Archives For Small Groups

Cone SlideIf you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, you’ve seen this diagram.  Adapted from an idea of Glen Hiemstra’s, I use this diagram all the time.   Whether I’m working with our team here at Canyon Ridge or I’m off consulting, this diagram works its way into the discussion.

Today, I want to point out two things that I think will help you.

First, one of the most important things any of us can do is to painstakingly dissect and diagnose what’s happening right now in our ministry.  Andy Stanley articulates the reason we need to pay attention to the present when he points out that:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

When you are diagnosing the present in your ministry, you need to be as honest as you can about the systems, programs, messaging, and strategies.  Another component I always want to look closely at are the kinds of people you are currently producing (i.e., are they consumers as opposed to contributors, are they other centered, what’s their maturity level, etc.).

Diagnosing the present is a very important step that often gets over looked on…

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Some churches raise the bar when it comes to recruiting small group leaders. You need to be a member for X amount of time, well versed in the church’s doctrinal statement, agree to a lifestyle covenant, etc. The more qualified the leader, the stronger the group will be… or so goes conventional wisdom. But is that really true?

My friend Ron Wilbur, one of Saddleback’s Small Groups Pastors, once told me I’d probably make a terrible small group leader. It wasn’t that he was trying to discourage me. Ron taught me something valuable when he said, “your tendency will be to teach and answer all the questions, and you’ll kill the discussion and short-circuit the relationship-building process.” Now that I lead a small group in my home, I have to agree with Ron. If I’m not careful and intentional, I’ll be the bottleneck that holds my group back from being a healthy micro-community.

So if we’re not looking for long term members and Bible scholars, who makes the best group hosts? Most commonly, new believers in Christ, but I would expand that criteria to include anyone with these key characteristics.

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Different Kind of TribeTraditional small group ministry might seem like a leap ahead of the lecture-based classroom in terms of relationship-building, but the rate of change in our surrounding culture still far outpaces the rate of change within the church. Small group ministry is changing. Again. And Rick Howerton, one of the few guys I read religiously concerning group life has written an excellent guide for embracing this change in his new book, A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic.

In a traditional small group environment, small groups are a new way of organizing the church, assimilating people into the church, and expanding in number outwardly. But Rick challenges our traditional approach, and even our terminology, choosing to term groups “Christian micro-communities.” It’s not that they are entirely Christian – in fact, genuine Christian micro-communities do and should include people still far from God. Though Rick doesn’t use this phrase in the book, I think he echoes what has been weighing on my heart lately – how to include people and help them to belong to a community, even…

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You know the drill. You are waiting for an elevator, any elevator. The door opens; you walk in, face the door, press the button and stare at the door. Everyone does the same thing. Comedians have made acts out of the goofy behavior that happens in elevators. Something else also happens. It doesn’t have to do with human behavior or the people in an elevator; but the time that elapses in an elevator ride. It is called the elevator pitch.

If you are starting up a business and you are trying to get a person to invest into your new startup company, sometimes you are only going to get the amount of time as an elevator ride to state what you are trying to do, in a succinct enough way to capture their attention. Once you have stated “why” you are doing your start up in this elevator pitch, then and only then, will you get the chance (if the person is interested) to share more of “how” and “what” you will do. Simply put, an “Elevator Pitch” is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description about your company that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would…

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ConnectingBefore I share four current learnings we have had here at Saddleback Church in the last couple of years on connecting people, let me give you a bit of background. In the book Small Groups With Purpose (SGWP), I explain probably our two most effective strategies for connecting people at Saddleback Church over the last 15 years. Since 1997 we have taken our connection percentage from 30% to 120%. Yup, we have more people in small groups than attend the weekend service!

In chapter 16, I explain in detail the Connection Strategy we used from 1997 to 2002, primarily taking attendees and helping them raise a leader and find community. From 2002 to present we have been using our Campaign Strategy (chapter 17) to mobilize attendees to reach their friends to start groups. This strategy using out HOST concept took us from 70% connected to where we are now. If you are not familiar with these strategies or what a HOST is, I would highly recommend taking what we have learned and adapting it to your culture.

Here are 5 learnings we have had over the last couple of years


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Jewish TempleTemple courts and house to house.”  Ever used that line to connect small group ministry to the very beginning of the Church?  You know you have.  That phrase is probably top 5 in the all time most popular ways to describe the importance of small group ministry.

The line is a kind of paraphrase from right here in Acts 2:42-47:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Temple courts and house to house.

Ever wonder how that actually happened?  The house to house part?  Remember, at the end of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 we’re told that “Those…

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Before you can build your small group strategy, you have to realize the importance of working on your own spiritual journey. We all have a dark side – something broken inside us. If you are not aware that you need to work on your own issues, you are wasting your time. If you don’t realize your spiritual journey needs to be engaged and developed, you are missing what being formed in Christ is all about. Before you can guide your small groups in achieving balance, you must understand how to work on balance in your own life.

On the first Friday of every year, Lisa and I get together and share our personal Spiritual Health Plan for the coming year. In 1999, when my daughter Erika was just a baby, Lisa and I hired a sitter and went out and exchanged our plans over dessert. I looked hers over quickly and said, “Hey, this looks good,” and returned the plan to her. She held mine in her hands and was still reading. I waited for her response. A few long minutes passed, and eventually she…

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I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded about certain things on a regular basis. As I think through discipleship, here’s my current list of things I need to know:

  1. It takes a disciple to make a disciple. While I sometimes argue that anyone can host a small group (even a non-Christian), only a disciple can make a disciple.
  2. Real disciples make disciples. I think this is an important distinction. It means that if you’re not actively making disciples, you probably aren’t a disciple.
  3. Disciples are rarely made in rows. From an environmental angle, a disciple is far more likely to made in a circle. After all, becoming a disciple has far less to do with digesting information (like in a class) and far more to do with spending time with those who are becoming like Him.
  4. You don’t have to arrive before you begin making disciples (see Philippians 3:12-14 if you don’t believe me).
  5. You don’t have to use printed curriculum to make disciples. The early disciples made it happen even before they had the New Testament.
  6. You don’t become a disciple by…

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Hand on the WorldSaddleback outgrew me a long time ago. If Saddleback were limited to the number of people I could personally care for, we would be stuck at 300. Early in the life of Saddleback, I realized that my role was to equip the congregation for ministry, not do all the ministry myself.

I simply can’t minister to everyone’s needs at the church. It’s impossible in a church the size of Saddleback. I can’t counsel all the people who come to our church for counseling. I can’t pray specifically for every prayer request that comes into the church. I can’t. But I’ve learned that God never meant for me to meet everyone’s needs. And He didn’t mean for you to do that either. We’re not Atlas holding our churches up! I found that when I resigned as general manager of the universe, my ministry was a lot more effective.

While there are lots of reasons to involve your congregation in small groups, sharing the shepherding duties was one of the original reasons we started small groups at Saddleback. In the 32 years of Saddleback’s history,…

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I get questions.  Some of them are just too good to keep to myself.  Here’s one from yesterday:

Hi Mark, I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and it’s been extremely helpful. In fact, because of your blog, this fall we went “open bar” and Saddleback style on our small group strategy and saw great results! We doubled our small group numbers with 50 new groups/leaders added! How do we keep the new groups going?

Here’s what I said: Can I tell you something?  I love what you’re doing!  How awesome is that!  Just think about how many unconnected people got an opportunity to connect.  That is so good!

Next, here are a few things you need to do right away:

Get a plan to help as many of your groups continue as possible: What you do right now determines how many of your newest groups will survive the holidays.  Lyman Coleman pointed out years ago that 6 weeks is short enough to prompt many to put a toe in the water.  What we learned at Lifetogether is that it’s also long enough for members to begin to feel connected.  But…if…

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It seems like small groups are everywhere.  And churches that have a recognized small group ministry are becoming more the standard than the exception.  Why is that?  What’s going on?

As director of, I had a lot of contact with churches that were neck deep in the small group movement.  My job revolved around helping pastors and small group leaders keep their small groups active and healthy.  So I got a lot of feedback about what’s driving the rise of small group ministry.

There are definitely many dynamics involved in the small group movement, but I’ve noticed a common thread.  And that is the strong desire people have to experience genuine community.  People are seeing the need for a kind of community that’s really missing in our information age culture.  There are a lot of broken lives and a lot of dysfunction in traditional relationships and the family so the whole idea of bringing the New Testament community back into the church is something people see and feel they need.

I witnessed this phenomenon first hand in my own church.  As the church grew to a point where it was impossible to…

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Small group ministry is all about people.

Day in and day out at Saddleback Church I could spend the majority of my time dealing with people and mess. After all, that is why we went to Seminary—to deal with people. People aren’t an interruption, they are why we exist! So, here is the question, in a ministry filled with people,

When and can we say “no” to the people God set before us?

I know for me it is a constant struggle.

I was looking through the book of Luke the other day and saw a cool leadership point that Jesus so delicately walked—one that every small group point person and pastor must walk each day. In Luke 4:42-44 we see a part of scripture where Jesus was ministering to people. He was a huge success, so huge that we see Jesus withdrawing from the people. Scripture even says “they tried to keep him from leaving.” Jesus’ response was in essence, “No. I must keep moving.”

Now imagine the people to whom he told this. They wanted their agenda fulfilled. They probably used everything within their power to persuade Jesus to…

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