Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

Category: Strategic Thinking (page 1 of 14)

This Concept Might Change Your Strategy

circle and squareSpoiler Alert: The most connected people in your congregation almost always have the fewest connections in the community.

Four Things You Need to Know

I use this drawing to illustrate an important concept.  There are four things you need to know in order to understand the drawing,

First, the circle represents your adult attendance on Easter.  As you know, the difference between your average adult attendance and your Easter adult attendance is not that everyone brings a friend.  Instead, the main reason your attendance is higher on Easter is that everyone comes on the same weekend. See also, What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected?

Second, the square represents the people in your congregation who are truly connected.  That is, if something happened to them or a member of their family, someone else in your congregation would find out about it within 24 hours without anyone calling the church.  A pink slip at work.  Marital issues.  A scary medical diagnosis.  A teenager who goes south.  24 hours.  Someone else knows.

Third, if you were to interview the folks in the square (the most connected people in your congregation) and ask who their 10 closest friends are in your area, you’d find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of them are also inside the square.  Now, before you get excited, there are exceptions (many church staff members, those with the gift of evangelism, etc.).  But in general, the most connected people in your congregation are the least connected in the community.

Fourth, when you interview the folks in the circle you’ll find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.  Let me repeat that:

When you interview the folks in the circle you’ll find out that 8, 9, or even all 10 of their best friends have never been to your church.

Here’s the big idea: If you want to recruit hosts who can fill their own group with unconnected neighbors, friends, co-workers and family members…you need to learn how to recruit from the circle.  Churches that keep going back to the well of the usual suspects (the most connected) shouldn’t be surprised when hosts from the square don’t know their neighbors.

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

Further Reading:

What Do Your Goals Say about Your Ministry?

goals finish lineYou can learn a lot about ministries and organizations by analyzing their goals.

Some churches have attendance goals.

Some churches have baptism goals.

Some multi-site church have goals for the number of sites.

Some churches have church planting goals.

Your church’s goals are an indication of priorities (of your true priorities). Goals can be something like a litmus test or a lie detector, betraying what is genuinely important. Goals are commonly an indication of passion or heart.

What do your church’s goals say about your ministry?

Reflecting on North Point Ministries 20 year anniversary, Andy Stanley said,

“20 years in people ask me, ‘What would you change if you started over?’ Our one numeric goal (to have 100,000 people in groups*) has shaped everything. It has shaped everything including our budget. Your goals shape where the money goes. Groups is the best bet.”

20 years.

One numeric goal.

100,000 people in groups.

What do your church’s goals say about your ministry?

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

*North Point Ministries has 72,000 adults, teens and children in groups as of May, 2016.

Image by Wally Gobetz

A Values-Driven Culture Is Essential

culture“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this is a line right at the heart of an important challenge for all of us. We work hard on choosing our small group model, system or strategy and that is a very good thing.

Strategy is important. But at the end of the day, at the end of the ministry season or year, if your culture is toxic or unhealthy…you’re going to have a very hard time getting to your preferred future.

I’ve been studying culture for many years.  I’ve come back to it many times, recognizing again and again that creating culture and influencing culture is my number one priority.

Here are some resources that you need to know about as you do the same in your own environment.

Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

I love the new Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. If you aren’t yet subscribed, you need to stop what you are doing right now and sign up to get this podcast. You can do that right here.

In March and April, Craig shared some tremendously valuable thoughts on creating a values-driven culture. Oh my! So good.

“Healthy cultures never happen by accident.”

“Your culture is a combination of what you create and what you allow.”

“The number one force that shapes your culture is your values.”

“What we value determines what we do. Your values shape what you do.”

“If you want a different culture, change what you value.”

“Strong values attract the right people and weed out the wrong people.”

Creating a Values-Driven Culture, Part OneShow Notes

Creating a Values-Driven Culture, Part TwoShow Notes

Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast

Another podcast you ought to be subscribed to is the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Seriously, if you aren’t listening to this podcast you are so missing out! You can subscribe to it right here.

Back in May, June and July of 2013 Andy talked about culture and behaviors (

Better Before Bigger

Defining Your Organizational Culture, Part One

Defining Your Organizational Culture, Part Two

Granger Community Church

Granger Community Church reworked their values several years ago. Very thought-provoking stuff. Take a look at their values as you are learning about culture and values.

Core Values: Shaping the Way We Think and Act (This is a very good article on the importance of core values from Tony Morgan)

Granger’s Mission and Values


I hope you’ll take the challenge and spend some time with this! I’m convinced, and I hope you are or soon will be, that creating a values-driven culture is at the root of how we build thriving ministries.

Image by lpk 90901

How Many of These 4 Essential Activities Are You Missing?

essential activitiesHow Many of These Essential Activities Are You Missing?

What if it turned out that you spent your time and energy focusing on good things but not the right things?

What if at the end of the season you realized that while you were busy taking care of the squeakiest wheels, you were overlooking the bigger issues or opportunities?

What if at the end of your ministry you finally saw with stark clarity what you sensed was happening but never acted on?

Peter Drucker pointed out that “every institution must build into its day-to-day management four essential entrepreneurial activities that run in parallel.” He went on to point out activities, these disciplines, were not just desirable but “conditions for survival today.”

Here are the four activities that Drucker isolated as essential:

  1. Organized abandonment of products, services, and processes that are no longer the optimal allocation of resources.
  2. Organized for systematic, continuing, improvement.
  3. Organized for systematic and continuous exploitation of successes.
  4. Organized for systematic innovation.

Spend a moment and evaluate how effectively you are addressing each of the four activities:

Organized abandonment of products, services, and processes that are no longer the optimal allocation of resources.

Are any of your products, services or processes holdovers from a previous era? Are any of your products, services or processes still budgeted for even though less effective than they once were? Still allocated prime space or optimal times? Still occupy the attention of key staff or high capacity volunteers?

According to Peter Drucker, the organized abandonment of products, services and processes that are no longer the optimal allocation of resources is a condition for survival.

Organized for systematic, continuing, improvement.

Which of your products, services or processes are you systematically improving?

According to Peter Drucker, organizing for systematic, continuing, improvement is a condition for survival.

Organized for systematic and continuous exploitation of successes.

Which of your latest successes have you exploited by increasing the budget, moving to prime location or time, or adding key staff or high capacity volunteers?

According to Peter Drucker, organizing for systematic and continuous exploitation of success is a condition for survival.

Organized for systematic innovation.

How frequently are you setting aside time, energy, and budget to explore new opportunities? Craig Groeschel pointed out that “if you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do things that no one else is doing.”

According to Peter Drucker, organizing for systematic innovation is a condition for survival.

Which of the four essential activities are you missing?

As you evaluate your ministry, which of the four essential activities are you doing? Which of the four activities are you missing?

What if they really are conditions for survival?

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

Image by Mob Mob

Further Reading:

Determining What to Do…and What Not to Do

determine what to doHow do you determine what to do…and what not to do?

How do you determine which next steps in include? And which to eliminate?

How do you determine which menu items to add? And which to remove?

cone_slide8I have used the term “the preferred future” to describe where we dream of arriving. The preferred future is what we dream our small group ministry looks like. It is what a small group leader or coach is becoming. It is what a disciple is becoming.

Not every path leads to the preferred future. There may be more than one way to get there, but there are many that lead elsewhere.

And in order to arrive anywhere you must choose the path carefully. Not every path leads to the preferred future. There may be more than one way to get there, but there are many that lead elsewhere.

In order to become anything you must choose your physical or mental regimen carefully. Not every activity or routine leads to the preferred future. There may be more than one way to get there, but there are many that lead elsewhere.

According to Michael Porter,the father of modern strategy, “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

If you’ve been in on very much of this conversation, you are probably becoming very familiar with this diagram.  I use it for all kinds of discussions (you’ll see many of them right here), but we’ve rarely talked about choosing what not to do.

Choosing what not to do is very near the heart of identifying your preferred future.  If you study the diagram for a moment, you’ll see that the preferred future is actually a subset of three areas:

  • The Probable Future: I think of this as a way of describing the way things will be in your ministry or organization if nothing changes.  You pick the timeline, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, it doesn’t matter.  The probable future is what things will look like if you’re doing the same things.  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  • The Possible Future: This is actually all of the known or imagined possibilities for the future.  For example, you might have a meeting where you brainstorm as many possibilities for connecting people as you can.  See also, Where Do You Want to Go with Your Small Group Ministry?
  • The Adjacent Possible: This section isn’t labeled in the diagram, but if you look closely in the preferred future section, you’ll notice that it includes some of what is actually beyond the possible future.  See that?  The white space.  I think of the adjacent possible as the Ephesians 3:20-21 aspect of the preferred future.  See also, Grouplife Agnostics and the Adjacent Possible.

Calling out the preferred future is really a three step process:

  1. identifying the gold of what you are currently doing
  2. imagining all of the possibilities beyond what you are currently doing
  3. choosing what not to do trims out the extra that may very well be good but not great.

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

Image by Seongbin Im

Further reading:

5 Decisions Delayed at Great Expense

delayThere may be some things that can be put off until later, but there are a number of decisions that are delayed only at great expense. What expense? Oh, first impressions missed, connection misplayed, leadership engagement squandering, etc.

Here are 5 decisions that are delayed only at great expense:

    1. Launching a good enough first-step-out-of-the-auditorium. What does delay cost? Total up the number of first time guests in the past 12 month period and use this number to analyze your weekend worship attendance. What percentage of first time guests who return for a second visit would you think would be a healthy target? What percentage of your first time guests should contribute to growth in your weekend worship attendance average? Churches that launch (and continue to perfect) a good enough first step out of the auditorium increase their opportunity to meaningfully connect new attendees. See also, How Would You Rate the First Step out of Your Auditorium?
    2. Converting to an always on prioritization of new groups. The best way to connect unconnected people is to prioritize launching new groups over adding members to existing groups. Referring potential new members to existing groups only occasionally leads to a connection. Groups that have been meeting longer than 3 to 4 months begin to form a nearly impermeable membrane that only the most outgoing and brazenly extroverted candidates can penetrate. Converting to an always on prioritization of new groups leads to more efficient connecting and fewer missed handoffs. See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups.
    3. Prioritizing the needs of unconnected people. Conduct an audit on your current menu for adults with an eye for one critical detail. Make a list of what you are offering that prioritizes the needs of unconnected people (outsiders) and another list that actually prioritizes the needs and interests of already connected people (insiders). Because insiders can only rarely remember the worldview of an outsider, you may need the help of a few people with a decidedly neutral bias. Continued delay on this decision is at the heart of the lack of growth for many churches. See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
    4. Trimming your become and belong menu. There is conclusive evidence in the retail world that a larger menu actually leads to fewer purchases. Buyers confronted with more choices do not buy more. They buy less. The underlying psychology explains the ineffectiveness of bloated become and belong menu (all the options you are currently offering for adults who want to connect relationally or grow spiritually). Delaying trimming this menu is understandable because of the feelings of the many committed volunteers who run the programs that contribute to the glut of offerings. In addition, many alumni of the programs remain passionate advocates long after they’ve graduated to other endeavors. Still, delaying these decisions leads to fewer purchases and fewer purchases leads to something far less than a satisfying outcome. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Become and Belong Menu.
    5. Giving the annual budget a future forward makeover. One of the most significant hurdles in achieving escape velocity is a nearly inescapable commitment to last year’s budget allocations. If you want to break free from the gravitational pull of the commitments and strategies that have gotten you to where you are but will not get you to where you need to go…you must decide to begin the budget conversation with an outside-in perspective. Specifically, you must agree to “temporarily let go of your inside-out perspective and ask the question…’what does the world really want from us?'”See also, Can You Reach Escape Velocity?

Do you have what it takes to make these decisions? Or will you settle for the status quo?

1Geoffrey Moore, Escape Velocity

Image by Bryan Rosengrant

Thinking Strategically about the New Year

thinkingOver the next few weeks all of us have an opportunity to connect unconnected people. The holiday season prompts a series of activities and the activities lead to a set of feelings (depression and sadness, hopes and dreams).

These feelings are almost culture-wide. Few people begin the new year as just another day. Most people enter the new year with a sense of resignation, a hopeful anticipation, or something in between.

Here are a few things that quickly come to mind as I think about the new year:

  1. Unconnected people may see joining a short-term group as something they ought to do. Sometimes this happens naturally and other times we can help unconnected people reach this conclusion. If we are saying the right things in our weekend messaging, if our website and our church-wide emails have the right cues, we can prompt this conclusion.
  2. People who were part of a group that chose not to continue may be looking for a new group. This is especially true if you use the fall ministry season as a way to launch new groups (for example, with a church-wide campaign or small group connection). We know the best case scenario is that about 70% of new groups will choose to continue into another 6 week study. This means that 30% of new group members are in groups that don’t continue. That means there is a good chance some of those who tried a group in the fall are now looking for a new group in January.
  3. Almost everyone sees the new year as an opportunity to start something new. There is something about the new year that makes self-improvement a natural thing to think about. Lose weight. Get out of debt. Go back to school. Make some new friends. Start reading the Bible. Attend a short-term group or class. Again, if we say the right things in our messaging (system-wide), we can prompt unconnected people to include joining a short-term group in the list of the other self-improvement options they are already thinking about.
  4. We seem to be programmed to hope that next year will be better. This is slightly different than #3. There is something about the holidays that causes many, many people to feel sad or even a little desperate about the state of their lives. After all, they have often attended too many parties, eaten or drank too much of the wrong things, busily chauffeured their children to parties and activities, pushed pause on their exercise routine, and maxed out their credit cards again…all at the same time.
  5. Every year some Christmas Eve attendees decide to come back for the January message series. Most churches have a group of people who only attend once or twice a year (Christmas and Easter). It’s common for a Christmas service to be the first service attended by new attendees. What begins as an annual tradition sometimes leads to attending week one of a January message series designed to have wide appeal (and peak the interest of unconnected people).

Image by Brandon Warren

Further reading:

Here’s a Lesson in Empathy

cleveland clinic

Empathy is such a big part of designing a small group ministry strategy that actually connects unconnected people. You can’t expect to do much unless you learn how to think like an unconnected person. See also, Do You See What They See?

And that’s why I love this video that was shared by Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO and President. Shared originally by Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, with his staff during his 2012 State of the Clinic address on Feb. 27, 2013. I think you’ll agree the video casts a powerful vision and makes quite an impression.


Patient care is more than just healing — it’s building a connection that encompasses mind, body and soul.

If you could stand in someone else’s shoes . . . hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?

Image by Cleveland Clinic

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

Do You See What They See?

14376814474_ff8166730c_cI suppose I’m known for having a deep passion for connecting unconnected people. And I suspect that some of my friends believe my passion for connecting unconnected people comes at the expense of any serious commitment to genuinely fruitful disciple-making. But I have to tell you, I don’t see it that way.

Here’s how I see it. Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. For me, it always starts there. In addition, I believe we are each accountable for the way we steward the people who attend our church. And while I realize that unconnected people have a responsibility too, for the most part, I want to hear, “Well done. You did a good job caring for the unconnected people who came to your church.”

Making things a little more complicated, I believe we need to become experts at understanding how unconnected people see things. If we were really trying to reach them we would do that. We would become experts. We’d learn what their tastes are. We’d learn about their needs and hopes and dreams and interests. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

Most importantly, we would learn to empathize with unconnected people. We would learn to see what they see. And that’s not an easy thing to do. The natural order of things is for each of us to think only about our own interests; about our own needs, hopes, and dreams.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” Daniel Goleman


Do you see what they see? Or can you only see things from your perspective?

Image by Tina Leggio

Can You Spot the Difference between a Step and a Program?

steps not programs“Next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.

Next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends is a core concept in my ministry strategy. It’s an adaptation of one of Andy Stanley’s 7 Practices of Effective Ministry (“steps, not programs”).

If you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, this is not news to you. Still, you may have questions or wonder what might be defined as a step (as opposed to a program)? And it will pay to have a keen eye for the difference, if only because long-time advocates of certain programs will question your reasoning when you begin to trim your belong and become menu. See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Here are several key lines from the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry that will help break it down:


“According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a program is ‘a system of services, opportunities, or projects, usually designed to meet a social need.”

“When you think programs you start by asking, ‘What is the need?’ The first question is usually followed by a second question: ‘How are we going to meet that need?'”


“The American Heritage Dictionary defines a step as ‘one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal.’

“When you think steps you start by asking, ‘Where do we want people to be?’ That question is followed by a second, more strategic question: ‘How are we going to get there from here?'”

If you want to build a ministry that effectively helps people move from crowd to core, you must understand how to spot the difference between a step and a program. Designing a belong and become menu with a carefully selected set of steps is an essential activity. See also, Foundational Teaching: Next Steps for EVERYONE and Crowd-to-Core: An Essential Understanding at the Heart of My Strategy.

Image by Nicholas Raymond

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