January 2009

_42885143_highwire_getty3Just had a long conversation with a man who has become a bit of a mentor to me: Lyman Coleman. (There is no short conversation with Lyman). Lyman is 75-years-old. And boy has he lived. This morning he said that his goals for life were to educate his children, finish strong, and die broke—meaning leave it all on the field. “So far,” he said, “I’m on track for all three.” Even with his association with Billy Graham Ministries and the Navigators, Lyman’s legacy is most likely Serendipity House. He remains an innovator, true to his heart and who he has been created to be. Lyman has never been afraid to break the mold, challenge convention, or call out something not quite right … the only thing he’s sold out to in his life is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lyman is also no stranger to pain; to heartbreak. I might think that a man after God’s heart like Lyman Coleman could avoid tragedy. But that just isn’t the case. He lost his wife to a medical malpractice event years ago. He has survived two of his children and recently lost a daughter-in-law. Last month one of his own mentors, Bruce Larson, departed this world. Lyman arrived at the funeral surprised to see his name on the program as a speaker. Responding to his surprise, he was told to just keep it short; that’d he be fine. Lyman has avoided most public speaking for several years. He just hasn’t had the heart for it. Life can have that effect. His surprise at seeing his name on the program, however, is indicative of how God works. God allows these things to bubble up in our lives to call us again and again into the redemptive story that He has been revealing to us and continues to reveal. I know from my experiences that it’s not easy. So Lyman followed a thirty minute eulogy. “I spoke for two minutes,” he told me earlier today. “I broke down and I was done. I said everything I needed to say.” He said that this was his call back out on the high wire. He concluded a long time ago that life was meant to be lived on the high wire. Everything else is just preparation.

We talked about several things during that conversation but what I’ll remember is the impact Lyman felt upon seeing his name on the funeral program of a friend. So many of us begin our lives with such drive, vigor, and well-intentioned purpose only to find a place along the way that is “good enough.” We wander. Along the ways of these dusty roads there is potential, if not a tendency, to lose our way. Lyman has told me so many times that we all need two things: (1) a hug and (2) a kick in the [backside]. Got to love the simplicity there.

Lyman is such an inspiration. He has done so much more than endure. Moreover, he has rebelled against going into each day gently. So much of success and meaning and purpose is wrapped up in showing up, in putting ourselves in the right places regardless of the discomfort or the difficult circumstances or the commitment or the fears we bring. Your name and my name, all of our names, are in the “program.” We are featured players in the Larger Story of our time. And we all have a crucial role to play.


I am a part of a men’s group that meets every Tuesday morning. Our topic for the moment has been reading Epic by John Eldredge and discussing the themes, paradigm changes, and formational revelations we are experiencing. What has happened more often than not however, is rather than discussing the book, we are sharing what is currently commanding our attention. You know, those things that keep you up at night and really expose the messiness of life. For some it’s relationships, for others it’s a captivity they struggle to find freedom from, and yet others are just beginning to understand that how their story intersects with the Larger Story. The thing we all share though is that the formulas we’ve depended on our entire lives are no longer working for us. And when things don’t work like they use to, life can get, well … really messy. So we use this time to process our stories in community rather than worrying about finishing the book in 6 weeks. It’s been beautiful … and revealing. New layers of authenticity are being expressed and spiritual gifts are being exercised in response to the needs that bubble up.

One thing I’m seeing through all this is that group life, just like our own lives, can get difficult and messy at times. Here’s the deal, we have one group member lately who has completely dominated the conversations. Not only that but most of his monologue has been directed at providing solutions to others’ problems.  He doesn’t really share what’s taking place in his own journey, but how other men can get their life in order if they just following these simple instructions.   We meet early in the mornings and some of the group has to leave a little early in order to be at work on time. What’s happened of late is these individuals haven’t had much of an opportunity to share or  comment because of the one dominant voice. Another concern is that those who share their messes aren’t necessarily looking for a nice, tidy fix to their problems. Often, they just need to share what’s been causing pain so they can better process what’s really going on. The group can encourage and draw out the strength of these hurting men without necessarily giving them three points to solve their dilemma. It’s gotten to the point where this talkative person has actually begun to hold our group “hostage” by taking over the conversation and others in the group are unsure how to respond. Does this sound familiar to you? Have you experienced this difficult group dynamic? What did you do?

Well here’s what I did. I had a private conversation with the group member who invited the person who was dominating our group discussion and who knew him best. We both agreed that it had become a problem and a conversation with this person was needed soon. I gave him the following talking points to use in his conversation:

  • Because of the limited time we have and some who have to leave early, it’s really important to allow time for everyone to share.
  • You have some really good thoughts and suggestions but the priority is for everyone to talk about their own journey.
  • Not everyone is looking for a solution when they share a problem. Sometimes they just need to speak it in community to process what they are feeling.
  • We value authenticity and often times that will mean leaving someone with a messy situation where there are no quick fixes…and that’s OK.
  • Our group is more about listening to each other and hearing what’s being said than responding to every problem that is shared.

I also have found guidelines from the Samson Society meetings to be helpful, which calls for the following during group discussions:

  • We address our statements to the group as a whole rather than directing them toward any one person.
  • As a rule, we refrain from giving advice to others or instructing them during the meeting, believing that such conversations are best reserved for private moments between friends.

As it turns out, the conversation between these two went great and the dominating person displayed great humility and understanding. I’m excited for our group to meet again and share how God has used this messy situation as yet another expression of His redemptive nature. Our group will likely experience a new level of intimacy because of this and my hope is that everyone feels a more profound ownership of the group.

It would be great if you could join in on this conversation! What are some situations your group has experienced that are similar to this? What action was taken and what were the results? What happened if no actions were taken? What would you have done in the case of my group? Do you have any other suggestions or comments you could share for us?

Remember, group life is organic and you should always be ready to change and modify your group dynamics based on other’s experience. But you should always, always make sure you are living life in community. As I heard recently from a friend,

I’d rather drown in community than swim alone.

Attending conferences is in my job description. Trainers lead training sessions and most training sessions happen at conferences. Almost every conference I attend has an evaluation attendees fill out at the end of the event. The conference directors want to know what they have done well and what they can do better. I’ve evaluated ad-nausea. I mean… I’ve given my humble critique to at least a hundred conferences. I’m beginning to know what a good conference looks like.

 A good conference focuses on no more than a couple of areas of expertise, has one key note speaker who really knows that space, a couple of really great breakout sessions, and opportunities for attendees to network with their ministry peers, people leading the same ministry they are leading. That’s a good conference. But I’ve also seen what a GREAT conference looks like. A GREAT conference will have a laser-like aim at one area of ministry, will have multiple legendary personalities who are the best of the best leading plenary and breakout sessions, will give attendees the opportunity to choose from a plethora of break-out sessions led by people who are not just talking about it but doing it and doing it well. When attending a GREAT conference attendees get to network with ministers from some of the best churches in the country and around the world because a GREAT conference draws church leaders who dream the biggest of dreams and want to be around people just like them.

 Imagine attending a conference where you could spend meaningful time with Steve Gladen (Small Groups Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA., senior pastor, Rick Warren), Bill Willits (Small Groups Pastor, North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, senior pastor, Andy Stanley), Bill Search (Small Groups Pastor, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, senior pastor Dave Stone), Lyman Coleman (the man many consider to be the father of the small group movement in the U.S. as we know it today and the man who birthed Serendipity House). And at that same conference you could choose one of two paths. One path would be for you if you were a first time attendee wanting to find out how to do Purpose Driven Small Groups (the Saddleback Church model that has more people involved in groups than she does in weekend worship services). You could take that path. But, if you have “been there, done that” you could choose path number two which will be led by Bill Willetts and friends. And just to add spice to the already amazing meal that’s being dished out there was an unusually impressive amount of breakout sessions to choose from led by church leaders others welcome in to keynote at their churches. Then… on the last day of the conference you could invite your small group leaders to join you for sessions led by the same great people, sessions that will inspire and educate your team. And just to make it possible to attend, there were four locations to choose from.

 Dude… That’s a GREAT conference. One of the greatest and most influential churches in the world is hosting just that conference. Check out the NEXT Saddleback Small Group Conference by clicking on the word NEXT.

 See you there!

There are a massive number of videos related to small groups on youtube. Many of them are training videos and some are videos that can be used to promote small groups. Almost every one of these was created by a local church, a church just like yours.

You have two options if you would like to consider using youtube to train your small group leaders. 1) Create your own training videos and put them on the site for your small group leaders. This is not nearly as difficult as you might think it is. You need a decent camera, a computer, the right cords, and meaningful information to share with your small group leaders. The video on this blogposts I found on YouTube. or 2) Use the training videos others have already made available on the site. You can tell your small group leaders the URL the video you’d like for them to view or you can actually download videos from the site and put them on the big screen and use them when you have a training event for your leaders.

Until just a few weeks ago I didn’t realize there was a way to download what you find on youtube. But it’s not really that hard. You’ll use the website at http://keepvid.com/. Go to the youtube video page (where you view the video) and copy the link in the address bar.  Paste it in the blank at the top of the keepvid.com page and it will do the rest. 

You have just been given hundreds of videos you can use to enhance your small group ministry.

This is fantastic for church planters. If you are a church planter I would love to meet you at the Exponential Conference in April.

I was doing a consultation with a small group pastor. During the session I consistently mentioned the importance of evaluating the ministry, tweaking this and that, and fixing what was broken. With a hint of discontent in his tone the small groups guy said, “Sounds to me like I’m suppose to rebuild the ship while she’s in flight.” My response… “You got it.”

 One of the beauties as well as the challenge of leading a small group ministry is the opportunity (and necessity) to throw the cookie cutter away and let the Holy Spirit nudge you when redirects need to take place. A church leader can and should purposefully, strategically, and consistently evaluate, pray, and shift directions, tweak methods, etc…

 One of the greatest movements of the Holy Spirit to take place in the west happened in England in the 1700’s. John Wesley’s class meetings (small groups) were the catalyst for a movement that many believe saved England from a revolution and saved the masses from hell. His system of doing groups was rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt until he found what was right for the culture. In D. Michael Henderson’s book, A Model for Making Disciples: John Wesley’s Class Meeting, he writes, “John Wesley’s instructional system arose within the context of the cultural and historical circumstances of eighteenth-century England. His methodology was, in part, the product of his response to personal and social conditions in that day. He was no ivory-tower theorist; he worked with the common stuff of public ministry and formulated his policies in the midst of hectic situations.”

 Wanna’ change the world, at least start a revolution in the area where you live? After landing on specific principles and the values that will drive your small group ministry… wisely and in most instances annually… Dream, Build, and Rebuild!

I travel a lot. Most church consultants do. I never know what size town or city I’ll be in or where or when I’ll learn more about being the church. And I tend to find out what it means to be the church in the most unusual of places.

 A few months ago I found myself under the gun on a writing assignment. Now writing comes fairly naturally to me but finding the time to do it (without interrupting life with the people I love) isn’t nearly as simplistic as the writing itself. Sometimes while driving cross country I’ll get my Garmin GPS out and find a local coffee shop. These are great places to compose as I will seldom know anyone in that particular town. I get a big ol’ hot chocolate (I know it’s juvenile but I never learned to even slightly enjoy the taste of coffee. No matter how you dress it up when I take a swig the taste bud terrorists attack.) and settle in for a few hours of writing.

I entered a coffee shop in Bardstown, Kentucky (population 11,150), home of the Stephen Foster Story musical, Federal Hill, and the town that houses the first diocese of the west. As I looked around the room I was ambushed when I saw a few slips of paper on each of the tables. Each read…

 Beginning the Daily Grind with God at the Java Joint Café

8:30 a.m. Wednesday with the Reverend Kirk-Norris

 November 5, 2008  Lesson: Luke 13:1 – 9

            Repentence, this is the message.

The parable is a storied example of how you and I sometimes view our situations in life. We desire instant gratification but we forget and become impatient when the results we expect are slow in fruition. Our timing is NOT God’s timing. What we must remember is that all life, physical and spiritual, requires each of us to devote our time and our energy to the nurture and care of not only our own lives but also others on this journey. Then we will reap the fruits of our labors and the blessings of God Almighty!

I asked the barista what the deal was. She explained that this was a note from her pastor and that that church leader came in every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. to do a very short teaching then the individuals seated around each table would answer questions that had been created.  

 If you’re a pastor you may want to give it a try. Below you’ll find some of the outcomes of such a ministry.:

  •  Word of mouth ministry. As people mention this to friends they too can join the group.
  • If you do this early enough, this is a great way for people too busy to attend a small group or who work evenings to be part of a small group.
  • Your church will be known as missional… your reputation will become that of a church that goes outside the church doors to be in the community and with the community.
  • This is a great way for church plant pastors and leaders to meet people who might become part of your new church.
  • Pastors are perceived as caring enough to go to those they want to connect with rather than demanding they come by the church building.
  • This is a win/win for the church and the coffee shop. The coffee shop has a full house without hiring a marketing agency and the church leader gets to sell those who show up the life transforming story of Jesus.

 How would you go about getting something like this going? Easy…

  • Choose a well-established coffee shop.
  • Drop by and ask the manager if they’d be open to something like this. Let them know you’d like to place slips of paper, a short paragraph, on each of the tables for customers to pick up through the week. Even if the manager would rather you not place these reminders on the tables, you can still meet weekly and have a very meaningful experience. If you get an affirmative answer to meeting there…
  • Begin promoting this opportunity with the people who make up your church.
  • Get commitments from at least 10 people, people who will commit to being involved for twelve months and will tell the people they work with and their friends. Ask these people to join you in this endeavor. Ask them to make it their goal to fill the place.  
  • Choose a starting date and get going.

 If your local coffee shop will join you in this, I don’t think you can go wrong.

 A word to church planters… This is a great way to become known in the community, especially if you’ve planted in a small or medium-sized town. I’d love to get to know you. Give me a call at 615-251-5862 or join me at the Exponential Conference in April.

Birthing new groups is vital to Kingdom growth. Every group that multiplies opens the door for pre-Christians to be involved in Christian community. Church plants need groups to multiply so people with leadership gifts and skills can be noted and prepared to take on meaningful roles.

When a small group is truly living in community multiplying (Birthing may be the term your church is using.) the group seems to be a journey into discontent and sometimes downright anger. There are ways to diminish the pain while helping the group go through the grief process. Below you’ll find 10 steps that, when utilized, will not only simplify group multiplication, they may even make multiplication an exciting part of the journey for any missional small group.

1. Share a vision: From the very first meeting of a group the vision must be cast for the mission. God can greatly affect the larger body of Christ through a small group if there is a vision for creating new groups and bringing people into the kingdom. If the group will make a group covenant that envisions multiplying into new groups, then new groups will happen. An effective leader will regularly keep this goal in front of the group. It is essential to raise up group leaders from your group and to divide into new groups every 18-24 months. Announce the intention to multiply early and often.

2. Build a new leadership team: As the group matures through the Growth and Develop Stages, the present leadership team should identify apprentice leaders and facilitators. This is done best in a small-group setting. Look for an engineer type as the group administrator, the party animal as the hospitality person, a person that loves interaction and knowledge as the facilitator, and a caring person to handle group shepherding. Next you must seek to train and mentor them as they grow in confidence. Here is an outline of this process:

a. Identify apprentice leaders and facilitators

b. Provide on-the-job training

c. Give them the opportunity to lead your group

d. Introduce the new team to your church

e. Launch the new group

3. Determine the type of group: Who are you trying to reach? There are four commonly identified audiences: a “core” audience consists of those in your congregation who are the leaders and the heart of the congregation; the “congregation” consist of those who are basically the regular participants who can be counted on to be present at most events; the “crowd” includes members and other participants that come to worship at least occasionally; and “seekers” are those who have not been church-attenders in the past, but who are now spiritually seeking.

Group Percentage / Group Type

a. Core 10% Discipleship Group

b. Congregation 30% Pulpit or Care Groups

c. Crowd 60% Felt Need Groups

d. Seekers Outsiders Support Groups

e. All Affinity Groups

f. All Covenant Groups

4. Conduct a Felt Need Survey: Use either a custom survey for your church or the one included in this book to determine an area or a specific topic for your first study.

5. Choose curriculum: Make sure your choice fits the group type and the stage in the life cycle of your group. All Serendipity courses are pre-selected for stage of the life cycle.

6. Ask someone to serve as host: Determine when and where the group will meet. Someone must coordinate the following.

a. Where the meeting will be held.

b. Who will provide babysitters (if necessary).

c. Who will teach children (if necessary).

d. Who will provide refreshments.

7. Find out who will go with the new team: There are several options in beginning new groups.

a. Encourage several members of your group to go with the new leadership team to start a new group.

b. The existing leadership team will leave to start a new group leaving the existing group with the new team.

c. Several groups can break off beginning all new groups.

8. Begin countdown: Use a study designed to help multiply groups, building each week until you launch your new group.

9. Celebrate: Have a party with presents for the new group. Make announcements to your church, advertising the new group and its leadership team.

10. Keep casting a vision: Remember as you start new groups to keep casting a vision for multiplying into new groups.

We need to learn from each other. If you know of other approaches or ideas that help in the birthing of new groups, please leave a comment with that information.

The information above comes from a small group leader training study (This study is perfect for turbo group training.) titled Becoming Small Group Leaders published by Serendipity by LifeWay.

If you want to learn more about small groups and church planting come join Rick Howerton at the Exponential Conference in April.