in your congregation are the least connected people in their neighborhoods and offices. The least connected people in your congregation and crowd are almost always the most connected people in the community. When the least connected people in your congregation and crowd participate in a social event (office party, block party, Little League game, softball league, etc.), they are strengthening ties with people who have never attended your church. Why not leverage these already established strong ties?

If all of your connecting strategies depend on unconnected attenders signing up to attend an event that happens on-campus you are already missing out on the most natural way to connect people. Wise leaders will gravitate toward and develop new strategies that leverage pre-existing strong ties.

Vision and training will focus on cultivating friendships in the community.

As the shift to a Post-Christian America accelerates, it becomes ever more important to envision and equip members to invest in their neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances and family, cultivating genuine friendships in the community. What about your fall festival and your Easter egg hunt? Wise observers of culture will innovate and experiment with neighborhood and even cul de sac expressions that make introductions and developing friendships more likely.

The value added element will be relationship and the byproduct will be discipleship.

Belonging absolutely precedes believing or becoming. If this isn’t obvious, refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There was certainly a time in the mid 20th century when it was still common to grow old in the neighborhood you were born in, to know your neighbors and even socialize with your co-workers. As mobility increases and neighborhoods and cities become more and more transient, loneliness and a vague sense of disconnection grows. Wise leadership will make it ordinary to prioritize and normalize loving your neighbor as yourself. See also, 5 Things I Wish You Knew as You Build Your Small Group Ministry.

Leader development and encouragement will be almost entirely decentralized.

Churches everywhere are beginning to discover that the pace of life is making centralized gatherings more difficult to demand and less productive to implement.  Far easier to instill and more productive are decentralized gatherings at the local coffee shop or for that matter, in the living room or kitchen.  See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.

Storytelling will emerge as a best practice in thriving small group ministries.

We live in the era of storytelling. Yes, people have always been captivated by stories, but today more than ever before to tell a compelling story is to catch and hold the attention of a culture that suffers from an attention deficit disorder. We do have the greatest story. If we want to convince the unconnected crowd and community of the priceless value of authentic community, we must become better storytellers.

Organic connecting practices will be the rule rather than the exception.

You may have become a master at planning and executing connecting strategies (small group connections, GroupLink, small group fairs, etc.), but the further we step into 21st century post-Christian America, the more important organic connecting practices will become. As even the most attractional churches become less attractive destinations, it will become more and more important that we naturally, organically, build relationships with neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members. Effective small group ministries in the future will feel much more like interconnected hubs of relationship woven into the fabric of the neighborhoods, workplaces, and third places of our cities.

Disciplemaking will be the priority and practice of ordinary Jesus followers.

As the 21st century post-Christian America feels more like the pre-Christian 1st century, the lives of authentic Jesus followers will become more and more attractive to a culture several generations removed from experiencing the life-on-life impact of people who truly love their neighbors as themselves. That kind of love is the basis for true disciplemaking as come and see leads to taste and see.

Click here for 4 Keys to Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry.

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

Further Reading:

Image by Frank Alcazar

Dilbert on Having an Accurate Worldview

Sometimes you just need to laugh…

an accurate worldview

This Concept Might Change Your Strategy

circle and squareSpoiler Alert: The most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.

Four Things You Need to Know

I use this drawing to illustrate an important concept.  There are four things you need to know in order to understand the drawing,

First, the circle represents your adult attendance on Easter.  As you know, the difference between your average adult attendance and your Easter adult attendance is not that everyone brings a friend.  Instead, the main reason your attendance is higher on Easter is that everyone comes on the same weekend. See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?

Second, the square represents the people in your congregation who are truly connected.  That is, if something happened to them or a member of their family, someone else in your congregation would find out about it within 24 hours without anyone calling the church.  A pink slip at work.  Marital issues.  A scary medical diagnosis.  A teenager who goes south.  24 hours.  Someone else knows.

Third, if you were to interview the folks in the square (the most connected people in your congregation) and ask who their 10 closest friends are in your area, you’d find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of them are also inside the square.  Now, before you get excited, there are exceptions (many church staff members, those with the gift of evangelism, etc.).  But in general, the most connected people in your congregation are the least connected in the community.

Fourth, when you interview the folks in the circle you’ll find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.  Let me repeat that:

When you interview the folks in the circle you’ll find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.

Here’s the big idea: If you want to recruit hosts who can fill their own group with unconnected neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members…you need to learn how to recruit from the circle.  Churches that keep going back to the well of the usual suspects (the most connected) shouldn’t be surprised when hosts from the square don’t know their neighbors.

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

Further Reading:

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