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This Blog Has Moved to!

Hi, Everyone. I’ve moved this blog to My most recent blog posts are there. My goal is to continue to share insights and principles that you will find extremely helpful in your own quest to multiply the number of disciples, leaders, groups, and churches. Thanks for checking it out!


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. Read the rest of this entry

3 Ways to Get Your Small Group Out of Its Rut

boringEven great small groups like yours can easily get into a rut where things are too predictable and routine. If your group is in this situation now and you need to mix things up to create more fun, outreach and relationship, here are three things you can do to get out or stay out of a small group rut:

  1. Party! Everyone, including small groups, loves to party! Every month or two you should do something just for fun. The possibilities are endless. Do a game night or picnic. Or go bowling, mini-golfing or to a ball game together. One thing to keep in mind is 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

Learn the principles of the Small Groups Big Impact Book

Some churches’ small group ministries thrive and grow, while other churches—that try just as hard—have group ministries that struggle and stagnate. Why?

Jim Egli and Dwight Marable set out to answer that question. They wanted to help churches across the country and around the world grow vibrant small groups that continually multiply leadership and reach an expanding number of people for Christ. Their quest turned into a massive research project involving over 3000 small groups in more than 200 churches.

Proven principles for small group growth

Some of Jim and Dwight’s discoveries were predictable, others were surprising. All of them were extremely simple and practical.

Their research focused on two primary levels—the small group leader level and the church level. On the first level, they asked and discovered answers to the question: Why do some small groups grow while others—in the same church and similar settings—don’t? On the church level, they sought the answer to the question: Why do some churches have vibrant growing group ministries, while other churches’ groups fall flat?

They discovered four key small group leadership principles and three pivotal church factors. Their research results are revealed in their book Small Groups, Big Impact available from ChurchSmart Resources.

You can read a sample portion of the book here.

Pray Weekly, Eat Monthly

Our small group’s outreach is going exceptionally well right now and I thought I’d share with you what seems to be working. It’s pretty simple, really. We pray weekly for our friends that need God and we do a cookout or potluck each month.

Pray weekly: This is really very simple and doesn’t take long in our weekly small group meeting. Right before our Bible discussion, I hold up a laminated 11×17 inch piece of card stock that says “Blessing List” at the top. (Click on the words “Blessing List” if you’d like to download a PDF of the list.) We have asked each person to add one friend’s name to it—someone who needs Christ and who lives near by. After I pull the list out, we talk about it briefly and I briefly pray over the list and the people on it. Another alternative is to move people into pairs and have them briefly pray for the persons that those two people have put on the list.

You might ask, “Isn’t the list awkward when you have guests?” Good question. That’s why it’s laminated. So as to not make someone feel put on the spot, we can easily erase someone’s name before pulling it out. Having it laminated also allows us move someone’s name up and down on it’s openness scale.

Several weeks ago a small group member brought an unsaved friend who’s name was not yet on the list. When my wife pulled out the list that evening, the person asked that we add her name to it and begin praying for her. Who doesn’t want blessing prayed over their life? I don’t know exactly where this guest is in her journey, she told the group, I believe in God but I haven’t been baptized. You could add my name to the list.” We put it near the top on the scale.
The other thing you discover when you use a blessing list or do some form of weekly prayer is that your members really do care about their unreached friends and family members and appreciate the chance to pray and work together to reach them.

Eat monthly: Everyone likes to eat and it’s very non-threatening for someone to come to a cookout. Last night we had a cookout and our host had invited a non-Christian friend. That person asked if she could bring some of her friends. She came and brought four other non-Christians with her! We perhaps set a record last night. There were 12 adult guests (plus a few of their children), most of them non-Christians.

So, that’s my simple advice. Pray weekly for your unbelieving friends and do something fun involving food each month.

What are your thoughts, questions and advice on small group outreach?

Preparing for small group

This may not be very exciting but I thought I’d tell you how I get ready for small group. I have an old flimsy nylon briefcase that is my small group briefcase. I keep my small group stuff in it. Right now it has songsheets, the Outflow book, and outflow DVD in it. I toss the small group helps—the LifeLine—in there each week.

The longer I lead small group the more I realize that praying is important and preparing the lesson isn’t that important. As many of you might guess, it was my doctoral research on healthy small groups that helped me discover this. It’s really true. This week I prayed for the group at various points. Mostly random prayers as the group came to mind but Vicki and I also prayed for things a few times together.

“You have not because you phone not” is a truth about small group especially when you are starting a new group. We called everyone who has come to group—not many at this point—to inform them of where we were meeting. One person said that she enjoyed visiting our group but would not be back. 😦

I’m not sure why. We’ll try to find out from her after the service this weekend. Maybe another group would be a better fit for her.

Vicki called a gal who hadn’t come yet but seemed interested. She came! 🙂

I skimmed the small group helps and highlighted key phrases and the questions that I wanted to ask.

As I prayed for the group this week I could see one of the group member’s face. As we prayed on the way to group this happened again, I realized that this was probably from God. I thought, “We need to pray for this guy tonight.” We did. I have found if I listen, God faithfully shows where to start ministry.

We met at a different host home this evening. The couple is moving out of the country in two months so they have sold a lot of their stuff. They told us that they don’t have a TV or coffee maker anymore. “No problem,” we told them, “we’ll bring a coffee maker and a computer to show, the Outflow DVD on.” On the way to small group, as Vicki and I were praying for the group, I realized that we had loaded up the coffee maker but not the computer. Oops! We were too far from home to go back. I joked to Vicki, “I guess we got the most important thing—the coffee maker!” Fortunately, the hosts had a laptop and external speakers that we could use to play the DVD.

Small group went great. The input, discussion and prayer on reaching our family and friends was on target and really spoke to everyone. Worship was good. Ministry was good. There was delicious cheesecake, popcorn, and coffee for snack. People didn’t seem to want to leave, but I didn’t want to wear out our welcome so I threw my stuff in my old briefcase a little after 9:00 and said we need to run. Everyone left.

One of the group members wants to have the whole group over for a Thanksgiving meal later this month. This group seems to be gelling way faster than the last small group we led. It’s a joy and privilege to be a small group leader.

What do you do to prepare for group?

Kids in small group

We want a kid-friendly small group but are still figuring out what that will look like in this new group. There are so many variables when you want a kid-friendly group—the number of kids, the age of the children, the needs of the adults and kids, the configuration of the host home.

Last night we had six children ages 18 months to 16 years old. We included them in the icebreaker along with the adults. It was fun. As we went around the circle all but the youngest answered the question, “What is your favorite time of day?” Here are their answers:

1st grade boy, the first of us to answer: “Lunchtime”
Girl, sophmore in HS: “In the evening right after I have finished my homework”
7th grade girl: “3:17pm when the end of school bell rings”
6th grade boy: “study hall when I play paper football with my friends”
Another 1st grade boy: “playing on the computer with my dad when he gets home from work”

After the icebreaker, we prayed blessing on the kids and our evening and dismissed them to go play.

By including children in the icebreaker, everyone gets to know one another.

In some of the groups we have been in or led in the past we have had a kids’ small group time concurrent with the adult small group time (after doing the icebreaker and one worship song together). We might do that in the future in this group but right now with the age of kids and the spacious toy-laden host home, it works great to let them play together after the icebreaker and they are enjoying this time with one another. Right now we have a wonderful situation with two teen girls that are willing to oversee the smaller kids when necessary.

The children and teens joined us later for snack at 8:30. The options? Ice cream, cookies, bread pudding, lemonade, and decaf coffee. (Is this a great small group or what?)

The ideal situation in my opinion, which we happen to have now, is to have a small group where some of the people have kids and others do not. If you have all families with children, it’s easy to have more children than adults and then things can easily get overwhelming. Blending marrieds and singles and people in different seasons of life has some real advantages. In that kind of group its a lot like a big extended family.

It was wonderful to be in kid-friendly groups when our own children were small. They loved it and it gave them other positive adult role models. Even now with our children grown, I prefer to be in a kid-friendly group. Before group, during the icebreaker, and over snack, I am getting to know the children and what they are interested in and involved in. They enrich my life and, hopefully, I can also enrich theirs.

In Mark 10:13-16 we read the story of parents bringing children to Jesus. The disciples saw the children as bothersome and tried to chase them off. But Jesus welcomed and blessed them. I want a small group where children are welcomed and blessed. It takes some extra thought and coordination, but it’s well worth the effort.

Encouraged & Supported

My small group coach—Dave Thomas—called me earlier this week and asked to have breakfast with me. We met at the Original Pancake House this morning, the morning after our first meeting. He asked how our first get together had gone. He asked helpful questions like, “Do you have an intern yet?”

What I really liked is when he asked, “How can I pray for you?” I had several things I wanted prayer for related to my personal life, my family, our group. I feel cared for, encouraged, and supported.

He and his wife Tina are planning on visiting our group next month. It’s great to be part of a supportive Small Group system with caring coaches.

Our First Small Group Meeting

We launched our own small group tonight. Just as always I drove to group feeling very unprepared. Yes, I had prayed. And I had also prepared my lesson, but lots of other things were foggy in my mind. What icebreaker should we use? Is anyone we invited going to show up? I ask my wife Vicki, “Are we doing worship?” She answered, “No, not this week.” Fortunately, she and the host had worked out a lot of the details. (Whew! We do have a good team to start with–a host couple, the husband will serve as the worship leader.) Feeling inadequate, we prayed asking God to show up and make Jesus real to people. We invited him to breath on this small group and on this first meeting. He did.

This first meeting was a potluck. It was stormy weather. There were some tornado warnings for nearby areas. One person called and said she wasn’t coming because of the stormy weather. Besides us and the host couple, four others came—a couple, a wife, and a single gal. Almost everyone was unconnected to a small group, three of them had never been in a Vineyard group before.

We did an icebreaker over the meal, “What’s your name? Where were you born? What is one interesting thing about yourself?” I explained my vision for the group—experiencing Jesus together and sharing him with others, seeing miracles, including children to an extent. Then we moved to the living room and did Outflow week 1. Superb curriculum. Great discussions. We broke up into men and women for ministry. We ask the Holy Spirit to give words. He did. We prayed for each other. It’s good to be entering into community. Thanks, God for a good start. For using ordinary people like us to show your extraordinary goodness through.