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

 

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 ESSENTIAL PRACTICES OF A 21ST CENTURY SMALL GROUP MINISTRY

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.

Right?

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

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

If I Was Starting Today…

If I Was Starting Today…

If I knew then what I know now…

That’s where this post finds its roots.  I’ve been at this a while and I’m often asked what I’d do if I was starting fresh but armed with what I know now.

Have you ever thought about what you’d do differently if you could do it over again? What decisions might you wish to have back or to switch up how you acted?

Let me tell you something. If I had known then what I know now (about small group ministry), there are definitely some things I would do differently.

Like what? I’d work harder to discover and ask the right questions.

Peter Drucker, the noted business consultant and author said, “The most common source of management mistakes is not the failure to find the right answers. It is the failure to ask the right questions… Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question”

“Nothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question” Peter DruckerNothing is more dangerous in business than the right answer to the wrong question. Click To Tweet

Drucker was right.

I also hope I’d think harder about the problem I was trying to solve.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Although I believe there are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies, I do believe understanding the fundamental problems and asking the right questions will make a very big difference.

Three questions and seven core ideas

In my mind there are three questions and seven core ideas. And it all begins with this question: “What business are we in?”

“What business are we in?”

This might be a foreign concept to you.  If it is, please hang in here. This is a very important idea that must be understood. If it’s old news to you…we’re going further but we have to start here.

“What business are we in?” It’s an old question in the business world. A key question in the Peter Drucker tradition. It may seem out of place here, but it is a huge question that should be asked at the very beginning of any discussion about small group ministry. Why? Because your answer will determine so much about what you ought to be doing. Follow me on this. Seriously give some thought to the way you would describe what it is that you’re trying to do. This is the mission question and even though we’re talking about small groups you ought to have an understanding of your mission.  Do you?

If I were starting today (or pulling my team in for a discussion that might lead to a better direction) I’d be asking this question first. What business are we in?

Let’s take a crack at it right now. There are several possible answers.  I think you’ll see that your answer will determine some very important things.

  • We’re in the business of connecting people: That’s a good answer, but may not be complete. For example, if all you’re trying to do is connect people it might say something about your preferred methods and also what you’ll call a win.
  • We’re in the business of giving people an in-depth Bible study experience: I’ve heard this argument. Not necessarily bad or wrong…but it will say something about method and what you’ll call a win.
  • We’re in the business of making leaders: Again, not bad…but is that what you’re really trying to do?
  • We’re in the business of making disciples: What do you think about that one? Closer? Still, it might be mine but not for you.

Years ago I heard Jim Dethmer talk about the mission of the small group ministry at Willow Creek. He described their mission this way: “To connect people relationally in groups (of 6 to 10) where they can grow in Christ, love one another, and further the work of the Kingdom.”

You need to ask and answer this question for your ministry.  Don’t take the mission of another organization. Get crystal clear on your own raison d’etre.  It is the first formative step in building a successful small group ministry.

Take some time to sort through the idea and develop your own conviction.  Use the comment section here to let me know what you’re thinking.

This is part 1 of a 7 part series. You can read part 2 right here.

Image by Jake and Lindsay Sherbert

Further Reading:

Ministry in a Fog? Here are 6 Critical Questions that Create Clarity

The Right Answer to the Wrong Question

6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry

5 Keys to Eliminating Embarrassing Oversights

5 Keys to Eliminating Embarrassing Oversights

You know that slap on the forehead moment when you realize you overlooked an important detail? Say, in your church-wide campaign or groups launch? Or in a small group leader gathering? Or maybe in your weekly team huddle?

Those are the worst, aren’t they?!! That moment when you realize you overlooked something that really was important. And, of course, you immediately begin thinking of work-arounds to fix the oversight, but that moment is awful. Especially when you’ve made the same mistake before!

Listen, I still have them too, but I’ve learned to do something that helps prevent them. And you can learn to do it too.

5 Keys to Eliminating Embarrassing Oversights

First, your event planning process should be begin well in advance of the event itself. An aspect of our planning process that really helps is that we’re allowed/required* to make room reservations 4 to 6 months before the event and in order to make the reservation certain details must be in place (i.e., the purpose of the event, room set-up, web promotion needs, etc.)

*I say allowed/required because we cannot make the reservation until that week (which is 4 to 6 months prior to the event).

As the week we’ll be allowed/required to make the reservations approaches a basic set of things must be planned.

Note: This is helped by our annual grouplife calendar (as we already know what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it). See also, How To Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.

Second, your event planning process should include a robust discussion focusing on two key questions. 

Here are the questions:

  1. What will we call success? What is the win for this event? The answer to this question must be determined at the very beginning. Before proceeding to any further planning, insist on a great answer to this question. See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry.
  2. What will have to be true for this event to be successful? Can you see that this is a different question? The first question focuses on outcomes (lag measures). This second question focuses on the action steps and deliverables that produce the objective. See also, How to Reach Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future and FAQ: What Should We Be Measuring (to build a thriving small group ministry)?

Third, the decisions made in your robust discussion should be captured and recorded as objective, deliverables, and action steps. Capturing and recording these decisions is a step in the planning process missed by many.

Here is the essence of the step:

  • Every event you’re planning should have an objective. It is what you’ve already identified as the win or success.
  • In order to achieve the win, there are certain aspects (deliverables) that must be developed and delivered. For example, a promotion plan, a team of volunteers for the event, a handout or host kit.
  • In order to deliver the deliverables certain action steps will be required. For example, develop the promotion plan, recruit a team of volunteers, train the team of volunteers, etc.

See also, How to Reach Milestones that Lead to Your Preferred Future.

Fourth, put the plan you’ve just developed in motion. To do that, you will need to do certain things:

  • Determine due dates for each of the action steps you have identified. Give sufficient time to complete the step.
  • Assign each action step to a person. Unassigned action steps do not get completed.
  • Calendar follow-up check-ins. Put every check-in into the necessary calendars. Do not leave this to chance or memory.

Finally, evaluate the event and learn from what happened. What you learn should be captured and added to the developing system for the event planning process.

  • Use a process like the 4 Helpful Lists to evaluate.
  • Capture learnings and edit your process for next time.

Image by Lee Haywood

Dear Senior Pastor…

Dear Senior Pastor…

Just wanted to take a moment to remind you of a few things.  Most of them you probably already know.  A few you might’ve forgotten.  One might be a complete surprise.

First, if you want your church to be a church of groups you have to be the small group champion.

First, if you want your church to be a church of groups, if you want your church to a be a church where nobody stands alone, if you want to be a church with more adults in groups than you have on the weekend…you have to be the small group champion.

You have to be the small group champion. You can’t delegate that role. You can’t farm it out to the small group pastor or director. You can’t give that role to an elder or deacon who is really passionate about groups.

If you want to be a church with a pervasive small group ministry…you’re going to have to be the small group champion. And there are two ways that you’ll need to step to the front:

  • To begin with, you’ll need to champion community on your staff and among your key leadership. You’ll need to model the idea that ministry is about doing life together. Whether you do this naturally or not, you’ll need to learn to embed the idea of together in everything your staff and key leadership does.
  • You’ll also need to begin to be the recognizable champion of grouplife in the congregation. Doesn’t mean you can’t have announcements or bulletin blurbs that support what you talk about. But it does mean that you can’t preach your sermon and then call up the small group pastor to “tell us what’s going to be happening with 40 Days of Purpose.” Instead, you’ll need to begin to work stories about your own group and testimonies from group members and group leaders about the power of grouplife into the message itself.

By the way, I believe the real reason Saddleback has connected so many in groups is that Rick Warren is the small group champion.

See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Has Connected So Many in Groups.

Second, if you want to reach into the crowd you’re going to need to cast vision of life in community beyond the core and congregation.

Second, if you want to reach into the crowd (and even into the community) you’re going to need to cast vision of life in community beyond the core and congregation. That means that it can’t be an annual sermon on the importance of grouplife. To actually reach the crowd (and even into the community) with this message, you’ll have to be talking about it 52 weeks a year. Why?  Because while the core and even the congregation (to use Saddleback’s concentric circle idea) may attend 2 or 3 times a month…the folks in the crowd are only attending once a month or once a quarter. They may only be showing up for Easter and Christmas! If you want to reach into the crowd, you’re going to have to talk about grouplife relentlessly (I believe this is the number one reason that Saddleback has connected over 130% of their weekend adult attendance in community).

Not only are you going to have to talk about grouplife more frequently, you’re going to have to learn to recognize and select topics that will appeal to spiritual newbies. You’ll need to learn to choose from the easy end of what I call the Easy/Hard continuum. When you choose a topic for your next church-wide campaign, it will make much more sense to choose Transformed: How God Changes Us or What On Earth Am I Here For? in order to include the folks in the crowd.

See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% In Groups.

Third, you’re going to need to coordinate themes and topics that emphasize groups throughout the year.

Third, you’re going to need to coordinate themes and topics that emphasize groups throughout the year.  For the reasons I’ve already mentioned…you can’t take a one shot annual approach and hope to get it done.  Instead, you’ll need to think about how grouplife applies to almost everything and work it into the messages you do all year long.

Finally, you’re going to need to be the big gun, issuing a clear call to action.

Finally, you’re going to need to be the big gun, issuing a clear call to action.  When you take time in your message to ask for a response (and an easy way to respond is included in the service) the most effective outcome can be expected.  If it appears to be an afterthought…it will have that kind of response.  Ho hum, no big deal.  If you want a big response, you’re going to need to give the ask priority.

Senior Pastors…we’re counting on you to lead the way and let God use you and your position to build grouplife!

See also, How to Make the Small Group Ask and  The Role of the Senior Pastor.

Image by Francois Schnell

5 Reasons Your Groups Launch May Bomb

You’ve been planning your groups launch for a while. In fact you started early this year.

You think you’ve got all your ducks in a row.

But…in the back of your mind…you have this nagging feeling that you might have forgotten something.

Maybe I can help! And maybe you can still adjust your plans to keep your groups launch from bombing.

5 Reasons Your Groups Launch May Bomb

First, failing to choose a topic that actually appeals to unconnected people is the number one reason your groups launch may bomb. And while every once and a while a topic that you think will work well just doesn’t, the truth is, with a little empathy we can usually (but not always) bypass the disconnect and select the best choice.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Your existing group leaders aren’t usually very good at picking topics that unconnected people will find helpful or interesting. There are exceptions, but existing group leaders are often too separated from the real world of unconnected people.
  • Senior pastors each have their own sensitivity to the interests and needs of unconnected people. Sometimes they are very tuned in (their message series are often a gauge) and other times they are more tuned in to the interests of the usual suspects.
  • Developing a short list of unconnected people is your best tool in identifying the topic(s) that will appeal to unconnected people.

Second, failing to promote at the right time and it in the right way will cause your groups launch to bomb. Remember, unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders (i.e., they are only in the auditorium about one time a month (or less). That means you cannot promote your launch on one weekend and then move on. In addition, unconnected people often arrive late. That means announcements may happen before they even arrive.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Schedule three weekends to promote your launch. And while you’re at it, be sure you’re scheduling an all-church email (or two) during the three week run to catch those who won’t be with you during the three weekends.
  • The best time to promote your groups launch is during your senior pastor’s message. It is the element that has the attention of the largest number of unconnected people. And your senior pastor is the influential person in the congregation 99% of the time.

Third, promoting other programs or events at the same time always leads to less traction and engagement. The myth of providing the customer with multiple options is a myth. The truth is narrowing the focus to highlight the best option is what leads to greater engagement.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • This is true year-round in all types of churches. Choosing an aspect to highlight and giving it exclusive attention leads to greater engagement.
  • A high-level directive to predetermine strategic ministries and programs to highlight at a given time will pay big dividends.

Fourth, failing to provide for the obstacles unconnected people face (or believe they face). Childcare, financial constraints, and convenience are three important obstacles.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Childcare is an ever-present obstacle. True, everyone finds a solution when they really want to, but it is an obstacle at this point.
  • Budgeting to provide reduced expense for first time participants or incentivizing hosting a group may not be part of your current plan, but will be if you are to truly move ahead.
  • Offering connecting opportunities at a convenient time is important. There may come a time when the urgency of a need will overcome inconvenience, but it is rarely in the beginning.

Fifth, the absence of a growth mindset. If you only do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. If your groups launch is only designed to help groups that have been on a break get going after a summer or holiday break, you may miss the fact that your launch could be about much, much more.

Hints to pay attention to:

  • Every groups launch ought to be about launching more new groups to connect more unconnected people.
  • Every groups launch should include a goal (i.e., for the number of new groups, number of newly connected people, etc.).

Further Reading:

Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?

Evaluate the Connection Potential of Your “First Step out of the Auditorium”

What If Narrowing Your Focus Is THE Missing Piece?

Could Our Lack of Empathy Be Limiting Our Ministry Impact?

6 Keys to Accelerating Small Group Ministry Growth and Impact