I Dreamed I Was at the Southern Baptist Convention…

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I dreamed I was at the Southern Baptist Convention…fighting for the rights of the spiritually unborn.

In my dream I was standing near a concession stand and suddenly realized there was a lady with a clipboard and she had just asked if I was Mark Howell.  She was an older lady with her hair in a bun and was wearing one of those dresses that button up the front, like a house dress.

Lady with the clipboard:  Are you Mark Howell?

Me: Yes.  Why?

Lady: You need to present this motion in the next session.

Me: What is it about?

Lady: It is a motion requiring people to be church members before they can host a small group.


And that’s about when I woke up.  It was kind of a “Noooooooooo!” moment. [quote]

It was a crazy dream.  It would never happen.  That’s not the way the Southern Baptist Convention rolls.  They are about evangelism!  (Plus, I was at the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this year and I didn’t see anyone that looked like that!)

And yet, I couldn’t go back to sleep!  I was still wrestling with the idea that someone would try to prevent the people with the strongest connections to the outside from hosting a group and inviting their seeking friends and neighbors to join the group!

And so today, I am announcing my campaign for the rights of the spiritually unborn.  As Mayor of Crowd’s Edge, I am asking you to never forget that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community [click to tweet].

Nervous about what a less connected, less mature host might teach their group?  Use a customized approach to determine who the host will be able to invite.  Just don’t lose sight of the fact that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.  See also, Customized Leader Benefits and Requirements, Do You Know This Game-Changing Connection Secret? and 5 Honest Thoughts about Small Group Ministry.

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

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  1. brian phipps on August 27, 2013 at 8:06 am

    HILARIOUS!!! I love the dream… and I love that you shared it. Here is a fun exercise: “I think the woman in the bun is _________________.” Thanks for trumpeting the call… and thanks for trumpeting the process to not only gather them, but to develop them and send them! I use the HOST strategy because it isn’t the END… only the beginning. We held a graduation ceremony last night for 5 HOST couples that have completed the 30 week LifeGroup Leader training pathway that they didn’t even know they were on. Got to love the privilege we have today to learn from each other in venues like this.

  2. markchowell on August 27, 2013 at 8:09 am

    That is awesome Brian! Definitely want to post an interview soon about your LifeGroup Leader training pathway!


    p.s. I have no clue about who the woman in the bun is!

  3. Bobbie Reutter on August 27, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thanks for this post Mark. It really say’s a lot about the Host Strategy and how we get caught up in connecting only those in our church circle. “…Never forget that the most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community” continues to jump out at me. So true!

  4. markchowell on August 27, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Thanks Bobbie! Glad that truth is jumping out at you!


  5. Carlos on August 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Mark: Our church will not allow anyone to teach who have not joined the church and become members. We have lost some really good people who had great potential as SS/Small group teachers. The Pastor/Staff have placed great emphasis on not allowing these potential leaders to substitute teach!

  6. markchowell on August 29, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Sorry to hear that, Carlos! I like to propose making it easy to take a first step and let that first step land on the conveyer belt that leads to the development you know every leader needs.


  7. Jonathan on September 2, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    If they’re like our church, the reason has to do with heresy and the judgment of God, which Scripture says is more severe for those who teach. This protects the doctrine received “once for all.”

    I don’t know what y’all’s “small groups” entail, but caution should be made before criticism is levied against what is a biblical practice of the elders of a church fulfilling their function of shepherding. I also question the motivations of someone who leaves a church because they refused to join the church, but wanted to be in leadership positions of teaching. Why would they not submit to membership and the spiritual care of leaders? Were they required to jump through excessive hoops? Not good. Were they required to agree to submit to spiritual oversight of the elders and to the church’s doctrinal standards, and refused? Then good riddance. Such people are troublesome, prideful, and cause continual problems. There are plenty of other churches and self-proclaimed bishops for them to join. I know that sounds harsh, but to borrow a line from the article, I “Almost always” see that causation.

    Mark, I get what you’re saying in this article, and maybe it’s a Southern Baptist thing (and I’m not…), but I’ve never—ever—been in a church where the “most connected” to a congregation had the fewest connections in the community. I’m in the deep south, but have lived and worked in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, NYC, and Egypt. I could be the exception in my experience, but I don’t think so.

    Generally, Scripture is clear that those who are to be engaged in regular positions of teaching should not engage in such duties willy nilly, or simply because they’ve the gumption to do it, or because there’s a perceived “need,” etc. There are other vital concerns to consider. The Pastoral Letters, and even Acts, where (arguably) the need was incredibly acute due to the infancy of the church, spell out these principles clearly. This is entirely consistent with the concept of the “Priesthood of all believers.”

    I am with you on one point I think you’re trying to make, however: we don’t need more church ghettos.

  8. markchowell on September 3, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Thanks for jumping in here, Jonathan. I see where you’re coming from, and at the same time want to point you to a different perspective. Not all, but many churches that take the “must be a member” line, do so while bemoaning the “fact” that they can’t find enough leaders. This is a very important aspect to the argument I am making.

    There are several things about which I have no doubt. First, I have no doubt that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at our church again. Second, I have no doubt that the optimum environment for life-change is a small group. Life-change happens in circles, not rows. Third, I have no doubt that some small percentage of leaders will lead their members in the wrong direction. Finally, I have no doubt that the reward of connecting a larger number of unconnected people is worth the risk of those few instances.

    See where I’m coming from? I do understand your perspective and the risk. I choose to do everything I can to connect people who are one tough thing away from never being at our church again.

    One thing more, I always want to point out that there are exceptions to the rule about the friends of the “most connected” people. There certainly are pastors and staff who intentionally form connections in their neighborhoods. There are some who have the evangelism gift and a passion for reaching people. At least in my experience, they are the exceptions to the rule.


  9. Jonathan on September 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I have a problem with the following line, “Second, I have no doubt that the optimum environment for life-change is a
    small group. Life-change happens in circles, not rows,” is that small groups, as perceived in modern church history and as discussed in this circle circle (ha) is just that: modern.

    The church, for about 1900 years, had nothing like a “small group”. House churches then were not the equivalent of small groups now. Regular, normally-expected change occurs not in small groups, but through the regular means of grace: preaching and baptism/communion. Hence my emphasis above on the elders of a church fulfilling their biblical role as shepherds, guardians, whether teaching or ruling.

    It is myopic to elevate small groups above these means as is commonly done as your absolute statement, which I quoted above, does. The word “optimum” is a problem for me, and, I think, for Scripture which no where paints the portrait the small-group movement paints.

    Moreover, pastoral care like visitation in homes and hospitals, too often neglected today, has always been a part of God’s regular transformational process for his people who are regularly sitting under the word and sacraments.

    I know I sound anti-small group. I’m not. I was trained in them and often spoke similarly to some posting here. Moreover, I don’t even believe I was trained in the abusive side of the movement. What I saw was great and beneficial, especially given the environment in which I was: Mid-East Islam. What I’m against is not small groups: they can have their place, but not when placed against the emphasis of regular membership and the means of grace. Again, unsure of the SBC and others, but in the Reformed church (my context), when done properly, membership emphasizes faithful submission to the Word and elders who are, (at least, supposed to be), functioning in their roles as care-givers for the members through teaching, ruling, and exercising church discipline proactively and re-actively.

    Identifying the “unconnected” is, of course, nothing new as a need. Nor is the need to “connect” them. But connect them to what? You say a small group since, as you put it, such a place is “optimal.” I do not see this as the biblical emphasis, and so while I see where you’re coming from, I cannot agree, and I think Scripture and church history bear the weight of the argument in my favor.

    Thank you for taking the time to write a response. Definitely appreciate it.

  10. markchowell on September 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    The test, Jonathan, at least to me and I think most of my readers, is the question, “How is your strategy working?” This really isn’t a place to debate theology, philosophy or church history. To refer back to my article, I am always working to connect unconnected people, believing they are one tough thing away from no longer being around. Do you have a suggestion or a strategy that will help do that more effectively? I’d love to hear it. If all you hope to do is correct or point out theological differences…this is not the place.

    Hope you understand.


  11. Jonathan on September 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    OK. Fair enough. But I suppose the point of my post is this: I don’t see numbers—which I think is where you are taking the barometer of success—as an emphasis. Faithfulness to Scripture’s appointed means and ends, however, should be the emphasis. So that’s my answer to “Is my strategy working?”

    I have no idea how anyone can possibly debate that legitimately without addressing the issues I raised.

    I gave several, notably two, means to have an effective strategy regardless of numerical success: Scripture’s appointed means of preaching and membership under the faithful eyes of biblical elders.

  12. markchowell on September 7, 2013 at 6:21 am

    Jonathan…you need to turn your efforts to starting a blog. You clearly have a strong and fixed perspective. Rather than spending your time taking a counterpoint position here, why not start a blog and gather an audience that can be helped by your point of view?