Category Archives: Empower

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 Read the rest of this entry


3 Reasons Why You Should Stop Doing 1-On-1 Discipleship

I’ve quit doing one-on-one discipleship and so should you. Let me tell you why.Stop

First, let me explain that I used to love doing one-on-one discipleship and I did it for years. I’ve taught on how to do it across the United States and in other countries. I even co-authored a great one-on-one discipleship book that has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into a few other languages. (I’m not slamming this as an outsider!)

But then something unexpected happened. I invited a friend of mine named Mark into a one-on-one discipleship relationship. We met for coffee at Barnes and Noble’s and began working through the book Beginning the Journey which Ralph Neighbour and I wrote. It was going great and we were both enjoying it and he said, “Could I invite my friend Brian to join us? He could really use this.” I said, “Sure.” So the next week Brian joined us. Brian loved it and asked if he could invite someone else.

Before I knew it, my one-on-one relationship with Mark had morphed into a mini-group of four and I was startled by how much better everything went. Interaction improved, encouragement multiplied, and learning went to a new level. The group which had been great, got even better. I’m a slow learner and it took me a while to figure it out, but about ten years ago I ditched one-on-one discipleship to do small discipleship groups and have never looked back. Here are three reasons why you should do the same:

Read the rest of this entry

How to Be a High Impact Coach

For most churches we are just launching a new church year. For the first blog entry of the year I want to focus on the dynamic that my researched revealed as the most important element for a church’s small group system’s health and growth—the effective coaching of your leaders. Coaching is pivotal whether you are overseeing small group leaders, ministry directors, church planters, pastors, or any type of leaders.

How can you be a high impact coach? Here’s my advice based on what I have discovered both through research and my practical experience

  1. Pray for your leaders. James writes, “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2) Jesus declares, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24) Pray for each of your leaders by name. A couple times a year I give each of my leaders a 3×5 index card and tell them to write down the things they want me to pray for their ministry and their personal life. I also use and really like the PrayerPartner iPhone app.
  2. Get your leaders together. While it’s very effective to meet with leaders one-on-one, it’s also more time consuming. Read the rest of this entry

How to Do Great Small Group Leader Meetings

To have a thriving small group ministry, you need leaders that are envisioned, encouraged, and motivated. The main way that you give your leaders the vision and encouragement that they need is through great small group leader meetings.

Unfortunately many churches struggle to do these meetings right and consequently their leadership meetings have minimal impact and are poorly attended. Doing great leader meetings isn’t that complicated, however. Here’s my advice on how do do them right…

  1. Provide food. Anytime you offer a meal it significantly increases attendance and fellowship. This involves some cost but it’s a small part of your overall budget and investing in your leaders is the best ministry investment you can make.
  2. Offer childcare. Probably many of your leaders have children. If you offer childcare, you’ll get a lot more of them there. Read the rest of this entry

How to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

Aside from taking time with God and staying vitally connected to him, I’m convinced the most important dimension of my leadership is making disciples of Jesus who will in turn make other disciples. This is at the heart of the great commission, of life transformation, leadership mobilization, and church health and growth.

There are two key dimensions to making disciples who make disciples, the “who” and the “how.” The first one, picking who you are going to invest in, I addressed in my last blog post. This post is about the “how” of disciple-making. A lot could be said about this; I’m just going to share a few really practical tips from my own experience.

  1. Meet weekly for 90 minutes. I like forming discipleship groups with four or five people in them. We meet weekly for nine to ten months. This can be done at almost anytime in the day. Usually with men, we are meeting early in the morning for one and a half hours over breakfast or coffee before the work day starts.

    Read the rest of this entry

Simultaneously Expand Your Impact and Make Your Life Easier

If you are a ministry leader there is one thing that you can do that will both greatly increase your impact AND make your life easier. What is it? Raising up other leaders to your level.

Raising up other leaders lightens your load and multiplies your impact.

Although it tremendously eases our work load down the road, the reason why we often hesitate to invest in potential new leaders is because it increases the amount of our work this week. It’s easier right now to do things myself. It takes time to invest in others and involve them in ministry and leading. But if we don’t invest in potential leaders now, our work load will grow as our influence grows.

Jesus’ life demonstrates the power of investing time and attention in others. He poured his energy into a very unimpressive handful of people and through them changed the world. Are you following his example and strategically investing in future leaders?

You might be thinking, But how do I do this? What does this look like? Read the rest of this entry

10 Multisite Church Myths (and Realities)

Our church has been doing multisite (MS) ministry for a little over three years and we now have five campuses. Because we are the MS church with the most number of campuses in our denomination, we field a lot of questions from other churches and leaders. In my discussions with others I’ve realized that people have a lot of misconceptions about doing MS church. In this blog I want to correct ten common myths about doing MS church.

Myth #1: Most multisite churches use video technology every week for the Sunday sermons at their newer campuses. It’s true that a lot of MS churches rely on video technology but Leadership Network’s research shows that only 20% of MS churches use almost all video messages. 46% use almost all in-person preaching at their campuses. And the remaining 34% use a combination of video and in-person methods.

Myth #2: Multisite lowers the quality of a church’s life. Actually, the opposite is true. Our church’s experience reflects the reports of other churches. All indicators of church quality have gone up in our church—the percentage of people serving in ministries, the percentage of people in small groups, the percentage of people coming from unchurch backgrounds, the reported levels of satisfaction with worship, children’s and youth ministry, and people’s feeling of connection. We track these things very carefully in our church and have seen improvement in all the measures that we look at.

Read the rest of this entry

Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

I’m a small group enthusiast and always will be, but the longer I have done ministry the more convinced I have become that the heart of it all is making disciples who make more disciples of Jesus.

A Youthful Worship Band Leading La Viña

Last Sunday my wife Vicki and I took a group of our pastoral interns and visited a church that does an amazing job of making disciples—La Viña Communidad Cristiana of Mundelein, IL. A few years back La Viña was a small, struggling church with 45 people, 5 men, 10 women and 30 children. The pastor Homero Garcia almost quit. But inspired by Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-8, he decided to give the church one more year.

Providentially in that year, the pastor was himself discipled by a Brazilian seminary student who became a part of their church. After making prayer and discipleship central in the church, in the intervening years it has grown to become a vibrant congregation of over 500 people that has planted a half a dozen daughter churches.

What has been key to their growth? Two things: intentional life-on-life discipleship and a clear pathway for spiritual growth. Read the rest of this entry

Slow Growth & Fast Growth

No two small groups are the same. We multiplied our small group last month leaving our hosts and intern to lead a group in the nearby town of Mahomet while we launched a new group in our home in Champaign. Our new group is a lot different than the group we left.

We started the Mahomet group 1 1/2 years ago with three core couples. Several other individuals joined us and we had a nice sized group. But then one of the core couples moved to Italy and a several other people left the group. For a looooong time we had five people, if everyone showed up! The group grew very slowly. What do you do when you have a great group but it’s stuck or growing very slowly? For the answer to that question read my earlier blog entry “Pray, Invite, Eat, Repeat.”  I mentioned in that blog entry that we invited 20 different people to a small group potluck one week, literally everyone we could think of. Only one came. The one person that came, however, came back and became our intern in time and is doing a great job of leading the growing group that we left in Mahomet.

Our experience with the new group has been very different. In contrast to our last group, it has grown very rapidly. It’s only met for a few times and already it’s larger than our last group was when it multiplied. We’ve hardly invited anyone but the group is still taking off. This week there were 15 adults, 2 teens and 9 children, even though a few families didn’t make it!

What do you do when your small group seems to be growing too fast? Two things are pivotal. First, you get everyone involved helping. Almost immediately we passed out the helpful Small Group Involvement Sign-Up Sheet. Almost everyone signed up to help in some way. (Hint: Collect them immediately after passing them out and having people fill them out. Do not let people take them home.) Now we are focusing more on how to involve people than on doing things ourselves. This takes more thought and advance planning but it quickly makes things easier.

Second, you start investing in future leaders. We could multiply the group now if we had a prepared intern but we don’t so I’m taking more time with key people and involving them increasingly in trying out different leadership responsibilities.

It feels a little crazy, overwhelming and exciting all at once when you experience rapid growth. It’s also puzzling because for the most part we are the same leaders doing the same things as when our last group seemed stuck. But there are always other dynamics and outside factors that impact our groups that are outside our control.

Whether it’s slow growth or fast growth our goals are the same—to see a growing number of people connect to God, one another, and Jesus’ mission for their lives.

How is your group doing right now? What is the next step for you to take your group to a new level? What questions or thoughts do you have about what to do when growth is slow or when growth is fast?

Starting a New Year as a Group

Last night was our first small group meeting of the new year. My wife Vicki and I wanted several things to happen as we began the new year. First, we wanted to make any adjustments that we needed to to the group. Second, we wanted small group members to step up to the plate and more actively serve in small group roles. And, finally, we wanted people to leave behind sin and resentment as they started the new year. So here’s how we did the meeting. Perhaps you’ll want to use one or several of these ideas yourself in one of your first meetings of the new year.

The icebreaker: “What was a high point of the past year for you?” Very interesting and helpful to hear people’s answers. One child reported that the low point of the past year was listening to their parents’ arguments. 😦 Children are so transparent sometimes! :-)(The parents are working on things. Their marriage is making progress but has a ways to go.)

Evaluation: I ask for suggestions from the group for the months ahead. What do people like about our group? What do we need to change? The discussion wasn’t that long but was helpful. People appreciate that our group includes the teens and kids. We talked about the need to multiply our group so that we have more kid-friendly groups in our church. Everyone wants to keep the group on Thursday evenings. We’ll also keep serving as a group in the SeniorCare nursing home ministry.

Small Group Involvement Worksheet: We passed out copies of the SG Involvement Worksheet [click on the preceding words if you want to see the worksheet] and invited people to sign up for roles or tasks that they want to try. We gave people time to fill them out and collected them right then. Every adult and teen signed up to help with at least one role or task in the group! Wow! We have new people to serve as worship leader, reporter, prayer coordinator, and kid’s ministry coordinator. Others signed up to help teach, host and bring snacks.

Forgiven and Forgiving: I explained that Communion is a wonderful thing to experience as we head into the new year because it invites us to receive God’s forgiveness anew and to forgive anyone that we are holding a grudge against. We took time in silence to let the Holy Spirit search our hearts and to bring sin and resentment to God in prayer. We took communion together and shared things that God was speaking to us. One of the teens encouraged all of us to stay open to God’s voice throughout the year not just as we start it. Then we had worship and ministry time. (The children and teens choose to stay in the meeting until ministry time. Then they headed to the basement to study and play with the Wii Fit.)

Somewhat to my surprise, based on people’s response and sharing, it appeared that the most significant part of the meeting was the emphasis on forgiving others as we enter the new year. Several people had significant hurts to release and were thankful that they could give these to God as they entered new year.

What are you doing in your group to start the new year strong? What thoughts, questions, or suggestions do you have?