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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

5 Faulty Assumptions about Small Group Ministry Impact

eyes shut 2

Courtesy Wan Mohd

You know how kids sometimes believe that if they close their eyes, you can’t see them?  That’s an assumption they eventually grow out of.

Do you have an assumption or two about small group ministry impact that you need to grow out of?

I was imagining the Family Feud set-up when I wrote this.  See yourself standing at the podium.  “What are the top 5 faulty assumptions about small group impact.  100 people surveyed.  The top 5 answers on the board. Survey says…”

Here are 5 faulty assumptions about small group impact:

  1. The optimum environment for life-change is a small group.  While this is a very popular notion, it’s only true when the small group environment is designed for life-change.  It is much more common for groups to never move beyond being about connect unconnected people.  If you want groups to be about life-change…intentionality is an essential ingredient.  See also, Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
  2. The small group champion role can be delegated.  NOT!  If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, there is no workaround for a senior pastor who insists on delegating the small group champion role.  Period.  There is no question that in churches where a vibrant and thriving small group culture exists there is a senior pastor who walks the talk and talks about it all the time.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups.
  3. Coaching is primarily about problem solving and improving technique.  Nope!  “Coaching” small group leaders is nearly 100% about doing to and for (and with) your leaders whatever you want your leaders to do to and for (and with) the members of their groups.  And this is one of the main reasons that retroactively assigning a coach to an experienced leader is so deadly and almost never works.  Existing leaders know for sure that they do not need a coach.  If they needed a coach, they would have need a coach in their first 90 days.  See also, Coaching FAQ: How Much of Coaching Is about Technique and Small Group Ministry Myth #5: Only New Small Group Leaders Need a Coach.
  4. Requiring leader training as a prerequisite ensures a better member experience.  The truth is that the only thing requiring leader training as a prerequisite ensures that you will always have a shortage of qualified leaders.  Requiring leader training in advance sets in motion a system that does one of two things: (a) hand selecting prime candidates (which indicates that you think you already know the best candidates) or (b) advertises an upcoming leader training course and takes volunteers.  Either way this doesn’t ensure a better member experience.  The only thing that even comes close to ensuring a better member experience is a coach working with a leader doing to and for (and with) whatever you want the members of your groups to experience.  See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure the Safety of the Flock.
  5. Unconnected people will respond because “it’s good for them.”  Listen, unconnected people don’t respond to “what’s good for them” anymore than children eats their vegetables because it’s good for them.  If you are banking on that, you are relying on a faulty assumption.  If you want to connect unconnected people, you must shift your thinking and focus on understanding the things that appeal to them in their current state.  What are their hopes and dreams?  What keeps them awake at night?  What do they long for?   When you understand those things you will finally begin to understand how to help them take first steps into authentic community.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

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

5 Implications for Small Group Ministries As Powerful Trends Emerge

riverThink about two powerful rivers merging to form one seemingly unstoppable force and you have a good image for the confluence of two accelerating trendlines.  Call river #1 the rise of the nones (those who claim no religious affiliation) and call river #2, the  decreasing frequency church attendance among churched Americans.  See also, How Will This Trend Affect Small Group Ministries?

Takeaway: We are not in Kansas anymore.

5 Important Implications

These combination of these two powerful trends have many implications for small group ministry in the 21st Century.  I’ve identified a few of the more immediate here.  I’m sure there are others.

  • Promoting connecting opportunities over multiple weekends is now required.  As the frequency of attendance decreases it becomes less and less effective to promote something once and expect that unconnected people will hear about it.  See also, 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Ministry at the Corner of “Belonging” and “Becoming”.
  • Stories and examples of authentic community must be included in everything (sermons, on the website, in enewsletters and printed materials).  An aspect of the trend of less frequent church attendance is that online participation is growing.  It’s easier and more convenient.  In many cases I can watch the service when I want to (the DVR has made time-shifting expected).  The experience is similar whether I’m in the auditorium or sitting on the couch at home.  If we believe there is value in connecting and that life-on-life is an essential ingredient of life-change, we need to work harder to ensure the value is communicated well.  See also, Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
  • Emphasizing a more organic form of connection that organizes around naturally occurring relationships becomes a primary path, as opposed to plan b.  While in the past, it may have been most effective to offer on-campus connecting events designed to launch groups of 10 to 12, it will become increasingly more productive to make it easy to start a group with friends.  Making it easy to “do the study with a couple friends” is a powerful antidote to busy schedules and infrequent attendance.  See also, Saddleback Changes the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  • Emphasizing personal relationship (with neighbors, co-workers, and family connections) becomes the highest priority.  It is the best way to overcome barriers in post-Christian America.  The research in The Rise of the Nones as well as UnChristian indicates that an increasing number of Americans no longer view attending church as something that is helpful.  This is a key takeaway in Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians (another must read).  See also, The Next Christians: A Book You Should Be Reading.
  • Studies and resources that require less familiarity with the Bible become more essential every day.  If prior knowledge is required in order to understand what you are studying (i.e., who are the Ephesians, is this the same Joseph that was married to Mary, etc.), it will be a nearly insurmountable barrier to participation.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System.

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

How Will This Trend Affect Small Group Ministries?

rise-of-churchlessness

Infographic courtesy of Barna.org

One of the most important trends that surfaced in 2014 was what’s been called “the rise of the nones.”  In a continuation of the trendline, one of the most significant trends in 2015 is that churched Americans are attending less frequently.

Let me say that again.  The research shows that churched Americans are attending less frequently.

In my mind, the research begs a number of questions:

  • How might the trend affect small group ministries?
  • Is the trend reversible?
  • Do we (small group ministry point people) have a role to play in reversing the trend?

Actually, I think our first responsibility is to learn as much as we can about the trend.  Here is the beginning of a collection of books, blog posts, podcasts, and interviews that will help you begin to have an opinion.

I don’t know about you, but I have long believed that the days of “come with me to my church” will be supplanted by “come over to my house.”  As that happens, church attendance (and unconnected churchgoers) will be a less important pool than the neighborhood.

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

5 Signs You Are Too Close to See Your Ministry Problems Clearly

mirrorDo you know the signs that you are too close to the problem to know that you have a problem?  I’m betting we all know this experience in life, right?  “Do these jeans make me look fat?”  “Tell me the truth…would a faux hawk look okay on me?”  “My presentation was good, wasn’t it?”

With me?  Been there?  On the receiving end and the giving end?

Now clearly, one of the major themes here has been the conviction that there really is no problem-free system, model or strategy.  There aren’t.  I know that.  And I think by now you do too.  See also, Breaking:  No Problem-Free Small Group System, Solution or Strategy.

Still…think we can be too close to see ministry problems clearly?  I do.  And I think it’s a very common problem.

Here are 5 signs you are too close:

  1. Even though you’ve already tried a strategy three times, you’re going to give it one more try “just to make sure.”  This is a dangerous mistake.  Remember, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results (Einstein).”  If you’ve tried a strategy more than once and experienced the same results, it’s time to rethink the way you are doing what you are doing.  See also, The 5 Biggest Ministry Mistakes I’ve Made.
  2. You refuse to connect results with design and grasp for straws blaming results on flukes.  A classic indication that you are too close to truly see the issue.  Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  If you find yourself assigning blame to the weather, the popularity of the local football team or the economy…you’re in denial.  It is the design.  See also, 5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Design is Inadequate.
  3. Your research indicates you’re inadequately prepared to try a new strategy, but you are “praying for God to move.”  Obviously, you must have access to unbiased and objective research.  That is a given.  Still, if after researching a strategy you are willing to go forward in spite of your lack of preparation, you need to take a closer look in the mirror.  Remember, “Smart people learn from their own mistakes. However, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes.”
  4. You’re hesitant to ask more knowledgable ministry veterans because you “know what they’ll say.”  This is another extremely dangerous mistake.  Yes, there will always be the guardians of the status quo.  I’m not suggesting that you go to them for breakthrough ideas.  I am suggesting that the time spent asking great questions of ministry veterans is always worthwhile.
  5. You’re not asking the right questions.  Sometimes the biggest indication that we are too close to the problem is when we operate with a ready, fire, aim mentality.  Instead of spending the required time asking the right questions, we push ahead, eager to get started and overlooking many obvious issues.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions.

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

Is It As Simple As This?

snakeIf you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, you know that I am a fan of simple and often self-evident wisdom.

I believe Andy Stanley was right.  Your ministry really is “perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”

I have no doubt that there actually aren’t any problem-free solutions, strategies or systems and wise leaders really do simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.

And while I’m on the subject of simple wisdom, I am also confident that Jesus was on to something big when He said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16 NIV).”

Shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

I had a long talk with someone the other day and told them that they had the innocent as a dove part down, but if they wanted to lead they must learn to be wise as a serpent.  And, full disclosure, I also told them that I could use some work on the innocent as a dove part.

The bottom line today?  Building a thriving small group ministry requires wisely making tough decisions.  Bloated belong and become menus will have to be trimmed down.  You will have to develop clarity about the right next step and that will require choosing what is not the right next step.  It will be essential to develop a keen understanding of the culture.  And there will be no way around adopting a leadership development track that will require commitment and endurance.  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Roadblocks.

What do you need to develop?  Wisdom or innocence?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

How to Make Disciples in Small Groups

light at the endI don’t know about you, but I’m determined to build a thriving small group ministry that makes disciples.  That is the light at the end of the tunnel for me.  It is the end in mind.  It’s not just to connect unconnected people.  That’s important, but only a beginning.  My objective is to make disciples.  And I suspect–since you are still along on this journey with me–that is your objective too!  See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

And if your objective is to make disciples…you must know what it is you are trying to make (i.e., What is a disciple?).  Once you know that little detail, you will be able to lay out a path that leads to that preferred future.

With me?

And to that end, I love this paragraph from Dallas Willard.  In my mind it informs what it is that I need to do in laying out the path.

As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I (emphasis mine) I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner in which he did all that he did.  How to Be a Disciple

Still with me?  This sets up a fairly clear understanding of the things that will have to be true about a small group ministry that will make disciples.

  1. It defines what I must do as I develop coaches.  I will need do to and for my coaches the things that will help them learn to live their lives as Jesus would live their lives.  See also, The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor.
  2. It defines what our coaches must do to and for the leaders they are discipling.  See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
  3. It defines what our small group leaders must do to and for the members they are discipling.  See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.

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

3 Post-Easter Strategies that Ought to Be on Your Radar

ChessAs you know, there are certain windows every year when it is easier to launch new small groups.  You may not have thought about it, but it is important to know that these windows are not the same.

Each of these windows is unique.  Each window appeals to a different demographic slice.  A different underlying motivation accompanies each window.  And most importantly, different strategies will maximize the connecting potential of each window.

One of the best windows to launch new small groups is the four to six weeks right after Easter.  There is often a heightened spiritual receptivity (although it is diminishing, Easter is still on the minds of many who are essentially churchless).  Easter can sometimes motivate a desire for (if fleeting) recommitment.  Easter, along with Christmas Eve and Mother’s Day, is a time when couples (and families) attend together.

3 Post-Easter Strategies

There are three strategies that ought to be on your radar.

  1. A small group connection is an event that can be scheduled one or two weekends after Easter.  It can be promoted as a  short-term opportunity (ideally a six week study).  The right topic (one especially chosen to appeal to infrequent attenders and the spouses of frequent attenders) can make it an appealing first step out of the auditorium.  Six weeks is short enough to seem reasonable and just long enough to begin to establish enough connectivity to encourage groups to decide to continue beyond the six weeks.  See also, How to Launch New Groups Using a Small Group Connection, 5 Things to Remember When Planning Connecting Events and 5 Studies that Will Connect People after Easter.
  2. A short-term on-campus study can be scheduled two weeks after Easter.  Selecting the right topic (or set of topics) will entice some to put a toe in the water.  Holding the study on-campus removes the fear of showing up in a stranger’s living room.  The topic itself (for example, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage) provides the motivation (as opposed to promoting the benefit of being part of a group).  See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.
  3. A take-home study that accompanies your post-Easter message series can be scheduled right after Easter.  Promoted as a study that can be done with a couple friends (or simply with your family), the right topic will make this an easy next step.  Many off-the-shelf studies provide almost everything you need to encourage a wave of hosts to pick up a grab-and-go kit from the table in the lobby and invite a couple friends to do the study with you.  Adding the element of just-in-time coaching provided via email can help new groups add additional new members in the first couple weeks.  See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

By the way, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day both offer additional opportunities to launch new groups and connect unconnected women and men.  See also, Take Advantage of Special Days to Launch New Small Groups.

5 Things to Remember When Planning Connecting Events

post itThere are certain things you must keep in mind as you’re planning events or strategies to connect unconnected people.

  1. Unconnected people care about what they care about.  In other words, what already connected people care about or are curious about doesn’t matter.  When you are choosing a topic or a small group study, the only people whose opinions count are the people you are trying to connect.  See also, Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  2. Unconnected people are infrequent attenders.  They will not necessarily be there on the week you’ve chosen to announce or promote the connecting event.  If you want to give them the very best opportunity to connect, you must promote the connecting event several weeks in a row.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Unconnected People.
  3. Unconnected people are more likely to respond to a short-term test-drive (4 to 6 weeks).  The longer the commitment the less likely they are to respond.  It is far more effective to offer a short-term commitment with built-in next steps.  The longer the required commitment the smaller the percentage who will sign up.  The shorter the required commitment the greater the percentage who will sign up.  See also, 5 Small Group Ministry Shortcuts You Need to Know.
  4. Unconnected people are looking for convenience.  Be sure you are scheduling the event at the most convenient time or times.  Plan to offer free childcare.  Provide an all-inclusive experience.  Every unnecessary step and everything that inconveniences them or forces them to go out of their way increases the chance that they will decline to take the test-drive.
  5. Unconnected people are often quick to change their mind.  While they don’t have to be, they are sometimes looking for a reason or excuse not to come (think about how often one spouse is interested and the other is not).  The more you can do to reinforce their commitment the better.  Confirmation and reminder emails are essential, a reminder phone call the day before, and an “even if you didn’t sign up” announcement the day of the event are all helpful measures that make attendance more likely.

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

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