Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock

Note: This is part 4 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here’s a look at the fourth small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #4: High entry requirements for leaders ensures the safety of the flock and gives members a model to follow.

Where have you set the bar for small group leaders in your church?  What are the minimum standards a potential leader must meet before they can become a small group leader?  Do they need to:

  • have a background check?
  • have 3 references?
  • have an interview with a staff member?
  • be a member of a group before they can be a leader?
  • be apprenticed by a leader before they can become a leader?
  • be a member of your church?
  • be a tithing member of your church?
  • sign a leadership covenant?

Where have you set the bar for small group leaders?  And why have you set it there?

The most common reasons given for setting high entry requirements for small group leaders are that

  • it’s biblical (James 3:1 is often referenced)
  • it ensures the safety of the flock
  • it gives members a model to follow

Truth: High entry requirements don’t necessarily deliver on the safety of the flock.  The fact that someone is a member or even a tithing member may be an indication of higher commitment, but shouldn’t be seen as litmus credentials. Who hasn’t seen instances of a well disguised wolf in the middle of the sheepfold?  A model to follow?  Membership status has little or nothing to do with truly being a model to follow.  In many cases meeting higher entrance standards only guarantee an insider or member of the usual suspects.  See also, Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar? and Do You Know About This Game-Changing Connection Secret?

On the flip side, unnecessarily high entry requirements do narrow the field in terms of who is allowed or encouraged to take an initial step toward leadership.  In addition, a very serious consequence of recruiting leaders from the core and committed segments of the congregation predetermines that new leaders have little awareness of anyone outside of the most connected.  See also, 5 Seriously Wrong Questions about Small Group Ministry and Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  You can read about it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Small Group Ministry Myth #3: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study

Note: This is part 3 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here’s a look at the third small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #3: Small group leaders and members know best what they need to study.

Who decides what the groups in your small group ministry study?  You?  Your small group leaders?  Do your leaders take requests from their members?  Do your groups vote on what they should study?

Who decides?

I realize that sermon-based small group ministries have what they’re studying handed to them.  And I know that most adult Sunday schools determine for their classes what they’ll be studying next quarter.

But don’t your group leaders and their members really know best what they need to study?  Who knows better?  Right?

Truth: Trusting group leaders and members to figure out what they should study in their group is a little like trusting your children to plan and prepare the family dinner menu.  Most groups will make good choices some of the time.  But if you want to make mature disciples, those who effortlessly do what Jesus would do, you will need to provide good guidance in the selection of study material.

If you don’t currently guide your groups in the selection of study material, you’ll want to carefully consider moves in the direction of limiting choices for group leaders and members.

  1. At a minimum, it makes sense to encourage every group to participate whenever there is a church-wide campaign.  In addition, there may also be a short list of required studies that are part of the annual diet.  For example, you may want every group to schedule 5 Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith or Just Walk Across the Room during the course of the year.
  2. Next, a recommended list can provide needed direction.  Many small group ministries require group leaders to submit for approval any study they’d like to use that isn’t already on the recommended list.  Here’s a sample of a recommended study list.
  3. Still better, you may design a curriculum pathway that provides a wise discipleship plan.  See also, The Importance of Discipling People with Wisdom.

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  You can read about it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Small Group Ministry Myth #2: Effective at Connecting and Ineffective at Discipling

Note: This is part 2 of a 5 part series.  You can read part 1 right here.

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I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here’s a look at the second small group ministry myth that needs busting (did you miss Myth #1?  You can find it right here):

Myth #2: Small groups are an effective way to connect people but ineffective at making disciples

What do you think?  Is that your experience?  I think this myth was firmly established by two main ideologies/philosophies:

  1. There is a group that wants us to believe that discipleship is something you do in rows.  It’s about learning about Jesus.  It involves a curriculum.  It is fill-in-the-blank.  It is about information.  It is not bad.  And it is not the way Jesus made disciples.
  2. There is another group that wants us to believe that discipleship is a one-on-one activity.  It is about a series of meetings covering a series of topics.  It is very relational.  It is about accountability.  It is not bad.  And it is not the way Jesus made disciples.

Truth: What happens in a small group shouldn’t be limited to connecting.  Your current system might lean in that direction…but it shouldn’t and it doesn’t need to.

Jesus made disciples in a group.  Paul made disciples in a group.  Life on life, in the midst of life.  There does not seem to have been a study guide.  The experience seems to have been customized for each individual follower.  I love Dallas Willard’s definition of a mature disciple:  ”A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

Can you see what might need to happen to your system?  What would your curriculum pathway need to be?  What would be true of the leaders in your system?  Your coaches?

Want to go there?  There are several things you must consider to even begin:

Did you miss Small Group Ministry Myth #1?  You can read about it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Small Group Ministry Myths that Need Busting

I love the Discovery Channel show MythBusters.  The show has a simple premise: The MythBusters team “proves and disproves urban legends and popular misconceptions using a signature style of explosive experimentation.”  The myths and misconceptions that get tested range from the absurd (can you herd cats?) to the profound (could Luke Skywalker really swing himself and Leia across a chasm with only his belt-rigged grappling hook). Very fun.

But you know…sometimes I run across a small group ministry myth that really needs to be busted.  You know what I’m talking about?

Here are five small group ministry myths that I believe need busting:

Here’s a look at the first small group ministry myth that needs busting:

Myth #1: An important key to growing the number of groups in your small group ministry is for every leader to have an apprentice.

What do you think?  Is that idea part of your philosophy of grouplife?  Based generally on cell group philosophy and particularly the Meta Church model, the essence of the practice of developing an apprentice is to replace yourself.  The genius of apprenticing is that it makes it theoretically possible for a small group to grow and birth every 12 to 18 months.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Do it enough times and you connect everyone to a group.  Theoretically.  See also, Do Healthy Groups Really Grow and Birth?

Truth:  It turns out that while apprenticing is a powerful leadership development practice (the best resource I’ve found for developing an apprentice is Community Christian Church’s Developing an Apprentice), it is only occasionally a dependable method of multiplying groups.  Oh, the idea sounds good on paper:

  1. Recruit an apprentice
  2. Grow your group to 12 people over a 12 to 18 month season
  3. Birth a new group where the apprentice takes 6 and the leader keeps 6
  4. Now you have 2 groups
  5. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Apprenticing as a group multiplication strategy does sound good, but has two major flaws.

Small group ministry myth #2?  Small groups are an effective way to connect people but ineffective at making disciples.  You can read about it right here.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Dilbert on Leading by Example

Sometimes…the truth hurts and you have to laugh.

leading by example

Two Things to Know about the Primary Point of Connection in Your Church

What’s the primary point of connection in your church?  Is it the weekend service?  This is a no-brainer question in most 21st century Western churches.  The primary way a person is connected is to the Sunday morning worship service (or Saturday night) of a particular local church.

Hear me on this.  I’m not suggesting that is a legitimate point of connection.  I’m only saying that the weekend worship service is the primary point of connection (weak though the connection is) for most members and attenders in our churches.

With me?  Isn’t that how it is in your church?

I realize that’s how it is for many, many people in our churches.  And I realize that it’s difficult to imagine it any other way.

Still, I think it’s important to note two things:

  1. The primary point of connection in the 1st century wasn’t a weekend service.  It was a group that met in a house (or by a river).  I love Andy Stanley’s line that the primary activity of the early church was one-anothering one another and when everyone is sitting in rows…you can’t do any one-anothers.”  See also, The Primary Activity of the Early Church.
  2. The primary point of connection in the mid-21st century won’t be a weekend service.  The time is quickly approaching when it will be much easier to say “come over” to my house or “meet me at Starbucks”  than “come with” me to church.  In some parts of the Western world it is already happening.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System and 10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.

Peter Drucker famously pointed out that, “Tomorrow is closer than you think.”  William Gibson pointed out that, “The future is already here.  It’s just not evenly distributed.”

I’m not suggesting that you make one abrupt move to a group as primary point of connection, but I’d be remiss if I knew it was coming and remained silent.  And so will you.  Tag…you’re it.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Add “Drucker and Me” to Your Reading List!

drucker and meIf you’ve benefitted as much from Peter Drucker as I have, you will love Bob Buford’s new book.  Drucker & Me: What a Texas Entrepreneur Learned from the Father of Modern Management is both a fascinating read and packed with insight.  I very nearly read it in one sitting, could not put it down, and immediately decided to read parts again.  So good!

Buford’s Drucker & Me tells the story of his improbable 23 year relationship with Peter Drucker and how the hard-driving CEO of an extraordinarily successful privately owned cable television company decided to devote the second half of his life to “transform the latent energy of American Christianity into active energy.”  The author of Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance and founder of the Leadership Network, Buford recounts this story in a way that grabs attention from the opening paragraphs and never lets go.

I especially liked the way the story of Buford’s meetings with Peter Drucker highlighted the learnings that shaped transitions in his career and sense of calling.  As much as I really enjoyed Buford’s reflections about his meetings with Peter Drucker (and if you are a Drucker fan you will love them), my copy is marked up, highlighted, and bookmarked.

Drucker & Me is a goldmine.  I’ll come back to it again and again.  I’m also confident that you’ll be hearing about what I learned!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Are You Aware of a Culture in Search of Belonging?

Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (published in 1995) offered an eerie first glimpse at a changing America.  The title came from a trend noticed by the owner of one of the largest bowling alley chains in America who told Putnam about the declining participation in bowling leagues.  At the heart of Putnam’s study?  ”How we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures — whether they be PTA, church, or political parties — have disintegrated.”

Have you seen this in your area?

I connect Putnam’s research with my own anecdotal findings in communities across America where only a small percentage of residents have family nearby.

What’s your community like?

About six months ago I referenced the findings of a 2013 Barna study.  There were a number of very interesting points, but two were very important for all of us to note:

  • Ten years ago, 10% of Americans saw themselves as lonely.  Today, that number has doubled.
  • The desire to find a few good friends has also increased and in certain key demographics there has been an even larger increase.

Are you paying attention to the symptoms?

One of the most important societal/cultural shifts in our time is the absence of connection; the painfully absent sense of family.

When you think about your church, when you evaluate your small group ministry, have you built in steps that help meet this need?  If you haven’t…you’re missing one of the most significant opportunities to connect people in our generation.

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Keys to Building Small Group Ministry at the Corner of “Belonging” and “Becoming”

Want to make disciples who make disciples?  If you want to develop more than a program for high achievers seeking the most challenging merit badge, making disciples who make disciples must be built into the way ordinary life happens at your church.

Making disciples who make disciples must be built into the way ordinary life happens at your church [click to tweet].

This is a very big deal friends.  One of the most significant strategic misses in the 21st century is the belief that small groups are good for connecting people but making disciples requires something more.

If you’ve been along for much of this conversation, you know that one of my assumptions is that “the optimal environment for life-change is a small group.”  You might also remember that one of the major roadblocks to small group ministry is a myopic understanding of the culture that, among other things, holds onto “participation expectations are determined according to decades old pace of life realities.”

Add these two ideas together and you’ll probably arrive at my conclusion:

Making disciples who make disciples must be built into the way ordinary life happens at your church.

How can we do that?  How can making disciples who make disciples be built into the ordinary life of your church?  I believe it happens at the corner of belonging and becoming.

Here are 5 keys to building small group ministry at the corner of belonging and becoming:

  1. Celebrate small group involvement as a way of life.  Tell stories regularly.  Highlight testimonies frequently.  Take advantage of every available format (sermon, announcement, bulletin, website, e-newsletter, email, video, etc.).  See also, Gather Stories as If Lives Hang in the Balance.
  2. Build easy first steps out of the auditorium.  Remember, unconnected attenders are almost always infrequent attenders.  In addition to infrequent attendance, coming to church for the first time was a very difficult step.  If you want to connect unconnected people, you need to build first steps out of the auditorium with them in mind.  See also, 5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step Toward Community and How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium?
  3. Develop a coaching structure that delivers a healthy span of care.  This key is often unfortunately missed.  In my opinion, you cannot expect #4 or #5 to happen without developing an effective coaching structure.  Very important to note though, that what is needed is care and life-on-life discipling.  Not accounting or reporting.  Coaches need to do to and for your group leaders what you want the leaders to do to and for their members.  See also, 7 Practices for Discipling and Developing Your Coaches.
  4. Model belonging and cultivate a sense of family.  Humans come factory equipped with a desire to belong.  Psychologists understand this.  Marketers understand this.  Cult leaders understand this.  The desire to belong is a very powerful human need.  We all feel it.  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, your small group leaders need to learn how make belonging and a sense of family an ordinary part of grouplife.  See also, The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group and Do Your Small Groups Cultivate This Important Ingredient?
  5. Build a small group culture that is about becoming like Jesus.  Everyone has their own definition of what it means to be a disciple.  I’ve always found Dallas Willard’s definition of a mature disciple very helpful: “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”  At its core, discipleship is not about knowing.  It’s about becoming.  See also, 5 Keys to a More Dynamic Group Experience and 10 Things I Need to Know about Discipleship.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

“Growing Up” Is a Must Add Discipleship Resource

growing upI’ve been working my way through a new book from Robby Gallaty this week.  You may not recognize the name, but you will definitely recognize the name of Robby’s mentor.  David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brookhills and author of Radical and Follow Me writes the forward and invited Gallaty, a new follower of Jesus, into a disciple-making relationship in 2003.

Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples is just what it claims to be.  A how-to manual that lays out a pathway and then escorts you along the pathway to being a disciple who makes disciples.  You may not agree with all of Robby’s conclusions or practices, but you can’t really argue with the effectiveness of the concept.  To grow from “a handful of people meeting in intentional D groups” in 2008 to the expectation of “more than 1000 people meeting in D groups” in 2014 is no small feat and a testament to both the conviction of the leader and the replication effectiveness of the system.

Gallaty, the senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church is is committed to making disciples who make disciples.  Growing Up is really the template or the roadmap that makes it happen.

The organization of Growing Up works for me.  The first three chapters make the case for the necessity and importance of making disciples.  Chapter four provides a roadmap for personal godliness.  And the remaining chapters provide a detailed look at the six disciplines core to the D group plan.  The six disciplines in Gallaty’s plan are:

  • COMMUNICATE: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  • LEARN: Mining for Gold
  • OBEY: Follow the Leader
  • STORE: An Eternal Investment Strategy
  • EVANGELIZE: Show and Tell
  • RENEW: H.E.A.R.ing from God

There are several aspects that really help make Growing Up a great resource.  I love the layout of the chapters on the six disciplines.  Personal stories make every concept easy to understand.  An excellent set of self-diagnostic questions are easy to see using on a regular basis.  Every chapter also includes practical exercises that make the practice very transferable.

If you’re in the business of making disciples who make disciples, Growing Up is a book that needs to be on your radar.  You need to read David Platt’s warning from the foreword though.  ”Please don’t read this book.  Instead, do it.”  I have to agree with Platt.  This is that kind of book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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