5 Signs Your Church Underperforms at Connection

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It’s been conclusively determined that people want to belong before they want to believe.

You may want to argue with me (and if you do, please use the comment section), but there are five easy-to-spot signs your church is actually designed to underperform at connection.  What I mean by that is, whether your church is growing or not (doesn’t matter)—there are several key factors that predetermine whether people are able to connect. And, very importantly, it’s been conclusively determined people want to belong before they want to believe.

So what are the signs? How can you tell if your church is actually designed to underperform at connection? Here’s what I’ve found.

Top 5 Signs Your Church Is Designed to Underperform at Connection:

Your senior pastor is a reluctant champion of group life.  

Churches where the senior pastor only infrequently talks about the importance of being connected are rarely, if ever, easy environments for connection to happen. Without encouragement from the most visible person in the organization, it is just too easy to remain disconnected. Trouble is, life change most frequently happens where there is dialogue. Life change most frequently happens where people are known. See Your Senior Pastor As Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups for more.

Stories about the power of group life are rarely told.  

If you want unconnected people to take a baby step and test-drive a group, there is nothing more compelling than a satisfied customer. While we’re on the subject, stories told by satisfied customers (as opposed to stories about satisfied customers) are much more compelling. It’s the reason marketers love testimonials. See How to Develop Video or Live Testimony That Recruits Leaders or Members for more.

Your church has no clear understanding of what a win is.  

To borrow the phrase from the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, if it’s not clear to everyone that the goal is to be connected in a group where you can be known, challenged, loved, held accountable, forgiven, encouraged, etc., it will only happen for those people who instinctively gravitate toward community. (You know who those people are. They create groups and group life opportunities even without your help.) Everyone else will remain anonymous at their own peril … because they don’t know any better. See Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry for more.

Your church thinks programs instead of steps.  

Again, to borrow from the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, there need to be easy steps that lead to connection. If the hardest step for many people today is to walk into your auditorium for the first time, the next hardest step is to leave the auditorium to join a group in a stranger’s living room! The steps that are created also need to be obvious. They can’t be hard to find (like when you have a buffet-style ministry and only one of the menu items leads to group life). Finally, the steps you create need to be strategic; they need to lead in the right direction without wasted time wandering. See Think Steps, Not Programs for more information.

You spend too much time propping up existing groups and not enough time forming new groups.  

Although counterintuitive to many, matchmaking (helping unconnected people find a spot in an existing group) is rarely productive. The easiest time for the largest number of unconnected people to put their toe in the water is when new groups are formed. Strategies like the Small Group Connection and a church-wide campaign (with the HOST strategy) allow new leaders to readily be identified.

Mark Howell Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services to help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He spent four years on the consulting staff at Lifetogether and often contributes to ministry periodicals such as the Pastor's Ministry Toolbox and ChurchCentral.com.

More from Mark Howell or visit Mark at http://www.MarkHowellLive.com

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  • http://www.jonathandavisministries.com Jonathan Davis

    I SUPER LIKE this article.  My experience has been that churches stuck in bad habits and practices rarely want to change the very things that are killing them slowly.  As a youth minister this has been frustrating to observe and even be compliant in because of my job description.  If a church is going to change, it absolutely takes the pastor’s leadership. 

    • Ypmdavis


  • Jeremy Seifert

    With all due respect, this is going to sound mean-spirited, and I apologize. I don’t mean it as an attack, but this is a matter dearly close to my heart and I tend to get very passionate about it. So hear this as someone who speaks out of love for the bride of Christ.

    The thing is, I’m not sure I agree with this. Especially that ‘belong before they believe’ line. It sounds sort of like the church equivalent of a couple moving in together to see if they’re compatible before they get married. We don’t see anything like this in the biblical church, in the Bible, or in a true God-filled church in reality. True followers of Christ will naturally have and seek fellowship with each other, even if they are very different. There may be some issues, and it’s not going to be perfect, but God builds His church, he needs none of our programs or strategies to do so. True connection is a result of transformed hearts and minds, and any man-made effort to replicate this in the absence of God’s doing so will only make a false church.

    What the church needs is the faithful proclaiming of the Gospel, its transforming power, the need to preach, to evangelize! There was no mention of any of these things in this article however. I hope no offense is taken at this, but I felt I needed to say this.

    Grace and peace.