The Incredible Opportunity of “I Don’t Know”

The editor at recently posted on Facebook, “Get comfortable with these three words: ‘I don’t know.’ You don’t need to know all the answers, but offer to find out.”

I agree with that good advice, but I’d take it one step further to help your group really grow. (This is a great discipleship opportunity for you!) Rather than saying “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” try saying, “I don’t know but let’s all research that before our next meeting. Here are some places you might find the answer…” Provide some Bible passages to look up, sound biblical websites, or a minister at your church. If you don’t know these off the top of your head, find out and email the info to members as soon as you can.

This gives ownership to group members and helps them learn how to discover answers for themselves. People retain information best when they discover it for themselves. And when they come ready to share, you’re developing them as future leaders.


Why Don’t We Worship More in Small Groups?

Worship belongs in small groups, but some groups don’t worship together regularly. Why not?

·       Intellectualism.When knowledge of the Bible is the main objective, God gets crowded out. Agendaitusis the problem. The group simply does not have time in their tight schedule for worship and meaningful prayer. They may have Martha’s Syndrome: they are too busy doing things to sit at the feet of the Master.


·       Self-Centeredness. “I don’t want to worship in our small group. I can’t sing.” The focus of worship is not on our voices; it is on God. The question must be asked, “For whom does this group exist?” If the answer is “me and my family and our needs,” it’s time to go back to the beginning and discuss purpose and mission.


·       Never Thought of It. Many existing, long-standing groups simply never put “worship” with “small group.” Worship has never been held up as small group value.


·       No True Experience in Worship. Some group members may not have experienced real worship and the power of prayer personally, so they don’t look for it or miss it in the group. Jesus said “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). Unfortunately, some Christians have not learned to worship in spirit and truth.


·       A View that Worship and Evangelism Are Diametrically Opposed. Non-Christians may not be able to enter as completely into the worship experience as a fully devoted follower of Christ, but even being in the room with sincere people who are praising God – and seeing God move in response will draw a person to God. Worship changes people. Just like it changed the Philippian jailer and his family!


·       Spiritual Warfare. Satan does whatever he can to prevent us from spending time with God. He hates when we come together to worship God in spirit and truth. He wants to lead us into being me-centered or us-centered rather than God-centered.

So what would you add? How do you worship in your group? Please share!

Excerpted from Leading From the Heart, Chapter 7, “A Heart for Worship and Prayer.”


10 Simple Steps to Improve the Health of Your Group(s)

Healthy groups grow and multiply. Unhealthy groups are a strain on you as a leader and your whole ministry. I wrote Small Group Vital Signsout of my own experience as a small group minister assessing the health of our groups and then implementing a process for developing the health of our groups. This process helped our groups grow spiritually, numerically, and in their likelihood to be missional and to multiply. Today I am working to help other churches assess and then improve the health of their groups as well.

Whether you lead a small group or the groups ministry in your church, it is vital to know the condition of your flock (Proverbs 27:23). If you want your group or groups to be healthy and effective in carrying out Christ’s commission, you must start by “confronting the brutal facts,” as Jim Collins puts it. I developed a Small Group Health Assessment that is available FREE on the TOUCH Outreach Ministry website. A hard copy version is also available in Appendix E of Small Group Vital Signs.

Here is a 10-step process you can implement that will help your groups become healthier and grow:

1.      If you have not done so already, read Small Group Vital Signsyourself and make notes about important aspects you want to utilize. Click on the book link to purchase your own copy.

2.      Have every member of your Small Group Leadership Team (and coaches) read the book and think through implications for your ministry.

3.      Personally take the FREE Small Group Health Assessment for the group you lead and have your team do the same for theirs.

4.      Meet with your leadership team to discuss plans for improving the health of your groups.

5.      Have your group leaders take the free online assessment. Send them this link via email or put it on your website: This survey is absolutely free, no strings attached. I’ve found that a couple reminder emails and/or calls/texts really help to increase the percentage of participation. Provide incentives for taking the assessment (like free coffee!), and utilize your coaches to make follow-up calls.

6.      Ask your leaders to email you (and/or their coaches if in place) their scores/responses. This will help you determine how your groups are doing as a whole and will help you coach leaders individually. Put all this in a spreadsheet to gather total scores in each area and as a whole. (This is a great job for your assistant or an administrative volunteer in your ministry!)

7.      Buy a copy of Small Group Vital Signs for each leader and their core teams/apprentices. As you’ll see, very good quantity discounts are available from the TOUCH website.

8.      I can consult with you and your leadership team to help you implement a Healthy Groups Process, and I can also be available for coaching calls with you and your team. To go along with this consultation and/or coaching, I will make downloadable documents available to you for implementing the Healthy Group Process. Email me to discuss this in more detail.

9.      Bring me to your church to lead a Healthy Groups Training Seminar (weekend retreat or Saturday seminar) to equip your leaders to lead healthy groups. Email me to discuss training.

10.   I can also train your coaches, either in person or via Skype, how to coach leaders toward health and growth. This is a vital part of the plan!

Please let me know how I can help! I’m excited about what this simple process can do for groups, group ministries, and churches!

Are You Making Plans and Setting Goals? Should You?

Today: Proverbs 16

Right now, many small groups are making plans for the fall season. So are families as their kids are going back to school. One of the vital signs of a healthy small group is that it proactively sets goals and makes plans.

But is it right to make your own plans and set your own goals? 

There are some in Christian leadership circles who say that believers have no right to make our own plans or set our own goals. We should simply wait and go where God tells us to go and do what he tells us to do.
While there is some truth in this, the Bible, especially in Proverbs, provides a different way of looking at this.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3).

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).  

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).  

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23).

I notice a few things in these verses:

  1. I notice the words “you” or “a man’s.” God gives us the responsibility and freedom to make our own choices. We have free will.
  2. I notice the word “whatever.” I believe that on rare occasions God does tell us one specific thing we need to do. But much more often, he allows us to make the choice, but to do whatever it is for him.
  3. It seems to me that God is not against us making plans and setting goals. The real question is whose plans and goals? God does not limit our freedom, but he desires for us to make decisions that ultimately put his kingdom first and honor him.

What do you think about making plans and setting goals for yourself, your small group, your family, or your organization?

How can you do so in a way that puts God first and honors him?

What goals and plans are you making for this year?

Doctrinal Impurity in Small Groups

Today: Proverbs 14

As a “small groups guy,” people often try to suck me into a debate about doctrinal impurity that may come about in a small group discussion. In a recent discussion on a Facebook forum, one leader said, “Without the right leadership you end up with far too much ‘I think’ or ‘what this means to me’ and not enough solid truth.”

The guy is right; the “right leadership” is vitally important. But what is meant by “right leadership”? Others on the forum pointed to a need for high control by the church over what is taught in groups and by whom. Some believe that to be a small group leader you must first become a Bible expert so that you don’t unintentionally teach doctrinal error. And yet, doctrinal error has been taught by some of the most Bible-literate people in the world, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, for instance.  Others believe that church leaders must select what curriculum every group will use and figuratively look over leaders’ shoulders in an attempt to guard what is taught. This high-control form of leadership leads to low trust in the leaders who have been called to shepherd the flocks entrusted to their care.

As I think about this issue, I have a few questions that I think are worth considering:

  • Who is the “right leader” for a small group? What skills, knowledge, personality traits, and heart attitudes does this person need?
  • How can church leaders equip and empower leaders to lead, and then entrust them to lead? How does good coaching help to equip, empower, and entrust?
  • Is the Bible to be read more for head knowledge or for wisdom and understanding? Do these two necessarily go together or can the latter be found without a comprehensive amount of the former?
  • Do the fears that people have about small groups fostering doctrinal impurity also apply to individuals reading the Bible themselves? (The same issue has been applied to individuals as to groups; some–entire religious bodies, in fact–have said that a person should not read the Bible without a religious expert in the room so that this expert can interpret what the Scriptures mean.)
  • What is the role of the Holy Spirit in groups and for individuals? (Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Counselor” and the “Spirit of truth” [John 14:16-17] who would “teach you all things” [v. 26] and “guide you into all truth” [16:13].)
  • Have we come to a point where we trust Bible scholars more than the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our groups?

I am not against gaining knowledge of the Scriptures. If you are a leader, you should know how to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). But remember that knowledge is not your aim, love is (1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:2). Knowledge is a means to the end of getting understanding. As I am reading through Proverbs, it’s obvious that what God wants for us is wisdom and understanding:

Wisdom is enshrined in an understanding heart; wisdom is not found among fools (Proverbs 14:33, NLT).

 I believe God gave us his Word as a guidebook for how to live life the best way — his way — not merely as a book of doctrine (although it does contain the right doctrine). When we sit to read God’s Word, we come into a time of communion with God where we can hear from him, where we can get a glimpse into his heart and how he cares for us and how he wants us to live. As we read God’s Word, we allow his Spirit to work within us to show us things we would not see, to change us in ways we could not otherwise be changed, to give us wisdom for life that we would not otherwise have, to empower us with his love so that we may overflow into the lives of others around us.

As I begin reading God’s Word each day, I like to pray something like this: God, here I am, I’m listening. Through your Holy Spirit, guide me into your truth today. Show me what you want me to see today. Use your Word to transform me — to mold me into what you want me to be.

If you lead a small group, you can start out your group meetings in a similar way. Jesus is present with you when you meet in his name (Matthew 18:20). His Spirit will guide you if you let him.

Look at the bulleted questions above. How would you answer those?


WANTED: Wise Leadership! Proverbs 11

Today: Proverbs 11 

Without wise leadership, a nation falls; with many counselors, there is safety (Proverbs 11:14, NLT). 

As we head toward Election Day in the United States, this proverb has never been more vital! Both sides would argue that they are wise leaders and their opponent is not. Their policies are wise and the other candidate’s are unwise. This proverb has wider implications for us however.

Without wise leadership a ____ falls.

You can substitute just about anything for nation–family, church, small group, business, self–and it’s true. Wise leadership is vital.

The first four vital signs of a healthy group (from my book Small Group Vital Signs) are about wise leadership: (1) a healthy group understands that Christ is the real leader, (2) a healthy group has a healthy, growing, overflowing human leader, (3) a healthy group shares leadership with a core team, and (4) a healthy group is proactive; they have goals and plans. The last three of the seven vital signs only happen because the group has wise leadership!

Note that wise leadership is not a solo endeavor. “With many counselors there is safety.” Proverbs repeats this principle many times in different ways. Never lead alone. Never make a major decision without seeking the guidance of many wise, godly counselors. Never try to get through a crisis without the encouragement of good friends. Never try to break out of bondage without the accountability of some people you trust. Never lead a group or anything else by yourself.

What would you put in the blank for your life right now? Without wise leadership, what will fail? Do you need to step up and provide wise leadership?

Top 10 Retweets – July 2012

Here are ten tweets I’ve retweeted over the last couple months. A lot of great wisdom here!


Rick Howerton‏  @rickhowerton

Either a leader leads like Christ, from a heart of love and mercy, or they aren’t a Christlike leader.

Jim Lyon‏  @PastorJimLyon
Everbody has some baggage. The trick is to let God pack your bags + develop the itinerary. Travel light. Travel right. Travel on purpose.

Sarah Michelle Mack  @Sarah_Mack123 (yes, this is my daughter!)
When no one else listens, turn to god. When everyone listens, turn to god. No matter what, he will listen.

Ed Stetzer‏  @edstetzer
“Consumerism reduces God from a deity to a commodity and reduces Jesus Christ from Lord to a label” @Skye_Jethani

Alan Danielson‏  @AlanDanielson
Great dreams and great people won’t accomplish much without a great strategy. Do the hard work. #3Threat #Leadership #fb

David C Cook‏  @David_C_Cook
“If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a chance of being a prophet. – Isaac B. Singer

C. S. Lewis‏  @CSLewisU
God doesn’t want something from us, he simply wants us. #CSLewis

C. S. Lewis‏  @CSLewisDaily
“If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” #CSLewis

This Is Today‏  @This_Is_Today
Your Father knows you’ve sinned and rebelled – and he still comes running to meet you with open arms.

not a fan.‏  @iamnotafan
“Prayer is designed to adjust you to God’s will, not to adjust God to your will.” — Richard Blackaby

Dethrone These Top 10 Idols in Your Small Group!

The first commandment for small groups is this: “I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath . . .” (Exodus 20:2-4).

How can your group live out this first and most fundamental commandment? The first thing to do is to identify the false gods that can so easily be placed on the throne of your group. Remember that God will not share his throne (see verse 5)!

Here are what I consider the top 10 small group idols:

  1. Community: Community is a vital element of group life, of course, but I’ve seen groups place their commitment to community above their commitment to God.
  2. Consumers: This is closely related to #1, but with a twist. People often choose a group for what they will personally get out of it. They put themselves and their wants above God’s will in the group.
  3. Challenges: Are there people (or just one person) whose issues dominate your time together each week? These are usually self-focused people who believe they must be the center of attention. That’s God’s place.
  4. Curriculum (or other Content): What we study can help us grow as disciples, but Christ, not your curriculum, should always be the main focus. (This is a dangerous idol, because it is so sneaky. Be careful, because curriculum-centeredness can easily draw you away from being Christ-centered!)
  5. Cause: In today’s missional culture, this one also can become a devious false god. Be all about Christ’s mission and purpose for you, but don’t put your causes above him!
  6. Church-wide Programs/Campaigns:  I may get letters on this one, but I see this crafty idol at work more and more lately. As a church-based small group you are accountable to your church leadership. But don’t allow the latest program, project, or campaign to sit on the throne of your group. Remember, wherever two or three come together in Jesus’ name–not in the name of some Christian celebrity–Christ will be in your midst.
  7. Cookies: Do group members compete for who brings the best snacks? Do you focus too much on food?
  8. Calendars: Are group members’ busy schedules more important than their commitment to Christ and the group? What do your calendars and meeting frequency say about who or what is on the throne of your lives?
  9. Children/Child Care: I have witnessed countless groups struggle over issues centered around children and what to do with them as the group meets. Some families allow their children to become idols in their lives, keeping Christ and spiritual growth a distant second–at best. I’ve also seen group members argue vehimently over what to do with their kids diring group time, and the tension ripped the group apart. Our kids are important parts of our lives, but we can’t let them sit on the throne!
  10. Controlling Leader: The leader is a member who has the God-given responsibility to help guide the group as God has called him or her to do. The leader is not the center of the group in a Christ-centered group. Some leaders need to step off the throne, and let Christ alone occupy that position.

As you can see, most of these are not bad things when kept in their proper places. But none of them can share the throne of your life or your group. Dethrone them by putting Christ back in his rightful place in your group. Seek first his kingdom, and all these other things will be taken care of as well.

 What small group idols would you add to this list? (It doesn’t have to start with a C!)

For more on this important topic, see Chapter 1 of my new book, Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish.

Your Main Job as a Leader (of anything, including yourself)

My good friend from Boise Idaho, Carl Douthit, posted this on Facebook yesterday:

Too often we (and I definitely include myself) focus on “what” we DO in a relationship. God shows us that we should focus on “who” we ARE in a relationship. If our relationship with God depended on what we could do for Him, there wouldn’t be a relationship at all. But as adopted sons and daughters, we have the privilege of being in relationship with the Creator of the universe.

I love this! To pile on to Carl’s thought, I believe that what we do in a relationship should be a natural outflow of who we are.  Actually, what we do comes out of the overflow of our hearts.

This is a vital principle for leaders (Vital Sign #2 of a healthy small group): The leader’s main priority is to spend time with God–remain connected to the Vine–allowing God to pour his life–life to the full–into you. As you do, you will naturally overflow into the people he has put all around you.

If you lead anything–yourself, your family, a group, a team, a church, an organization–it’s more about who you are in God than what you busily try to do on your own. Relax! Be a follower of Jesus. Trust him. Be a seeker of his truth. Be a son or daughter of the King and simply sit at his feet with a willingness and openness to listen and obey him. Then do what he says.

Your job: receive and overflow. How are you doing?

Summer Small Groups: Some’re Here, Some Aren’t

What is your small group doing this summer? Did you know that summer can actually be the BEST time for small groups? It’s a great time to get outside together, serve together, do more socially together, play together, learn some new things together. What’s the key word here? That’s right … together! Here are some ideas:

  • Pull out your calendars now to plan when you will and won’t meet over the summer.
  • Make a commitment to one another to be there whenever possible.
  • Go on trips together: camping, vacation, etc.
  • Lighten up the Bible study for the summer and do some devotional stuff together.
  • Do more Bible do’s rather than Bible studies.
  • Meet on the deck, back porch, or at a park.
  • Study the one another passages from the New Testament over the summer, and do each of them in a creative way. A group I led did this one year. We rotated homes and whoever hosted planned the “one another” study and application. One week we served one another by washing each others’ cars. Another week we encouraged one another by doing a fun affirmation exercise. Another week we spoke to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs by having a creative worship time at a park. Every week we offered hospitality to one another without grumbling!
  • Serve together. There are lots of great serving projects you can do, especially outside, over the summer. Need ideas? Go to Steve Sjogren’s Servant Evangelism Page for hundreds of them!
  • Have fun!
  • Invite some friends who are not in a small group (or a church) to join you!
  • Go fishing together (or biking, hiking, swimming, rock climbing skydiving, etc.)
  • Get the kids more involved over the summer.
  • Add your ideas! Please respond to this post and add your own ideas for summer fun, discipleship, and outreach. 

More Summertime Ideas