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…

Community takes work!

We just wrapped up an outdoor movie night in our apartment complex. As Community Coordinators, Grete and I get to plan periodic events for the community – this time we did an outdoor movie (that almost got rained out – it rained all day in Pasadena! I haven’t seen that in the whole year we’ve lived here!).

I’ve seen two movies in the last three days that have had strong messages about community. This time it was Pixar’s Cars. I love some of the messages in kids’ flicks. Maybe they’re just simple enough for me to understand! (That red car realized that winning isn’t everything – who we help along the way and how we get there matters! Got it!) But I get almost choked up any time a movie has a loner who is going his own way, runs into a group of people who show him life is about more than just his plans, has to go to some big thing from his previous life, and the whole group of his new friends come through at the last minute to support/help him out in some way. That “one guy (or gal) helping others out and then seeing the community come together to support him (or her) in the end” theme gets me every time!

Grete and I also saw an advanced screening of Into the Wild Thursday night. Good book, pretty good movie. But here’s what stood out to me (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away – it’s a book you probably had to read in high school or college anyway, but be warned…). Toward the end of the movie, this rebel, free spirited kid who’s running from a family he doesn’t respect and working to get away from everything finally writes in his journal that “happiness is meaningless unless it’s shared.” He trekked to the middle of nowhere to “find himself” and find true happiness. But once he got there, he realized that part of “himself” and “happiness” is dependent upon others.

Continue reading “Community takes work!”

Discipleship – for unbelievers

Check out what Erwin McManus has to say about discipleship in this video.

Here are a few of his points:

  • Christians love to be discipled, get more and more information so I can know more and more about God without actually having to do anything about it. And when you look at the scriptures, what you find is discipleship is something that was focused on un-believers.”
  • Go and make disciples – focused outward. If the disciples looked at it our way, they would have discipled each other, and the movement of Christ would have ended when the eleven died.
  • “We end up having a non-Biblical definition for Biblical language.”
  • Discipling means going to those who don’t believe, investing in them and doing whatever it takes to lead them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • “A part of leading in this new context is recognizing that the real work of discipling the nations is investing in those people without Christ and taking those who are in Christ to serve the world.
  • “It’s not moving people from the world to the church but moving the church to the world.”
  • “American Christianity has taught Christians to be consumers rather than investors.”
  • “You will be healed in serving others.”
  • Mosaic is creating movement-oriented small groups. Believers and seekers working together serving the world.

Small group ideas – the year ahead

It’s official – another quarter of classes is done. Finished. Gone.

And for once, I can say THANK GOODNESS!

It’s been a crazy week. Between a couple of big events for our small groups and finals, I’m due for a let down! I finished up my last paper at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, and our big year-end celebration for small groups was pulled off without a hitch Sunday night. Around 200 people got together to eat, celebrate the past year, and look ahead.

Want to know what excites me most about working with small groups? The potential. This church was one that caught hold of the small groups idea early. There are some groups that have been meeting together for more than 20 years! More than half of the people who attend church on Sundays are involved in a small group. For larger churches, that’s a good percentage to start with. There are groups that are serving and reaching out to people around them. There’s a lot happening that deserves to be recognized.

But in the midst of that, there’s so much more to be done! It’s exciting to seek God and pray for what he has next. Over the next year (and probably longer) our team’s going to be focusing on three main things: supporting existing groups, starting new groups, and publicizing groups in the church and beyond.

When a group’s been meeting for five or more years, some can basically run on auto pilot. They don’t need much attention from the church. And a lot of groups are doing a great job at that. But, we want to be there to support, encourage, and pour into these groups however we can. Auto pilot shouldn’t be necessary! It’s not about controlling, but more about walking alongside the groups grow, change, and adapt as they seek to connect to God, each other, and the world.

In looking, there are also entire sections of our church that don’t have real options for small groups. We’re working to start new groups that provide places where everyone can fit.

And finally, like I said before, a majority of people are in groups already – which is great! But in the past we haven’t shared enough stories of what God’s doing in groups. Group members have been a silent majority. We want to find ways to share the stories of what’s happening with the church as a whole. Our interim pastor has been a terrific champion for small groups. He believes in them. And it’s such a blessing.

It’ll be exciting to see what the next year brings.

What really matters in church


There’s a lot of talk in the church world about doing everything with excellence. That’s important. Many leaders have focused on it because for many years it was totally neglected in the church (still is in some places). It just didn’t matter. While culture improved how it communicated, the church stayed stuck in the same old trends.

But something’s changing, at least in me and in the churched and unchurched folks I know. More than an amazing video and a band worthy of opening for U2, I want to see people who are real – people just being people, without polish, taking risks in the world around them. Excellence is important, but being authentic matters a whole lot more.

It’s like visiting a friend’s home verses visiting a five-star restaurant. Both have elements of excellence and authenticity – but their focuses are different. When we pursue the business metaphor, we begin to pursue “cool.” We begin to cater to people’s consumeristic needs. We begin to present a vision of church that leads to misconceptions over what God’s all about. When the pursuit of excellence becomes our goal, other things quickly become secondary priorities. Focusing intensely on the “guest’s” experience makes it a show, and when people attend a show long enough, it becomes an event to consume. Should we think about outsiders during our meeting times? Absolutely. But how we focus should also indicate our values. Hospitality matters a lot. A concierge service matters less. Continue reading “What really matters in church”

Tips for leading group discussions

For some people, leading a group discussion-based Bible study is simple. It just seems obvious. But others want – and need – a little more structure. As we’re working to share leadership in our small group, I’m learning that not everyone’s comfortable with just diving off the deep end without a few quick lessons. So while most things are better caught than taught, it’s sometimes good to have a little bit of teaching on the side.

Here’s a one pager I gave to our small group last night with some basics on leading discussion. It’s nothing special, but sometimes seeing things written down can help people understand why we do things this way and not that.

Empowering leadership: helping people find their fit

One of the most important things to remember in leadership is that – amazingly – everyone doesn’t think like you do.

It’s a lesson I learn time and again. And I’m a little surprised every time!

It’s like this. I’m the kind of deranged person who likes leading. I like speaking. I feel comfortable being in front of a group. I prepare less than I probably should, and most of the time it works out.

But as I’m working with new small group leaders, I’m constantly reminded that just because I prefer to work a certain way doesn’t mean everyone does. I prefer to “feel out” a group discussion and let it flow rather than following a structured layout. It’s a little “non-conformist” in me, I guess. Those “Bible study” books just seem so rigid and boring.

But I’ve also been in a lot of groups (good and bad!). I’m interested in leadership. I’ve studied and watched how group dynamics work. I even have some theological background to ‘help out’ when people ask questions.

Other people may be excellent group leaders, but they may not have the same personality, background, desire, or time to do the same back-work that may come naturally for me. I can’t expect perfectly capable, gifted leaders who are simply gifted in different ways to conform to my favorite approach. Some may need less structure. Some may need more.

In the past, as I’ve trained leaders, I’ve taken an unstructured approach. You’re smart. I’m going to support and walk with you, but I’m not going to tell you a step-by-step way to make a group happen. I still think that’s a valuable approach. We can sometimes get so structured we squash out any community or uniqueness of a group.

But it’s also important to give people options. Maybe I love Discovery Questions – a style of small group where the group reads a passage and then talks through it based on some simple questions. It’s a format anyone can use. But at the same time, it may not fit other people’s styles.

So, our leader training and support is constantly evolving to provide a menu of options. We want all of our groups to have the same values, but how those values “flesh out” in life will look different. Instead of leaving it there, though, I’m now working on different ‘samples‘ of how to start a group, how to lead discussion, serve the community, etc. Instead of fitting into my style, they’re more likely to find the one that gets them excited, which will lead to a healthier, and hopefully more fruitful, group.

Influencing change: what could be

Ever notice something that needed to look different in an organization or group? Did you work to change it? How did you go about it?

I’m realizing (again) that it’s much more important to paint a picture of what could be than to focus on the thing that needs to change.

When we see changes that need to happen in a group or a culture, the first instinct is to tackle them one by one. What if, instead, we told the story of a new, exciting possibility?

What if, instead of pushing for small groups to invite new people in, we told stories about groups living life together, inviting others to be a part, meeting consistently, reaching out to the community around them, and seeing lives change because of their work? Instead of seeing a change of course, they’re motivated by a bigger purpose.

We can try to convince people until we’re blue in the face. But I’m going to start talking a lot more about the final goal and helping those who catch the vision take steps toward that reality.