Archives For Mark Howell

circlesAt Canyon Ridge we want to provide next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends.  The essence of the idea is that when you think about the various kinds of people who attend your church, each of the various kinds of people would require their own next step.

The simplest way to think about the various kinds of people would be to think about the differences between the never-miss-a-week type and the Christmas and Easter type.  Can you see that difference?  It’s probably very distinct.

Saddleback’s concentric circles illustrate the various kinds of people in an easy to understand way.  I’ve provided my own definitions and descriptions of their five categories in another post.  Again, the key is in understanding that each of the various category would require their own next step.  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System.

Here’s my prescription for designing next steps for everyone:

First, begin to assemble a set of characteristics for each of the kinds of people who attend your church.  For example, the congregation are “people that attend more regularly.  They may come 2 or 3 times a month. …

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Blind SpotI think we all know what a blind spot is…when it’s in our car.  It’s that spot that you can’t really see when you’re changing lanes or backing up.  If you’ve seen the movie Blind Side you know what it means in football (and you know the role of the left tackle).

What you may not realize is there are a few natural blind spots that affect small group ministries everywhere.

Think you might have a blind spot or two?  Here are 5 of the most common blind spots for small group ministries.

5 Blind Spots that affect small group ministries everywhere:

  1. Unnecessarily high entry standards for leaders.  Listen…we all want leaders who are truly capable of shepherding the members of their groups.  All of us dream of group leaders who will do to and for their members the things that will produce life-change.  All of us want that.  At the same time, entry levels that exclude the very people Jesus chose (Peter, Matthew and James), are Exhibit A of the blind spots that affect small group ministries everywhere.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering…

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Bible StudyWrestling with questions like, “Are we really making disciples?”  Or maybe, “Where are the mature disciples?”  I want to suggest that while those are valid questions, they might not be the most helpful questions.  In addition, asking the right questions is essential if you want to discover discover the best solutions.

W. Edwards Deming said, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”   Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

The questions you ask determine whether you arrive at the discovery you seek.  The questions you ask determine whether you arrive at the best solution.

6 essential questions about making disciples and small group ministry

  1. What is a disciple?  This is a foundational question.  The answer to this question will inform what your next questions should be.  I find two Dallas Willard quotes helpful on this.  First, “As a disciple I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”   Not a bad definition.  And second,…

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StuckWe are just stuck!  We’ve been at this level for over 2 years (or 5 years).  We can’t seem to break out of this rut.  We add 10 new groups and lose 12.  We finally recruit enough coaches to care for new leaders only to have them drop out after one semester.  Our small group ministry is just stuck!

“Our small group ministry is stuck” is one of the most common concerns I hear from small group pastors and senior pastors about small group ministry.  “How can we get unstuck?” is definitely one of the most common questions.

There are a number of moves you can make that will help get your small group ministry get unstuck.  None of these moves are painless or easy, but all of them will pay off.  The movement they bring will be worth the pain.

5 moves that will help your small group ministry get unstuck: 

  1. Evaluate the suitability of your current system or strategy.  Although it is true that there are no problem-free solutions (systems, models or strategies), underestimating the problems that come with the system you’ve chosen is often the root of the issue.  See also,

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GroupsI’ve written about the powerful benefits of a thriving small group ministry and the five easily overlooked secrets to building a thriving small group ministry.  But it turns out I’ve never written a how to guide.

  1. Thoughtfully (and honestly) diagnose the current state of your church.  Ask yourself the questions I ask when evaluating a small group ministry.  Determine your percentage connected and the complexity of your next step menu.  Without an accurate sense of where you are, you should not expect to make correct choices about how to get where you want to go.
  2. Determine what you hope to see happen in the lives of group members.  This, it turns out, is one of the most important questions you can answer.  The answer to this question tells you what you need to do to and for your leaders (the kinds of experiences you need to give them) and that should inform your understanding of the importance of coaching.
  3. Choose an appropriate small group system, model or strategy.  This is a critical decision.  An honest diagnosis of the current state of your church, coupled…

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ThrivingFailure to thrive is a term used primarily in pediatric medicine “to indicate insufficient weight gain or inappropriate weight loss.”

Because I write so often about building a thriving small group ministry, failure to thrive seemed like a good term for a small group ministry that struggles or where growth is stunted or blocked.  There is a short list of primary causes for a small group ministry that has a failure to thrive.

Here are the 5 main causes I’ve identified for failure to thrive:

  1. An inadequate model: This underlying cause of failure to thrive is rarely diagnosed.  If one of the marks of a thriving small group ministry is an increasing percentage connected, certain small group ministry models struggle with the catch a moving train syndrome and simply cannot keep up with demand.  One of the main symptoms of an inadequate model is a constant inability to find enough leaders.  Another symptom is an inability to develop leaders who are more than hosts.  See also,How to Choose the Right Small Group System or Strategy and You Know You Have the Right Small Group…

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DesignIf it’s true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley),” the corollary is that if you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it.  After all, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein).”

Let me say that again.  If you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it.

Here are 7 signs you have a bad design for small group ministry:

  1. Your percentage connected is flatlined.  Whether your weekend attendance is increasing or not, a flatlined percentage connected (the percentage of your adults who are connected in a group) indicates that your small group system is inadequately designed.  See also, Breaking the Mythical 150% Participation Barrier and The Catch a Moving Train Scenario.
  2. You have trouble finding enough leaders.  This is a common symptom of designs that depend on selecting new leaders from the usual suspects.  Once your congregation is larger than about 250…

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IngredientsIf you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again…you have all the motivation you need to invest in building a pervasive sense of community in your church.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People? and This Is Why We Need Community.

There are 5 essential ingredients that build a pervasive sense of community in your church:

  1. A thriving small group ministry.  If you want to build community in your church, you must understand that not only does life-change happen best in circles (not rows), so does community.  A thriving small group ministry is an essential ingredient that builds community in your church because unless your church is flatlined, you will always need a growing number of new groups to connect a growing number of unconnected people.  See also, 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.
  2. Build steps into community that are easy, obvious, and strategic.  Building a thriving small group ministry is an essential ingredient.  Still, putting energy and resources into small group infrastructure without making the hard choices that create first steps and next steps won’t build community.  To build pervasive…

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If you haven’t heard, we lost our youngest son last Thursday when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Eric was 19. He was full of life. He was known for his amazing smile and the relentless way he included people. Our last conversation with Eric centered on his excitement about next week’s meeting of his small group for 7th grade boys. It makes me smile thinking about his enthusiasm.

And then he left with a new friend to have dinner. And then he was gone.

These last few days we’ve been surrounded by our community; our friends. They’ve shown up at our door. They’ve called relentlessly and sent text messages and posted on Facebook. We’ve heard from friends across the country and around the world. We’ve heard from Eric’s friends and their parents about how much he meant to them and how much they loved him.

Our hearts are truly broken. We miss our son deeply. We mourn his loss. And at the same time we know for sure we will see him again. And he will still be smiling.

In the meantime, we are surrounded on…

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Strandlehold

You know that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).” You know the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination. You even know Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

You know all these things. And at the same time…you’re hesitant to try a new strategy (or shut down an ineffective one). Why? You probably need to break free of a stranglehold with a death grip on your ministry.

6 Strangleholds with a Death Grip on Your Ministry

  1. The pursuit of problem-free. This delays more ministry than any other stranglehold. Remember, there are no problem-free strategies, systems or solutions. Every strategy, every system and every solution comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  2. Indecision about the best way. Obviously, this stranglehold is related to #1. Still, it is motivated differently. If you find yourself stuck even after choosing the set of problems you’d rather have, you are probably dealing with indecision about the best way.
  3. Fear of failure. Perhaps…

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Important

There are a few things every small group needs to know.  Battle hardened veterans and wet-behind-the-ears alike, every small group leader needs to know these things.

10 things every small group leader needs to know

  1. Their senior pastor appreciates them.  This is a very, very important thing for a small group leader to know.  It ought to be communicated over and over again.  Senior pastors who understand this and act on it are able to build enduring armies of small group leaders.  See also, The Role of the Senior Pastor and 5 Ways Senior Pastors Can Affirm the Value of Small Group Leaders.
  2. Who cares for them.  Carl George expressed the truth of Exodus 18 this way: “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but nobody can care for more than (about) ten.”  Every small group leader needs to know experientially that someone cares for them.  If all they know is that someone “is over them” organizationally, you cannot expect their members to feel cared for either.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect.
  3. They belong.  I believe this is an essential ingredient if you want to build a thriving small group ministry….

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What are the problems you face?  I’ve been at this a long time.  I’ve pretty much seen it all.  Here’s my list:

The 7 biggest problems facing small group pastors:

  1. A senior pastor who is reluctant or ineffective as small group champion.  This may be the most under-the-radar problem facing small group pastors.  After all, a significant number of senior pastors will tell you, “We hired a small group pastor to be the small group champion!”  Do you face that problem?  Does your small group pastor?  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #1: A Doubtful and Conflicted Senior Pastor.
  2. The small group pastor position is too low on the org chart.  Building a thriving small group ministry depends on the right decisions being made at the right time.  When the most knowledgable and most passionate person is 2 or 3 rungs down from where decisions are made it is irresponsible to assume the best outcome.  Are you there?  Is your small group pastor?  See also, 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.
  3. Equal status and promotion for every ministry and program.  When…

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