Archives For Small Groups

Healthy Small GroupI’m sold on small groups. There are very few ways to create an atmosphere conducive to building strong relationships than studying the Bible in the living room of a friend. I also agree with Rick Howerton about the need to consider a more organic pathway to healthy groups.

I was recently in a conversation with my coach, Danny Kirk, about what small groups look like at Grace Hills, and how we know when a group is healthy. By the end of our conversation, I had seven clearly articulated signs of group health and the kind of metric to apply to each. (And that’s the benefit of coaching!)

So here are my seven signs of a healthy small group:

1. There is a consistency in meeting and a desire to meet.

When a group is healthy, there is a desire and a delight in getting together. It doesn’t feel like “one more thing” but rather “when can we meet next?” And healthy groups are intentional about meeting if at all possible. Illness, travel, weather, and other events can get in the way, obviously, but for the most part, healthy groups get together regularly…

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SproutsHave you figured this out already?  Still arm wrestling with the usual suspects over whether the return on investment is worth the cost?

Here are 10 killer benefits of a thriving small group ministry:

  1. Life-change happens best in small groups. You might have a killer weekend worship service with powerful teaching and inspiring worship, but you still need to know that “the optimal environment for life-change is a small group” because life-change happens best in circles, not rows.  See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change andAndy Stanley on Creating a Culture that’s All About Circles.
  2. Small groups make churches personal.  Whether your church averages 150 or 1500, if I can slip into a back row and then leave without sharing life with a person…your church is too large to not incorporate a small group experience.  Yes, it’s still true that a certain kind of person or a particular stage in life makes a toe-in-the-water easier when you can be anonymous.  But the research is in.  The desire to find a few good friends is on the rise and loneliness is increasing.  See also, Don’t Miss These Two Huge Barna Findings for Small…

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Small group coaching does not work.”  If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a million times.  In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it…I’d be a millionaire!

Ever said it yourself?

I’ve discovered there are five assumptions that set small group coaching up to #fail.  Wonder if you have any of these?

5 Assumptions that Set Small Group Coaching Up to #Fail:

  1. Expressing a desire to be a coach is enough.  Not!  Just like taking volunteers to lead a group you assemble, taking volunteers to be a coach is incredibly risky.  Harmful below-the-waterline motivations are very common (I estimate more than half the time!).  Power and prestige hunting posers are very common.  Much safer and more effective to decide who to recruit and accept no substitutes.  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  2. Warm and willing is better than nothing.  Not!  Similar to assumption #1, warm and willing candidates won’t get the job done.  They are happy to say “yes” to coaching but don’t have the stature to pull it off.  Settling for 30-fold leaders when a 60-fold or 100-fold is…

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We pastors are good at our individual faith. Really good.

We can pray.

We can read.

We can introspect.

We can “interpret.”

We can do a “quiet time.”

We can study.

We can exegete.

But we pastors aren’t so good at sharing our faith. I mean, we can share it from stage. Woven into generic illustrations that describe “a” faith journey. But it’s too easy to hide behind our beautiful masks.

It’s time to acknowledge that we all deal with junk. Sometimes it’s a product of our own doing. Sometimes it’s from someone else.

But that beautiful mask you’ve constructed is still a mask, hiding who you really are.

Quit hiding. It’s not doing you any good. Nor is it doing any good for those you lead.

Your messy story paints a beautiful picture of grace, mercy, hope, and love.  No need to hide.

You need Gospel community, just like those you lead do.

Gospel community offers you refuge that the secrecy of your beautiful mask would like to keep hidden.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! – God (Isaiah 43:1)

If you’re interested in taking your…

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Don’t hate me, but there are at least 5 things I used to believe about small group ministry…that I no longer believe are true.  Actually, I no longer believe they are the best way to do what needs to be done.

Here are 5 things I used to believe…and what I’ve found to be a better solution:

  1. Then: The best way to multiply small group leaders is to recruit and develop an apprentice (who would be ready to birth a new group in 18 to 24 meetings).  Now: Apprenticing is a very important practice and ought to be part of every leadership development plan.  At the same time, the idea that it is the best way to multiply small group leaders is a beautiful sentiment that almost never works in the real world.  The best way to identify, recruit and develop leaders is with a well planned and well executed church-wide campaign.  The second best way is to use a connecting event that identifies leaders (like a small group connection).  See also, Five GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting and How Important Is It to Have An…

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Senior pastors…you need to know something.  If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you.

I don’t know what has prompted your hope for authentic community to take hold in your church.  Maybe you’ve listened to Rick Warren or Andy Stanley or Bill Hybels talk about their own personal small groups and how important they’ve been in their own lives.  Maybe you’ve come to it through your own insight from scripture that you can’t do the one anothers in rows.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups and Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles.

I don’t know.  But I do know this: If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you because the hope that your congregation will experience something different or more than your own experience…isn’t anchored in reality.  If you want your congregation to experience authentic community it begins with you.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and 

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The moves I’m going to suggest are simple.  They’re not hard to understand.  They’re not even hard to execute.  They’re not easy.  They will take some work.  But they’re not complicated.  They’re simple and they will shift your ministry to a new trajectory.

Here are 5 simple moves:

  1. Choose a cross-cultural church-wide campaign for February, 2014.  It’s not complicated.  Choose an off-the-shelf campaign on a topic that your friends and neighbors care about.  Imagine yourself walking next door to invite your neighbors to attend.  What would the topic have to be for them to even consider joining your group?  See also, Top 5 January/February Church-Wide Campaigns for 2014 and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  2. Adjust the height of your leader bar to make it easy to begin.  This is a simple move with huge dividends.  Making it easy to say “yes” to hosting a group allows the people with the largest number of strong connections into the community to play.  You can still set parameters that mitigate the risk of this move (i.e., Anyone can pick up group material as long as…

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Last Sunday, we wrapped up our teaching in the series Limitless Life, based on the book by Derwin Gray by the same title. The basic idea is that we are all limited by the labels we wear. Some of those labels were given to us by other people and others, we’ve applied to ourselves. But none of those limiting labels are God’s intention for us. He offers labels like “redeemed,” “child of God,” and “more than a conqueror.”

Labels CrossOne of the more painful moments for me as a Pastor was arriving home and getting a longer look at that cross. All those labels… all that shame… all that brokenness among the people who come in every Sunday smiling.

On the first Sunday of the series, we stood a wooden cross at the entryway of the auditorium and gave everyone blank labels. They wrote down the labels they’d been carrying and then stuck them on the cross on their way out. Then we spent the remainder of the series talking about the replacement labels God offers.

We watched, over the course of this series, as people joined small groups at a record pace for us,…

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Line LeaderI’ve written recently about the 8 Commitments for Small Group Leaders as well as how to design your group meeting for life-change; two helpful angles from which to think about building a thriving small group ministry.  But what about the habits that help create the kind of man or woman who operates as an agent of life-change?

Here are the 8 habits of a life-changing small group leader.  Life-changing small group leaders:

  1. Make time with God a daily priority.  ”Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35 NIV
  2. Follow the best example and offer a good example.  ”Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV
  3. Have clear priorities.  ”But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 NIV
  4. Put the interests of others ahead of their own.  ”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking…

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If you want your church to grow, you must learn how to motivate believers to invest their resources into the Kingdom for ministry and for facilities. It is a key responsibility of leadership. Whoever writes the agenda must be able to underwrite the agenda. If you’re going to form the vision, you also have to be able to fund the vision.

A lot of pastors, a lot of elders, a lot of church leaders have a real hangup about asking people to give. They allow personal insecurities and personal fears to limit the ministry. You don’t need to be embarrassed about asking people to give. There is nothing greater than the Kingdom of God. There is no more significant cause than the church.

I am very much against fundraising, but I am in favor of teaching people to give. Fundraising is what I call collecting money from other people in return for a product, service, reward, or recognition. But in giving, we simply challenge ourselves to give out of our own resources for spiritual reasons. The result of fundraising is that funds are collected. The results…

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It doesn’t take much imagination to find ways for small group members to connect with their neighbors.  Sometimes all it takes is a crisp fall morning or a spooky October evening.

Here are my top 10 ideas:

  1. Movie night outside for kids and families.  Easy to do with a video projector.  Pick the right movie, circle up the lawn chairs, and bring on the popcorn.
  2. Drop in for waffles and bacon on a Saturday morning.  Again, everyone’s kids will love this idea.  3 or 4 waffle irons make it easy.  Add-ins like blueberries, chocolate chips, and pecans make it fun (and tasty!).
  3. Invite neighbors over for a potluck theme dinner night (Italian, Mexican, etc.).  Go all out with music and decorations.  Make it fun and it will be easy to connect.
  4. Garage sale for a local cause.  Gather up your merchandise.  Pick out a great local cause or charity.  Be ready to talk about why you’re doing it.
  5. Pull a fire pit or chiminea onto your front porch or driveway.  Bring out the patio furniture.  Be ready to offer a warm cup of cider and a s’more to neighbors passing by.
  6. Join in the…

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Whether you use a low or high bar of small group leadership, I think all of us have hope that our leaders will do more than open their home, facilitate a discussion or convene a meeting.  And…I think some of us have begun laying the foundation for a kind of leadership pathway.  See also, Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar and Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.

Not long ago I noticed a post on Thom Rainer’s blog on the 8 Commitments for Bible Study Leaders.  As usual, it was very well thought out and extremely helpful, but it seemed to be primarily focused on the role of a Bible study teacher.  Important…but not targeted to the small group leaders many of us are identifying, recruiting and developing.

Here are the commitments I’d like my small group leaders to make:

  1. I will make my daily, living connection with Jesus Christ a priority—being in community with Him is the foundation for all community.  How will a new leader know what this means?  It will have to modeled by a coach or mentor.  Remember, whatever you want…

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