What to Do If You Discover You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy

StrategyYesterday I posted 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.  And of course, I immediately had questions about what to do if you discover that you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  Maybe you wondered the same thing!

Here’s my recommendation:

Rethink your design

If you discover that you have a bad disciple-making design (based on your results), then it’s time to rethink the way you are making disciples.

3 foundational assumptions

  1. It is what it is.  In the words of Andy Stanley, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Your results are not a fluke.  They are directly related to the design.  Don’t like your results?  Change the design and remember that design incorporates just about everything (i.e., the way you recruit and train leaders, the way it’s promoted, the way you actually make disciples, any and all structure that plays a part, etc.).
  2. What got you here won’t get you there.  Albert Einstein noted that “the significant problems that we face will not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  Translation?  Your current strategy or design might very well have been effective at an earlier date.  Times change. Organizations become more complex over time. What works in one season won’t necessarily always work.  Getting to there will almost always require more than a tweak.
  3. There is no problem-free.  Every system, solution or strategy comes with a set of problems and there are no exceptions.  There is no problem-free.  Wise leaders simply make a list of the problems that come with each strategy and choose the set of problems they would rather have.

10 principles that will guide the work that is ahead.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  Describing in vivid detail a picture of the preferred future is essential.  Make no compromise and take no shortcut.  As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
  2. Diagnose the present with uncompromising honesty.  If you begin with the end in mind, brutal honesty about the here and now is another essential.  See also, Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  3. Clarify what you will call a win.  According to Peter Drucker, very few things are as important as determining what you will call success.  See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry.
  4. Think steps, not programs.  Design easy, obvious and strategic steps that lead to the preferred future and only to the preferred future.  See also, Think Steps, Not Programs.
  5. Narrow the focus (to eliminate all but the best steps).  There is no room for turning a blind eye to the inadequacies of yesterday’s solutions.  See also, Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  6. Allocate resources to the critical growth path.  Choosing a preferred future is one thing.  Allocating finite resources to get to the preferred future is what demonstrates conviction.  Budget, key staff and volunteers, space, promotional bandwidth, and senior pastor attention are just a few of the most important resources.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  7. Commit to the long haul.  The journey to build a thriving small group ministry is not a short sprint.  It is a marathon.  If you want to arrive at the finish line, you must commit to the long haul.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  8. Keep one eye on the preferred future.  Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable.  It will be tempting along the way to settle for something less than a thriving small group ministry.  Only by rehearsing again and again what it will be like will the steadfast pursuit continue.
  9. Keep the other eye on the very next milestone.  Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.  Milestones could be quantitative (a number of groups or a percentage connected statistic).  Milestones can also be qualitative with a little effort (capturing life-change stories or monitoring feedback cards).  The objectives that must be accomplished to reach the next milestone are the kind of things that keep teams focused.  See also, Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.
  10. Celebration is expected.  A culture of celebration is a must have.  Celebrate milestones reached and wins experienced.

Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Keith Williams

5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy

signsYou may want to argue with me, but I think there are certain signs that indicate clearly whether you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  With me?  Isn’t obvious that certain results or a lack of results would indicate a bad disciple-making strategy?  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  If you don’t like the results, you must change the design.

I love this line from Winston Churchill.  “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  If you don’t like your results, change the strategy.

See where I’m going?  Can you go there?  Here are five signs you may have a bad disciple-making design:

5 Signs You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Design

  1. You don’t have enough adults being discipled.  You pray for it.  You talk about it.  You promote it.  But it just doesn’t happen.  Sign-ups for your disciple-making effort fall far short of projections and expectations, and another season comes and goes.  Doesn’t the number of people entering the pipeline determine the number coming out?  See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
  2. You have plenty of adults being discipled…but you are rarely producing disciple makers.  Real disciples make disciples.  If all you’re making is more knowledgable consumers, you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  You can have a steady stream of people completing the curriculum, but if you rarely see disciples become disciple-makers it is time to take a serious look at your results.  See also, 4 Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and Lagging Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples.
  3. You have plenty of adults who have been discipled…but you still never have enough people serving.  Results are the true test.  If your strategy is making disciples you will be producing a steady stream of other-centered men and women.  Rather than a shortage of volunteers, you will have a surplus.  It will become easier and easier to fill ministry positions with volunteers who are fruitful and fulfilled, obviously in the right seats on the bus.
  4. You have plenty of adults who have been discipled…but you aren’t developing a culture of generosity.  Struggling to grow your annual budget?  There may be no clearer indication that you have a bad strategy for making disciples.  If your disciple-making design isn’t producing a culture of generosity, shouldn’t very loud alarm bells be going off?
  5. You have plenty of adults who have been through your discipleship pathway…but what you are producing barely resembles Jesus.  If you’re graduating men and women in number from your discipleship pathway, but your graduates aren’t really exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit or ending up fully mature in Christ, isn’t that an indication that your strategy is ineffective?  If your pathway graduates are still drinking milk and not ready for meat, isn’t that a signal that you’re producing something less than complete?

See also, 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group MinistryHow to Make Disciples in Small Groups and 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples.

What do you do if you see these signs?  I detail what to do if you discover a bad disciple-making strategy right here.

What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Peter Nijenhuis

Ready to Launch: A New Study on Jesus-Centered Parenting

ready to launchHad an opportunity this week to preview a new study from J.D. and Veronica Greear.  J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Summit Church has been one of Outreach magazines top 25 fastest growing churches in America for several years running.  Ready to Launch: Jesus-Centered Parenting in a Child-Centered World is a 7 session study based on Psalm 127 that might be a great fit for your recommended list.

DVD-driven, Ready to Launch features teaching by J.D. and Veronica Greear.  The video sessions are 13 to 17 minutes in length and have the feel of being in a small group listening to two Christian parents talking about a how they raise their children according to scripture, preparing them for God’s mission.  I like the blend of J.D.’s lean forward intensity and Veronica’s more conversational tone.  The video sessions easily hold attention and the Greears are very relatable.

The member book includes a number of basic features:

  • A section for taking notes on the video teaching
  • A smartly written set of discussion questions that will help your group members dig into the Bible for clear understanding
  • A wrap-up section that summarizes the teaching
  • A prayer section that will guide your group to pray with and for each other

Each session in the member book also includes a family action plan activity, designed to help your members put into action what they’ve learned.  Each session also includes two devotions designed to help your members continue to reflect on what they’ve learned.

If you’re looking for a practical and biblically-based study on parenting, you’ll want to take a look at Ready to Launch.  I like this study and I think your groups will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thinking Thursday: Listen, Learn…Then Lead

stanley mcchrystalFour-star general Stanley McChrystal shares what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military. How can you build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets? By listening and learning — and addressing the possibility of failure.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Are You Playing to Play? Or Playing to Win?

Los Angeles Memorial ColiseumAre you playing to play? Or playing to win?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about clarifying the win in the various ministries and steps at Canyon Ridge.  We always want to identify what we will call a win before we schedule anything.  Actually, before we calendar anything we want to know what you will  call a win and what are the embedded steps that lead to where we want people to go next.  See also, How to Design First Steps and Next Steps.

What will you call a win?  Peter Drucker framed it slightly different when he asked, “What will you call success?”  Same idea.  See also, 10 Principles for Building a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Non-Negotiables that Define True Small Group Ministry Success.

I’ve been spending some time again with Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin (the former Chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble and the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto).  This book is packed with great insights and the application is practically dripping off the pages.

I love the distinction made between playing to play (or participate) and playing to win.  Lafley and Martin point out that:

“When a company sets out to participate, rather than win, it will inevitably fail to make the tough choices and the significant investments that would make winning even a remote possibility.  A too-modest aspiration is far more dangerous than a too-lofty one.  Too many companies eventually die a death of modest aspirations (p. 36).”

Are you playing to play? Or playing to win?

That is a very compelling question, isn’t it?  Since unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, doesn’t it make sense that you would play to win?  Doesn’t it make sense that you would readily make the tough choices and the significant investments that would make winning likely?

What does it mean if you aren’t?

Image by Brendan Loy

Help! We Need Fresh Ideas for Communicating with Unconnected People

QuestionsI get questions.  Sometimes I get a lot of questions from readers looking for answers.  And sometimes, the best way to answer them is right here with a blog post.

Here’s a question I got yesterday:

We are in need of some fresh ways to communicate to the four types of unconnected people as we discuss small groups all the time.  Do you have any blogs (or could you create a blog) with literal scripts of ways to promote small groups?

There’s a great question in those two sentences.  It’s slightly different than the reader expressed.  I’d put it this way:

Are there some one-size-fits-all ways we can get the attention of the four types of unconnected people?

And the answer to that, I believe, is “no.”  There are definitely some things we can do to better understand the particular slice (or slices) of unconnected people in our churches…but there really isn’t a script that would work everywhere.

Here are four things to think about and talk about on your team:

  1. If you want to connect unconnected people you have to know them.  As long as they remain a faceless category they will be a mystery.  When great design companies are creating a new product or service they go to great lengths to truly understand and know the customers the product is being designed for.  They spend time with them.  They watch them use the product.  Sometimes they actually move in with the customer!  If we want to connect unconnected people we must actually know them.  See also, Learn to Empathize with Your End User and 5 Things You Need to Know about Unconnected People.
  2. If you want to connect unconnected people you have to design the first step with them in mind.  This is incredibly important for us to understand.  What the core and committed and congregation do without thinking, the crowd automatically rejects as too hard or too inconvenient or just plain boring.  When the first step is designed with unconnected people in mind it will be easy, obvious and strategic.  It will be at a convenient time, in a room they already know about, on a topic they actually care about and it will offer childcare.  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps out of Your Auditorium? and 5 Key Ingredients that Motivate a First Step into Community.
  3. If you want to connect unconnected people you will make the ask with them in mind.  Language is so important.  How you craft the ask is critically important and if you’re not already wordsmithing, you need to begin.  As you’re crafting the invitation, whether it will be in your pastor’s message, a verbal announcement, an email or on your website, pay careful attention to how it will be received by your target.  They care about things like convenience, relevance, and length of commitment.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  4. If you want to connect unconnected people you will have to creatively make the ask on a regular basis.  Remember, unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders.  They are not there every week and will only occasionally be there the week of your annual push for small groups.  If you’re not talking about connecting all the time you cannot expect to connect them.

Image by ed_needs_a_bicycle

4 Types of Unconnected People and How to Connect Them

LegosHave you picked up on the fact that unconnected people are different in some ways than connected people?  If you have, you are already moving in the right direction.  Next, though, you understand there are four main types of unconnected people and how you might connect them depends on improving your understanding of their needs and interests.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind, and What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

There are four main types of unconnected people.

  1. Busy with other priorities and commitments.  This segment of unconnected people is a very large and quite diverse group.  It includes everyone frantically preoccupied as their children’s chauffeurs as well as those who own extracurricular activities crowd out the truly important.  It also includes those who have commitments to church functions and activities that produce little more than sideways energy.  See also, A Smörgåsbord of Destinations VS Sequential and Tailored Next Steps and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  2. Satisfied customers of a less than recommended or minimum dose.  Another large group of unconnected people, members of this group are unaware or unconvinced that they are missing anything.  If you are communicating about the importance of being connected and its vital role in producing life-change, they are either not getting the signal or the signal is unclear.  See also, Determining the Minimum or Recommended Dose.
  3. Dissatisfied former customers.  The size of this group of unconnected people is determined by several factors (i.e., the quality of your leader development pathway, the effectiveness of your coaching structure, clearly communicated expectations, etc.).  While it is rarely a large group, it is important to understand their objections and concerns.  See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Your Leaders and Small Group Ministry Roadblock #5: A Leadership Development Disconnect.
  4. Infrequent attenders.  The size of this group is determined by a few key factors (most importantly, the size of your “crowd”).  They may share some common traits with the first two types of unconnected people, but they are distinct in that their attendance pattern makes any awareness of the importance of connecting unlikely.  Unless you make a strong case for the importance of being connected every week, it is likely they know nothing about it.

How to Connect Unconnected People

First, keep the needs and interests of unconnected people in mind.  Their interests and needs are not the same as those who are already connected.

Second, relentlessly communicate the importance of being connected.  Talk about the recommended or minimum dose on a regular basis (announcements, messages, bulletins, website, newsletters, etc.).  Take the mystery away along with any confusion.

Third, teach your congregation to prioritize the main things.  Clarify the main things.  Challenge the presence of menu items that distract from the minimum dose.

Fourth, focus on raising the quality of the experience in every group.  Build an effective coaching structure, identify a leadership pathway that develops leaders out of hosts, and constantly clarify expectations.

Image by Michael Scott

Churchless: An Important Primer for Understanding Today’s Unchurched

churchlessSpent some time with the newest book from George Barna and David Kinnaman this week.  Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them covers some very important ground and is based on some research you are definitely going to want to understand.  “The Barna Group is a visionary research and resource company located in Ventura, California. Started in 1984, the firm is widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture.”

“Churchless presents the startling trends revealed by two decades of Barna Group interviews with thousands of churchless men and women, and offers discerning analysis of the results from best-selling authors George Barna (Revolution) and David Kinnaman (You Lost Me).”

There are a number of important themes revealed in Churchless and many of them will help all of us as we think about how to connect unconnected people.  Much can be learned about the reasons why people choose to leave church life, what their family life is like among unchurched people and what their lifestyle choices are.  I found a number of very important ideas in the chapter on the goals, morals, and values at the heart of churchless adults.

One aspect I found particularly helpful is that along with eye-opening findings about unchurched people the book is liberally sprinkled with insights about what churches might do (must do?) in order to reverse the trend.

If you’re taking the assignment seriously (to connect people no one else is connecting), Churchless is a book you will want to devour.  Like my copy, yours will be marked up, underlined, and starred with many dogeared pages.  I got a ton out of it and I know you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thinking Thursday: How to Manage for Collective Creativity

linda hill 3What’s the secret to unlocking the creativity hidden inside your daily work, and giving every great idea a chance? Harvard professor Linda Hill, co-author of “Collective Genius,” has studied some of the world’s most creative companies to come up with a set of tools and tactics to keep great ideas flowing — from everyone in the company, not just the designated “creatives.”

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Quotebook: Tim Keller on Community

I love this line from Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God:

You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.”

Keller’s line is found as summary of a quote from C.S. Lewis on the importance of community in knowing each other.  You can read the C.S. Lewis quote right here.

May we be always about the formation of more and better community.

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