Archives For Mark Howell

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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GroupsThere are definitely ways that church-wide campaigns miss the mark and there are keys to avoiding a church-wide campaign disaster.  There are certain things you need to do to have a great church-wide campaign. See also, Top 10 Ways Church-Wide Campaigns Miss the Mark5 Keys to Avoiding a Church-Wide Campaign Disaster and 10 Simple Steps to a Great Church-Wide Campaign.

5 Dangerous Myths about Church-Wide Campaigns

There are certain myths about church-wide campaigns that set up bad expectations.  Hope and optimism are good things, but wishful thinking can set a congregation up for big disappointment right when they need a boost of encouragement.

People will believe anything and many believe that a church-wide campaign is…

  1. the solution for sagging attendance.  Can a campaign help reenergize a congregation and help inconsistent attendees become more consistent?  The short answer is yes, but only when the right groundwork has been laid.  The right campaign can encourage more consistent attendance when participants are challenged to make and keep commitments to “be here each Sunday and join a group that’s using the study that goes along with the message.”  Certain key ingredients make this commitment likely: a topic with broad appeal, a series…

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Words

Ever heard someone use a word or a phrase and there was something about the way they said it that made you realize…they didn’t know what it meant?  I remember when a friend of mine kept talking about the long tail (a business term) and ecosystem (or some other buzzword, I don’t remember) and it was so obvious to everyone else that he had no clue what either of the words actually meant!  To use a now ancient buzzword…it was emperor’s new clothes obvious.

Think there are buzzwords that we use and sometimes don’t actually know what they mean?  Or sometimes use in a way that is significantly different than everyone else?  I think there’s more than you might think!

Here are 10 of the most overused small group ministry buzzwords:

  1. Disciples who make disciples.  This actually might be the most overused small group ministry buzzword right now.  Not because it’s pretentious or anything.  Mostly because you’re probably not actually a disciple if you’re not making disciples.
  2. Spiritual formation.  If it isn’t complicated…it’s probably not legit.  I like what Dallas Willard said in Renovation of the Heart: “Spiritual formation…is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a…

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Gears

How do you know you have chosen the right small group system?  Can you know?  I think you probably can.

While there are at least half a dozen different small group systems, none of them areproblem-free.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, How to Choose a Small Group System or Model.

So…how do you know you have chosen the right small group system?

You know you have the right small group system when…

  • …its design is consistent with the business you are in.  For example, if you claim to be in the disciple-making business, your system must be designed to make disciple-making an ordinary and everyday outcome.  Pointing to the exceptions as evidence is not proof that you have the right system.  See also, If I Was Starting Today and The First Question Every Small Group Pastor Must Answer.
  • …what you’ve predetermined you will call “success” is actually happening on a regular basis.  If you’ve written down what you will call a win and it’s actually happening, then you’ve probably chosen the right small group system.  If what you’ve predetermined you will call success only happens on the whiteboard when you’re casting vision…

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