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3 Keys to Turn Around a Struggling Small Group

A few months ago I was discouraged and struggling as a small group leader. I love leading groups and have led many over the last 36 years. But the one that my wife and I launched last fall has been our most challenging in all those years. Not too long ago the group seemed dead in the water—there was just a handful of people coming, we were doing all the work, and a key couple in the group were moving away. It seemed like our efforts to grow the group were not working. I felt like quitting.3 keys

Now, however, our group is going great and attendance has more than doubled. It’s a joy to lead to lead the group and to experience what God is doing in it. It was a matter of going back to the basics. Here’s 3 keys that we rediscovered to help revitalize a struggling group: Continue Reading →

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The 4 Levels of Relationship in Jesus’ Ministry & Yours

Jesus’ ministered to people at four relational levels. Understanding these levels is pivotal to having the same impact that he had.

The four levels can be illustrated by concentric circles. 4 Relational Circles

The Four Levels of Relationship

In the widest circle, Jesus’ ministered to the crowds—preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, contending with opponents, etc.

Within that circle were his committed followers. We see this group represented in the 72 that he sent out in Luke 10 and in the 120 gathered in the upper room following his resurrection and ascension.

At the center of his ministry were his twelve disciples whom he chose “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (Mark 3:14-15).

Within the twelve he invested in Continue Reading →

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4 Keys to Great Communication in a Multisite Church

Communication is challenging in any church or organization. It’s especially challenging in the matrixed organizational system of a multisite church, which has lines of communication and accountability running vertically from top to bottom—from senior leadership down to the campuses—and horizontally across ministries. Things are further complicated by the geographic distance separating campuses and team members.Communication

To those of us doing multisite church, these communication challenges create daily frustrations. How can we keep communication strong and team relationships healthy in a multisite church?Here are four key actions that make all the difference. (I’m indebted to Jamus Edwards for sharing his insights in an article in the Winter 2014 issue of The Great Commission Research Journal. My points are similar though a little different than his.)

  1. Clarify responsibilities and authority. Role clarity is pivotal in a multisite church. Different campuses have different needs, different settings, and leaders with diverse gifts in campus pastor and ministry director roles. It’s pivotal that people know what their assignments are, what they cannot change, and where they can be creative. Clear job descriptions, well-defined accountability lines, and consistent reporting and feedback systems remove ambiguity and empower people to excel within the church’s given vision and values. (You can find some of our church’s job descriptions by clicking here.) Where are things ambiguous in your system? Where does your church need greater clarity and better two-way reporting? Continue Reading →
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You Need Wisdom, Not Strength

Icy BikingWhat you most often need is wisdom not strength.

Last Thursday when I started my five-mile bike to work it was 2° Fahrenheit (-17° Celsius). This is a new record for me. But it wasn’t hard to do. I did not get cold.

It made me think that so often in life what we need is not strength but wisdom.

When I first started biking as an adult whenever it got below 55° (13° Celsius), I would put my bike up. Why get cold? I don’t like to get cold! Even more than the average person, I like to be warm.

But I started to get wiser. I could bike when it got cooler with the right jacket and gloves. I didn’t care if it was 40° or even 30°.

Then I realized that with long underwear, biking mittens and wool socks that 20° is no problem.

Now I know with neoprene shoe covers and studded tires, that snow and 2° is no problem. I was comfortable biking on Thursday, considerably more comfortable than when I bike and it’s 90° (32° Celsius).

I still don’t like to get cold, but I did not get cold. I did not bike on a snowy 2° morning because I was stronger or more determined or more macho or whatever. I am simply wiser than I used to be.

What I want to say to you (and actually to myself) is that things that I didn’t think were possible became possible not because I became stronger but because I became, over time, wiser.

What do you think is impossible for you now? Is it getting fit, loosing weight, accomplishing a big goal or life dream?

Maybe it’s not that you are weak but that you need to learn. Maybe what you and I need is not more strength from God but more wisdom from Him. Maybe what we need to pray for and seek is not strength, but an openness to learn.

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How Long Should Your Small Group Meeting Be? (I think you will be surprised by the research results on this one!)

Over the years I’ve surveyed over 4000 small group leaders to uncover the key elements that produce vital, growing groups. I’ve consistently asked the leaders how long their meetings are. But I’ve been too busy looking at other things and actually never analyzed how the length of small group meetings impacts their growth.clock

I finally took the time to do this. Wow! I was shocked by the results. I think you will be, too. Or maybe you’re smarter than I am.

In this round of research I surveyed 1140 small group leaders in 47 different U.S. churches.

The specific question I asked them about their meeting length was: “Normally our small group meetings last:”, to which they could answer:

a. Less than 60 minutes
b. 60-90 minutes
c. 91-120 minutes
d. 121-150 minutes (2.5 hours)
e. More than 150 minutes

Just 2.3% said that a normal meeting of their group lasts less than 60 minutes, 34.4% said that their meetings go 60-90 minutes, almost half (45.8%) said that their meetings are 91-120 minutes, 14.2% had meetings 121-150 minutes, and 3.2% said that their meetings are more than 150 minutes or two and one-half hours long.

I compared the length of group meetings to four small group growth measures:

1. The number of people visiting the group.

2. The number of people coming to Christ through the influence of the group.

3. The number of people joining the group.

4. The number of new groups and leaders emerging from the groups.

I found the length of meeting only impacts the third of these growth factors, the number of people joining the group.

Now, which groups do you think grow the fastest: those with short meetings of 90 minutes or less (a. and b.), those meeting a medium length (c. 90-120 minutes), or those with long meetings of over 2 hours (d. and e.)? Continue Reading →

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Quit Being a Cry-Baby Small Group Pastor and Focus on the 2 Key Things that Produce Results

I’ve talked with small group pastors across the country and one thing many of them say is: “Our church’s small group ministry is not doing well and it’s the senior pastor’s fault. If they would emphasize groups more in their messages, in our membership classes, and in our church communication, our groups would really take off. But they just don’t get it.”cry baby

Perhaps you are thinking this yourself. If so, you are dead wrong and I’ve got hard evidence to prove it!

I too used to think that the health of a church’s small group ministry depended largely on how much the senior pastor and the overall church emphasized the importance of small groups. Continue Reading →

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The 4 Keys to Growing Your (American) Small Group

What makes an American small group grow? Some of you are familiar with the groundbreaking research that Dwight Marable and I did on small group growth that was published in our 2011 book Small Groups, Big Impact. (If you don’t have time to read that short book, you can find a free summary of our key findings here.) That research was based on our surveying over 2000 small group leaders in 21 different countries.

Since then some people have asked me, “What about small groups in the United States? What makes American small groups grow?” I’m happy to report I’ve just done fresh research involving 1140 small group leaders in 47 different churches here in the States. Besides having a large number of leaders from a wide variety of churches involved, some small but significant improvements were made to the survey tool. All this means I found out some cool and helpful new stuff. Simple path diagram 11-2013

Four types of small group growth were analyzed. I looked at the number of… Continue Reading →

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Your Three Multisite Video Options: One-Week, One-Day, One-Minute Delay

If you are using video to deliver messages in your multisite strategy as our church does, you have three options. We’ve used all three over the last four and a half years of our multisite journey. Let me tell you our story and the advantages and disadvantages of each of these three
Of course there are different ways to do multisite. Some churches don’t use video at all, but have the same message outlines used by live speakers at their various campuses. Our church uses video technology most Sundays to deliver the messages, but once a month the campus pastors give the message themselves, working from a common outline that they personalize to themselves and their campus.
One-Week Delay
We started our multisite journey using the one-week delay method. We would record the sermon at all three weekend services of our original campus and then pick the best one, edit it, burn it to DVD, and use it the following Sunday at the services of our new campuses. This worked  well for us and we did things this way for three years.
  • The new campuses got the best of the three weekend messages.
  • There was ample time for the video to be edited well.
  • The campus pastors had more peace of mind. They could view the message ahead of time and prepare the other elements of the service to flow with it.
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4 Surprising Discoveries about Small Group Growth

Realizing that small groups make the most difference in a church’s quantitative and qualitative growth (Schwarz, Natural Church Development, p. 32), Dwight Marable and I have done extensive research to discover the key ingredients for small group health and growth. Statistical analysis of over 3000 small group leaders in more than 200 churches revealed these surprising results about small group leadership.

  1. Unseen behaviors make the most difference. The highest correlations to small group health and growth related to the prayer life of the leader. If you want a healthy, growing group you need to pray. So… Consistently take time with God. As you do, pray for your friends that need Jesus, your small group, and your small group members. Graph
  2. Preparing your heart is far more important than preparing your notes. We asked leaders how much time they spend preparing their small group lesson and how much time they spend praying for their meeting. Lesson prep showed zero correlation to small group growth. However, prayer for their meetings revealed an extremely strong correlation to small group growth! The lesson? Pray! Depend more on God than yourself. Preparing your heart and praying for your members and your meeting are far more important than preparing your notes. Try it! This week take less time preparing your lesson and more time praying and asking God to move in your meeting. I think you will immediately see a significant difference. Continue Reading →
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Four Reasons Why Seminaries are Ineffective (And What We Can Do About It)

Today’s seminaries are largely ineffective. We know this objectively and subjectively, but it’s hard to put our fingers on why they are ineffective.Wrong-Way-Sign-K-6608

What do I mean when I say that we know this objectively and subjectively? Objectively, we can see that there is a significant negative correlation between seminary education and both church health and church growth. (Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development, p. 23)

When I say that we know subjectively that seminary education is ineffective, I mean that leaders and lay people—like your uncle Harry—have been complaining about the impact of seminary education upon young pastors for years.

Why are seminaries often ineffective in preparing leaders? There are four reasons.

In a nutshell: seminary education often fails to adequately equip high impact leaders because Continue Reading →

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