And so here we are in another Holiday Season. As a kid it seemed like it took forever to roll around again. When the air got cold it meant just one thing: an honor roll of holidays, school breaks, presents, and the promise of a warm respite from the cold, blustery exterior every afternoon. I loved it then and I love it now. Even though some of the promises have changed, the magic of this time of year (I won’t talk of January and February just yet) remains electric.

One of the transitions from where I was as a child in western Kentucky to my role here with LifeWay Small Groups is embodied in what the team “new year” has come to mean. Then it meant some new classes and a new date on the top right-hand side of a test paper. Now it means a new pipeline, new small-group experiences, and new resources. We’re really excited about what we’ve got in the pipeline in 2011—but it begins now. We’ve got two new Life Connection studies in progress. We just released our first small-group experience on the topic of social justice. Seek Social Justice is not about convincing you to be active and give, but about equipping group members with the tools for making a difference. And in January we’ll release Building Biblical Community by Steve Gladen and Bill Donahue. We believe this small-group study will become a staple for groups, new groups, and mature groups alike for years to come. Building Biblical Community has been created to help groups members know what it means to be in a celebrating, learning, loving, and serving community—that is, how to be a great group member. We’ve also got two new releases in the popular Platform Series scheduled but, shhh, I can’t give away who we are working with just yet. (I’m thinking about waiting to deliver the news during a live broadcast on ESPN.) And of course we’ll deliver 4 new studies in the Small Group Life series: Kingdom, Awaken, Connection, and Cacophony

The Small Groups Guy recently posted LifeWay Is Back on his blog. It’s great to see this kind of affirmation out here in the blogosphere. As LifeWay Small Groups celebrates its 1st anniversary this season, we’re celebrating both the rich legacy that Small Groups Guy references and the coming years.

Bill Donahue and Steve Gladen. Photo courtesy of @warriorriver.

Last week we wrapped up the filming for the DVD portion of Building Biblical Community, a new resource scheduled to release at the end of the year in time for January campaigns, new-group launches, and new beginnings. Building Biblical Community owes its concept to authors Steve Gladen and Bill Donahue, two of the most notable names in small-group leadership over the last decade. Bill and Steve have more than 50 years of small-group leadership experience at Willow Creek and Saddleback respectively.

Given that this is the first time that Bill and Steve have collaborated on a resource, we were all a little uncertain about how the dynamic would work once we got the cameras rolling. Although they’ve known each other for several years, this is the first time these two leaders have come together to create a small-group experience—and the 2-day video shoot went better than anyone could have dreamed. Not only did Bill and Steve deliver the goods in terms of the content and the small-group experience, but they also hit a wonderful on-screen rapport beginning at the first countdown through the bonus material. Your groups are going to love the spirit, interaction, and heart that these two leaders were able to convey.

What the Donahue/Gladen team has created is a small-group experience to help groups understand the dynamics of being a true, authentic biblical community. To achieve this, according to our authors, groups must become a celebrating, learning, loving, and serving community. Drawing from tried and true biblical principles, examples, and experiences, Building Biblical Community is not only perfect for new groups and church campaigns, but also for groups that have yet to hit the sweet spot—or else stalled or even sinking. We’ll be writing more about Building Biblical Community here at the Gypsy Road over the next several weeks and I’ll be posting more about how production is coming along both here and through Twitter (@bcdaniel).

In this short video we captured a little bit from our authors about their first experience working together. I just wish I could have gotten either a photo or a video of Steve riding in my Jeep Wrangler with the top off. Now that was a sight.

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I’m really excited that we will be hosting The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts.  This an event that might be the first time in history these amazing small group leaders have been on the same stage!!  To make it even better, it’s online so you can participate no matter where you live and it’s FREE.  Our very own Rick Howerton will be moderating this Town Hall styled forum and discussing the history, trends, and future of small group ministry.  We are taking questions so you will have a chance to present any issue you are dealing with to the architects of the modern small group movement and hear them respond and provide solutions they’ve seen work in churches all over the world.

The speakers are 9 of today’s most well-known leaders in small group ministry and the next generation’s rising stars – Lyman Coleman Bill Donahue, Steve Gladen, Randall Neighbour, Carl George, Bill Search, Reid Smith, Greg Bowman, and Eddie Mosley

Be sure to register and plan on taking part in this amazing experience.  If you are a ministry leader, forward the information to all your group members so they can get answers to some of their most pressing questions too!

Merry Christmas! You can probably blame the lack of activity around here on the fact that LifeWay empties out faster than you can say, “Ho ho ho” during the Christmas season.

We do, however, stay somewhat active on Twitter, so find us there!

The Navigator: @rickhowerton

Agonistes: @bcdaniel

Nomad: @chinavols

Philo: @philbdavis

Syeira: @vanderbiltwife

You can also follow Steve Gladen, the general editor of Small Group Life, or Pete Wilson, who was featured in the Canvas videos.

I am a Twitterer.  I tweet therefore I am…

1) instantly alerted to new small group blogposts

2) learning of and connecting with other small group types not daily but minute by minute

3) constantly receiving info telling me of a new small group book that has been published, a small group conference that has just been announced or a concept that a small group peer just thought of

4) asking a question and getting multiple answers back within minutes from other small group pastors and gurus

If you’ve been considering twittering but have been saying things like, “I’ll go into that kickin’ and screamin.” it’s time to put on your steel-toed boots and enter a sound-proof room. Or maybe your phrase has been, “I’ll start twittering when I become one of those nerdy tech types.” Buy an iPhone, replace your PC with a Mac and get a t-shirt that announces, “I Tweet.”   Or maybe you’ve been saying, “When I have time I’ll join the twitter movement.” You may find out, like I have, that being a twitterer may save you time as you are constantly getting the answers to your questions (or being directed to a blogpost or article that can) in 140 characters instead of having to read an entire book.

Because I long to learn from everyone doing good small group ministry, I am constantly working to build my small group tweep list. Below you’ll find 48 small group pastors and gurus that I am connecting with through Twitter. If you’re the small group point person for your church and you don’t see your name (these are in alphabetical order) and you twitter, please, oh please send me your twitter account name so I can follow you by responding to this blogpost. Another option…. go online and follow me (rickhowerton). When I get your request to follow my tweets I’ll choose to follow you.

Feel free to use this list to build your own. I think every person on this list would be honored if you join this network of gifted small group aficionados.

@adamworkman

@AlviRadjagukguk

@AlanDanielson

@allenwhite

@bdonahue80

@benreed

@BrettEastman

@carybranscum

@chiapperino

@colonkevin

@DaveTreat

@DavidBuckner

@DavidLermy

@deantwan

@doyleBrookshire

@Eddiecberry

@eddiemosley

@ericdunaway

@gary4n

@gatortodd

@gregmbowman

@heatherzempel

@HerschelT

@Huddude

@JBBRAUN

@jimbotts

@jimmeldrim

@joelcomiskey

@johncatkinson

@johnratz

@JoshSurratt

@kedamak

@maclake

@marcharvey

@markchowell

@MattWHarmer

@mbstockdale

@micmac1900

@mscottboren

@pkspratt

@reid_smith

@RGNeighbour

@RicDiefenderfer

@scottim

@ScottWilliams

@secondchair

@SteveGladen

@timweems

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!

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What’s NEXT for your church? What’s NEXT for your small group ministry? What’s NEXT for your connecting ministry?

If you haven’t heard about this yet, you’ll want to begin making plans now!! Earlier this summer Serendipity partnered with Saddleback Church to provide FOUR Small Groups Conferences across the country in 2009 with the theme of NEXT.

This will be the most comprehensive, energetic, and practical conference associated with small groups. In addition to awesome speakers like Rick Warren and Erwin McManus, there will also be the top practitioners in the country including Steve Gladen, Lance Witt, Bill Willits, Robert Davis, plus our very own Rick Howerton. And if that wasn’t enough, we’ll also be featuring a rare appearance by Lyman Coleman, the founder of Serendipity!! There will be two tracks to choose from – a START Track and a NEXT Track – plus a completely new opportunity for the small group leaders at your church called Small Group Saturday. This will be almost like a mini-conference within a conference. While you’re busy learning critical principles for small group ministry, your small group leaders can hear some of the top speakers in the country with the opportunity to learn from one of America’s best small group minds. Lyman will teach an exceptional two-part workshop on relational dynamics of small groups. Your group leaders will get immediate tools, tips, and techniques for leading transformational small groups from the foremost authority of the last 40 years.

There’s a ton of other things going on at these conferences in Lake Forest, Houston, Atlanta, and Cincinnati so be sure to visit the website to register or get more information.