Leading

Asking Great Questions

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The New Testament records 183 questions that people asked Jesus. He gave a direct answer to three of those questions, but he asked 307 clarifying or redirecting questions in response. Our takeaway: One well-placed question is better than ten good answers. Asking great questions is a skill every leader should work on developing over time.

Why ask questions? Great questions meet people where they are in their faith journeys. Instead of just providing people with easy (and too often trite) answers, great questions help them to own their faith. Questions encourage people to think for themselves. That self-directed shift in thinking has a higher probability of influencing future behavior. In other words, it has a higher probability of helping people grow.

What makes a great question? Curiosity is the secret ingredient of great question-asking. A leader should be genuinely curious about what’s going on in the lives of his or her group members and what those group members have to say.

Great questions aren't judging. They don’t presume an answer. They’re asked in a spirit of learning. They build empathy.

What makes a great question asker? The most effective leaders are full of conversations, not answers. They're humble, satisfied with delayed credit (or no credit at all), generous, concerned with others, curious, and empathetic. Great leaders ask great questions and continually strive to be better at asking great questions.

I don't know about you, but I'm better at asking questions than I used to be but not as good as I want to be. Improving is hard work, but it's worth the effort.

3 Gauges for Monitoring Group Health

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One of your unique roles as a leader is to keep an eye on whether the group is helping each of its members grow in their relationships with Jesus. But how do you do that? A great practical way to gauge the health of your group is to regularly ask: How are we growing in the Three Vital Relationships?

Intimacy with God

  • Where is God currently stretching me?
  • Are my daily actions becoming more aligned with the priorities of Scripture?
  • Are my times with God consistent?

Community with Insiders

  • Am I openly sharing with others what is really going on in my life?
  • As difficult circumstances arise, how are group members responding to one another?
  • Are we willing to challenge one another in order to pursue God's best for our lives?

Influence with Outsiders

  • Who am I regularly praying for who doesn't know Christ?
  • What am I doing to connect with someone in my circle of influence who doesn't know Christ?
  • Does my group challenge and encourage me to invest in someone who doesn't know Christ?

Empathy Vs. Sympathy

When something is wrong, is your first instinct to say, "Well, at least . . ."? Check out this short video featuring author and research professor Brené Brown.

4 Leadership Lessons from Andy

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I thought you might be interested to know that Andy Stanley recently spoke at Leadercast Live in Atlanta. Rejuvenate Meetings published "4 Lessons on Leadership From Andy Stanley," a blog post with a rundown of their takeaways from his talk. Here's the intro:

Because the theme of the event was “The Brave Ones,” Stanley explained to the 5,000 people in the room and the 100,000 people tuning in what brave leadership looks like.

Take these four lessons from his presentation to heart as you boldly lead your team on a day-to-day basis.

  1. Brave leadership doesn't require a certain personality.
  2. Don't be put off by the how.
  3. Dismiss what's assumed to be impossible.
  4. Act on what breaks your heart.

Hop over the Rejuvenate Meetings to read the whole thing.

The Cure for Burnout

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Have you ever felt burned out or bored as a leader? Have you ever thought seriously about stepping out of leadership for a season . . . or maybe even permanently? There are three things you can do to cure burnout and boredom.

1. Remember your purpose. Burnout or boredom are often byproducts of misunderstanding your role as a group leader. It's your job to create a safe environment where people can grow spiritually and connect with one another. You provide opportunities, but it's up to group members show up, join in, and be real.

2. Be proactive. When you're faced with a challenging group situation or difficult interpersonal dynamics, it's easy to become reactive. You may feel whipsawed and helpless. This can lead to a desire for a break from leadership.  Instead of running, re-engaged with a clear purpose. Remember why your group exists (to provide accountability, belonging, and care for every member of the group), and do something to engage in that purpose. Maybe you need to take on a service project. Maybe you need to shake up the way you pray for one another. Maybe you need to have a conversation about tensions within the group and make an effort to reset everyone's expectations of what being in group is all about. Being proactive can reinvigorated and refocus your group.

3. Ask helpful questions. Your job as a leader isn't to make people take the next step on their spiritual journeys. It's to offer encouragement and guidance. Taking the next step is up to them. One of the best ways you can encourage and guide your group members is by asking questions—questions that encourage them to move in God's direction and help them to own their spiritual growth.

Here are some examples of helpful questions:

  • If this group is the best group you are ever a part of, how will you be different at its conclusion?
  • What is holding you back from moving to a more intimate relationship with God?
  • When you consider the five things God uses to grow your faith — Private Disciplines, Providential Relationships, Personal Ministry, Pivotal Circumstances, and Practical Teaching — where do you see God moving? How will you respond?
  • What can you do to step out of your comfort zone?

Don't give up on leadership. Remember that God grows you through the ups and downs. Even when you face challenges and difficult, God will use that to grow you (perhaps he especially uses those times). Keep encouraging those you lead. Keep asking the questions that no one else is asking. Don’t let leadership get boring.

Thanks for all you do each week to help lead others into a growing relationship with Jesus.

Burned Out or Bored?

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Have you ever felt "burned out" and considered taking a season off from leading a group? Do you feel that way now? I understand. You aren't alone in feeling that way. One question can be helpful in thinking through the decision of whether to take time off from leadership: Am I burned out or bored?

The two feelings are similar. Both are accompanied by thoughts of quitting or a desire to escape.

The question of whether to continue in leadership tends to come up after ending a group in which you had to manage challenging situations or difficult interpersonal dynamics. There's a temptation to think it was a "bad" group experience and that you failed as a leader. But people are messy, so ministry is messy. Challenging situations and difficult interpersonal dynamics aren't a sign of failure. They're an opportunity for growth . . . for everyone in the group (including you).

Stepping out of leadership doesn't clean up messes. At best, it reduces your influence. At worst it ignores a stewardship opportunity. So, whether you're feeling burned out or bored, don't be quick to bail out of leadership. There are practical steps you can take to manage the mess in a way that makes you feel like you're making progress, that you're making a difference.

I'll dig into those practical steps in my next post. Check in later this week.

Ask the Second Question

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You have permission to ask the second question. What do I mean by that? What is the second question? It’s the follow-up. “Hi, how are you?”

“Great. How are you?”

“Good!”

Without the second question, the conversation is over. But as the group's leader, you're invited to continue the conversation by asking another question. Be the kind of leader who is interested in others beyond the surface-level pleasantries. More times than not, when you ask a second question, people start getting real.

When you ask someone how he or she is doing and you a get-one word responses like, “fine,” “good,” or “okay,” show your group member you care and are genuinely interested in knowing what’s going on in his or her life by asking specific questions. You can even ask a group member what "fine," "good," or "okay" looks like.

People generally want to talk in more detail about how they’re doing, but they need to know the person on the other end of the conversation is safe. They need a little encouragement. They need to feel confident that, if they get more personal, what they say will be well received. You're in a special position. You're the group's leader. You have an opportunity to lead your members in healthy, safe communication by asking the second question.

4 Strategies for Improving Group Attendance

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One of your top challenges may be encouraging convincing begging group members to show up each week. There is no shortage of reasons for people to not show up. It begins with a single text: “I can’t make it.” And then the dominoes begin to fall: “I can’t make it either,” “I’ve got a ton to do.” Suddenly, it's you and one other person staring awkwardly at each other. The frustration of last minute cancellations creates a weight on your leadership. You begin to ask yourself what you're doing wrong, and how you can prevent cancellations.

Don't beat yourself up or, worse, send out a scathing email about attendance (admit it, you’ve done it or you've been tempted to do it). Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you're not responsible for making someone else responsible for their commitments.  Instead, focus on these four strategies for improving group attendance:

1. Create an engaging group environment. Think about environments that you like.  What stands out?  Is it the warm, welcoming host?  One of the things that engages me most is knowing that the leader wants me—specifically me—to be there.   A text from a leader during the week or on the day of group is often enough to convince a person show up.

2. Communicate clear expectations. How do you communicate attendance expectations to your group without sounding like you’re scolding them?

  • Use the Group Agreement. It's your best tool for setting clear expectations about the group experience.  Don't use it as a list of rules, but as a springboard for a discussion about what will make our group experience great. Regular attendance is a huge part of maximizing the group experience.
  • Acknowledge the obvious: Poor attendance will undermine your group dynamic.  No one has trouble filling up his or her nights.  No one shows up at group each week because they have nothing better to do. We show up because we’ve decided group is necessary for our spiritual growth.  Encourage and challenge your group to resist allowing the urgent to crowd out the important.

3. Hold your group members to a standard. Don’t apologize for holding group members to a standard.  At the same time, make your expectations clear. Holding them to a standard you’ve never communicated isn't fair.  Keep in mind that holding people to a standard you to be flexible sometimes, too.

4. Plan out 2 or 3 months at a time. Look at your calendars together and plan out your weekly meetings in advance. This communicates that “Tuesdays” are spoken for, unless a clear exception comes up.  People appreciate it when a leader has a plan for a meeting, whether that meeting is at work, a neighborhood association, or a small group.  Having a plan communicates respect for people's time. There may be some weeks were everyone is gone. Planning ahead allows you to cancel group in advance.

Finally, remember that you'll probably need to have the attendance conversation more than once. It may not be easy, but it can make the difference between having an okay or a great group experience.

3 Ways to Follow Through on Prayer Requests

Perhaps the most important tip I can give you to improve the quality of your group's prayer time is to follow up on prayer requests. There is no better way to reinforce the value of group prayer than to ask members what has happened with their past request. First, it shows you care. Second, it gives the entire group an opportunity to celebrate God's faithfulness.

Here are three simple ways to follow through on prayer requests:

  1. Record them Keep track of prayer requests in a notebook, prayer journal, or a file on your computer. This helps you share them with absent members, email them out during the week, and revisit them . . . which brings us to the second way to follow through on prayer requests.
  2. Revisit them Make a point of asking what happened with past requests . . . especially those that include a critical date. As a group, take some time every few months to review past requests and get updates.
  3. Celebrate them Answered prayer requests are milestones that build our faith in God's faithfulness . . . if we remember what he's done. When you hear about an answered prayer, remind the group that it was something you collectively prayed about, and take the time to celebrate what God has done.

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Before Your First Group Meeting . . .

We're coming off of a hectic and exciting GroupLink weekend. Lots of new groups were launched over the last few days. Was yours one of them? If so, your group will be working through Community: Starting Well In Your Small Group, an eight-week study designed to help you start your group off on the right foot.

There are two things you need to do before you meet with your group for the first time.

  1. Read Session One in the Participant Guide (and have your group members do the same).
  2. Read the Session One Leader Notes.

Here's why these things are important . . . even if you're an experienced group leader. Community: Starting Well In Your Small Group offers a new approach to launching groups. In the earliest stages of the study's development, we asked ourselves this question:

"What are the things that new groups need to know and do during their first two months together to set the trajectory for a great two-year group experience?"

This was a huge question because it took us to unexpected places. It forced us to think about what group leaders and members expect from the eight-week starter period. One of the biggest ideas we want to convey in those early weeks of your new group is that relational connection is as important to the group experience as Bible study and prayer. That's because relational connection is the foundation for a sense of belonging in the group and that sense of belonging is the foundation for accountability among group members. Belonging and accountability then become the foundation for the care that group members experience when life goes squirrely.

If the goal of group life is that leaders and members grow in their relationships with Jesus, then knowing biblical truth is important but it isn't enough. We also have to apply biblical truth. We have to live it. That living happens in the context of relationships. Personal connection is huge in your group. But we haven't always treated it that way.

As a leader, I've traditionally kicked off my groups with a social meeting at a restaurant. Lots of group leaders do the same. But over time I began to notice a problem with that approach. Except for the people sitting immediately to my right, left, and across the table, I didn't really get to meet my group. That couple down at the other end of the table? I barely remembered their names. That's a problem when you're the one responsible for leading the group.

So in Community: Starting Well In Your Small Group, we ask you to host your first social in your home (or one of your group member's homes). We want you to begin to connect with everyone in your group. We've provided a short video and some content in the Participant Guide that casts vision for you and your group members about why relational connection matters, why just hanging out and talking and laughing isn't time wasted in the life of a Community Group. The night of your first meeting, you'll meet in a home, watch a video, and then hang out with your group. Simple, right? But different . . . and better.

Congratulations on your new group. We're deeply grateful for your willingness to invest time, energy, and emotion in leading others into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to do everything we can to help you succeed. So before you meet with your group, check out the Session One material in the Participant Guide and Leader Guide. It's designed to help you take these first steps into community with a group of people you probably just met a couple days ago. We pray they're people that, six months or a year from now, are so important to you that you won't be able to imagine what life would be like without them.

Setting Group Boundaries, Part Two

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We all agree that setting boundaries for group members is necessary for maintaining group health. But how do we approach a group member that refuses to live within those boundaries? How do we manage the tension between extending needy members grace and delivering truth? Here are some ideas to help you manage this tension:

Be compassionate. Start with compassion. At first, it may be difficult to discern real need from "real needy." If you enter into the fray with compassion, your heart will be ready to respond appropriately.

Be aware. Watch how the other members of the group respond to a potentially needy member. Look for signs that your other group members are growing tired or detached from the group. Look for rolling eyes, sidebar conversations, or even reduced attendance.

Be prepared. Needy group members tend to dominate group discussion. Look for an opening to draw the conversation from the needy member and back to the group. You can do this by simply saying to another group member, "What do you think about that?" Always keep your ears open for a pause where you have the opportunity to bring the group back on task.

Be assertive. You'll probably have to address the needy member. Because of low self-awareness, needy members rarely resolves issues on their own. Be willing and prepared to address the issue when the time is right.

Be quick. Address the issue as quickly as possible. The longer it continues, the harder it is to rein in and the more potential for damaging relationships inside the group increases. Waiting also increases the likelihood that someone else in the group will address the needy member in a less than ideal way.

Be discreet. Addressing needy people in a public forum isn't best. It drives them away and potentially causes more damage. It's best to address the issue outside of the regular group meeting. If it's helpful, you can bring your apprentice along for the confrontation. This lets the needy member know that it's not just one person's opinion.

Be humble. You want to balance speaking truth with a humble spirit. People tend to discount what they hear from someone they consider self-righteous or arrogant.

Be accepting. Communicate acceptance. It's easier to accept a difficult truth when you're confident that they accept you as a person. If you're not, then what they say comes across as rejection.

Be sound. Focus on adding truth rather than pointing out errors. People don't abandon what they think or believe just because someone presents a good argument.

Be thorough. One conversation probably won't resolve all issues. Be ready to have follow-up conversations. Encourage needy members to go down a road of self-discovery. Let them know you're on their side and want to help them grow.

Be a leader. Lead needy members to self-discovery. Preaching to them puts them in a position to defend their beliefs or behaviors. Asking good questions positions them to discover truth on their own.

Not every situation will be resolved in a desirable way. But if you use some of these ideas, they'll give your group a greater chance of success. In the end, God is responsible for the outcome. We're responsible for our attitude and actions when helping lead our groups.