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10 Assumptions That Shape My Small Group Ministry

By Mark Howell,  Pastor & Small Group Expert

We’ve talked many times about assumptions. If you’ve been along for much of this adventure, you’ve probably read more than your share of articles on assumptions. If the idea of assumptions is unfamiliar to you, I’ve linked to a few of my favorites below.

I’m thinking about my assumptions about small group ministry today because of a question a reader asked me recently. Their question was so obviously the wrong question that it caused to me to wonder why in the world they are doing what they’re doing.

You can ask the wrong question, you know. Albert Einstein famously said,

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.

Identifying the right question is a critical skill. And that caused me to reflect on my assumptions.

Here is a list of my assumptions (about small group ministry):

1. There is no problem-free solution.

Early on I looked for problem-free strategies. Eventually I realized there are no problem-free strategies. Every strategy, system and model comes with a unique set of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

2. Unconnected people are one tough thing away from not being at our church.

Every delay at connecting them puts many of them in jeopardy. Putting off the connecting opportunity in order to line up some timing issue increases the likelihood that for certain unconnected people the window will close. See also,What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?

3. The optimal environment for life-change is a small group.

know this. And you know this. That’s why we believe small groups must be prioritized. Circles, not rows are where life-change happens. See also,Essential Ingredients for Life-Change.

4. Joining a group in a stranger’s living room is the second scariest move (preceded only by coming to church for the first time).

This makes a safe and familiar on-campus first step out of the auditorium a key to connecting people. See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear.

5. The people with the most connections inside the church have the fewest connections outside the church.

Conversely, the people with the least connections inside the church have the most connections outside the church. This is an understanding that makesHOST a great idea. See also, Exponential Outreach.

6. Every group of ten has a relative shepherd(and most adults can quickly identify the person they’d be willing to follow).

In a Malcolm Gladwell sense, everyone can see very quickly who the leader should be. See also, How to Connect People No One Else is Connecting.

7. The leader of a group only needs to be a step or two ahead of group members.

Even Jesus didn’t look for Jesus Jr.  See also, Top 5 Signs Your Church Really Wants to Be a Church OF Groups.

8. I need to make it as easy as possible to begin “leading” and nearly automatic that the new “leader” step onto the leadership development conveyor belt.

I’ve longed believed the first part of this assumption. The second part is a more recent add-on that is a critical understanding. See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Development Pathway.

9. Whatever we want the members of a group to experience, the leader has to experience first.

This makes coaching or mentoring an essential ingredient for any small group strategy. Coaching is only initially about teaching technique. It is primarily about doing TO and FOR the leaders whatever you want the leaders to do TO and FOR their members. See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

10. Prioritizing the launch of new groups connects the largest number of unconnected people.

Prioritizing the needs of existing groups connects the fewest unconnected people. See also, Are You Prioritizing the Launch of New Groups?

What question was so obviously the wrong question?

The essence of the question was, “Have you written anything on how to best connect people with (existing) leaders? One of my greatest issues right now is connecting people on a Sunday with (existing) leaders.”
What makes that the wrong question? Easy. Emphasizing connecting unconnected people with existing leaders (who already have groups), leads to connecting the fewest unconnected people. Prioritizing the launch of new groups (via a small group connection,  GroupLink, etc.) leads to the connecting the largest number of unconnected people.

Reprinted with permission by MarkHowellLive.com

Mark is the Pastor of  Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He’s also the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.

Do You Want to Be Healed?

One of the reasons we stay stuck in our old life is because we cannot even imagine the real possibilities of a new life. Frankly, we don’t know how to live as resurrected people.

Consider the man in John, chapter 5, who was an invalid for 38 years, lying on a mat by the Sheep Gate pool in Jerusalem. For all those years, this man had to be carried everywhere he went; he could not move without someone moving him.

There was a legend about the Sheep Gate pool. It was believed that occasionally an angel would stir the waters, and if a person was blessed enough to get into the waters the moment they were stirred, they would be healed. This man lay constantly by the waters, hoping for a miracle. But as he said to Jesus, he had no one to lift him into the pool when the water was stirred. He was totally dependent on others.

When Jesus saw the man, He did not ask him if he wanted His help to lower him into the pool. Rather, Jesus asked him this key question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

As a member of the clergy, homeless men and women often approach me for help. I have noticed that for some, though certainly not all, there is no real desire to be freed from homelessness. They may want money for the next meal, or a drink, but not real help. Jesus was asking whether this man wanted a new reality—a new life!

That’s the crucial question Jesus asks each of us: “Do you want to be healed?”

Our old self is like a comfortable pair of shoes, worn thin with tatters and holes. Yet we know these old shoes. They are familiar. They are ours. In contemplating the idea of a new reality and a new life, the unknown aspect alone is enough to prevent us from answering the question in the affirmative. How would you answer Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be healed?” Do you want to live a new life?

The invalid in the story really did want to be healed—only, the method he was hoping for was more superstition than reality. Instead, Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” (John 5:8, NRSV).

Jesus says the same to us. Many people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ are spiritual invalids lying on a mat waiting for someone else to come along and do a miraculous work in their life. Instead, Jesus invites the willing to stand up and take a step in faith, like the man in the story.

“At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” John 5:9 (NRSV)

What did new life look like for that man by the pool? First of all, he was no longer dependent. Nobody had to carry him around anymore. Second, he could now work; he could find a job! Third, his relationships would be redefined. No longer would family members attend to his every need. His liberation from the bondage of paralysis set him free to become a responsible human being who could stand up on his own two feet, carry his own mat, and walk of his own volition and direction.

One of the more humorous parts of the story is when the rulers of the Temple catch the newly healed man red-handed, walking with his mat on the Sabbath. They accuse him of violating the law against doing work on the Sabbath. He immediately tells them that the man who had made him well was the one who had bid him to take up his mat—Jesus.

The irony is that the very systems of the world that seemingly promise us life can be marshaled against our being healed! So long as that man stayed an invalid, trapped on a mat, waiting for somebody else to help him, the system was content to leave him alone. But as soon as he began to stand and walk in the newness of life, he stood out as a sore thumb to be attacked by others, to be put back in his place.

Let me ask you again: Do you want to be healed? If the answer is yes, Jesus challenges you to stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.

Like the invalid, you will find a new level of freedom and personal responsibility in your new life. But like the invalid, you, too, may find that your freedom is a thorn in the side of the system or those who would have you stay on your “mat” and wait for someone else to solve your problems. Resurrected people are a threat to the status quo.

Don’t let those voices shame you into going back to the way you were. Claim the authority of the Name of Jesus as the One who told you to stand up, take up your mat, and walk. Use His name against the powers that would hold you back. At His name, oppressive powers must flee!

Take a step today into the newness of your Resurrected Life.

— The Rev. Charlie Holt


This is the full devotional from The Resurrected Life, Week 2, Day 9, (p. 40). Find out more about The Resurrected Life Devotional and Small Group Study here.

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The 5 Steps to Leveraging Easter Into a Church-Wide Small Group Campaign

Easter is one of the most powerful times of the church year. Church leaders are on the front lines when it comes to sustaining that excitement into a lasting life change. Use these 5 steps and The Resurrected Life materials to make the most of this upcoming season!


  1. Build A Leadership Team

The Senior Pastor is the one who casts vision for the congregation. In addition, however, a successful church-wide campaign requires key lay or staff members in the role of Administrator, Small Group Coordinator/Coach(es), Prayer Champion, Communications, and Worship Leader. These key team members will be the driving force behind making the campaign effective.

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  1. Recruit Hosts

Sample response card for The Resurrected Life
Sample response card for The Resurrected Life

Begin recruiting host homes at least a month before Easter. If you already have a small group ministry, those current group leaders are a place to start. However, if you want to make it a church-wide campaign, you’ll need more! Some recruiting strategies, in order of effectiveness:

  • Ask people directly, face to face.—Most effective
  • Put a response card in the bulletin.
  • Have a sign up table in the lobby after services.
  • Ask those interested to go to the website and fill out a form.
  • Ask those interested to call the office.—Least effective

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  1. Train Hosts

Hold a Host Rally two weeks before the campaign launches. Also offer Host Orientation classes for new hosts after weekend worship services. Instruct them to think of people in their circles of influence that they could invite to join their group. New hosts will be more comfortable if they already know their group members! Finally, hold a Connection Event the week before the campaign launches in order to connect group members with their hosts.

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  1. Distribute Materials

You get a much greater participation rate if the church purchases the materials, distributes them to the host, and then collects money at the first meeting to reimburse the church. Provide hosts with 6-8 sets of materials and an envelope to collect money in and then return to the church.

  • For The Resurrected Life, each participant will need a devotional for personal study and a study guide for the group sessions. Each group needs only one DVD, which the host will keep.

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  1. Recruit Participants

Although you have been casting vision and recruiting hosts for the past month, the last two weeks before launch is when you really start pushing for participant commitments. Some effective methods to increase engagment:

  • Make invitation business cards that church members can use to invite their friends.
  • Have a sign up table in the lobby after services.
  • Put notices on the church website and in the newsletter.
  • Put a response card in the Easter bulletin!

With a little planning and preparation, Easter can be a transformational season for the individuals and groups in your congregation.

Click here to watch an hour-long webinar in which this material is taught by Fr. Charlie Holt and some of his team members.

Click here for more information about The Resurrected Life, or use the links to purchase below.

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