Tag: system

10 Things Nobody Told Me about Being a Small Groups Pastor

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image credit: CreationSwap user Tim Mossholder. Edits mine

I’ve been a small groups pastor now for more than 7 years. I’ve led at Grace Community ChurchLong Hollow, and I’m now at Saddleback Church.

I love group life. I love recruiting, training, equipping, challenging, scheming, planning, dreaming, and writing. I believe that groups are the heartbeat of a local church, and one of the most beautiful expressions of the authentic Christian life.

But being a groups pastor isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Or if that’s not your thing…it’s not all coffee and bagels. Turns out, this is hard work. but it’s hard work worth every ounce of sweat, every drop of creativity, and every inch of effort you can give.

I’ve had lots of folks tell me that they’d love to get in the small groups space. Some have been high school students ready to jump in to ministry. Others have been guys who are currently in a ministry that they don’t love. Each person has experienced life change through small groups, and would love to invest their lives making that happen. Here are some of the things I’ve told them as a “heads up” before they dabble their toe in the water.

10 Things Nobody Told me about Being a Small Groups Pastor

1. Not everybody will like you.

Especially when you tell them, “I don’t have a small group for you right now.” Or “No, we don’t have that kind of group.” Or, “I’m sorry that small group life is difficult.” Or, “Ouch…she said that in your small group?” because no perfect people are allowed. Or, “No, we won’t have a small group where you teach for 2 hours every week about the coming rapture…about the evils of smoking cigarettes…about how our society is going to Hell because we watch rated R movies…about how all single moms are dirty rotten sinners.” Small group pastors must have tough skin.

2. Small groups are messy. 

If you enjoy coloring in the lines, and having everything neat, pretty, and always on schedule, find another ministry. Small groups are messy and difficult because people are messy and difficult. Small group pastors have to find the beauty in the mess. It’s there, like a diamond hidden among the rough. God’s at work right in the midst of the nastiest junk in people’s lives, and that junk comes out in small groups. Get ready for it.

3. Not all of the staff will be fully supportive.

I naively thought that every staff member would wholly embrace small groups with no explanation, no push-back, no confusion, and with arms wide open. Turns out they’ve got thoughts, questions, and legitimate concerns, too. This isn’t all bad, because it pushes you to answer some hard questions. Just a heads up. Knowing is half the battle, right?

4. Getting life change stories from small groups will be tough.

Mining stories is unbelievable valuable in shifting people’s hearts towards group life. Figuring out the best way to mine those is tough, though. And there’s no one “right” way to do it. Sometimes it’s best to shoot videos, other times to simply send out emails. Other times interviewing on stage is best. But capturing those stories is tough. Get ready for a challenge.

5. If you don’t do anything, nothing will happen.

Small groups ministry doesn’t run on a weekly cycle like student ministry (with Wednesday night programming), children’s ministry, or the worship team (with Sunday morning programming). So if you’re not a self-motivated, self-driven starter, you’ll languish. There are certain times every year where groups are launching, but in between those times, you’ve got to keep the wheels moving. If you don’t, things don’t naturally happen. Community doesn’t bubble up from the ground. Structures don’t naturally form. Schedules and timelines don’t magically happen. Know that if you don’t do anything in the down times, nobody else will.

6. You’d better be awesome at recruiting.

A big chunk of the role of the small groups pastor is in recruiting. Whether you’re recruiting a group leader, a coach, a potential hire, a current staff member, or a small group leadership board, the small groups pastor never gets a day off. Recruiting can and does happen anywhere, anytime. You’d better be good at it. Or learn to be.

7. You’ll have to constantly teach people what small groups are.

You may not be teaching from stage every week, but “teaching” is a key function of the groups pastor. No matter what your culture is, you’ll have to be teaching people the value of healthy community. Teaching people your process for assimilation, your process for discipleship, and your groups structure. You’ll teach new members, existing ones, staff members, and new recruits. Always be on your toes.

8. Small group coaches are vital.

The group leader that’s not coached will not be all he or she could be. And you, the groups pastor, can’t coach every leader. Unless, of course, you just have 1 or 2 other leaders. If you have more than 2 leaders, recruit a coach. They’ll help you invest time in leaders, give them a support structure, let them have a voice, and ensure they’re being encouraged, corrected, and cared for. Every small group structure has to involve coaches. Or assimilators. Or champions. Or directors. Or advocates. Or whatever you call them.

9. Get a team of supporters. Now.

Build a base of people who understand and support your vision. They don’t have to be small group leaders themselves, but they need to be strong leaders who buy what you’re selling. Vision leaks, and you want others leaking your vision across the landscape of your local church. Know who your friends are. And give them insider information.

10. This is the most fun job in the whole church.

It’s messy. It’s difficult. It’s frustrating. But at the end of the day, your role exists to help people find God’s beautiful gift of community. You get the chance to create environments where people are free to explore faith, and experience church in a transparently safe way. It’s an amazing ride.

Are you a small groups pastor? Know one?

What did I leave out?



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.


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.


  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.



5 Steps to Moving Your Whole Team Forward

Photo Credit: Creative Commons User: Pavement Pieces

I love a good competition. Whether we’re talking about sports, board games, or racing to the car, I love the rush of adrenaline you get when the heat is on.

But when it comes to an organization, competition can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy team competition says, “If you win, I lose. If I win, you lose.” Healthy team competition says, “I want to continually improve…because I see you continually getting better. If you win, I win. If you and I win, WE win.”

Many teams, unfortunately, operate on the “win/lose” spectrum of competition.

How do you know if you’re on that kind of team? Here is a test. Check any of the following that apply

  • I get frustrated when another team member “takes” my leader.
  • I have no concern for who I recruit for my team…it doesn’t matter what other team they serve on or what their other commitments are.
  • I have never suggested a leader to be a part of another team…I’ve only recruited for my own.
  • I have said this: “I can’t believe how much budget money the _____ team gets. We need more money than they do because we’re having an impact with ______.”
  • I better have a conversation with that new guy. He’s solid, and I don’t want _____ to snatch him up first.
  • I have said this: “I know you’re helping out with the ______ team, but you’re better than that. If you want, we can give you a more important role with us.”
  • I have thought this: “If I sit down with _____ to recruit them to leadership, I’m only thinking positions on my team. I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to think and recruit for other teams.”
  • I have thought this: “It doesn’t matter how a person is gifted or what their passions are…we have a need on our team, and this person could fill it.”

If you checked any of the above boxes, you have a “win/lose” mindset that is detrimental to your organization’s overall success. And it’s time to shift to a win/win mindset.

Win/win is not simply a personality trait. It’s also not that the person who strives for win/win in an organization is afraid of conflict. Teams that strive for win/win know that a win for another team in an organization is a win for the everyone. Your win is our win. Your loss is our loss.

How do you make this transition with your organization?

Shifting to a Win/Win Mindset

1. Quit viewing your team as a silo.

Instead, begin to view your team as a part of the whole organization, with everybody contributing to the overall health. If the organization is simply one silo, then every “win” means the whole silo “wins.” Every “loss” means the whole silo “loses.”

2. Meet with other team leaders to find out their needs.

Gather multiple team leaders together and find out what needs they have. I recently met with our church’s small groups team, and we shared with each other the leadership holes we each have. It’s important for us to know cross-ministry leadership roles so that when we’re recruiting a potential leader, we each have in the back of our mind, “College ministry needs 5 new leaders, adult small groups needs 2, elementary groups needs 4, etc..” We’re on the lookout for potential leaders in multiple areas, not just our own. Our team operates on the win/win principle.

3. Listen for gifts and passions.

As you recruit leaders, listen for their gifts and passions. Finding the best fit for a leader is more important than fitting them somewhere on my team simply because we have a need. If I sit with a leader and recruit them for college, instead of preschool, it’s not that college “wins” and preschool “loses.” College “wins” and our organization “wins” because when college ministry is better, we’re all better.

 4. Intentionally invest in another team, expecting nothing in return.

Once you’ve listened to the needs present in other teams, you are aware of the holes that they have. Don’t just sit on that information…send some leaders and resources their way! Be generous. If you’re thinking “win/win,” then you’ll trust that if another team takes a step forward, that doesn’t force you to take a step backwards. It helps the whole organization progress.

5. Congratulate another team member on his or her accomplishment.

Instead of festering over how she’s succeeding, genuinely congratulate her. Be excited for the steps forward she and her team are taking. When you create an environment of mutual encouragement, you’re less likely to look for areas to undercut other team members.

When everybody on the team understands the win/win concept, you have a better chance of experiencing forward momentum. Without it, expect backbiting and disunity to dominate.

What kind of team are you on right now?



The best evaluation question to ask

If you’re a leader, you evaluate.

Well…ahem…let me rephrase that.

If you’re a good leader, you evaluate.  And there are plenty of activities, events, and procedures that you can and should evaluate regularly

  • Trainings
  • Meetings
  • Outings
  • New hires
  • New fires
  • System changes
  • New initiatives
  • Outreach events
  • Sermon series
  • New ideas
  • Old ideas
  • Development days
  • Financial spending
  • Outputs

…and that’s just to name a few.

Evaluation should happen across the board on a consistent basis.  Here are the two questions I hear asked most often:

1. What worked?

2. What didn’t work?

They’re not bad questions.  And, hopefully, changes will be made based on the answers to those questions.  But more often than not, the ball stops rolling.  Those two questions are momentum killers.  Because most people can quickly tell you what worked.  And what didn’t work?  Well, let’s find someone or something to blame. OR let’s spin our wheels feeling sorry for ourselves and the money and time we wasted. *insert screeching brakes sound*

Here’s a better question:

What did you learn?

I know that seems like a subtle shift, but I think it’s an important one.  Instead of just blindly evaluating what worked and what didn’t…and instead of just throwing your opinion into the ring of ideas as to who or what the culprit is for the flopping of an event, this keeps the ball moving forward.

It keeps you focused on the positives and the negatives. It helps you see that, even within the parts of an event that worked, there are things that you learned.  And those things that you learned can help improve for next time.  It also helps you really zone in on what you learned from the side of an idea that flopped.  Instead of wallowing in your fail whale, you focus on what you can learn.

My pastor, Ron Edmondson, and I sat down after a leadership training event to evaluate.  Let me be honest: it was an event that flopped.  We had very little participation, very little feedback, very little growth because of the event, and to top it all off…it was expensive.

When we evaluated, we jumped right into the question: What did you learn? I had learned plenty.  This question helped get the momentum moving in the right direction after progress had screeched to a halt.

Any initiative can improve if you’re willing to learn.  Even the best ones.

Any failure can be a step forward if you learn from your missteps.

The question for you is this:

Are you willing to learn?

Have you learned from a flopped idea?



6 reasons not to use Twitter to bash your organization

I posted this on Twitter the other day:

Church politics are stupid.

It was based on a conversation I had with a guy about his past experiences with local churches.  He had been burned many times, and still carries some of those wounds.  It wasn’t based on anything that’s happening in the church where I serve on staff.

I’m all about challenging my system.  And I’d encourage you to continually evaluate the effectiveness of your system, too.  Tweak it, hack it up, throw it out.  Make your system do what you want it to do.  Criticize it.  Mock it.  Stomp on it.

But if you’re a leader in your organization, don’t do it on Twitter.

Why not?

6 reasons to not use Twitter to bash your organization

1. It’s too easy. For me, wisdom doesn’t roll off of my tongue.  Stupidity does.  If I’m going to say something that’s dumb, it’s going to be because I don’t think before I speak.  I just rattle off something without putting diligent thought to my words.  Twitter makes it incredibly easy to post whatever you’re thinking.  It’s as easy as a text message.  And though that’s one of the beauties of social media, it can be one of the uglies when you don’t think before you update. (Which makes me so thankful that social media wasn’t a big deal when I was in high school…because I would have publicly said some dumb things)

2. There’s little accountability. You can fire off an update and then just let it ride.  Although there’s the false sense of accountability because Twitter operates on the public sphere, it’s not really accountability.  Because you can always wriggle your way out of what you said.  “Oh, that was just what I said on Twitter…”  And an @reply or a direct message (for you Facebook users, a wall post or a message) is much more easily ignored than a coworker sitting across the table from you.

3. All of the right voices don’t hear it. As much as we Twitterers would like to think, the whole world hasn’t adopted social media.  Though it’s changed the landscape of information sharing, not everybody has bought in.  And even for people who have bought in, there are varying levels of involvement.  Some people check it once/week.  Others check it once/hour.  Lots and lots of information is shared…and lots and lots of information is never read.  If you’ve got some scathing criticism to say about your organization, there are other key leaders who need to hear that…not just your friend from 2nd grade.

4. You’re limited to 140 characters. How would you feel if your boss came into your staff meeting and said, “Can’t believe the decisions our finance team is making! Hope they enjoy getting fired…” and then walked out of the room?  You’d want a little more explanation, right?  You want more than 140 characters to help you understand where you went wrong, and possible solutions to the problem.  There’s too much left up to interpretation when criticisms come through Twitter.

5. You have little control over the conversation. If criticisms are introduced in person, they can be immediately addressed and explained in person.  If they are introduced via Twitter, your words are stewed over, conversed, and twisted before you can ever fully explain yourself.  It could be days before you are able to sit down with those you criticized, and in the meantime, your words have taken on a life of their own.

6. It could get you fired. Read the story about the Cisco employee HERE.

If you feel the need to be critical of an organization you don’t work for, that’s a different story.  I’ve done that…and it’s worked out well.  Read my story HERE.

But if you work for, or are a leader in an organization, and you feel the need to be critical, that’s fine…just don’t do it on Twitter.


Encouraging Criticism

Hate Twitter all you want, but, like I’ve said HERE, I find great value in it.  I recently said this after a visit to Lasaters Coffee, a local shop here in Clarksville:

Disappointed that the @lasaterscoffee workers couldn’t serve me a press pot of coffee bc they didn’t know what it was 3:37 PM Dec 2nd

I received this reply from them…directly to me:

@benreed We will be serving coffee via French Press before you know it!! Keep an eye on the website and in the stores:) 10:04 AM Dec 4th from TweetDeck in reply to benreed

Knowing how, and when, to respond to critics is very important.  I applaud Lasaters for their timely and effective response.  Because of that response, they’ll get more business from me.

A critique of the system you’re leading can often feel like a personal attack.

But in the end, critiques can help to improve the overall effectiveness of the ministry.

Maybe a person’s critique is off-base.  Out of line.  Out of touch.  Off-color.  Off-putting.  Off-handed.  Offensive.  Biting.  Reactionary.  Untruthful.  Unholy.  Discouraging.  Poorly timed.  Poorly executed.  Or all of the above combined.

But most critiques have at least a shred of truth.

May we, as leaders in our respective organizations, be humble enough to continually evaluate our system.

How do you encourage open, honest evaluation of your system?


How to launch a small groups system

Here is the 5th, and final, installment of my interview with Randall Neighbour (on Twitter HERE), as a follow-up to his book, The Naked Truth of Small Group Ministry: When it Won’t Work and What to Do About It.  You can see part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE, part 3 HERE, and part 4 HERE.

My final question for Randall: What is the best way to launch a small groups system?


Throw that bathwater out

Whether you’re a church leader, a business leader, a small group leader, or the leader of a local gang, you should constantly evaluate your system.

We just had a small groups launch yesterday at Grace Community Church.  10 new small groups launched, with over 150 people committing to joining new groups.  Amazing, right?!?

There’s room for improvement.

There was room for improvement last time we had Connect.

There was room for improvement this time.

  • We had more people indicate they wanted to attend the event than actually showed up.  That’s a problem.
  • We had people attend the event, but not actually sign up for a group.  That’s a problem.
  • We had people who needed to be in a small group, but neither showed interest nor showed up for the event.  That’s a problem.
  • We had people who showed up to the event, signed up for a group, but have already sent me an email and have dropped out.  That’s a problem.

I’m not a prophet, but I’m going to make a statement that will inevitably come true: There will be room for improvement next time.

We don’t allow these problems to cripple us, but rather we learn and grow from them.  Some we can’t help.  But others we can.

I’m willing to change the system, if that’s what’s needed, in order to more effectively carry out our vision.

As the old saying goes, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”  But what’s often not said:

“Go ahead and throw out that bathwater.”


Gospel-focused small groups

Like I said in the last post, I fully believe in our system of creating followers of Christ. However, I would be ready to throw it out today if the system were the problem.  I never want to be so connected to community groups, and the way that we do them at Grace Community Church, that I am unwilling to abandon them in favor of true discipleship.  My goal in ministry, in a broad stroke, is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  My goal is not to start 5,000 community groups and train 10,000 leaders to host a group in their home.  I want to make passionate disciples of Christ!  Right now, the way that I do that is to start new community groups, shepherd our current community group leaders, and recruit new leaders.  Though these activities may seem mundane, I believe that true growth in godliness happens best in the context of community.  So, I willfully and joyfully take on the administrative burden and the difficulties that go along with assimilating people into group life at Grace.

Why are we not making disciples more quickly at Grace?  There are a variety of reason.  Here are five:

1.  Not everybody who hears the Gospel becomes a disciple the first time they hear it.  I know that I sure didn’t!  Did you?  Then why should I expect vastly different results from those in our community groups?  God didn’t give up on me when I rejected His call.  Instead, He continue to pursue me.

2. The devil is real!  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  Satan loves to distort the Gospel, remind us that it’s not relevant to us today, and snatch it from our hearts before it has the chance to take root.  In short, he’s vying for the worship of our hearts, and this is true whether the Truth is coming from the pulpit or from a couch in somebody’s living room in a small group setting.

3.  I need to take it upon myself to apply the Gospel to my life every day.  CJ Mahaney, in The Cross Centered Life, says it well,”If there’s anything in life we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life” (15).

4.  Our group leaders need to take it upon themselves to ask difficult questions that drive their group back to the Gospel.  “How are you living out the Gospel today?  How are you more like Christ today than you were 12 months ago?  What part does the Gospel play in your everyday life?  What is the Gospel?  Why did Jesus have to die?  How is the truth that you are a sinner saved by grace affecting the way you parent your children, or love your spouse, or work at your job, or serve in your church?”

5.  Group leaders need to be reminded that they are the shepherd leaders of their group, and as such, should concern themselves greatly with the eternal state of the souls in their group.

Based on that, here are 5 things I resolve to do:

1.  I will not give up on people.

2.  I will create an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability in our groups.  It is only when group leaders, and group members, are open and honest about their struggles, that the more reluctant folks will feel the freedom to open up their lives, and the struggles they are facing.

3.  I will apply the Gospel to my life every day.  I need to preach to myself, reminding myself that I am a sinner saved by grace, that Christ died to free me from my sin, and that Satan wants to destroy the Gospel in my life.

4.  I will develop Gospel questions to put into group leaders hands that help them have intentional, Gospel-focused  discussions that are laid back enough that everybody feels comfortable asking even the most “simple” questions (though these tend to turn out to be some of the most profound questions).

5.  I will pray for all of my group leaders, that they will shepherd their group in a way that honors God and holds high the banner of the Gospel.

Are your groups structured so that basic Gospel questions and concerns can be brought to the table?  Or are you so laid back that the Gospel is never discussed?  Or are you so “holy” that you jump to “deeper” questions (as if there is anything more life-changing and “deeper” than the Gospel!)   Are you group leaders ready and willing to ask these questions?

Do you or your group leaders make the mistake of assuming that, just because a person is attending your church and frequents your small groups, he or she is saved?  How are you giving your group members the freedom to explore faith?

How are you living out the Gospel today?


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