Tim Cooper, North Point Community Church, interview

I recently got to interview Tim Cooper, director of leader training and resources at North Point Community Church, and organizer of their upcoming small groups conference ReGroup (which is a must-go-to conference for anyone on a church staff or that serves in small group leadership).

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1. Be honest, Tim. It’s your job to put this conference on. If it wasn’t, is this still a conference you’d attend?

Before I was on staff at North Point, I paid to come to several North Point conferences. I’ve always been a fan of the passion and excellence that North Point puts into Community Groups. Now it’s a privilege to get to be a part of putting on a conference so other churches can see our approach. So, yeah, I’d attend.

2. Now that you’re in the third year of hosting re:group, what have you learned? What will be different this year?

We sent a survey to everyone that attended last year and there were several breakouts they specifically requested. Based on some common themes, we’ve added five to this year’s list of breakouts. In particular, Bill Willits is leading a breakout called “Transitioning to a Group Model.” It’s the most requested topic in our survey results, and Bill has a ton of wisdom to bring to the table. I’m really excited for attendees to hear what he has to say.

3. What are you most looking forward to this year at the event?

Two things come to mind. First, we don’t pretend we have all the answers. We still have a ton to learn. So, the oppportunity to interact with other ministry leaders and to hear about their challenges and successes is really exciting. Second—and I think this is related to my first point—I love it when others churches get to meet our team. Most people coming to re:group know who Andy Stanley is, but not many of them know our Groups staff. They’re a collection of humble, wise, and gifted people that care so much about helping groups ministries thrive. Watching other churches interact with our staff is always one of my favorite parts of any conference we do.

4. Why should someone peel back the curtain on North Point’s small group system?

Figuring out how you build or grow a groups ministry at your church is tricky. It’s a real uphill struggle for a lot of churches. At re:group, you won’t just be exposed to our approach to groups ministry; you’ll get a lot of practical information about how to implement and grow a culture of groups. You’ll get to see what it looks like when a thriving church is all-in with groups. That can be great motivation for senior pastors and other leaders trying to create a thriving groups ministry.

Are you going to ReGroup?

 

ReGroup: an interview with North Point’s Bill Willits

I attended ReGroup last year. It was the first year for North Point in Atlanta, GA, to put on a conference dedicated solely to small groups. To be honest with you, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. It was so phenomenal that I’m going back this year, too. (October 21-22)

*Keep reading…promo code below.

North Point peeled back the curtain on what they do…and why they do it. They were generous, sharing the secrets they’ve learned over the last 17 years of ministry. I have been leading small groups for years, and I walked away with boatloads of ideas that I could implement. On top of that, the North Point team were incredibly gracious hosts. I really felt like an honored guest.

Which is 100% a byproduct of my friend, Bill Willits, executive director of environments at North Point, and small groups afficionado.

I sat down with Bill recently because I wanted you to hear from him why their conference this year is a must-go.

I tried to find a good picture of Bill, but they all made him look old and crotchety. Sorry. :)

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1. Why did you guys decide to do a conference?

It wasn’t an easy decision to make because, first and foremost, we’re a local church. Our first priority is to do groups, not organize conferences about them. But the time was right. There are lots of conferences out there, but there seemed to be a void when it came to groups ministry. More than that, most conference presenters are thought leaders in their fields. While that is valuable, we think there’s something special about a conference for people doing ministry by people doing ministry.

We had a hunch that other ministries would benefit from what our Groups team has to share. We also knew that our Groups team would benefit from the opportunity to rub elbows with other folks from all over the world doing groups ministry. So, re:group was born.

 

2. Who would be the “perfect” person to come to re:group?

Re:group is for anyone who is trying to grow or start a groups ministry, as well as anyone just thinking about starting a groups ministry. Because we’re focused on how community is essential to life change, the conference can benefit a groups ministry of any size or at any stage.

 

3. What benefit will someone get out of attending?

While we’ll spend some time talking about the whys of groups ministry, most of the conference is about the hows. Anyone invested in small groups is going to come away from re:group with a lot of practical information about how to do what they do even better.

 

4. Why should someone choose this conference over any other given conference?

You know, we’re going to share what we’ve learned about doing groups ministry over the years, but re:group isn’t about North Point speaking from on high. We’re still figuring things out. We still have a ton to learn. Re:group is a conference where attendees can learn from us and from one another, while we learn from them. It’s just a great opportunity for ministry leaders from all kinds of backgrounds to come together and share their wisdom, knowledge, and experience.

 

Plus, Buckhead Church is a great venue for a conference and we’re going to have a lot of fun.

 

5. Why attend this conference and not just read your book, Creating Community?

First of all, we’ve learned and changed a lot since the book was published. The vision, mission, and values of our ministry haven’t changed but our model and programming have certainly matured. But more than that, one of the things that most excites me about re:group is the opportunity for attendees to interact with our Groups staff. They’re really great folks and they have a ton of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about creating a small groups ministry. Yes, read the book. But don’t miss the chance to connect with an amazing group of people who live and breath groups and who have helped us adapt, chance, and mature our groups strategy.

 

6. What area(s) of ministry will you be highlighting?

Between the main sessions and the breakouts, we’ll cover a lot of ground—getting people into groups, eliminating barriers to community, building effective ministry teams and strategies, and even measuring how well you’re achieving your ministry goals.

 

7. If someone comes to the conference, and uses the code (whatever discount code we’re going to use for my blog readers), can they stay at your house during the conference and have you cook us breakfast, Bill?

You really don’t want to eat my cooking. Seriously. And you’re a goofball.

 

Just for the readers of this blog, and just until Monday, September 16th, they’re extending the early bird rate. Just enter the promo code: BenReedPromo. Original, right?

$179 is a steal. You’ll walk away with information worth well, well more than that.

Register HERE for the conference on October 21-22.

Will I see you there?

 

Planning for growth

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image credit: Creation Swap user Cody Davenport

If you’re someone that’s content to take life slowly and easily, I’d frustrate you. I never find myself “content” with the status quo.

It’s this time of year that I start dreaming about the Fall. Summer’s in full swing, and I’m looking for what’s next. Where I need to grow. What I need to change. What I need to start doing. What I need to stop doing.

What book I need to read. What podcast I need to start listening to. What coffee shop I need to visit.

As a pastor, I’m always thinking this direction as well. I’m constantly looking for what’s next, because I’m never satisfied with where we’re at. “Good enough” doesn’t whet my whistle. Nor does “okay” or “average” or “decent” or “pretty good.”

So if you want to grow spiritually, you’ll have to plan for it. Here are a few things I’m looking towards, that will help me continue to grow. Your list may be different. But it’s time, now, to start making that list out.*

The Fall season can be a great time of growth, but you’ve got to plan now.

Read

I’ve always got a book or seven in my hand. I intake vast amounts of content through books and articles. They help me stretch and grow. Here are a few that are on tap for me leading into the Fall.

Write

For me, writing helps flesh my thoughts out like nothing else. I extrovert my thoughts to make sense of them, so writing becomes an outlet for what God’s showing me. Some of that makes it on this blog. Some of that will make its way into my upcoming book on small group life. But I’ve got to write to grow.

I’m going to write 1500 words/week throughout the 3 months of Fall. Which equates to 18,000 words. It’ll be good for my heart.

Go

It’s important for me to get out of my normal environment if I’m going to grow. Conferences provide that opportunity for me this Fall, and I’m headed to Atlanta for the ReGroup conference. I’m pretty stoked to be going back again this year. It’s a time of refreshment and strategic planning for me. The team at North Point is spot on.

What’s your plan for growth this Fall?

 * For continued spiritual growth, I’m assuming the normal disciplines of the Christian life: reading Scripture, prayer, corporate worship, small group community, confession, repentance, etc. I’ll not quit these, and neither should you. This is my outside-of-the-normal ‘things’ list. I’m also assuming you know that it’s God that produces the growth. I’m just positioning myself for the maximum potential.

 

Measuring what matters in small groups

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Introduction

How do we know if our ministries are working? Is it stories or is it statistics? Yes. Stories and statistics are not mutually exclusive. The measurements that we track help us tell the story of our ministry…about what has happened, what is happening, or what will happen. They help us know if we are “winning.” Measurements matter, so we measure what matters.

I. Where stories and statistics intersect

A. “Story” people and “statistics” people

  1. Stories engage the heart
  2. Statistics engage the head.
B. As a church, we are both organism and organization.
  1. Organism without organization is chaos
  2. Organization without organism is lifeless

II. Involve the right people

A. Establishing measurements must be a collaborative effort.

B. Establishing measurements requires diverse perspectives.

  1. Ministry involvement offers the perspective of ownership.
  2. Manager involvement offers the perspective of oversight.

III. Leverage best practices

A. Tie to the strategic

  1. Vision (life is better connected, which is why they measure “connection”), mission (to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ, which is why they send out a survey 2x/year to people in groups), and strategy (to create environments where people can grow, which is why they track the number of groups and the number of people in groups) must drive all measurements
  2. For each area of the organization, measurements must be developed around a clear win and critical factors of success. They measure 4 things: group participation, leader apprentice (for future growth), leader retention, and leader training
B. Tips on the tactical
  1. If you can’t or won’t change something, then don’t ask for feedback
  2. When relevant, use rations 100% of the time. This makes it easy to compare over time.
  3. Track over time to establish targets. You have got to have trends.
  4. Don’t marry your metrics.

IV. Follow up the right way

A. We don’t make decisions based on measurements alone.
B. We do…
  1. Open conversations. We believe the best, and don’t assume the worst.
  2. Start explorations
  3. Plan ahead…use numbers to look forward
  4. Benchmark standards
  5. Celebrate success. Don’t just focus on gaps.

Conclusion

The church is people and every one of them has a story. Our measurements must always be complemented with the stories of the people they represent. But stories, like numbers, can be manipulated. Therefore, it is not one or the other. We must walk the path between the ditches of the lifeless, organization-only mentality and the chaotic, organism-only approach. This is wise and skillful leadership; this is where sustainable growth is found. What you manage shows what you value.

 

Serving as a small group

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Introduction

It’s clear in Scripture that God’s heart tips toward the orphan, the widow, the poor, the imprisoned, and the brokenhearted. But how – with the urgency of our weekly responsibilities – do we ensure that serving our community and showing compassion to those in need are priorities? And how do we make it simple for our groups? We will share how we’re learning to make this an integral part of our ministry.

I. How are compassion and service integrated into your church’s strategy?

A. We must manage the tension between serving as a ministry (what we do) and service as a value (how we do it).

  1. When serving becomes a ministry, we are learning to make it simple.
  2. When service is a value, we are making it a priority.
B. To gain long-term traction…
  1. Service must be anchored in the strategic language of your church. (at North Point, they often say, “Relationships fuel service and serving fuels relationships)
  2. You must have a mechanism for mobilizing people to serve.

II. What is the role of compassion and service in groups?

A. We must manage the tension between mobilizing groups to serve and equipping groups for effective service.
B. When we mobilize and equip, people will do good well.
C. We want to move people from awareness to engagement to identity. (see groupleaders.org/berich for an example of what they’re doing this season.)

III. How will you make serving a priority in your groups?

A. We must manage the tension between finding engaging service opportunities and meeting the real needs of our communities.
B. We partner; we don’t pioneer. To non-profits they say: We need you, and you need us.
  1. This allows us to leverage our resources to help our partners go further, faster.
  2. Partnering instead of pioneering multiplies our influence in the community.

Conclusion

Our mission is to point people to the One who transforms, and it is the most important mision in the world. Service is a catalyst to this transformation, and the transformation is multiplied when we serve in and as a community. As a result, it is incumbent upon us to equip and mobilize groups to serve in astrategic and helpful ways – to make it simple and make it a priority.
 

Developing a Small Groups Strategy

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Introduction

There is a road map you can follow when developing your small group ministry. In this breakout, we’ll talk about the key principles that form the framework of our small group strategy. And we’ll discuss how you can contextualize them to your adult ministry, regardless of the size.

I. Some contextual thoughts for developing a small groups strategy

A. Leading a small group is to developing a groups strategy as driving a car is to building a car. A car and a groups’ strategy are both systems. 

B. Every system is built of essential components.

  1. If you leave out an essential component, your system won’t work.
  2. If you don’t know what the essential components are, you won’t know why your system down’t work.
  3. For every essential component, there is a steering question to ask and a guiding principle to consider.
  • When you have better questions, you get better ideas.
  • When you have better ideas, you get better solutions.

C. The goal for today is to further your ability to develop and implement an effective groups strategy. 

D. We will achieve the goal through two tactics:

  1. Introduce the five essential components of a small groups strategy.
  2. Illustrate an expression of these components using the example of our model

II. The Five components of an effective small group strategy

A. Point leadership

  1.  Steering question: Who is empowered, responsible, and accountable for the success of our groups system?
  2. Our answer:
  3. Guiding principle: “First who, then what.” – Jim Collins, Good to Great

B. Establish clear wins

  1. Steering question: How is our groups’ strategy helping us accomplish our vision?
  2. Our answer: intimacy with God, community with insiders, influence with outsiders. Closeness and intimacy (closed model), vs connecting people quickly (open model)
  3. Guiding principle: Life change happens best in the context of a small group. People love to win!

C. Coaching structure

  1. Steering question: How are we providing real-time, tactical support to group leaders?
  2. Our answer: coaching provides vision, orientation, direction, and support.
  3. Guiding principle: coached leaders go further, faster

D. Leader development

  1. Steering question: How are we equipping leaders with the knowledge they need?
  2. Our answer: community group leader orientation, coaches meetings, early gathering, theopraxis
  3. Guiding principle: Teach less for more.

E. Assimilation Solution

  1. Steering question: How are we forming groups?
  2. Our answer: Group Link in January and August. At Athens church, they appoint people to small groups
  3. Guiding principle: Think steps, now programs.

Conclusion:

  1.  There is no such thing as “the thing,” that silver bullet that solves all small group problems.
  2. The strategy will only be as strong as the weakest component.
  3. The expressions may not be infinitely scalable; the questions are.
  4. Ask and answer these questions continuously.

 

 

Why I’m a small grouper for life

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Andy Stanley taught in this main session.

Leading a group is the hardest and the best thing that a volunteer at North Point can do.

The only numerical goal that they’ve set as a church is groups. The goals you set focus the attention and affection and resources of your church. The goal was to connect 100,000 people in groups. Because of that, it’s impacted how they’ve budgeted and staffed. Groups is central to their entire congregation.

They say this often:

Life change happens in circles not rows.

Andy Stanley started a small group because he couldn’t attend Sunday school. And his first groups experience as a couple wasn’t a part of a program. It was just a need that he knew he could meet.

However,

There are no perfect groups. Because people are there.

They have a closed groups model, and their secret to adding and growing groups is Group Link. This year they’ve connected over 6500 people in groups. 50% were new to small group life.

I’m not a small group lifer because:

  • I’ve learned so much in small group.
  • I like to connect with new people.
  • I’m expected to participate.
  • I look forward to Monday night.

I am a lifer because:

  • Group provides a relational first step for disconnect new or non believers.
  • It’s an environment where Sandra and u can nub user together and use our complementary gifts.
  • I’m faced with a variety of faith journeys that never fail to build my faith
  • Our children witness firsthand the importance of community.
  • We believe life change happens within the context of relationships.

North Point says this often:

Everybody needs to be in a group and when you’re ready, you need to lead a group.

 

Why circles are better than rows

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I attended the ReGroup conference at North Point this year. I decided to post some of the notes. To see all of them, click HERE.

Andy Stanley kicked the conference off in his opening session.

He started off by saying

Your greatest investment in the local church may be in preparing the way for your child or grandchild. – Andy Stanley

He also dropped this jewel

The best thing you can do for your church is develop a groups strategy.  – Andy Stanley

8 Lessons why Circles are Better than Rows

A groups model frees adults to serve on the weekend. Sunday school is a system that doesn’t allow everyone to experience groups. I you’re serving, you can’t ge in a group. Now they want people to worship for an hour and serve for an hour.

1. A groups model provides an opportunity for everyone to participate in a group…even the staff.

If you are really committed to spiritual formation, you’ve got to have a system that allows everybody to participate. Vision/selling point: we want everyone to grow spiritually. We want everybody to be in circles, not just rows.

2. A groups model provides the optimal environment for care.

Relational care is far superior to pastoral care. Te most difficult situations are the ones where people are not connected. If you have a pastoral care problem in your church, the answer is not that you need more staff. You need more groups. Groups also allow students to serve younger students.
A groups model is a growth engine for the weekend services. The problem with on campus groups is that you have to basically double the size of your campus.

3. Groups allows you to double your capacity.

It’s easier to invite people to one hour programming than 2+ hours. 1 hour programming allows you to use a smaller facility to reach more people.

4. A groups model is far less expensive than an on campus classroom model.

When you do small groups in homes, you never run out of parking or space. Paying for babysitters is much cheaper than building a building. Not spending money on a building also allows you to spend resources on hiring staff, not paying for a building.
5. A groups model is a growth engine for connecting people.

With on-campus groups, you often find yourself not wanting to build a building big enough to connect that many people. And they won’t come because you don’t have anything for them. And the cycle continues.

6. A groups model allows us to deliver message content and critical information beyond rows and into circles.

This gives the chance to give content that you can’t deliver on Sunday morning. North Point calls this the ‘insider edition’ and they put it online and on DVDs they give to groups.

7. A groups model is a catalyst for identifying, enlisting, and developing leaders.

In the classroom model, teachers surface quickly. In groups, leaders surface quickly, because every group needs a leader.* If you care for people, you care for people.

The true Church is never facility dependent. And neither is it preacher dependent. Small groups open up tremendous opportunities to lead people to Jesus.

*25% of North Point staff served as an adult group leader before being hired.