If I Was Starting Today…Part 4

If I Was Starting Today…Part 4

(This is part 4 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

If I knew then what I know now…I’d work harder to develop a sequence of spiritual next steps and I’d narrow our focus to include only the steps that actually lead to where we want people to go. See also, Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding at the Heart of My Strategy.

“Narrowing the focus” and “thinking steps, not programs” are concepts that come from 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley and Reggie Joiner. What’s the core concept? Rather than developing (or buying off-the-shelf) programs that will draw a crowd, we need to design steps that lead to where we want our people to go and then we need to eliminate the options that don’t lead cleanly to there.

How does that apply to the business we’re all in? Let’s unpack the idea.

Two basic approaches

At the risk of oversimplifying, let’s say that there are two basic approaches to the ministry (or activity) menu:

  1. There’s the cafeteria approach (think long display of options with multiple entrees, sides, breads and desserts). This is your approach if there are multiple options for people to choose from and not all of them are equally designed to take people where you want them to grow.
  2. There’s the streamlined approach (In-n-Out Burger, the entire menu consists of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, and drinks). This is your approach if your menu is simple and choosing what to do next is clear.

Thinking steps means narrowing down the menu to only those choices that move your people in the direction you want them to go.

How does this apply to small group ministry? 

How does this apply to small group ministry?

If you’re offering groups and a few other ways that a person can grow spiritually, it is a complication that many people have difficulty processing.  You might think options bring increased buy-in, but it turns out that options may actually be demotivating.

Need evidence? In a fascinating study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper (Choice is Demotivating) it was learned that more is rarely better. Their study examined customer responses to two jam sampling opportunities on two consecutive weekends at a high-end grocery store in Menlo Park, CA. The first weekend featured a stand with 24 selections (extensive choice). The second weekend featured a stand with just 6 selections (limited choice). Of the 242 customers who passed by the sampling stand with 24 choices, 60% stopped while only 40% stopped at the limited choice stand the following weekend. Predictably, the customers seemed to prefer the more extensive choice. Surprisingly, the checkout stand revealed a different story. 30% of the limited choice customers purchased jam while only 3% of the extensive choice customers purchased jam.

What does jam have to do with thinking steps, not programs and narrowing the focus? If you’ve prepared a jam-packed menu that gives too many options you shouldn’t be surprised when your congregation has a hard time choosing what is best.

What would I do if I were in your shoes?

If I were in your shoes I would begin by spending some time evaluating what I call your present. Developing a clear understanding of what is really true about your present conditions is essential. If you want to get to your preferred future, you must first understand where you are.

Next, I’d begin working to narrow the focus to only the steps that lead effectively and efficiently in the direction we want everyone to go (in the direction of the preferred future. See also, What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

Image by Makia Minich

What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

What Do You Need to Change about Your Small Group Ministry?

That question is at the essence of the problem for many of us.

What do you need to change about your small group ministry?

When we stop to think about…if we take the time to think about it…all of us  almost always already have a pretty good idea about what needs to change about our small group ministries.

We just can’t bring ourselves to make the change. It’s just easier to pretend that it’s okay. Or more to the point, we can’t bring ourselves to have the first conversation(s) that lead to the change that needs to happen.

Can I give you my prescription? 

Can I give you my prescription for change? Admittedly, there are times that I’m right there with you. That is, I know what needs to change but I’m not ready to do the first thing or two that will lead to change happening.

But, I still know the steps I need to take (and most of the time I take them quickly).

Here’s my prescription:

First, identify the most important conversation(s) that must happen before you can begin to make the change.

Let’s say you realize that in order for your small group ministry to flourish, one or more menu items must be eliminated (or at least positioned differently). That is, instead of promoting three ways an unconnected person can get connected, you’ll now only promote ways to get connected to a new off-campus group.

What are the conversations that must happen before you can make that change? You already know what they are. Right?

The first step is to make a list of the people that need to be informed (or more likely, persuaded).

Second, beginning with the most influential person, make an appointment to have the conversation(s).

Note: I intentionally wrote “conversation(s)” because it will almost always take more than one conversation to effect any change.

Also, I believe it is important to start with the most influential person and in most cases, that is your senior pastor. In order to have confidence for the next conversation(s), you’ll need to have already developed an understanding with the most influential person.

And it may take more than one conversation. It may take several tries to lay out your case and persuade them of the merits of the change you want to make.

And that’s okay. Every step you’re taking is moving you in the direction of the change.

Third, once you’ve developed the support of the most influential person, begin scheduling any other conversations that must happen.

Again, it may take more than one conversation. And frankly, the change you need to make may require developing a sequence of steps that lead in the direction of your preferred future.

For example, while you may need to eliminate one or more menu items, it may be easier (and still productive) to deemphasize them but at least for the time being continue to allow them to happen.

Note: Deemphasizing a menu option may include changing how you promote it, when and where it is offered, the cost to participate, etc.

Fourth, follow through on making the change you’ve identified and discussed.

Amazingly, many of us can actually point to changes that were discussed and even approved that never made it out of the conversation stage.

“Yeah, we’ve had all those conversations at least once, but we’re still offering and promoting all of the menu items as if they are equally important.”

Don’t let that be your story! Once you’ve identified the change that needs to happen and had the conversations that must be had, follow through!

Fifth, monitor (and report) the impact of the change.

Whenever you make a change there will be both upsides and downsides. There will be verbal supporters and detractors. More importantly, there will be lead indicators that point to eventual success (or the absence of lead indicators that may point to the need for further adjustment).

It’s important to carefully monitor the impact of change because the easiest thing to do, and the natural thing to do, is to revert back to the previous pattern.

In Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry I point out that the trajectory your small group ministry is currently on was established over a long time and is a deeply ingrained. Changing your trajectory requires intentionality, determination and persistence.

See also, Design, Build and Sustain a Thriving Small Group Ministry

Finally, when you arrive at the first milestone, be sure and begin setting up the conversations that will lead to the next change that needs to be made.

The easiest course of action is to quit before you even begin. The next easiest course of action is to quit too soon. Remember, changing your trajectory requires intentionality, determination and persistence!

Further Reading:

Dilbert on Resistance to Change

5 Clues that Point to a Change in Small Group Strategy

5 Ways Your Small Group Ministry Needs to Change…Today

General Eric Shinseki on Change and Irrelevance

Image by Felix Burton


Checklist: Prep to Hold the Largest Small Group Connection

There are certain critical things that must be done if you want to maximize your small group connection. There is also a sequence in which these critical things must be accomplished.

Here is what must be done and the sequence in which they must happen.

  • Meet with senior pastor to get commitment for multi-week promotion. This is a go/no go meeting. Your senior pastor’s commitment to use  their influence in the weekend message 2 to 3 weeks in a row prior to the connection insures the best turnout. See also, Top 5 Things Your Senior Pastor Needs to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  • Calendar the small group connection. See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.
  • Make room reservation (including all set-up instructions).
  • Arrange childcare (ideally 12 and under).
  • Depending on the day and time of the connection, you may need to arrange a quick meal (i.e., pizza and soda and/or water) or snacks.
  • Work with website administrator to create web-page promotion for the connection including a registration form for the event. Best Practice: Create a page that can be linked to directly.
  • Arrange sign-up bulletin insert to be used 2 weekends prior to the Connection. Insert should include First Name(s), Last Name, Best Phone, and Best Email. Depending on your planning, insert may also include type of group (i.e., Couples, Men’s, Women’s, Singles, etc.), and/or date of connection (in case you are offering more than one day or time).
  • Arrange collection of sign-up inserts. Best Practice: Place the offering post-sermon and collect sign-up inserts in the offering. Alternatively, a second pass of offering plates/buckets can be taken after the sermon. Other options are significantly less effective (i.e., drop insert at the door on the way out or turn insert in at the small group booth, etc).
  • Confirm processing of sign-up insert data (This data will form the basis of all follow-up measures and be needed promptly).
  • Write the follow-up emails to be sent to Connection sign-ups. Include a thank you for signing up and all the needed info (i.e., when, where, how long it will last, child-care provided, etc.). Best Practice: These emails should be sent by  the Tuesday immediately following turning in the insert.
  • Write church-wide email re the upcoming small group connection. Send to all unconnected adults (your database should be able to sort a list of unconnected adults) with a link to the sign-up form on your website. Send out the Tuesday after both the first and second weekends of promotion. Best Practice: Create a short video from your senior pastor re the importance of being connected in a group and embed it in the email.
  • Develop an FAQ to be used at the small group booth for the three weekends of promotion. Focus the FAQ on what potential attendees need to know.
  • Arrange announcements three weekends in a row (this is in addition to your senior pastor’s mention in sermons). First two weekend re the connection and turing in the insert. Third weekend, “whether you signed up or not, it’s not too late for you to join us at the connection.”
  • Recruit and train a team of coaches to monitor the groups forming at the connection. Best Practice: Recruit “Launch Phase” coaches who can attend the connection, monitor conversations and selection process, and walk alongside the leaders chosen for the first 6 to 8 weeks of the new group.
  • Assemble “Connection Event Box” with everything you need for a connection (i.e., name tags, medium point sharpies, group rosters, black pens, clipboards, etc.).
  • Study my articles: How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection and Here’s How I Lead a Small Group Connection for specific help on the event itself.
  • See How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure and Basic Training for New Small Group Coaches for specific help on coaching.

Note: This checklist is the kind of resource normally only available on GroupLifeInsider.com

Download a PDF copy of the checklist.

New from Rick Warren and Saddleback: 40 Days of Prayer

Finally got a look at 40 Days of Prayer, the newest church-wide campaign from Rick Warren and Saddleback Church. I’ve been really looking forward to this one and I should tell you, I got more excited and enthused about this campaign’s potential as I worked my way through the contents.

Has there ever been a time when longtime church members and their neighbors would be more open to learning how to pray?

DVD-driven, 40 Days of Prayer is a 6 session study that accompanies a 6 week message series.  The national launch of the campaign was October 1st, 2017 (If you’re reading my review when I posted it, 40 Days of Prayer is running right now and you can still catch all of the messages online).  Like all of Saddleback’s campaigns, this one is the complete package and is a true church-wide campaign with material for the whole family.

DVD-driven, 40 Days of Prayer is anchored by 6 video sessions featuring the teaching of Rick Warren.

The DVD segments are classic Rick Warren.  He gives all six talks seated at a small table on a beautiful beachside patio in southern California.  The talks average 25-35 minutes long.  I’d say for almost anyone else, they’d be a little long, but for Rick Warren, they’re right on target.  Still have to say…he is the master of this style of communication. (And I need to add, it may be just me, but the videos are beautiful, with the Pacific Ocean in the background)

The 40 Days of Prayer study guide is designed to be an all-in-one keepsake for group members and includes a number of important features:

  • Weekend Sermon Notes: A place to capture the teaching from the weekend sermon.
  • Daily prayer journal: contains directions for daily devotions including scripture verses and prayer journal prompts.
  • Video Lesson Notes: Every session is DVD-driven. Use the Video Lesson Notes to capture fill-ins and insights.
  • Discovery Questions: Choose from a well-written set of discussion questions for deeper understanding of the teaching.
  • Key Verse: Every session has a key scripture verse for memorization.
  • Putting It Into Practice: Every session has application steps that put learning into practice.

The study guide also includes an answer key for all sessions, extended prayer journal space, and a robust appendix with help for hosts and leader resources.

The campaign starter kit includes many tools to help you customize the campaign specifically for your church. Includes 40DOP logos, powerpoint templates, and web banners.

Beginning in November, 2017, there will be a free downloadable 40 Days of Prayer sermon series taught by Pastor Rick Warren.

The 40 Days of Prayer campaign is fully loaded!  And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more perfectly timed campaign. Has there ever been a time when longtime church members and their neighbors would be more open to learning how to pray?  I found myself thinking about when I’ll be using it and what it will mean to our congregation (even into the crowd and community with the right strategy), and I am really looking forward to this one!  I’m thinking it’s right on target!

What Does the Future of Small Group Ministry Look Like?

What Does the Future of Small Group Ministry Look Like?

Yesterday I posted 3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing and as I published it I felt a little pang of regret. Why? I think I realized that I was sharing bad news without pointing you to what I believe is the preferred future.

And it should be noted that there are already examples of churches and small group ministries dipping toes into the water of their preferred future. As Williams Gibson explained, “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Here are my best examples of what the future has in store:


5 Things You Need to Know about 21st Century Small Group Ministry

5 New Assumptions As I Step Further into the 21st Century

The Future of Small Group Ministry (and how to prepare for it)

Are You Preparing for the Future of Small Group Ministry?

Bonus: How Foggy Is What’s Next for Your Small Group Ministry?

Image by Rodrigo Tejada

3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing

3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing

Before we even get to the reasons, it makes sense for us to define success. And clearly my definition might not be yours, and that’s okay. As long as your small group ministry model is accomplishing your definition of success.

For now, here’s my definition of success:

We’re steadily moving toward more than 100% of our average adult weekend worship attendance connected in a group, where life-change is happening and better disciples are being made, led by a leader who is on the development track from host/facilitator to leader/shepherd.

What do you think about that definition of success?

Awful? Not bad? Could be improved? Spot on?

For today, that’s my definition.

But before we get to the reasons your old school small group model is failing, let me quickly list three symptoms that point to failure:

You’ve been plateaued at 25 to 35% of your average adult weekend worship attendance foreva

You see it. Right? If you’re stuck or plateaued it is an indication there is something wrong with your model. Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” Andy Stanley.

You’re always struggling to replace the leaders who are taking a break or moving away,

Right? You can’t get ahead because instead of adding more new groups you’re barely able to stay even.

Even though your percentage connected is low, there isn’t a waiting list of people desperately trying to join a group.

Think about it. If you’ve already met the demand for group membership, that’s either an indication that you’ve already succeeded (see definition above) or it’s an indication that your design isn’t working to help whet your congregation’s appetite to connect and grow.


Now, let’s talk about why your old school small group model might be failing, especially when you’re using a definition of success like mine.

3 Reasons Your Old School Small Group Model Is Failing

Group membership is painted as a nice extra.

Clearly a leading reason in many churches. In churches where the small group model is succeeding, small group membership is absolutely an essential ingredient for everyone (including senior pastors and leadership).

See also, Essential Ingredients for Life-Change and Groups of All Kinds and the Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.

The menu of connecting and growing opportunities is all-you-can-eat and unlimited.

When small group participation is described as “one of the ways you can get connected” or “one of the ways you can grow in your faith,” alongside several other options (i.e., Adult Sunday School or Bible Fellowship, Discipleship Pathway, Precepts Bible Study, etc.), success is next to impossible.

Not only is success impossible, it almost always leads to a redefinition of success. Right? Instead of my definition above you end up calling success something that is attainable, even though you know it clouds the issue and doesn’t produce the same results.

See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Leadership requirements too severely limit who can lead.

While it is important to have requirements, certain requirements restrict potential leaders too severely. For example, if you have to already be in a group to be invited to lead a group, you’re likely excluding the bulk of your best candidates (who are currently unconnected).

Or consider this: If you have to already be a member to lead a group, doesn’t that limit who can begin to lead? Why not take advantage of strategies that make it easier to take a first step into leadership and nearly automatic that development leads to the leader qualities you desire?

See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock and FAQ: What If a New “Leader” Doesn’t Meet Leadership Standards?

How does your small group ministry stack up?

Have you spotted a reason that explains your plateau? Or is there another reason? One of the most important things I can tell you is that the right definition of success will help you identify the strategic design elements that will get you to your preferred future.

The right definition of success will help you spot old school design that never led to where you’d like to go. You still need the courage to make the changes you need, but you’ll be able to see where you need to go.

If I Was Starting Today…Part 3

If I Was Starting Today…Part 3

(This is part 3 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

I’ve been at this a while. Maybe you have too! All I know is, with over 25 years of small group ministry experience I’ve learned a thing or two. And guess what? If I knew way back then what I know now, I’d have a different way of looking at a lot of things!

For example, one thing I would definitely look at differently would be the way I defined success.  How so? Well, for starters I wouldn’t call a certain number of groups “success.” And before you even begin to get worked up, I also wouldn’t call a certain number of people in groups, a certain number of apprentice leaders or coaches “success” either. Nope, if I were starting today and knew what I know…I’d definitely define success differently.

What would I call success?

So, what would I call “success”? Easy. And hard work at the same time. I’d spend time thinking about what it is that I want to produce, identify a way of measuring it, and set up a scorecard to keep track. Let’s break those three ideas down.

First, I’d think about what it is that I want to produce.

First, I’d think about what it is that I want to produce. I’d want my product to be men and women who love extravagantly, give generously, and serve selflessly. For me, off the cuff, that’s a pretty good short list. Of course, you can see that every church should really have its own criteria.

Can you see that I’d plug all of these things into the way I’m describing my preferred future? You could do this too!

See also, Start with the End in Mind and 5 Keys to Arriving at Your Preferred Future.

Second, I’d identify a way of measuring what I produced.

Second, I’d identify a way of measuring how effectively we’re producing what we’re trying to produce. I’d have to define “extravagantly,” but once I had the definition then I could set up a way to quantify that trait. Not only that, but I’d be able to measure periodically and see movement.

Can you see the things I’m describing are really the lead measures that predict arrival at the preferred future?

See also, Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)? and FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Third, I’d set up a scorecard

Third, I’d set up a scorecard to keep track of progress. With carefully identified lead measures, it would not be difficult to track on a scorecard.

Need some examples? How about tracking group members who served in a set of out-of-the-norm opportunities (homeless shelters, foster services, after-school mentoring, etc.) or gave generously (to a special cause or above and beyond last quarter’s donations).

Fourth, if I did set up a scorecard

Fourth, if I did set up a scorecard, I could even adjust my weekend teaching calendar and small group curriculum to work on areas or that need to be developed.

Can you see how adjusting the weekend teaching calendar and small group curriculum could help move small group members in the right direction?

Why would I do this differently?

Why would I do this differently? Easy. Measuring the number of groups, people in groups, apprentices, or coaches doesn’t actually tell me whether I’ve created the optimum environment for life-change to happen. Much as I like knowing whether I’m adding groups and connecting a higher percentage of my congregation, that’s nothing more than increasing the size of my delivery system. At the end of the day, the delivery system itself has to deliver the right things. That’s what I want to measure. And that’s what will determine what I call “success.”

This is part 3 of a 7 part series. You can read part 4 right here.

Further Reading:

Start with the End in Mind

5 Keys to Arriving at Your Preferred Future

Are You Working on the Right Things (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Image by ThoroughlyReviewed

The Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders Is a Must-Add Resource

Finally had an opportunity this week to spend some time with a new resource from Bill Search. The Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders is Bill’s first small group offering since Simple Small Groups was published in 2008. I loved his first book and was excited to dig into his new book. I was NOT disappointed. The Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders is a great resource.

I love the clarity of The Essential Guide. It is clear from the opening paragraph of the introduction. This is a book for small group leaders who don’t have time to read a book on small groups.

I also love the fact that the 153 pages are jam packed with 60 short chapters that get right to the point on a single topic to equip small group leaders. And The Essential Guide is the definition of readable. This is not complex stuff. In fact, every action step seems doable and is very doable. “Read this chapter and try it this week” ought to be the tagline!

The Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders is divided into five sections:

  • Start Your New Group: 13 short chapters on how to help a new group get off to a great start. Everything from who to invite and how to invite to pursuing no shows and sharing the load of leadership.
  • Develop Meaningful Relationships: 19 short chapters on the relational aspect of small group leadership. When you see the table of contents, you’ll realize immediately that this book was written by a group practitioner. Not a theorist, Bill does a great job including the chapter that will help leaders become more than hosts who get the house ready.
  • Focus on Growth and Transformation: 19 short chapters on helping group members actually grow and make groups about more than fellowship and connecting.
  • Cultivate a Heart for Others: 5 short chapters on a very important aspect of grouplife: serving others as a normal activity. If you’ve hoped your group leaders would add the element of others first and outward focused ministry…you will love this section.
  • Discover Biblical Foundations for Small Groups: 4 short chapters on the biblical framework for small groups and small group ministry. These will be very helpful reading assignments that will raise your leaders understanding of the biblical basis for groups and community.

I like this book! If you’re looking for a resource to hand to your leaders, The Essential Guide for Small Group Leaders really is essential. I highly recommend it!

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.”

Skill Training: How to Add Meaningful Prayer Together to Your Group Meeting

Skill Training: How to Add Meaningful Prayer Together to Your Group Meeting

Two things are true about many small groups (if not almost every group):

When your group is brand new feeling comfortable praying together is very challenging. New members often don’t know each other and aren’t yet sure  they can trust each other. Lots of people are very timid about speaking out loud, let alone praying out loud. And on top of everything, more and more people simply don’t know what to pray or how to pray.

When your group has been around for awhile it often settles into a routine that ends with sharing prayer requests and then listening to the leader pray. Praying together is intended and on the agenda. It just is often skipped in order to end on time.

Keys to Adding Meaningful Prayer Together to Your Group Meeting

Whether yours is a brand new group or you’ve been meeting together for years, paying attention to these keys will shift your prayer time from dull routine to deeply personal.

First, model for your members how to pray together. Use everyday words and an ordinary way of talking. Use short sentences with a single subject and verb (i.e., “Lord help Bob know what to say to his neighbor.”)

This is a key because so many people believe effective prayer requires special words (like beseech, thee and thou) and long run-on sentences. When you pray using simple everyday words and short sentences, you can help your members learn to pray.

Second, introduce the practice of prayer as acknowledging the attributes of God. If your prayer time has become nothing more than asking God to meet the needs of your group members, use the Lord’s Prayer as a template for meaningful prayer together. Remember, Jesus began his model prayer  (Matthew 6:9-13) by acknowledging God and His attributes.

Third, encourage your members to practice joining together to pray for the request of a particular member (i.e., “Let’s take a moment and each of us pray for Bob.”).

This is an important key to learning to pray together. When prayer becomes completing a checklist by successfully praying for each request, authentic community is cheapened.

Fourth, incorporate the practice that you don’t need to wait until the end of the meeting to pray together. For example, when Bob or Susan shares a concern, pause the discussion and say, “Let’s take a moment and pray for Bob right now.” A step further is to actually gather around an individual member and each pray for them.

Praying together in the moment can have a powerful impact on your group.

 Prayer together can be a meaningful part of your group meeting. It can also be nothing more than a formality. Use these four keys as a way to move toward meaning.

See also, Learning How to Pray Together and The Simplest Way to Help Your Members Pray Out Loud.

If I Was Starting Today…Part 2

(This is part 2 of a 7 part series. If you missed part 1, you can read it right here)

If I knew then what I know now…I would have worked harder to be crystal clear on who my real customer was and designed my strategy to fit them. I realize that to some of us that seems so obvious…but let me unpack the idea before you hit delete.

Peter Drucker, famous for asking great questions, pushed organizations to  ask themselves a few core questions. The first question was “What business are we in?” That was #1 in this series of posts. The second question he would push all of us to ask is, “Who is our customer?” But before we go any further, lets work on the word “customer.”

Classic Understanding of “Customer”

If we managed a restaurant or a grocery store we’d see this right away, but it might pay off to dig around the idea a little bit. If we thought about it we would quickly acknowledge that everyone who shops at our store or eats at our restaurant are our customers. We would be watching them carefully, trying to really understand their needs and interests, in order to keep them eating or shopping with us.

Clear so far? We would understand the word customer to mean the people already using our services or buying our products. At the same time we’d have hopes of expanding our customer base, attracting more customers, winning them over to shop or eat with us. We might understand the group going into the restaurant across the street as prospective customers…but we’d put most of our energy into catering to the group that already shops or eats with us. (Is this thinking starting to scare you?)

The Real Customer

When I use the term, “The real customer,” I’m talking about the people in the crowd who aren’t yet part of a small group. I believe understanding the crowd is the key to helping the unconnected people in your crowd get connected. Paying attention to their challenges, interests, concerns and hopes will help you design a strategy that will inspire them to put a toe in the water.

What Is the Problem?

That seems so easy! Why aren’t we doing that already? Because we’re focusing on the challenges, interests, concerns and hopes of the people who are already deep on the inside…and that is a problem. Why? Because they’re different than the people in the crowd. Maybe only slightly, but they are different. If you want to help the people in the crowd move into community you will have to understand them and then design your approach to appeal to them.

Why is that a problem? Thinking like the group just outside the congregation (the crowd) is a little bit of a stretch sometimes. After all, the longer we’ve been in ministry, even the longer we’ve been a Christ-follower, the harder it gets to think like someone just outside and design our approach to appeal to them.

What Is the Solution?

Spend some of your energy getting to know the people in the crowd. You know some of them already. Some you only know by face…not by name. Getting to know them, reaching out to learn more about them, will help you see how to help them connect. I’ve found it helpful to simply ask myself if I could invite them to my small group? Would they like what we’re doing? Would it meet a need they are aware of? Would it help them with a challenge they know they have?

What Is the Bigger Problem?

Of course, this whole discussion leads to a different, bigger problem. How do I help my current customers begin to see themselves as team members who are empowered to help new customers connect? That is a discussion for a later post! In the meantime…take some time to get to know the people in the crowd. Think about them as you’re designing your connection strategy. They’re the real customer.

This is part 2 of a 7 part series. You can read part 3 right here.

Further Reading

Do You Really Understand Your Customer?

Small Group Ministry Case Study: Choosing Your Customer

Which Customer Is Your Ministry Designed to Connect?

Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Image by Sérgio Bernardino