My Top Small Group Ministry Learnings 2016 – 2017

I like to think of myself as a learner. On the StrengthsFinder tool I am also futuristic with a twist of ideation. I’ve been called a mad scientist (and it’s one of my favorite tags). At one stop I almost convinced my boss that my new title should be The Destructor of the Status Quo.

Here’s my list of top learnings from the 2016-17 ministry year:

  1. The best time to connect a new leader with a coach is at the very beginning. And I mean the VERY beginning. When a new leader is chosen at one of our Life Group Connections, they are introduced to their coach in the stand-up meeting that follows the connection. See also, Skill Training: The Best Way to Connect a New Leader with a Coach.
  2. We don’t yet know how to sustain a high percentage of “host” groups. By “host” groups I mean the groups that we launch by inviting people to “do the study with a couple friends.” We’ve regularly launched hundreds of new “host” groups in conjunction with our fall church-wide campaigns and always sustain some of them into a follow-up study. We’ve tried coaching them with a weekly  email and invited them to our host rally…but clearly have room for improvement. See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  3. Language matters. This is more of reminder. Whether you’re inviting people to consider “doing the study with a couple friends” or challenging them to join a six-week Life Group where they can get everything possible out of the message series,” language matters. Every word matters and results are quantifiable. See also, 5 Tiny Language Tweaks that Make a Very Big Difference.
  4. We need to do a better job of identifying the lead measures that predict discipleship outcomes. We are clear on the relationship between design and results. We have a good understanding of the lead measures that result in toes-in-water, we’ve only partially identified the steps that lead to better disciples. See also, FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?
  5. We need to codify the things that must be done to and for leaders. What some on our team do intuitively must be defined in a way that can be learned and is transferable. Translation: Everything must scale. See also, 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.
  6. Building an effective coaching structure doesn’t make caring for leaders easier. Adding a layer of high capacity leaders who do to and for leaders what you want leaders to do to and for members creates a challenging environment that requires greater attention to personal discipleship. The outcome of an effective coaching structure is greater capacity to make better disciples, but intensifies the effort required from top to bottom. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  7. Transitioning from silos to full alignment is a never ending process. Aligning affinities (couples, singles, men and women) is step one and easier to understand and compel. The payoff of aligning broadly (missions, next generation, evangelism and worship) is temporary and quickly forgotten. Enduring alignment is conversation intensive, painstaking, and never ending. See also, Insight: Repositioning Affinity Ministries Helps Create Alignment.
  8. Adding a multi-site philosophy is a beast unto itself. Like the alignment transition, developing and supervising is a daily endeavor. It is conversation intensive, painstaking, and never ending.

Peter Thiel on Best Practices and Dead Ends

“Today’s Best Practices lead down dead ends; the best paths are new and untried” Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Sometimes we are on a hunt for best practices. The truth is, a best practice can take you quickly to the best way a particular thing can be done. Thiel’s point is that there are times when what you need is not the best way to do what you are already doing. What you need to develop is a way of doing something you have not yet tried. And that requires a new and untried path.

Note: The HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection are examples of new and untried paths.

Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur and investor. He started PayPal in 1998, made the first outside investment in Facebook, and provided early funding for LinkedIn, Yelp, and dozens of other successful technology startups. He also is a partner at Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has funded companies like SpaceX and Airbnb.

You can read more from my Quotebook right here.

Image by Benny Lin

How Saddleback Online Has Started 1700 Small Groups in 4 Years

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 6.57.50 AMOnline.

Many churches are currently making  worship services (or at least the sermons) available for viewing online. Some are streaming their services. Others are simply making them available for viewing on-demand.

A few churches are creating a true online campus.

Do you know the difference?

If your church has an online presence (whatever the type), do you have groups there yet?

Jay Kranda has been Saddleback’s Online Campus Pastor since 2012 and has helped launch over 1700 small groups. Click here to see the Saddleback Online Campus landing page.

Here’s a link to a very interesting interview with Jay Kranda on the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. If you listen, you can pick up several important clues about how Saddleback is launching new groups via their online campus.

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

Click here to see the show notes or listen to the podcast on the Vanderbloemen site.

Click here to learn more about the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast.


Thinking Thursday: Confessions of a Futurist

You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with small groups or discipleship?!?!”  And you’re right in wondering that.  It doesn’t…directly.  Learning how to think about the future, though, has everything to do with building thriving small group ministries.  This is a very interesting talk.  I hope you watch it.

Sheryl Connelly is manager of global trends and futuring for Ford Motor Company, tracking shifts and trends in topics as far reaching as the environment, politics and millennials and analyzing those shifts to predict consumer preferences. Her insights inform the company’s automotive design, product development and corporate strategy and help anticipate the needs and desires of car buyers.

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

Question-Storming: An Incredibly Valuable Tool

I am always looking for great questions.  I’m inspired by Peter Drucker’s line that “the important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.  For there are few things as useless–if not dangerous–as the right answer to the wrong question (The Practice of Management).”

Last week in my hunt for a better question I tripped across a really great webinar by Jeff Dyer, the co-author of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

The webinar provided an overview of the five skills of disruptive innovators (associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting).  Although there were great takeaways and real application from all five skills, questioning really caught my attention.  And within the skill of questioning, a tool called question-storming gripped me.  We will use this idea!


For me, the big idea of the webinar had to do with a skill called question-storming.  Essentially, when you brainstorm you are trying to come up with solutions or ideas; when you question-storm you are coming ups with questions related to the problem (at least 25 questions).

Here are the steps:

  1. Identify a problem you are trying to solve.
  2. Instead of brainstorming solutions, brainstorm ONLY questions to the problem (at least 25 questions).
  3. Write the questions on a white board for everyone to see as they are being generated.
  4. At the end, prioritize the top 3 to 5 questions that should be addressed/answered before brainstorming solutions.

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

Learn to Empathize with Your End User

What does it take to design something that actually matters to your customer?  To your end user?  It may not be what you think.  It turns out that what makes a great designer is empathy.

“Be empathetic,” Kelley tells Charlie Rose in a January, 2013 episode of 60 Minutes. “Try to understand what people really value.”

This is so important to all of us.  If we want to reach beyond the usual suspects, to reach into the crowd and even the community…we must learn to truly empathize with the people we’re trying to reach.

Here is the 60 Minutes interview with David Kelley, founder of IDEO.  It is a great 12 minutes.  Enjoy it, but listen for the mentions of the importance of empathy.

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

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

4 Steps to Extending Your Reach into the Crowd and Community

Ever said anything that remotely sounds like this:

  • Our student ministry isn’t reaching new teens.
  • We’re just not reaching young adults anymore.
  • We’re not reaching young couples.
  • We’re seeing plenty of first time visitors, but they’re not coming back.
  • Our congregation doesn’t reflect the community.  We’re older.  We lack diversity.  We drive the wrong cars and listen to the wrong music.

What if there was a solution, but it required leaving behind the safety of your office?  What if there was an answer, but it meant getting out of your office and spending time with the people you’re trying to reach?

There is a solution

If we were product developers or marketers, we would understand the need to develop empathy for our customers’ needs.  We wouldn’t spend a lot of time criticizing our customers (or non-customers) for not being wise enough to choose our product.  We wouldn’t spend any time or energy trying to figure out why they won’t buy what we think they ought to buy or do what they should do.

If we were product developers or marketers, we wouldn’t do any of those things, would we?  No…it would be a waste of time.

Four steps that extend reach into the crowd and community

What would we do?  We’d do these four things:

  1. We’d get out of our offices and venture into the messy unknown of the lives of the people we hope to reach.  Instead of theorizing, we’d actually spend time with them.  Instead of postulating or pontificating about what they want, we’d spend time with them learning what they need.
  2. We’d suspend our fear of judgement and begin rethinking our strategies.  Instead of worrying what the usual suspects will think, we’d courageously follow the course that leads to the truth.  We’d honestly diagnose the effectiveness of what we’re currently doing.  We’d honor the wins of the past while admitting the failures of the present.
  3.  We’d accept losing control by bringing outsiders into our project.  We’d be open to the inclusion of new team members who might offer fresh perspectives on our mission.  We’d invite the participation and insights of other experts on aspects of the community.
  4. We’d quickly take first steps by implementing unproven but promising prototypes.  Instead of waiting for a fully perfected new model, we’d eagerly search for next steps that lead in the right direction.

I’ve been reading and reflecting on a set of ideas from Tom and David Kelley’s Creative Confidence.  In addition, there are excellent examples in two HBR articles by the Kelleys: Fighting the Fears that Block Creativity and Reclaim Your Creative Confidence.

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

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.”

New is Easy. Right is Hard.

I am a fan of the next thing.  I am always on the lookout for the new idea that opens up opportunities (to connect more people, to identify more leaders, etc.).  I am on the lookout for what’s next.  You should be too!

And…at the same time…I am a realist.  I know for sure that my “ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results I am currently experiencing.”  I consider the “results I am currently experiencing” to be the facts in evidence.  Results are not a fluke.  Results are based on the design.  I look at outcomes through that lens.  And you should too.  See also, Five GroupLife Dots You May Not Be Connecting.

This week I read an interesting article about the three most important players at Apple since the death of Steve Jobs.  I was caught by a line from Craig Federighi, Apple’s VP of software engineering, given in response to a comment by Jonathan Ive, Apple Senior VP of Design.  Describing the way innovation happens at Apple, Ive said, “We go back again and again until something is just right.”  See also, Apple’s Most Important Introductions (HT Lifehacker).

Federighi’s line?  “New is easy.  Right is hard.”

I like that line.  It describes very well the way I feel about the search for what is next.  I never want to do the next thing just to do a new thing.  I want to keep working at an idea until it is right.  Not in the search for problem-free.  In the search for an idea that extends and expands capabilities.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem-Free.

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

What’s in the 3rd Box?

What are you doing in your ministry that is about creating the future?  Remember, “the day to day execution of your existing model is vitally important.”  At least it is for me.  It’s important for me to do everything I can to connect as many unconnected people as possible and do it as fast as I can.  If I’m not on that mission, if my team loses focus on this task…it’s a bad thing.  And I’m betting it’s a bad thing for you too!

Still, as we’re learning from Vijay Govindarajan, it’s not enough to get box 1 right.  If we really want to continue making a difference 5, 10 or 20 years into the future, we need to be actively working on box 2 and box 3.  I’ve written about Saddleback’s repeated willingness to radically shift the way they connect people.  Want to play in the future?  We’ve got to be willing to work on box three initiatives.  See also, Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach and Are You Wrestling with the Menace of Organizational Memory?

I’ve hinted at what we’re preparing to do in September.  Think Church-Wide Campaign with the HOST strategy and a new twist of a small group fair.  Could be a game-changer.  Can’t wait to see what happens!  Definitely a box 3 free-for-all!  See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula and A Potentially Game-Changing Mashup We’ll Be Testing in September.

So what’s in your 3rd box?  Want to share with us what you’re getting ready to do?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.