Leaders in action

I’m working to build our website for life groups at Oasis. We’re going to try some new things with it, which I’ll share about later. But for our leader profiles, I decided to go a little retro – taking a few photos and turning them into animated GIFS (like all websites in 1994 had). I just told them to do two actions that, when put together would look like a movement. I gave the example of a wave.

Well, this is what the leaders so far have come up with. I have to vouch for their creativity. So far, they seem to be turning out a little …. violent. Except for our Hawaiian at the end. He’s just crusin’. Right Ernie?

Oh, and no babies were harmed in the taking of these photos. Promise. It looked a lot less troubling before they were put together!




Simple wins.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz writes that too many choices can actually be a bad thing.

Let’s say Ted to buy a new television. He walks into his local Buy More and is confronted not with two or three tvs, but with a wall of options. Now, he knew he wanted a new flat-panel. He knew what size he wanted. He even had an idea of price. But now he has to choose between plasma and LCD. He needs to decide whether he wants a screen refresh rate of 60Hz or 120 Hz. He even has to choose between models by Samsung, Sharp, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Insignia, Toshiba, Westinghouse, Dynex, Philips, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, HP, and Magnavox!

Faced with those decisions, Schwartz says that someone like Ted – with cash in hand – is more likely to make no decision at all. Rather than pick something, he’ll wait – thinking he needs more time to figure it out. Amazingly, studies have also shown that more options usually also means more regret. Ted may eventually get that perfect television for his needs, but he had to turn down many more. What if there was another one in that mix that was more perfect?

The truth is that most of the time we complicate things as leaders – particularly in church, where we want to offer something for everyone. But the truth is – simple wins.

Three ways simple wins:


Does your vision or plan pass the napkin test? Can you explain it by writing or drawing something on a napkin over a drink at Starbucks? Can you explain your purpose – or your discipleship process – or your ideas for reaching a city – in a sentence or two?

Some churches have pages of visions and values, but no one “gets” them enough to be able to explain them to others. A simple focus is more likely to stick. And before anything else can happen, an idea has to stick.


Maybe people understand an idea. What’s next? Simple makes the first steps easy. There’s no “decision paralysis” like with the television purchases.

Let’s say you’re looking at the core building blocks for a church. How many things are you going to do as a body? Will you have four different types of small groups, Sunday school classes, Wednesday night gatherings, Sunday night events, and more? Or will you say that the three things you do as a church are (some forms of) worship, community, and mission. Worship together. Get involved in a group where you can learn about God and apply that knowledge. And serve the community through your gifts and passions.

A simple vision or message levels the playing field. It lets someone know that “these are the two or three things I need to do right now. These are the three things I need to continually embody in my life.”

If I’m supposed to do one thing, I’ll probably start. If I need to do 12, I’ll spend all my time deciding where I should start and what’s most important.


Let’s say you’re looking at how small groups are structured. You can have a complicated leadership structure with multiple curriculum options and multiple styles. You can offer training classes and trained facilitators. You can set certain ways things should be done. But eventually, the systems can bog down the process.

What happens when you simplify it where anyone can lead? What if the focus is on a structure of mentors instead of a structure of processes? What if each group got together, studied the Bible, asked basic questions of the text, and worked to apply it to their lives? Every week. And repeat. Suddenly, if a leader moves, someone else knows what they’re doing and can pick it up. If a group gets too big, it’s easy to send a few people to start something new.

The same thing works with churches. The more we make it about the Sunday show, the less likely we’ll start more churches. It just takes too much work, specific talent, and resources. But if church is more about a community worshiping and following God in mission, then that’s something anyone can be a part of and a lot of people can help lead.

Different types of small group ministries


When churches are looking to either start or revamp a small group ministry, it can be helpful to see what others are doing – not necessarily as an instruction manual but more as a guide to see what meshes with your community/goals/etc. It’s best to see them more as mindsets than models. What fits with how you see community and mission fitting into the overall church?

That said, here’s a list of what some folks out there are doing that I put together for a recent workshop on small groups. Read below or download the PDF here.

Examples of different small group models

Basic Cell Group Model (Willow Creek Community Church)

What it looks like: Typically groups are formed either by a single leader or a group coming out of a class or group launching program. It is an ongoing group that meets (usually weekly) to discuss a Bible study, share prayer requests, and – for some – share a meal together. Typically, the groups are open, meaning anyone can join any group at any time. Group members are encouraged to invite their Christian and non-Christian friends to the meetings. Some churches are now encouraging those groups to also explore ways they can serve the community or church as individuals or as a group.

Pros: An ongoing group is a good example of Christian community. It provides a long-term source of friends who can support each other through life’s challenges. In an increasingly transient society, ongoing groups provide a good example of what true community can be. Shared histories and backgrounds can create a culture of openness and draw even the more quiet members into the conversation.
Also, since this is the primary way small groups are done today, there are many resources available on how to create a program like this.

Cons: Ongoing groups can become exclusive. Once a group has known each other for an extended period of time, they tend to become more inward and worry less about inviting others in. Many churches deal with this challenge by focusing primarily on starting new groups with new people. Also, unless the “why” is strongly worked into the “DNA” of the group, multiplication can be difficult on the group as a whole, as members have formed connections they do not want to lose.

Continue reading “Different types of small group ministries”

Pursuing your Holy Discontent

You’ve been getting mainly links and not many original thoughts here recently, and part of the reason is that most of those thoughts have been going towards classes and church work. We’ve started a new small group study at the church that I’ve been writing the curriculum and chapter summaries for. It’s been exciting to see the groups participating with one focus. Hopefully, I’ll build a team soon who can help write. If you want to see what’s happening or look at the study, visit glenkirkgroups.org. (Chapters 1 and 2, and chapter 3 are online)

Also, here’s a video I put together for the first week of the study. Hoping to do more. I need to get some more experience in front of the camera :).

Multiplication is messy. That’s ok. (part 3)


We’ve talked about the challenge of multiplication and how sending seems more natural. What if, in addition to groups sending others to start new groups, those connected groups formed a network, or a hub, that got together periodically? It could be for a time of worship, for a party, or for service. Our group meets on Sunday nights. What if the fourth Sunday of every month, our hub got together at a restaurant or at the church?

In The Search to Belong, (more info here, his site here), Joseph Myers talks about four “spaces” where we find belonging: public, social, personal, and intimate. The public sphere can be compared to the belonging one feels at a sporting game among people he or she has never met yet shares an affinity with.

Social belonging occurs when one shares the “small talk” in relationships. This belonging includes that wide realm of people you may know, but don’t know well. You have not been in their home, and that is all right. You would still consider yourselves friends. Personal relationships are with those you’d consider your friends. You do things together. You have been to each other’s houses. You’re close.

Finally, that intimate sphere consists of those few people who know you well – really well. These are the people who know the dirt in your life and love you anyway. They have seen your “naked” self. Myers’ point is that the church has often emphasized the big group and the small group, but has ignored the many types of valid ways people connect with others.

I believe small groups best fit in that “personal” category. They’re your friends. Sometimes it goes to intimate, but most of the time, intimate happens in a one-on-one relationship, not a one-on-ten. Hubs allow a natural place for those “social” connections to happen, while allowing groups that have “sent” others to maintain “personal” connections with friends they may not see otherwise (maybe they’ll even invite them over!).

These are just ideas we’re thinking through. We want to keep things simple. Having hubs adds another level of complexity to the system, which can be dangerous. But it also provides a safe way to maintain relationships. Ideally, relationships are naturally spilling out beyond the meetings, but this mid-level gathering provides a place for those connections to happen. It also gives us leaders a place to invite a few new folks who might fit with a few of the groups. They can hang out at a hub meeting, see if they connect with some people, and then join one of the small groups the next week.

A huge advantage of hubs within a larger church system is that they can look different for different groups of small groups. One hub might choose to have a time of worship – especially if there’s someone in one of their groups who’s gifted at leading worship. Another might feel that’s a good time for some teaching. Some may just want a social time, while others may want to adopt a regular service project. Hubs can be a regular time for a wider swath of people to connect in a laid-back environment.

So that’s where we’re headed. Any thoughts?

Multiplication is messy. That’s ok. (part 2)

So it’s time for our group to multiply. But multiplication is messy and hasn’t really worked in our context. What do we do?

Well, last week I introduced the idea to the group. We talked about how we value being open and open – to new people and with each other. I explained how multiplication doesn’t really make sense. If a small group is a group of friends who get together regularly to intentionally talk about their faith and serve together, it doesn’t make sense to just rip the group apart because we reach some artificial number.

But eventually something has to happen, because we can’t continue to be open and open – a group of 26 or so just isn’t the same as a group of 10.

So we decided to pray about it as a group. God’s in control here, and I believe he’ll bring a solution. We talked about a new model we’re playing with. Instead of multiplication, we’re talking about sending. What if a few couples or some couples and singles felt led to start a new group from our group? Just like a few people may go from a church to plant another church, a group could send a few people to start a new group. We can love and support them as they start something new. We can keep in touch. If something doesn’t work out, they still have a “home” to come back to.

This method seems like it would work better. You don’t completely change the culture of the existing group, and instead of loss, you see gain. You can tangibly see what’s come from your group.

But wait! There’s more. What if there was a natural way to keep connections across groups? We’ll talk about that next.

Multiplication is messy. That’s ok.


There is no perfect small group system. I wish there was, but there’s no one formula that will work for every church, meet everyone’s needs, and grow an active, healthy, outward-focused ministry.

That little confession leads us to today’s discussion. I’ve read lots of books on small groups, but I haven’t found “the” way to do them. Our church has more than 600 people in groups, but we’re still learning how groups “work best.”

One challenge for us is that many of the small groups are closed. A lot have good reasons – they’re more “support” groups than our typical small groups, they’re too big already and just don’t have more room for new people, etc. But there’s a challenge there. Personally, how do we continue to grow if we aren’t being stretched to welcome new people in? Organizationally, how do we grow the ministry if there is no room in existing groups? Obviously, one way is to start new groups, but I’ve found it takes a special person to start a group from scratch. There are a lot more people able to lead a group that already exists – one that has a culture, a momentum, and most importantly, members!

Healthy small groups have two important values – they’re open to each other and they’re open to others. Funny thing is, those values have to be held in tension. The group I’m a part of on Sunday nights is an amazing group. In the year we’ve been meeting, we’ve grown from one person showing up on a Sunday night to 16 people. The openness to new people has continually brought new life and perspective into the group. But I’ve also noticed that the bigger we get, the less some people share. Being open and growing hurts the other openness – of the individuals.

That means it’s time to multiply, right? Well, here’s the deal. That hasn’t ever really worked here. I don’t know of many places where this “multiplication” thing does work well. You spend time investing in people and becoming friends, and then you’re expected to split in half and never see each other again? That’s not how relationships work, and it seems counter-intuitive. Why would I want to invite new people if it just means it’ll mess up our group?

Many of those groups I mentioned above that are closed are open to inviting new people, they just don’t have room, and they haven’t been shown a good way to multiply. So how does your church handle small groups and multiplication? Do they do anything? I’ll tell you what we’re trying soon…