Archives For Mark Howell


Figuring out why small group ministries fail is not complicated. There is a short list of simple mistakes that sink small group ministries.

5 Simple Mistakes that Sink Small Group Ministries

  1. Allowing the senior pastor to delegate the role of small group champion. It may seem logical to delegate the role of small group champion to the small group pastor. After all, why have a small group pastor if not to be the champion? This simple mistake may seem logical, but when this is allowed to happen you announce to everyone that being involved in a small group is an add-on activity. You also fail to take advantage of the most influential voice in the church.
  2. Adding members to existing groups instead of starting new groups. It seems like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? After all, don’t you have a commitment to help small group leaders succeed? Why shouldn’t you provide a steady stream of new members to existing groups? There are at least two very good reasons. First, prioritizing launching new groups is a key to building a thriving small group ministry. Second, it is actually counter productive…

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You can’t wait until the end of the summer to prepare for the fall ministry season. Have you figured this out yet? Most likely you’re on to this fact of life… but even if you are, you might need an idea or two about how to prepare and what to focus on.

Here are 5 things I believe must be done in June:

  1. Meet with your senior pastor to clarify involvement and fine-tune where necessary.  It really doesn’t matter what strategy you’re using this fall to launch new groups, you need your pastor in the game.  Integrating the HOST ask into their sermon is essential.  Leveraging their influence at a HOST gathering is a huge opportunity.  Casting the vision for everyone to be involved in a group is something that only your pastor can do.  June is the time to confirm and clarify involvement (before vacations and/or study breaks).
  2. Make sure your existing small group leaders are aware of the fall plans.  ”Why are we just hearing about this now!”  ”We’re three weeks into a 12 week study and won’t be able to participate in the church-wide campaign.”  All of us have heard these…

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Have you ever sat down and listed the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Here are 10 big lessons I’ve learned about small group ministry:

  1. The interests of insiders are different than the interests of outsiders. Insiders can sometimes be guilted into caring about things senior pastors care about (theology, missions, capital campaigns, etc.). Unconnected people respond almost exclusively to topics that interest them.
  2. Belonging precedes becoming in the hierarchy of needs. This is why I say you must focus on making disciples as you connect unconnected people. Don’t lose sight of the fact that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. Jesus knew what Abraham Maslow would propose 2000 years later and invited his earliest followers to come and see first, then to come and die.
  3. The best leader candidates are often not currently in a small group. Yes, it is true that some leader candidates are in existing groups and could be tapped as apprentices or leaders of new groups. However, in all but the smallest churches and churches with already very high percentage connected numbers, the best leader candidates are most likely not already connected (and in most cases are…

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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.

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…

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You’ve worked hard to build your small group ministry. It’s humming along; firing on all cylinders. And at just about any moment there are a few things that can blow up most of what you’ve worked hard to accomplish.

What are they?

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Changing your small group model. Regardless of your motivation for changing your small group model, when you tinker with the familiar you run the risk of upsetting the apple cart. Doesn’t mean you can’t switch from a semester model to an ongoing model or from sermon-based to free-market. It does mean that every change ought to be wisely evaluated and made with adequate care. It also means that model changes require what may feel like over communication and extravagant advance notice.
  2. Retroactively assigning coaches to all of your experienced group leaders. This may be the most common way small group ministries get blown up. Providing every small group leader a coach may seem like the wise thing to do but retroactively assigning coaches to experienced leaders is almost always rejected like a bad organ transplant. Your intentions may be good. You may simply want to provide adequate care to…

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practices thinking

The small group ministry point person comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are solely small group pastors or directors (it’s all they do). Others wear many hats and the role of small group ministry point person is just one of the things they do. Some are on the paid staff while others volunteer their time. Some are seasoned veterans and others truly are in their first rodeo.

I’ve been all of the above. You may have been too.

Regardless of shape or size of your role, there are several practices that should be part of what you do as the small group ministry point person. And it’s important to clarify, there are a set of things that are not part of the role of a small group ministry point person. For example, the effective small group ministry point person will never be the small group champion. That will always be the senior pastor. Also, an effective small group ministry point person will almost never be the one providing primary care for small group leaders. That will be the role of the coaches within the system.

So what then are the practices of…

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Want to connect more people in 2016? There are a few things you can do now to exponentially increase the number you connect.

Here are 5 things to do:

  1. Plan a connecting event in late January. If you run the event on January 31st, you’ll have several weeks to promote it. Use a strategy like a small group connection in order to launch the maximum number of new groups. Small group fairs or other events that add members to existing groups are better than nothing, but don’t come anywhere near connecting the largest number of people for the year.
  2. Think strategically about the placement of your 101 class. If your 101 class is designed to offer a short list of next steps and you’ve slotted your connection event to follow a week or two later, you have an easy and effective one-two step that leads to more people connected.  At Canyon Ridge we have a 60 minute experience called NEXT that is offered about every 6 weeks. The three next steps that are promoted during NEXT are baptism, an upcoming small group connection (1 or 2 weeks after), and signing up for a back-stage tour designed…

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Have you ever suddenly noticed something so obvious and then wondered how in the world you could have missed it before?
Call it what you want, when you see (and understand) certain things for the first time it really is like a 100-watt lightbulb suddenly illuminating the room. And some lightbulb moments–insights–are such game-changers you literally never see things the same way again.

New groups are the key to connecting more people. It is very tempting to assist dwindling groups by “sending them another couple or two,” but adding unconnected people to existing groups rarely leads to an effective connection. The longer a group has been meeting the more impermeable the membrane around group members becomes. While there are exceptions, only the most brazen extroverts (or friends of existing members) can break through beyond 3 to 4 months. The most effective way to connect unconnected people is to focus on launching new groups.&

Matchmaking is a dead end. The sooner you stop facilitating matchmaking (attempting to find the perfect group for everyone who fills out a sign-up form), the sooner you can focus your limited attention on the most effective activities. Eliminating every “sign-up to join a group” opportunity…

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Momentum. Few of us have it. All of us want it.

How do you generate momentum? And how do you build and sustain momentum once you have it?

I believe there are some secrets to building momentum. I also believe that none of these secrets are easy to do. If they were, everyone would have momentum.

And yet…these secrets are not impossible to master. They are a challenge. But not because they are difficult. They are a challenge because they require keener insight and greater courage and discipline than most of us ordinarily have.

With insight, courage and discipline mastering these secrets is quite obvious and imminently doable.

Here are 5 secrets of building ministry momentum

  1. Identify one experience that everyone needs. This is where keen insight is required. I often say that you’ve chosen the right church-wide campaign when you can legitimately say, “We’ll still be talking about what happened in the fall of 2015 ten years from now.” If you can’t say that about the campaign you’re considering…you’ve probably not identified the one experience that everyone needs. Another line I often use is that “you don’t want to get to…

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I frequently hear from small group pastors that their senior pastors or congregational leaders are uncomfortable with newer strategies for identifying and recruiting leaders.

They’ll tell me things like, “I love hearing about the 75 new leaders that were chosen by group members at your life group connections or the 300+ people who said they had a couple friends they’d like to do the Transformed study with, but my senior pastor would never go for that.”

“I love hearing about the 75 new leaders that were chosen at a life group connection or the 300+ people who said they had a couple friends they’d like to do the Transformed study with, but my senior pastor would never go for that.”

And I get it. In my experience, some senior pastors are keenly aware that traditional methods of leader recruiting haven’t produced new leaders fast enough to keep up with the demand (in order to connect unconnected people in their congregations). Still, their cautions and concerns prevent them from signing off on new strategies that are reportedly are working elsewhere. Genuinely concerned for the safety of their flock, they’ve determined there must be a…

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An important aspect of my ministry strategy is that there needs to be next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends. This informs an analysis of the menu of available programs, events, classes and studies for every church (noticeable gaps will need to be filled). Another important aspect is my conviction that whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.

In an effort to cast this vision, I handed out a version of the following at a recent leader development session:

What’s Your Next Step Now?

In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote these words:

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians…

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Can I let you in on a little corner of reality? Small group leaders are no different than the rest of us. A few of them (maybe 5 to 10%) are self-starters and have the internal wiring to take the right steps to grow on their own. The other 90-95% of all small group leaders need someone to develop and disciple them.

This is a very important concept to understand because whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your small groups must happen in the lives of your leaders first. No life-change in the leader, no life-change in the member.

Bottom line? If your leaders aren’t being developed and discipled, you cannot expect much to happen in the lives of the members of their groups.

Ready for another dose of reality? If you have coaches in place, this is what you need them to do. If you don’t have coaches in place…developing and discipling your small group leaders is your job.

I’ve been saying for quite a while now that the primary role of a small group coach is to do to and for (and with)…

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