Author Archive for Steve McNeil

Gather Your Class for Evaluation of Strengths and Needs

strengthsWHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? In the book, One Hundred, David Francis writes that “the purpose of this book is to provoke conversations about the 100 little things that can be done better.” Conversations allow people to think and process thoughts. The opportunity to process thoughts through conversation can bring people a sense of agreement about actions that produce incremental positive changes in the life of a church.

One key ingredient to make this happen is for the leaders of the group to do regular and effective evaluation of their practices.  Remember the cliché definition of insanity is “to do the same thing the same way and expect different results.” One Hundred gives measurements and principles to evaluate against.

WHAT DO I DO? How do effective Sunday School/small group leaders evaluate their work?

  1. Prayerfully seek to establish a culture of evaluation. This isn’t criticism time as much as an honest look at what has been done well and what needs to be done better.  Ask the question, “can we talk openly and honestly about this emphasis, or this event, or a system in the group and not get personal about people, but talk about how to make our group a better place to see life transformation and see the multiplication of leaders and disciples?”
  2. Gather your team either on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly) to look intentionally at what your group is doing, how you are doing, what is going well, and what improvements can be made. Rmember to schedule time after events or special emphases to do the same.
  3. Make a list of the good things that the group is doing. Share those with the group. Celebrate!
  4. Intentionally talk about needs of the group and needs of the community and ways the group might prayerfully get involved.
  5. Once you are having these open and honest conversations about group effectiveness, begin to establish priorities for the group. These also act as accountability measurements for the group.
  6. Make the evaluation time and process one of prayer and seeking what God’s Spirit wants to accomplish with your group.

Evaluation can be a tough practice for people who are overly sensitive or territorial.  That makes it very important to spend time as a leadership group praying about your group and their needs.  Dependence on God’s Spirit is critical. Work at building a loving, trusting atmosphere.

What your group is doing is important enough for you to be intentional about evaluating your work!

Learn More about the Skill of Writing/Asking Good Questions

questionballsWHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Several years ago I was introduced to a new skill.  I had no idea about the impact that this training would have on my life, my teaching, my group leading, and my relationships with people. This skill is coaching.  Oh, not the kind that you see in a football, basketball or baseball game.  This skill teaches a person the disciplines or listening and asking good questions.

WHAT DO I DO? What I have found is that learning these 2 disciplines can also help someone to be a better teacher.  It isn’t the teaching where you download a bunch of information from you the teacher to the student.  It is a way to help the student discover truth and wrestle with God’s Word for themselves.

Asking good questions involves these adjustments:

  • Learning to ask instead of tell.
  • It means that you seek to help the student discover for themselves instead of you giving them the right information.
  • It means learning to ask open ended questions.  Simply put, if you ask a question and someone can answer with yes or no, you have asked a close ended question.
  • Ask questions with how, or what if, or describe for me.

The point is to ask questions that cause the student to have to describe their answer rather than give you the facts.  When you are using this skill in your teaching, be sure to prepare by writing out your questions beforehand and ask the question to yourself and think about how you would answer that question.  If your answer is yes or no, go back and try again. Happy Asking!!!

Welcoming a Guest Who Attends Your Group

LAJ_7882WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? A healthy open group (Sunday School) will always have a desire to welcome new people into their group.  The whole idea of an “open group” is that it is open to new people.  It is not closed meaning new people are not welcome (officially or un-officially).  If we work from that premise, then what do we do when a “guest” actually shows up?

WHAT DO I DO? Here are some ideas for you to consider and see if you can implement them so that your group has an atmosphere that is “welcoming to guests.”

  1. Be there early – designate a leader who has the responsibility to greet everyone but especially has an eye out for a new person. Make sure they arrive and are ready at least 15 minutes before the start time of the group.
  2. Create a culture – teach your group to be conscious of new people, speak to them, introduce yourself, ask who they are, get to know them, be genuinely interested in their life. While it is important to have a person or team designated to greet guests, make sure the whole group reflects this attitude.
  3. Make room – be sure that empty chairs are available for the guest and if possible, right next to some of your friendliest group members. Someone who is sensitive to the guests needs. Who will engage them in casual conversation and be able to exhibit genuine care for the guest.
  4. Follow through – once the group time is over, make sure the guest is not just shuffled off on their own. Ask if you can show them where the worship center is, bathrooms, coffee, etc.  Ask they you can sit with them and introduce them to other people in the church, especially people with whom they might have things in common.
  5. Spontaneous fellowship – want to really make an impression, invite the guest to lunch, dinner, something that says more than just “oh, yea, glad you came.”
  6. Potential friendships – people who attend your group maybe looking for many things, but one of the primary is that they are looking for friendships. Show them that your group offers this as well as spiritual guidance, bible study and food.  Show them they can “belong.”


Give these a try and see if your group doesn’t keep more of your guests!


Steve McNeil, State Convention of Baptists in Indiana

A Hybrid Approach

hybrid_diagAs we have seen in previous posts, defining the purpose of your group ministry and your individual group is critical to a healthy group environment.  One of the primary goals of any group (Sunday School or Small Group) is to get people into a group.

Life change can better take place if a person is in a group rather than not in a group.  Which is better? Sunday School or Small Groups?  How about they are both a great way to engage people in a process of life change and a process of helping the person learn and experience what it means to love God and love their neighbor!  God can use either and both.  Francis and Howerton present this idea very well in their book.  It is better to offer both types of groups so that people can have a choice based on their schedule, lifestyle and past experiences (preference).

There is generally a generational break between what younger people desire and older people desire. The builder generation was brought up in Sunday School classes and they have enjoyed Bible Study, fellowship, care groups and yes even reaching people for Christ through their groups.  Younger people gravitate toward a group that meets in an informal environment, a home, coffee shop etc.  Why? That is for another day.

I have watched as church leaders move their church from a Sunday School model to a Small Group model.  Often this is done based on perceptions and the belief that this is “the direction of the future.” Many who attend church have a personal preference in these 2 models because of their past experiences.  To move in a direction where you only offer one model you could be eliminating some people from participating who desire to be in a group, but now their preferred style is not available.  It is usually the Sunday School model that is eliminated. Why? That too is for another day.

Often churches have an existing Sunday School ministry and the people who attend benefit from it.  They have grown up in that model and they actually like it.  To remove that ministry from the life of the church then creates a void in the life of those who appreciate it.  Removing Sunday School potentially alienates a group of people in the life of the church who are probably not going to participate in the “new focus of home groups.”

Some churches struggle with space issues.  They simply have too many people for the space provided in the Sunday School model.  Starting home groups is a great way to continue to get people into groups when you are out of space but you can’t do that unless you are offering both models.

Sunday School has strengths, Home Groups have strengths and they both have weaknesses as well (again another day).  As leaders in the church we need to take advantage of any means we have to get people into a group where they can grow, learn, relate, be challenged, minister together and be on mission with Christ and His church.

Use what space you have to build a Sunday School ministry and then find the pioneers in your church who have a desire to take the Gospel to their homes, schools and work place.  Start groups in church and out, but start groups and get people to participate in them in both places. “Go Hybrid.”

Day 27-Leader Routines

David Francis and Ken Braddy do a great job of presenting three major areas where a Sunday School/Small Group leader should focus in order to be a good leader.  In their new book 3 Roles for Guiding Groups, they describe the importance of a Sunday School Leader being a reader, a prayer and a reproducer.

readingMost books on leadership make the quote, “leaders are readers and readers are leaders.”  This is true of someone who is going to lead vibrant, healthy and growing groups.  One must continually learn how to guide people, how to teach or facilitate a group, being an effective disciple, they will study learning styles and in general learn about what it means to be a leader of people.  One discipline that a group leader will practice is to have a regular routine of reading in the areas that will make you a better group “leader.”  Do you follow particular people on Twitter who post regularly about leadership or groups? Do you make it a routine of reading certain blogs (like this one)?  If you are going to be a growing leader of groups, you will make it a routine to read!  This of course assumes that you are in a regular routine of reading the Bible.

The second discipline that Francis and Braddy point to is that a good group leader will have a routine in their prayer life. Make it a discipline in your daily routine to have a place for prayer and a routine in your prayer life. Have a regular prayer list to pray for areas of your life, for your family, your group, your church, other ministries, missionaries, government leaders, world events and a list for people you believe to be lost and need to know Jesus as savior. Pray for lost people and for the beginning of new groups.

The third discipline is reproduction.  This is a key discipline in the life of a true leader.  A leader is one who leaves a trail of other leaders behind them.  They have influenced people in such a way that they inspire people to engage in life, to accept responsibility, to step up when there is a need.  A true leader will “reproduce” new leaders by investing in others.  Mark Miller and Ken Blanchard have written a series of books about leadership.  “The Heart of a Leader” and “Great Leaders Grow” are two of these books.  You should invest in your own leadership by reading these books and learning how to serve others and how to reproduce yourself as a leader.

The bottom line is this, if you think about these routines, they are the routines of a true disciple.  They reflect what Paul taught us in 2 Timothy 2:2, “and the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, teach these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  Good routines in the life of a leader will reflect good discipleship routines.




Dr. Steve McNeil is Team Leader of Mobilization, Equipping and Communication at The State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.