5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step Toward Community

Here is today’s question: What are the key ingredients that motivate unconnected people to take a first step toward community?  Is there a recipe that helps motivate a toe-in-the-water?  What is it?  Do you need all of the ingredients?  Or do you just need 3 or 4 of the key ingredients?

Just like any other recipe, I think there is almost always a nearly perfect mix.  The right ingredients, in the right proportions, prepared in just the right way, add up to deliver the results you desire.  And I think when you want your congregation to be connected in community (because you know that is the optimal environment for life-change), you get serious about the recipe!

Here is what I believe are the key ingredients:

  1. Senior pastors’ stories about their own need for community.  This may be a no-brainer, but all of us should know that no one is trying anything new that the senior pastor isn’t already doing.  The evidence is in on this ingredient.  You might be able to get by without one or two of the other ingredients…but not this one.  See also, Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You.
  2. Compelling stories from satisfied customers.  ”I use ______.  You should too!”  There is a reason that marketers love the power of a great testimonial.  When the testimonial comes from someone who looks and sounds like me, I am much more likely to give it a try.  See also, Gather Stories as If Lives Are in the Balance.
  3. First steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.  Unconnected people can be motivated by senior pastors and the compelling stories of satisfied customers, but first steps must still seem reasonable in their eyes.  It doesn’t matter what you and I think is an easy first step.  If the unconnected people in your congregation (and crowd) don’t feel like the step you’re offering is doable…it’s not.  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium?
  4. First studies that are designed with unconnected people in mind.  Not only must the first steps offered be easy, obvious, and strategic…the topic must be something that matters to unconnected people.  Ever wondered why some church-wide campaigns work better than others?  This ingredient is at the heart of the issue.  Choose the right study, the invitation is accepted.  Choose the wrong study and the invitation is dead on arrival.  Never had a chance.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  5. The sense that everyone else is doing it.  This may not seem like it is a big deal or should be a big deal…but it is a big deal.  This is why it’s important to get everyone on board when you’re launching a church-wide campaign.  It’s also why it’s important to eliminate competing programs (or at least don’t promote them) during intentional efforts to encourage everyone to take a baby step and take a group for a test-drive.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

The remaining question?  Are all five of these ingredients essential?  Do you think there’s a missing ingredient?

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

Are Your Next Steps Premeditated?

Yesterday I asked, “How would you rate the first steps out of your auditorium?”  If you’ve been around much in the last couple years you know that we’ve been working on the idea that our strategies ought to include “next steps for everyone, and first steps for their friends.”  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Taking a cue from the Saddleback circles (representing their crowd-to-core strategy), we’ve wondered, what would it look like to design next steps that would help everyone in our church take a next step?  Everyone meaning the people in the crowd who come only on Easter and Christmas as well as the people who really do consider your church to be the church they go to…even though they only come when it’s convenient.  And then doing the same kind of thinking to describe the people in your congregation, committed and core.  See also, Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps, and 5 Powerful Ideas that Could Shape Your Ministry Approach.

First steps for their friends has to do with designing first steps for the friends of the people in your church.  Many of us already have events or programs that are intended to be first steps from the community.

Here’s Today’s Question:

Are your next steps premeditated?

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a couple weeks now.  Mulling around in my head the notion that there is a difference between a murder that is premeditated and one that is a crime of passion.  They’re treated differently.  Why?  A premeditated murder is calculated.  In a kind of Walter White way, all of the details have been thought about…in advance.

Now stop and think about the next steps you’ve designed in your strategy?  Could you be convicted for committing a premeditated next step?  Or do the next steps in your strategy have more in common with an afterthought?

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

How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?

indiana jonesEver stop to really examine the first steps you are offering?  What if an independent first step auditor with fresh eyes and no emotional attachment showed up to look over your strategy?  What would they say?

Take a moment and just think about the first steps the unconnected people in your congregation (and crowd) will have to take.

Here’s a little bit of a quiz:

  1. Are your first steps easy?  Or do unconnected people need to be willing to take a scary leap of faith (like Indiana Jones onto the invisible bridge)?
  2. Are they obvious?  Or do unconnected people need to be Sherlock Holmes with a twist of Carnac the Magnificent to figure them out?
  3. Are your first steps strategic?  Always leading in the direction you want people to go?  Or do unconnected people sometimes feel like Alice in Wonderland (and have to ask the Cheshire Cat for directions)?

How did you do?  Perfect score?  Better than most?  Counting on the curve? Are you keeping in mind that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again?  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? You may remember that one of my small group ministry resolutions for 2014 was:

“to create even easier first steps out of the auditorium that lead to toe-in-the-water opportunities for community.”

Why did I add this resolution to my list?  Easy.  In my own assessment I concluded that while we had a first step that passed the easy test, it was not obvious and was mixed in with a number of counterfeit first steps that don’t actually lead in the direction we want unconnected people to go! Trust me…the process is not without challenges.  The process of evaluating and designing first steps that are easy, obvious, and strategic is more than a little daunting.

Considering the stakes of this game and what is at risk…isn’t it actually worth our absolute attention and greatest insightfulness?

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

Steve Gladen on the Power of HOST Gatherings

steve-gladen-e1328876116556I had a great phone call with Steve Gladen (Saddleback’s Pastor of the Small Group Community) last week, thinking that I’d glean enough to turn around and create an overview of the host rally event.  I was right…I got a ton of great ideas…but there was so much good stuff that I decided to post an edited transcript and a link to my recording of the phone call.
Spoiler Alert: Waaay longer post than normal.  My suggestion, read along while you listen to my recording of the phone call.  Here’s the audio: Steve Gladen on the HOST Gathering.
MH: At Saddleback, you always seem to be working to improve the way you do what you do and the church-wide campaign seems to be no exception.  One aspect that I’m really curious about is the post-campaign host rallyWhy hold a rally?
SG: First off I want to say a couple things.  Our language is more of a “host gathering.”  And we really do two different gatherings.
  • First, we do a gathering prior to the launch and we’ll do this with both our existing hosts, to get them familiar with what we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do it.  We’ll also do one for brand new hosts and give them an opportunity to get their materials first.
  • On the backside we’ll do another event that is for celebration, Rick will love on them a lot,  and also get them new curriculum for what’s going to happen next.

MH: What are the key ingredients of the rally?  It would be good to know things like how long it is? what’s the program like? with as many hosts as you have do you have more than one time? does each site have their own rally? how are the hosts seated? is it a meal? etc.

There are three main ingredients to the gathering.

  • Appreciation: We want to appreciate and honor long time hosts.  We want to have a prayer time for new hosts and celebrate them.  They’re standing and we all applaud them.  Everybody needs appreciation.  It’s the fuel for motivation and taking next steps.  You have appreciation and then you have vision.
  • Vision casting: This is where Rick comes in and plays a big role.  The other beautiful thing is the he’s very scriptable and is the first one to ask what you need said.  How can I help you. This is about vision casting from the senior leader.  And the other major ingredient is recruitment.
  • Recruitment: A lot of times when you think of recruitment you think of just gathering people that you can bring along with you on the journey, which is very, very true.  But also part of recruitment is mentally getting the hosts into that next phase of what we want them to do.

Pre-rally it is clear, bring somebody with you.  Nobody comes alone.  At our last rally for our new hosts we had 100 to 130 of their invitees in the room sign up to lead groups themselves.  We’ll do the same thing on the post-side.

But also recruitment is getting them to take the next step and continue on.  Part of that is having curriculum available, having our bookstore in full operation and they can buy online or onsite.

MH: So there are three main components.  Appreciating and honoring.  You’re casting vision.  And then recruitment is really more than to the next curriculum or what your group is going to do next.  It has to do with what the leader or the host’s next step might be.

SG: We never miss an opportunity to take people from where they’re at to where we want to take them.  A great thing I haven’t talked about yet is that at our rallies we know that everybody is at a different place in their spiritual journey so we will give hosts an opportunity to step across the line of faith.  Because we engage people who aren’t even followers of Christ yet, as long as they have two friends, we don’t advertise their groups, but if they have two friends, we’re going to engage them and let them be a part of our community.  Rick will clearly say, “And if you haven’t stepped across the line of faith, you need to do it.”  We will also have our baptismal ready, for those that want to make a public declaration and share that with everybody that is there that night.  They can have an opportunity after the gathering to get baptized.  (Here’s a sample of this year’s “My Spiritual Next Steps” commitment card)

The net is somewhat wide in that aspect because we’re always trying to say at everyone of our gatherings we’re saying what is the next step?  Because we do this so wide, we keep the funnel wide at the top, and it narrows as it gets through.  We will meet them where they’re at, they come because of the content, but they stay because of the relationship.

MH: When the post-rally happens, and the campaign is over but the group might not have had their celebration yet, how do you help the people that said, “Yes, I will open my home 6 times” take their next step to a group that will continue?  And the role of your leadership pathway?

SG: In all sales, people need to hear things 7 to 9 times, before they make that little aha, that connection, that actual step through.  So the rally is emphasizing what has been emphasized all along. During a campaign, hosts are getting multiple touches:

  1. One is on the DVD itself we have “helps for hosts,” that are always trying to encourage them to their next steps.  So, about two thirds of the way through the campaign, the helps for hosts are saying, “hey be thinking about your group, what could be your next study?” We’re not asking them to decide whether they’re going to continue or not, we’re asking them to think about their next study.
  2. Also, in the weekly tips that either I send out or Rick sends out, we do the same thing.  We’re saying “be thinking what’s that next step you could do with your friends?  what is that you would want to do?  Here are some great curriculums.  If you’re brand new, here are some other ideas.”
  3. We’ll also have our community leaders that are calling through all of our new groups and trying to do three touches throughout the campaign.  On their second touch, they’re saying, “Hey be thinking about what you can do.”

So when they come to the gathering, whether it’s online or at one or our sites, the powerful thing is that they’re getting that same reinforcement only their call to action is a little more prominent because they’ll have the curriculum there, that they can buy right then and there for their group.  We will have a little more of that pastoral push because both myself who will host it and Rick who will be there will be giving that emphasis to it.”

MH: You guys have a vision about how you develop a host into a leader, how do you help them take the next step from a leadership standpoint?  Is there something in the rally that moves them?

SG: You have to know where the escalator is going.  We are clear and precise on where we want to take them on our leadership pathway.  Inside the pathway you’ve got to have a cognitive arm and a relational arm.  For our relational arm there are community leaders that are coming alongside new hosts.  This is about trust and trust takes time.  There’s also the cognitive arm that is our training that we will do with our group leaders.  Inside the DVD curricula there are guardrails that are set up.

What the gatherings do, they give motivation, they give hope, they give inspiration, they give vision.  When you’re in your group you just need that injection of something bigger than you.  We inject fun.  We inject serious moments.  We inject next steps.  We script our rallies so they have a flow.  They help move people along.  We try to orchestrate a next step for every type of host who will be present, whether they’re brand new, maybe need to respond to Christ, be baptized.  Experienced hosts as well, that they would be able to take a next step.

MH: Any lessons that you’ve learned from previous gatherings?

SG: First, people often come to me and say my pastor isn’t on board yet.  If that’s you, just ask your pastor to come by the gathering and say “hi.”  Make it easy for them.  Also, it’s easier for them to edit than create.  Give them 3 things that they could say and let them shape it.  Think crawl, walk, run.

Also, engage people who are better at creating fun than you are.  Have them work on making it fun.  Find people who are great recruiters and talk about how to get more hosts there.  Get decorators involved.  Think through not only the event but what are they going to walk away with.  Make sure you have a commitment card with next steps for your hosts with the different steps for them to take.  If you just have the gathering and no way to respond, you’ve missed a great opportunity.  (Here’s a sample of this year’s “My Spiritual Next Steps” commitment card)

Top 10 Articles on Launching New Groups

I’ve written many articles on this subject over the last few years.  Some people would say I have an obsession with new groups.  I don’t know about that.  I do know this…if you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you better learn three things:

  • New groups are the very best way to connect unconnected people.  Period.
  • You already have the leaders you need to start new groups.
  • Paying attention to the feelings, needs, interests and prejudices of the wrong people is almost always behind the obstacles to starting new groups.

Here are my Top 10 Articles on Launching New Groups:

  1. Top 5 Keys to Launching New Groups. Lots of New Groups
  2. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups
  3. Top 5 Advantages of New Groups
  4. What Is the Best Way to Launch New Small Groups?
  5. Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups VS Start New Groups
  6. The Four Biggest Obstacles Standing in the Way of Starting New Groups
  7. Tall Tales and Downright Whoppers that Keep Churches from Starting New Groups
  8. Top 5 Ways to Multiply Small Groups
  9. 5 Blatantly Obvious Truths about Starting New Groups
  10. Take a Small Group Vacation

5 Blatantly Obvious Truths about Starting New Groups


You know how sometimes there really is an elephant in the room and no one wants to talk about it?  Or if certain people are in the room a kind of code is used to disguise the real topic?  Depending on who’s in the room, the subject of starting new groups can be like that.

Don’t believe me?  Try having conversations (or even casting vision) about the need for new groups:

  • In front of the leaders of groups that aren’t full.
  • In front of certain members of groups that everyone knows ought to be leading a group.
  • When space is at a premium and the new groups will need to be off-campus.
  • When two or three unconnected generations have already voted with their feet…but the leaders of the status quo want equal time when it comes to promotion.
  • Etc.

Sound familiar?  What is a leader to do?  You might need to begin to lead by acknowledging the truth about the need to start new groups.

5 blatantly obvious truths:

  1. There is a very good reason you need to start new groups.  After all, ”Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you’ve not already connected 100% of your Easter attendance, you have work to do.  Obviously, your current strategy is either ineffective or incomplete.  See also, Ten Ideas That Have Shaped My Philosophy of Ministry.
  2. New groups offer distinct advantages.  This may not be a mystery to you, but it might not be intuitive for your existing leaders.  The degree of difficulty connecting into longstanding cliques, the opportunity to engage a new wave of leaders, and the opportunity to easily bring a friend are just three of the advantages that new groups bring.  See also, Top 5 Advantages of New Groups.
  3. You already have all the leaders you need to take the next step.  Whether you have a congregation of 100 or 1000, you have men and women who have been prepared by God for such a time as this.  Praying the Matthew 9 prayer that God will send workers?  He already has!  You just need to give them a chance!  10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  4. You already have nearly unlimited space to start new groups.  Nearly everyone knows that constraints actually produce novel solutions.  Running out of room on campus?  Perfect.  All your existing off-campus groups are full?  Even better.  ”People think of creativity as this sort of unbridled thing, but engineers thrive on constraints. They love to think their way out of that little box: ‘We know you said it was impossible, but we’re going to do this, this, and that to get us there.’” See also, Marissa Mayer’s 9 Principles of Innovation and Creativity Loves Constraint.
  5. The lack of commitment on the part of unconnected people is not the underlying issue.  Imagine a business bemoaning the lack of commitment (or the failure to know better) of their hoped for customer as the reason for their failure.  It does happen (I’m sure the buggy whip manufacturers of the early 1900s were included), but do you really want to be part of that club?  See also, Preoccupied with the Needs and Interests of the Right People and Responding to Yesterday vs Reminiscing about the Future.

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

photo credit: CrankyPK

Here’s Where I’ll Be in 2014

I love doing live events!  Whether I’m coaching senior pastors, small group pastors and directors, or small group leaders…it’s just a lot of fun.  If you’d like to make something happen in your area, you can take a look at my speaking and training info.  Or just email me. It’s easy to get started!

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I’m doing 2 FREE workshops in March, 2014.

I’m doing two sessions in all both locations:

  1. How to Build a Thriving Small Groups Ministry.  This session is designed to help your team gain a better grasp on the secrets of making small groups work.
  2. How to Maximize a Church-Wide Campaign to Launch and Sustain a Wave of New Groups.  The very best way to launch new groups is with a well designed and well timed church-timed church wide campaign.  This session is a great way to expose your whole team (senior pastor included) to the exponential power of a well-executed church-wide campaign.

Here’s where I’ll be:

Will You Join the “Groups Matter” Initiative?

Groups Matter.  Do you know about this initiative?

I heard from Rick Howerton recently about his newest project…and it’s pretty exciting.

Join with churches around the world to launch 100,000 new groups in 2014, whether they meet in homes, at the church, on Sundays, or throughout the week.

I’m in!

Sounds like our cup of tea doesn’t it?  This is kind of what we’re about.  Right?

How many new groups are you planning to launch this year?  Why not throw your hat in the ring and jump in with us!

You can take the first step and get started right here.

Will you let me know you’re in? Just leave a comment right here after you sign up. Thanks!

“What Is”, “What If” and the Challenge of the Preferred Future

cone_slide8If you’ve been along for much of this journey you know we’ve talked a lot about the preferred future.  A lot.  In fact, when I used the search box here on the blog I discovered that 52 of my articles use the term “preferred future” in the title.  That is a lot!  (see the search results for yourself)

Why so much about the preferred future?  I think because all of us, and that includes me, know intuitively that the way things are right now isn’t what it should be…or could be.

We know that if life-change happens in circles, we should have more people in groups.  We dream of that preferred future.

We know that men and women truly become disciples who make disciples only in relationship and we know that happens best in groups.  So we dream of that preferred future.

And yet…one of the greatest difficulties is achieving escape velocity, “the speed needed to escape the gravitational pull” of  the way it is today, the deep rut of our current trajectory–that leads to the probable future, in order to begin moving toward the preferred future.

Why is it so hard achieve escape velocity?  To break out of the rut of “what is?”  I think this line from Erwin McManus explains it as well as anything I’ve ever seen:

“We live in this “what is” reality, and then we talk about things like creating culture, making history, creating the future, and we don’t realize that we actually do not have the fundamental core values of a “what if” culture because they violate our core values that protect the “what is.” Erwin McManus

Could it be as simple as that?  Do we have trouble achieving escape velocity, breaking free from the current trajectory, because our organization’s true core values protect what is?  I think you know that’s true.  If we want to arrive in the preferred future we’ll first have to embrace the core values of what if?

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

Open New Windows of Opportunity with This Strategic Tweak

I want to pitch an idea at you today.  I was inspired by a quote yesterday and it got me thinking about the way most of our small group ministries operate.  Here’s the quote:

“We live in this “what is” reality, and then we talk about things like creating culture, making history, creating the future, and we don’t realize that we actually do not have the fundamental core values of a “what if” culture because they violate our core values that protect the “what is.”  Erwin McManus

A “what if” culture.  I love it!  And I hope you do too.  Can we think “what if” for a few minutes?

The Idea

The network of small groups in many churches is often one of their greatest untapped resources.  Since small groups at their core are much more than learning and caring communities, they have an innate (but often dormant) potential to play a part way beyond meeting to study something and eat chips and salsa.  See also, Skill Training: Healthy Groups Integrate Four Components into Every Gathering.

With me so far?  Every small group has the potential to play a part way beyond meeting for Bible study and fellowship.

What if we could activate the innate (but dormant) potential to play a far greater part?  What if we could build in a few simple steps that helped the groups in our ministries move in the direction of impact?  What if helping them move from consumer to contributor turned out to be far simpler than we ever imagined.

For example:

  • What if your senior pastor challenged every group member to meet someone new in the auditorium every weekend; to learn their name, write it down, and remember it the next weekend.  Think it would warm up your auditorium?
  • What if every small group identified a family or two to bless with a little extra care?  It might be groceries, or babysitting, or car repair.  Who do you think would benefit the most?
  • What if every small group got involved with Compassion and sponsored children from the same communities?  Can you imagine what might happen next?
  • What if every small group a single mom or dad and helped fill the gaps?
  • What if every small group found a senior adult to provide for?

Every small group has the potential to play a part way beyond meeting for Bible study and fellowship.  See also, 5 Keys to Becoming a More Caring Group.

The best part?  We get the opportunity to help awaken their innate (and often dormant) potential.

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

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