Archives For Mark Howell

sevenWhat skills must every small group pastor have in their skill set? I’ve written about the 5 habits I’d look for if I was hiring a small group pastor.  This is really a different thing. There is a set of skills every small group pastor must have in their skill set.

7 Skills Every Small Group Pastor Needs

  • Relationship Builder: This is really not a position for monks or hermits. A small group pastor need not be a raging extrovert, but they do need to be a relationship builder (which may be true of both introverts and extroverts).  The task of building a thriving small group ministry cannot be done alone. It takes an army and a master relationship builder in the lead role is a powerful advantage.
  • Identifier of High Capacity Leaders: In order to build a thriving small group ministry you must have an effective coaching structure. Once you have more than 10 groups, caring for small group leaders will become increasingly difficult without engaging a growing band of high capacity leaders (who can each care for 5 to 10 small group leaders). Span of care issues keep many…

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circles crowd to coreI’ve written previously about ten ideas that have shaped my philosophy of ministry.  One of those ten ideas can be summed up in the phrase crowd-to-core.  What does crowd-to-core mean? Essentially, it means that instead of pouring everything into the most committed members with the expectation (or hope) that they will then go out and win others or disciple others (core to crowd), crowd to core focuses on building next steps that will help the crowd take steps and move toward Christ, toward the core.  See also Next Steps for Everyone…and First Steps for Their Friends.

This is Purpose Driven Church terminology. Based on Rick Warren’s concentric circles (community, crowd, congregation, committed, and core), it is easy to see how it works conceptually. I describe our strategy by saying we want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.

Crowd-to-core is the opposite of a core-to-crowd strategy. If you’ve ever heard someone talk about discipling or investing in the core and committed (in anticipation of them investing in their friends), you’ve been listening to core-to-crowd strategy.  In some ways crowd-to-core versus…

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14164934172_d5b87a8da1_cI don’t know about your church, but right about now is when many churches pull the trigger on a fall church-wide campaign.  And although there are two other windows when the impact of a campaign can be optimized, in many ways the fall is still the best of the three.  See also, When Is the Best Time to Launch a Church-Wide Campaign.

While choosing the best church-wide campaigns is certainly subjective, I’ve made these selections with over a decade of experience leading churches through the process of choosing, designing and launching powerful and trajectory altering church-wide campaigns.  See also, How to Choose the Right Church-Wide Campaign and Church-Wide Campaign Coaching.

Here are my picks for the 5 best campaigns for fall 2015:

transformed 3DVD-driven, Transformed is a 7 session study that accompanies a 7 week message series.  Although this campaign launched in 2014, this is a potent theme and should be on your radar.   Anchored in the apostle Paul’s profound truth in Romans 12:2, this campaign will guide and grow your church by exploring what the Bible has to say about…

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signsYou may want to argue with me, but I think there are certain signs that indicate clearly whether you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  With me?  Isn’t obvious that certain results or a lack of results would indicate a bad disciple-making strategy?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  If you don’t like the results, you must change the design.

I love this line from Winston Churchill.  “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  If you don’t like your results, change the strategy.

See where I’m going?  Can you go there?  Here are five signs you may have a bad disciple-making design:

5 Signs You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Design

  1. You don’t have enough adults being discipled.  You pray for it.  You talk about it.  You promote it.  But it just doesn’t happen.  Sign-ups for your disciple-making effort fall far short of projections and expectations, and another season comes and goes.  Doesn’t the number of people entering the pipeline determine the number coming out?  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
  2. You have plenty of adults being…

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LegosHave you picked up on the fact that unconnected people are different in some ways than connected people?  If you have, you are already moving in the right direction.  Next, though, you understand there are four main types of unconnected people and how you might connect them depends on improving your understanding of their needs and interests.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind, and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

There are four main types of unconnected people.

  1. Busy with other priorities and commitments.  This segment of unconnected people is a very large and quite diverse group.  It includes everyone frantically preoccupied as their children’s chauffeurs as well as those who own extracurricular activities crowd out the truly important.  It also includes those who have commitments to church functions and activities that produce little more than sideways energy.  See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations VS Sequential and Tailored Next Steps and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  2. Satisfied customers of a less than…

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eyes shut 2

You know how kids sometimes believe that if they close their eyes, you can’t see them?  That’s an assumption they eventually grow out of.

Do you have an assumption or two about small group ministry impact that you need to grow out of?

I was imagining the Family Feud set-up when I wrote this.  See yourself standing at the podium.  “What are the top 5 faulty assumptions about small group impact.  100 people surveyed.  The top 5 answers on the board. Survey says…”

Here are 5 faulty assumptions about small group impact:

  1. The optimum environment for life-change is a small group.  While this is a very popular notion, it’s only true when the small group environment is designed for life-change.  It is much more common for groups to never move beyond being about connect unconnected people.  If you want groups to be about life-change…intentionality is an essential ingredient.  See also, Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
  2. The small group champion role can be delegated.  NOT!  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, there is no workaround for a senior pastor who insists on delegating the small group champion role.  Period.  There…

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light at the endI don’t know about you, but I’m determined to build a thriving small group ministry that makes disciples.  That is the light at the end of the tunnel for me.  It is the end in mind.  It’s not just to connect unconnected people.  That’s important, but only a beginning.  My objective is to make disciples.  And I suspect–since you are still along on this journey with me–that is your objective too!  See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

And if your objective is to make disciples…you must know what it is you are trying to make (i.e., What is a disciple?).  Once you know that little detail, you will be able to lay out a path that leads to that preferred future.

With me?

And to that end, I love this paragraph from Dallas Willard.  In my mind it informs what it is that I need to do in laying out the path.

As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him…

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4352_Yellow_Calla_LilyI’ve been thinking about the rhythms of connecting people and wanted to share an idea that you might want to consider.  With Easter, 2015  just about as early as it can possibly be (April 5th), there is still plenty of spring left before summer and it makes a lot of sense to launch another wave of small groups.

There are three steps to the idea.

Step One

As you know, we’re coming into a season (regardless of your hemisphere!) where many people are thinking, at least a little bit, about spiritual things.  Regardless of ones religious background, there will be a number of noticeable references to Lent and Easter over the next 40 days.

The weeks leading up to Easter can be a good opportunity to cast vision into existing small groups about opportunities to invite unchurched neighbors, friends, co-workers and family to Easter services.  A simple video of your senior pastor speaking directly to group members about the opportunity could be played in every group.

Step Two

Easter (April 5th) is quite early in 2015.  With over two months left before school is out for summer (at least in the United States), there is plenty of…

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man thinkingI’ve written quite a bit about small group pastors.  I’ve shared their most important contribution and what they need to know on day one.  I’ve talked about their most common rookie mistakes and biggest problems.

What I haven’t written about is what a small group pastor needs to be preoccupied with, obsessed with, in order to succeed in their role.  With an obvious reference to Patrick Lencioni’s fabulous book, here are the four obsessions:

Obsessed with connecting unconnected people.  Others may share this obsession, but if you’re going to build a thriving small group ministry it will be because there is an obsession with connecting unconnected people.  Far beyond any kind of vague awareness of their loneliness or sense that they are just a face in the crowd, this obsession is rooted in two certainties:

  1. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.
  2. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.

Your obsession with connecting unconnected people should lead you to develop deep knowledge of the real numbers of unconnected people in your crowd as well as deep empathy…

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wave copyThree Very Important Discoveries for Small Group Pastors

  1. The first very important discovery for small group pastors is that there are no problem-free small group systems or models.  A breakthrough happens when leaders learn that every system comes with a set of problems and wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free System, Model or Strategy.
  2. A second very important discovery for small group pastors is the realization that starting new groups is more productive than adding members to existing groups.  While this is counterintuitive for some, there is no doubt that launching new groups is the best way to grow the number of groups and the number of people connected.  Far better to train your small group leaders to fill their own group and focus your efforts on launching new groups.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups and Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.
  3. Finally, a third very important discovery for small group pastors is that starting a wave of new groups (as opposed to one at a…

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Alejandro_Guijarro01Sometimes things seem more complicated than they really are.  Small group ministry is truly one of those things.  It’s just not that complicated.

6 things you need to know about small group ministry:

  1. There is no problem-free small group strategy or system.  It really doesn’t matter what system, strategy or model you choose.  They all come with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  The hunt for a problem-free solution may be the number one cause of ministry delay.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Your strategy or system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.  Don’t like the results you’re experiencing?  You must look at the design.  Results are directly related to design.  You may want to believe your results are a fluke; that they are related to the weather, or who was playing in the Super Bowl, or who won the election.  But your results are produced by the design.  Want different results?  Change the design.  See also, 5 GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.
  3. There is no substitute for your senior…

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“Coaching does not work here.”

I’ve heard that line many, many times.  Maybe you’ve said it yourself!  Very often, though, there are some incorrect assumptions that undermine coaching success.  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL.

There are also some real obstacles to building an effective coaching structure.

5 Obstacles to Building an Effective Coaching Structure

  1. Recruiting the wrong people.  Coaching is an essential ingredient of small group ministry that can only happen when you have the right people on the team.  You cannot build an effective coaching structure if you end up with anything less than high capacity people who are both fruitful and fulfilled in their role.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach and How to Recruit a Small Group Coach: My “Secret” Formula.
  2. Asking your coaches to do the wrong things.  It’s not unusual for mall group coaches to be recruited to the role of an accountant or a hall monitor.  Instead of mentoring group leaders, caring for them in a way that encourages leaders to follow Christ, coaches end up being asked to ensure that rosters are up…

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