Archive - Strategic Thinking RSS Feed

Thinking Thursday: Confessions of a Futurist

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

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

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

The Truths Only Fresh Eyes Can See

I was hanging out with some dear friends; friends I’ve had for many, many years.  We were having a great morning.  Many laughs.  So good to see them.

And then the subject of their church came up.  Trying to help, I said what turned out to be a buzz kill and then spent the next 45 minutes desperately trying to help them see the big, giant, massive elephant in the room.  In their church.

They just couldn’t fully see it.  It was really like they could only see the issue in their peripheral vision.  Looking at it straight on, they blinked it away.  A kind of denial I guess.

I talked with them for 45 minutes about the following concepts.

Three Breakthrough Concepts:

  1. No problem-free.  This idea comes up almost every time I’m consulting with a church.  The essence of the idea is that there are no problem-free solutions, strategies, or systems.  Every solution comes with its own unique set of problems.  Wise leaders understand this and choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  And then do what they can to mitigate the problems.  I encouraged them to actually sit down and make a list of the problems that come with the their current solution and then another list of problems that come with my solution.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Design determines results.  I got this idea from Andy Stanley’s great quote: “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  To me, this truth is as self-evident as anything Thomas Jefferson referred to in 1776.  The results you are experiencing are not a fluke or a coincidence.  The results you are experiencing are produced by the design you are using.  Lots of things go into the design (i.e., timing, finances, staff, coordination, etc.).  If you want different results, you must change the design.  See also, Five GroupLife Dots You Might Not Be Connecting.
  3. Fresh eyes and no emotional attachment.  I got this idea from a talk Andy Stanley gave where he mentioned something Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel said to Gordon Moore, when they were facing a tough decision at Intel.  Grove said, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  See also, Fresh Eyes and No Emotional Attachment.

If I told you what their problem was, many of you would get their issue right away.  Unless it is your issue.  Instead of telling you what their issue was, I’d rather suggest you spend some time talking with some other leaders at your church and see if you can identify some ways in which you are stuck.  Once you have a few ways in which your church is stuck, you might come back and think through these three breakthrough concepts.

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

Have You Determined Your “Essential Intent”?

Have you clarified the win for your small group ministry?  Have you figured out what you’re going to call success?

I’m working my way through Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and in today’s reading I came across an idea that I know is going to help me and I’m pretty sure is going to help you.

Author Greg McKeown references a study in which he “gathered data from more than 500 people about their experience on more than one thousand teams” and “found a consistent reality: When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress, and frustration.  When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive (p. 121).”

Question: How clear is your team on what their goals and roles are?

McKeown goes on to point out that one way “we achieve clarity of purpose is [when we] decide on an essential intent.”

What is an essential intent?  “An essential intent is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable.  Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settle one thousand later decisions (p. 125).”

“To get everyone in the U.K. online by the end of 2012″

The example cited by McKeown is when Martha Lane Fox was asked to become the U.K.’s first “digital champion.”  “Martha and her team came up with this essential intent: ‘To get everyone in the U.K. online by the end of 2012.’”

“An essential intent is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable.”

What is your essential intent?  I was thinking about this today and plan to declare that our essential intent is “to connect 150% of our weekend adult attendance in groups by 2022.”  We’ll never drift to 150%.  It will require grit and determination to get to 150%.  It will require a steadfast focus.

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter

Connecting 150% of our weekend adult attendance in groups will also require a willingness to choose what not to do.  Anything and everything that doesn’t lead to our essential intent becomes a non-essential.

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

Could This Strategic Misstep Be Limiting Your Ministry Impact?

I’ve written about this strategic misstep in the past, but have never identified it quite this way.  I’ve been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and caught an idea, a way of pointing to what I believe is one of the most serious missteps in many of our ministries.  See also, Growth’s Counterintuitive First Step.

In the book, McKeown sets up his point with a now classic quote from Michael Porter (recognized as one of the intellectual leaders of the modern strategy field).  Here’s the quote:

“Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs.  It’s about deliberately choosing to be different.” Michael Porter

Early in the chapter, McKeown refers to an interview given by Herb Kelleher (the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines) where Kelleher “began to talk about how deliberate he was about the trade-offs he had made at Southwest.”

“Rather than try to fly to every destination, they had deliberately chosen to offer only point-to-point flights. Instead of jacking up prices to cover the cost of meals, he decided they would serve none. Instead of assigning seats in advance, they would let people choose them as they got on the plane. Instead of upselling their passengers on glitzy first-class service, they offered only coach. These trade-offs weren’t made by default but by design. Each and every one was made as part of a deliberate strategy to keep costs down. Did he run the risk of alienating customers who wanted the broader range of destinations, the choice to purchase overpriced meals, and so forth? Yes, but Kelleher was totally clear about what the company was—a low-cost airline—and what they were not. And his trade-offs reflected as much (p. 50, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less).”

Kelleher and Southwest Airlines are Exhibit A in the case McKeown makes for the strategic importance of making deliberate choices.  He goes on to contrast an attempt by Continental Airlines to capture a slice of the emerging opportunity that Southwest had identified.

However, instead of fully embracing Kelleher’s essentialist approach (and making trade-offs), they attempted what Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter terms “straddling” their strategy.

“In the simplest terms, straddling means keeping your existing strategy intact while simultaneously also trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor.  One of the most visible attempts at the time was made by Continental Airlines.  They called their new point-to-point service Continental Lite…and adopted some of Southwest’s practices.  They lowered their fares.  They got rid of meals.  They stopped their first class service.  They increased the frequency of departures.  The problem was that because they were still hanging onto their existing business model (Continental Lite accounted for only a small percentage of flights offered by the airline) they didn’t have the operational efficiencies that would allow them to compete (p. 51, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less).”

Continental Airlines’ attempt to do both, to try and compete with Southwest and continue business as usual led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and “more than a thousand complaints a day.”  I like McKeown’s observation about “the moral of the day.”  “Ignoring the reality of trade-offs is a terrible strategy for organizations.”

Are you attempting a straddling strategy?  Remember, “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs.”

What do you think?  Where are you “straddling”?  Where have you made deliberate choices?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy

Recently I gave a short talk to a Small Group Network huddle in Kansas City on the subject of no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  This is a very important topic because I believe the pursuit of problem-free solutions delays more ministry than anything else.

You know this right?  At least at the basic level you probably already have the understanding that there are no problem-free small group systems, models or strategies.  I’ve talked about this many times over the last several years.  But sometimes, even when we know this in a general way, when it comes to choosing a particular model, we still find ourselves believing that there may be a problem-free solution.

With me?

Listen to the talk

Want to listen to the talk?  You can do that right here.

On the call I referenced the following posts:

The Pursuit of Problem-Free

Problem-Free Leader Identification and Recruitment

How to Choose a Small Group System

Small Group Models

Free Market (New Life Church, National Community Church, etc.)

An Analysis of the Free-Market Small Group System


Activate by Nelson Searcy

Dog Training, Fly Fishing and Evangelism in the 21st Century by Ted Haggard

Sermon-Based (North Coast)

An Analysis of the Sermon-Based Small Group System

Sermon Based Small Groups

Sticky Church by Larry Osborne

Church-Wide Campaign Driven (Saddleback)

Church-Wide Campaign-Driven

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen

Does One of These Strangleholds Have a Death Grip on Your Ministry?

You know that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley).”  You know the well-worn path never arrives at a new destination.  You even know Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

You know all these things.  And at the same time…you’re hesitant to try a new strategy (or shut down an ineffective one).  Why?  You probably need to break free of a stranglehold with a death grip on your ministry.

6 Strangleholds with a Death Grip on Your Ministry

  1. The pursuit of problem-free.  This delays more ministry than any other stranglehold.  Remember, there are no problem-free strategies, systems or solutions.  Every strategy, every system and every solution comes with a set of problems.  Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.  See also, The Pursuit of Problem Free.
  2. Indecision about the best way.  Obviously, this stranglehold is related to #1.  Still, it is motivated differently.  If you find yourself stuck even after choosing the set of problems you’d rather have, you are probably dealing with indecision about the best way.
  3. Fear of failure.  Perhaps your culture doesn’t allow courageous tries that sometimes miss the mark.  I like to think that Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.”  If you only try things that are guaranteed to succeed, you’ll never get far enough from the familiar to break new ground.
  4. The lure of compromise.  The scariest steps are often the first steps into a new idea.  One of the biggest strangleholds is the last step before a new strategy takes flight.  The most powerful aspects are often eliminated because it’s too easy to do what’s familiar.  See also, 5 Compromises that Derail Small Group Ministry.
  5. Placating the usual suspects.  It’s too easy to look the other way while the favorite programs and ministries of insiders (the usual suspects) aren’t designed to meet the unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind and The Perils of the Inside Outside Disconnect.
  6. The lure of the status quo.  Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, the easiest stranglehold to be captured by is the lure of the status quo.  “Isn’t the way we’re doing it pretty close to good enough?”  Change is hard and the thought of the work ahead will cause many to put off what must be done.See also, Beware the Lure of the Status Quo.

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

Avoid These 4 Realities at Your Own Peril

I know there are some who object to references to customers and products and marketing…but some things are made so clear by shifting the vocabulary from church to business.

Alan Kay, the computer scientist, said “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”  His famous quote is also recorded as “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  Either way, he’s pointing out that acquiring a different perspective or point of view can make us a lot smarter.

For example, here are 4 realities that Peter Drucker identified in Managing for Results.  See if these add up for you and actually provide a helpful new perspective about the design of connecting strategies for unconnected people:

  1. “What the people in the business think they know about customer and market is more likely to be wrong than right.”  Can you see the truth in Drucker’s thinking?  Can you see how it might apply to our work in designing strategies to connect unconnected people and make disciples?  See also, Design Your Connecting Strategy with Unconnected People in Mind.
  2. “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  The obvious question is, what do we think we are providing for unconnected people and are we providing what they actually value?  See also, The Engel Scale and the Need for Customized Next Steps.
  3. “An important corollary is that what the producer or supplier thinks the most important feature of a product to be may well be relatively unimportant to the customer.”  Again, what if an active conversation with unconnected people revealed that they don’t actually value what we think is something they ought to value?  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
  4. “The customers have to be assumed to be rational.  But their rationality is not necessarily that of the manufacturer; it is their own rationality.”  How many times have we said, “If people just knew what was good for them they’d sign up for a small group!”  What if we simply embraced the idea that our customers have their own rationality and the sooner we learn what it is the sooner we’ll begin to design connecting strategies that appeal to unconnected people.  See also, Design Your Small Group Ministry for Results.

See also, Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group Ministry.

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

Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership

One of the highlights of Drive ’08 was Andy Stanley’s talk, Random Thoughts On Leadership.  I’ve referenced it before and it is a great talk.  Really one of those talks that the audio hangs in the consciousness for years.  The basic gist was that Andy took 5 memorable quotes that had affected his thinking and riffed on how they were impacting his leadership and North Point’s front-of-mind decisions.  I highly recommend that you purchase it and listen to it over and over.  Great insights to be had.

In the 18 months after it was delivered Andy and the North Point crew took the talk and dealt it out in its 5 key ideas, the random thoughts, in 5 podcasts that were part of their Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast series.  You can find out how to download the most current additions right here.  Unfortunately, the podcasts aren’t archived permanently.  Being a fan…I’ve archived them right here.  Here are the quotes and the podcasts:

“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.” Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor,  You can listen to the podcast right here:  What no one else is doing.

“The next generation product almost never comes from the previous generation.”  Al Ries, Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It.  You can listen to the podcast right here: Become a Student

“What do I believe is impossible to do in my field but if it could be done would fundamentally change my business?”  Joel Barker,  Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future.  You can listen to the podcast right here: Breaking Paradigms

“If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  Andy Grove, Former CEO, INTEL.  You can listen to the podcast right here: Assumptions

“When your memories exceed your dreams the end is near.”  Chuck Bentley, President of Crown Ministries.  You can listen to the podcast right here: When memories exceed your dreams

Have You Implemented These Two Game-Changing Activities?

It turns out that wise leaders do two things on a regular basis.  Wise leaders clarify the win in advance and evaluate results after every attempt.

A recent Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast provided a reminder that I need to share again with my team.  And I need to share it with you too.

Wise leaders clarify the win in advance and evaluate results after every attempt.

Have you ever truly clarified the win for your ministry?  I’ve written about this concept many, many times.  The idea is by no means original with me.  Peter Drucker wrote about deciding in advance what you will call success and Andy Stanley wrote about clarifying the win in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.  See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry and Clue #4 When Designing Your Small Group System.

I was reminded today that I need to always keep the importance of clarifying the win in front of my team.  It is so easy to lose sight of the true objective.  It is painfully common to get caught up in determining whether an event or a program is a success based on something as short-sighted as attendance or the opinions of the usual suspects.

I was reminded last week that if you haven’t clarified the win for your ministry or event (what you will call success) it will be very difficult to know whether what happens as a result of your ministry or event is good or bad.  You won’t be able to genuinely decide if you won or lost.

  1. Clarification: Defining the win.  What’s the bullseye on the wall for the critical events in your ministry?  If no one is clear on what the win is, then you really shouldn’t expect to hit the bullseye.
  2. Evaluation: Evaluation can’t be effective without clarity on what a win actually is.  The tendency is to evaluate the numbers.  The best organizations evaluate both the numbers and the experience.  Evaluate both what didn’t work and what worked.

Need an example?  Here are a few that could happen anywhere:

  • You have a monthly men’s breakfast.  It is fairly well attended but attendance isn’t growing.  It has a solid base of happy customers.  There are always new men in attendance.
  • You have a growing small group ministry.  You’ve doubled the number of groups in both of the last two years.  You’re hopeful that the leaders do more than convene a regular meeting.
  • You have a very popular on-campus women’s Bible study.  It is well attended and caters largely to Beth Moore fans.  Although a few of your table leaders invest in their group members and serve as shepherds, most do not and serve mostly as discussion facilitators.

Which of these are examples of a win?  It really depends.  Without clarifying the win in advance, results cannot be evaluated wisely.

Wise leaders clarify the win in advance and evaluate results after every attempt.

Want to listen to the podcast?  Here’s a link to Better before Bigger.

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

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

I asked you recently if it was time for you to take a fresh look at your assumptions.  I really do believe we are irresponsible when we just continue down a well-worn path expecting to arrive at a new destination.  And yet, that is what many of us do.

Because I am more and more convinced that we are now just a short step or two from a dramatically different and increasingly post-Christian era in the West, I wanted to give you a look at what I found when I re-examined my own assumptions.

Here are 5 of my new assumptions:

  1. It will become increasingly harder to say “come with me to church” and increasingly easier to say “meet me at Starbucks (or the pub).”  There are places in the world where this is already true and there are definitely cities in the U.S. where this is already true.  The time may not have arrived in your community where it is true…but it will.  We need to begin building a “meet me” philosophy of ministry.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.
  2. Every biblical reference or allusion is obscure to almost everyone.  As messages and small group curriculum is developed, it must be understood that most of the people in the auditorium and most of the people in the living room have never heard the story we are telling.  When we reference biblical concepts like communion or Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we must never forget that what we take for granted is a complete mystery to many of the people in the room.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture.
  3. Leader training will be accessed on a “need-to-know” basis and distributed on a “just-in-time” basis.  Gone are the days of advance training in preparation for an assignment.  Now arriving are the days of leader training that takes advantage of 24/7 delivery made possible by the internet, and streaming content.
  4. Leader development and encouragement will be decentralized.  Churches everywhere are discovering that the pace of life is making centralized gatherings more difficult to demand and less productive to implement.  Far easier to instill and more productive are decentralized gatherings at the local coffee shop or for that matter, in the living room or kitchen.  See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.
  5. The speed of change is accelerating.  Gone are the days of change as something that will happen someday.  Gone are the days when a change is followed by a decade or multiple decades of the status quo.  Still, more often than not the pace of change on the outside is greater than the pace of change on the inside.  And that leads to a perilous disconnect.  See also, The Perils of the Inside-Outside Disconnect.

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

Page 1 of 1112345»10...Last »